From 2008 to 2012, Taylor Lautner was one of the most famous actors on the planet. After all, he was Jacob from the Twilight franchise, the sexy romantic rival to Robert Pattinson, best known for his rippling abdominal muscles and his tendency to transform into a CGI wolf. But when the Twilight franchise came to a close, and Lautner’s co-stars catapulted to A-lister status, Lautner had a few smaller roles, a run on the Ryan Murphy series Scream Queens, and then eventually, stopped acting altogether, with no new credits since 2018. His absence had many Twilight fans asking, “Where the hell you been, loca?!” (Sorry.)
But now, after a four-year hiatus, Lautner is back in action in Home Team, a new Netflix family comedy. Produced by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison company, the movie tells the true story of New Orleans Saints head football coach Sean Payton (played by Kevin James), who was suspended from the NFL for one season after his involvement in “Bountygate,” a scandal in which members of the New Orleans team were accused of paying out bonuses to players for injuring the opposing team. And yes, it’s an odd topic for a light-hearted Kevin James comedy, but most of the movie, directed by Charles and Daniel Kinnane, focuses on Payton’s time coaching his son’s lackluster middle school football team.
This is where Lautner comes in, as the long-suffering coach of said middle school league, The Warriors. Despite his losing record, Coach Troy Lambert is a nice guy, who cares about the kids, but seems to have given up any hope of actually coaching to win. The first time we meet him, at a practice where the kids are basically just goofing off, he half-heartedly tells them they did a good job. “Marcos good hustle,” Coach Troy tells their best player. “The rest of you…” He trails off awkwardly. The kids don’t mind, they know they suck.
Enter Sean Payton, who is using his time off from work to try to reconnect with his son, Connor. After watching his son lose a few games, Payton not-so-subtly offers Coach Troy some pointers, which Troy gratefully accepts. Before long, Payton is officially helping to coach his son’s team, to his son’s dismay and to Troy’s relief. While it’s not quite the lead role, Lautner gets plenty of screen time, working both with James as the two coach together, and with the kids who make up the team.
For Lautner, a huge football fan and a friend of the real Sean Payton, it was a blast. In fact, it was Lautner’s friendship with the real Payton that helped make Home Team a reality. The Home Team co-writer, Chris Titone, who is Sandler’s brother-in-law and is dating Payton’s daughter Meghan, met the Payton family through a dinner Lautner had with the football coach while Lautner was filming another Adam Sandler movie, The Ridiculous Six. In an interview for the Home Team press notes, Lautner said filming Home Team “was a dream project for me because I got to make a movie with my friends about my friends. It’s just like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Being friends with the Paytons, being friends with Chris, and then my friendship with Sandler, all of those coming together into one movie.”
Beyond that, Lautner added that it was also fun to work with young actors, having once been a child actor himself. (True fans might remember him as Sharkboy in The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, a role he played when he was 12.) “It was really nostalgic and really cool to just hang out with these kids knowing what it was like for me 17 years ago being in that position,” Lautner said in that same interview. “I just wanted to be there for them and just be their friend more than anything.” He added, “The casting director should get a raise because they found some really fantastic kids. I mean, the kids steal the show, as it should be.”
The kids may steal the show, but Lautner gets his chance to shine too when he stands up to James’ character when Payton loses sight of the real objective—reconnecting with his son—and Coach Troy has to remind him. It’s not exactly an Oscar reel monologue, but it’s nonetheless nice to Lautner in front of the camera again. Here’s to many more!