10 Questions with OFF THE MAP Star Zach Gilford

Seeing as though actor Zach Gilford just spent the better part of the past four seasons breaking our hearts playing Dillon Texas’ prodigal son, boyfriend and QB1 on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, it seems only fitting that his next gig will send him deep into the South American jungle to repair them. Created by Jenna Bans and produced by GREY’S ANATOMY’s Shonda Rhimes, OFF THE MAP sees Gilford playing Dr. Tommy Fuller, one of three young doctors hoping to turn their life around by helping those less fortunate.

What’s it like to go from Texas to Hawaii, what exactly is Tommy running away from, and of course what can FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHT fans, more specifically Matt and Julie fans expect from the upcoming final season? We caught up with the nice-as-you-would-imagine actor to find out just that.

Does having kicked off your career on a show as critically acclaimed as FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS make it that much more of a challenge when it comes to choosing your next project?
Zach Gilford: Yeah. You know TV is always a gamble where you definitely have to be choosey and strategic. Which is why I was so excited about the opportunity to work on OFF THE MAP. Not only has Shonda [Rhimes] created a couple of the biggest hits on TV that aren’t your typical cop/lawyer/procedural and are actually kind of character driven, it’s on ABC, which I’ve always liked as a network. Plus, the script seemed good and was such a departure in so many ways from FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS in everything from the character I’m playing to the tone of the show. Unlike FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS which was very real and earnest, OFF THE MAP is escapism, in that it’s an over-the-top action adventure that you can’t take too seriously, which was really part of its appeal.

Your character Tommy, the bad boy doctor is indeed quite a departure from the more reserved and sensitive Matt Saracen. Begging the question, which character is closer to actor Zach Gilford?
I wish Matt was closer to Zach, but I’m probably closer to Tommy. I’m pretty goofy, outspoken and a bit cocky unfortunately. Although I like to think that I have the same sensitivity as Matt and that I’m a pretty good guy.

One of the most interesting things about OFF THE MAP is that it shoots in Hawaii, while FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS of course shot in Texas. Do you see it as a plus that you have yet to shoot a series in Hollywood, with all the trapping that comes with that?
I think it’s huge. On FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, which wasn’t a huge hit to begin with, I think everyone was a genuinely a good person and was going to stay grounded. But I also think a huge part of it was being in Texas. It wasn’t like every night someone is going to this big Hollywood event, some club or being seen around in that way and I think that really helped keep everyone humble. And I think Hawaii lends itself to that as well. The people from LOST, from everything I heard, they were so humble and so normal. Partially because they were off on this island, they did their show which was one of the biggest thing on TV, yet they were able to live a normal live and weren’t overwhelmed by the Hollywood hype machine.

Are we going to learn more about what brought Tommy to South America?
Here actually is a sort of similarity to Matt Saracen. I remember back in the pilot, Jesse Plemons (Landry) was saying that Matt had a lot of “Daddy Issues” and a lot of Tommy’s issues stems from his family. I don’t think it wasn’t so much one big awful event, but they just really weren’t proud of him. And he was sort of proud and cocky where I think that he kind of realized that he was in the wrong, but instead of admitting it, he just took off. And I think being down in South America, he starts to realize that he’s a doctor, he can do all this medicine. Instead of just doing boob jobs and nose jobs for people who don’t need them, he can actually use his skills for good. In an upcoming episode for instance, he’ll use his plastic surgery skills to fix a scar on a girl’s face that has caused her to be alienated, because her people think she’s possessed by demons. Tommy will make the scar virtually disappear and he’ll start to see that he can do good and truly help people.

And when he’s not helping people, would it be safe to assume, being a Shonda Rhimes produced show and all, that there will be a little romance in Tommy’s future?
Actually a couple of relationships! Tommy still has that kind of frat boy attitude. They’ve kind of designed it so this medical facility is a stone’s throw from a tourist hotspot. So while there are very impoverished places, there are also resort style places for adventure travellers. Which means lots of young girls drop by for a short period of time and he definitely takes advantage of that. But that’s also another arc for him, finally finding someone that he can have a connection with that’s not just sexual.

Is there any better pick-up line than, “I’m an American Doctor down here to help the poor”?
It’s a great pick up line.

Probably the best, next of course to being an actor on your own TV show
I usually lie. Usually I open with something else.

People don’t recognize you?
It’s kind of funny. The first thing I ever did was a guest spot on LAW & ORDER: SVU. I was in New York and my best friend, who I lived with, thought he would try and pick up girls based on the fact that I was on LAW & ORDER once! It really was a kind of an interesting tactic and didn’t work so well.

Probably doesn’t help that everyone in New York has been on an episode of LAW & ORDER!
It’s kind of a rite of passage.

And finally, just for the FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHT fans out there. Will fans of Matt and Julie be happy with how their story comes to a close?
I think they are going to be happy to see where it ends and I personally was really happy with it. The plan wasn’t originally, as far as i knew, to bring me back for the fifth season. I kind of left in the fourth season, then I showed up and then I showed up again. Until they asked me back where I really wanted to know what the plan was because I didn’t just want to be the guy who couldn’t get another job and kept popping up in his old show. So I talked to [Executive Producer] Jason Katims about it and I loved what they came up with. I thought it was a great ending for the show and I think fans will be very happy with it. and i’m really happy with wit and i’m really really critical.

OFF THE MAP airs Wednesday nights at 10PM on ABC (Global TV in Canada)

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