'Friday Night Lights': Matt Lauria looks back on Luke Cafferty and Dillon, TX

matt-lauria-fnl-gallery.jpgListen. We haven't quite come to terms with the fact that "Friday Night Lights" is over. We remain firmly and happily ensconced in the "denial" stage of our grief. The fifth season, which aired previously on DirecTV, is relaunched tonight (Friday) on NBC at 8 p.m. EST -- so thanks, NBC, for enabling our denial.

We spoke with Zap2it fave Matt Lauria to look back on his character Luke's Season 5 journey. When we last saw him in Season 4, he had adjusted to life at his new school and on his new team, but he was still reeling from his relationship with Becky (Madison Burge), her abortion, and his family's reaction to it.

Expect to see Season 5 challenge Luke in some very different ways. "I think the events of last season precipitated a startling lesson for Luke in terms of coming into accountability," Lauria says. "This season, he really transitions into being a man. Everything that happens to him this season really tests his metal. Without giving away too much, on a social level, on a football level, on a familial level, all of these things really test his stuff. The Luke that's left is one that's much closer to being fully developed as an adult. It brings a lot out of him."

Luke has certainly come a long way since we first met him, crying in the rain on the West Dillon fields. "Okay, okay," Lauria laughs, playfully defensive. "He saw his life flashing before his eyes!"

"Friday Night Lights" has never been a show that has excelled in the ratings, but it maintains a devoted and, for lack of a better word, enamored fan base. (We're known to write Mrs. Friday Night Lights all over our trapper keeper. Whatever, stop judging.)

Lauria understands the impact the show has had better than anyone -- before he joined the cast in 2009, he watched the first three seasons as a viewer and a fan. "I really do feel completely honored and privileged to have been a part of that tradition," he says.

When Lauria arrived on set with fellow Season 4 newbies Burge, Jurnee Smollett, and Michael B. Jordan, they got some words of wisdom from Coach himself -- Kyle Chandler. "Kyle told all of us, 'You're never going to have another job that's as much fun as this. Enjoy it,'" Lauria says. "I know what he meant. We were really spoiled, because it was just so enlivening as an artist. It's something that you can feel overwhelmingly proud of because we were so honest."

He pauses. "On top of that, it was an easier workload. It's a considerably easier schedule than most TV shoots, which I can definitely say about 'Chicago Code.' It's shot in a more cinematic way, and there are technical aspects involved." fnl-matt-lauria-large.jpg

On "The Chicago Code," one of the best new series this year, Lauria plays homicide detective Caleb Evers, a whip-smart investigator with aspirations of joining the FBI. It couldn't be more of a departure from Luke Cafferty.

"When I was working on Friday Night Lights, I was able to hone a very specific part of my craft," Lauria says. "I've been so fortunate because not only am I working, which I'm very grateful for, but I'm blessed to be moving in a different direction character-wise. Also, I'm very blessed to work on a show that's so dissimilar in execution that I'm developing an entirely separate set of skills."

That said, he hasn't left "Friday Night Lights" -- or his co-stars -- too far behind. "I just spoke to LaMarcus Tinker yesterday!" he tells us happily.

As you'll see, NBC-watchers, Luke and Tink grow even closer this season - Luke even trusts Tink with his beloved pig, Mirabelle, despite Tink's affection for bacon. (Don't worry, Luke has a very good reason for giving Mirabelle up. You will swoon. Which we don't say often in regard to pigs.)

In real life, Tinker and Lauria are still pals. "He was talking about how much of an ace chef he is," Lauria laughs. "He was boasting about his collard greens and mustard greens and his mac and cheese. He's like, 'Dude, I'll make ribs!' I can't believe I haven't done this yet, but I'm going to host a dinner party with a LaMarcus Tinker menu. I'll even make posters for it. He can just take over my mother in law's kitchen. She's got two ovens and stuff. We'll take over and cook for many."

If that doesn't just make you want to put on your East Dillon reds and yell "Texas forever!" at your television, something is broken in you.

Tune in tonight at 8 p.m. EST to watch Luke Cafferty, Coach Taylor, and the Lions begin their final run for that coveted state championship ring. We'll have more from our chat with Matt Lauria soon, but in the meantime, make sure you follow him on Twitter: @MattLauria for updates.

Photo/Video credit: NBC