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AT LACMA Mon 8.3.2015

Taylor Kitsch on the Biggest Risk of His Career

Toronto International Film Festival Artistic Director Cameron Bailey introduced his guest last Friday night as “somebody who was born and raised in British Columbia and has somehow become an all-American hero here in the States.”

When Taylor Kitsch took the Bing Theater stage and opened his mouth, the Friday Night Lights star sounded nothing like Tim Riggins. Kitsch said his accent was one of creator Peter Berg’s only stipulations when he cast him in the NBC high school football drama.

“We’re walking down the hallway [after the audition] and he’s like, ‘You’re going to be just fine. If you do what we just did in the room, you’re going to be just fine. But get rid of that Canadian accent.’”

Kitsch was appearing as part of the first ever CAN/LA film series presented by Film Independent at LACMA in partnership with TIFF. The series was part of TIFF’s annual Canada’s Top Ten touring program, in which a panel of judges chooses 10 of the finest Canadian films from the past year and brings them across the country, often accompanied by discussions.

Bailey and his team brought two of those films, In her Place and Felix and Meira to Film Independent at LACMA over the weekend, along with Atanarjuat, the Inuit drama that the panel chose as the greatest Canadian film of all time. They also brought Kitsch, who regaled the audience with stories from his inauspicious early days as a homeless model to his recent turn on HBO’s True Detective.

Kitsch grew up in Kelowna, BC, a one-stoplight town four hours east of Vancouver. Kitsch said it was “kind of your stereotypical Canadian up-bringing.” There was a frozen pond within walking distance where he would play hockey. His two older brothers would tape couch cushions to his legs and make him be the goalie. He said his humble beginnings instilled in him the work ethic that got him to where he is today.

“Sport was a big thing. I was never that guy that was the best player. I just outworked people and stayed on the team,” said the John Carter star. “There are just so many variables that we don’t have control over as an actor… The lighting could be screwed. The DP’s not happy. Some of the extras are acting up. The AD had a shitty day and he’s just being an asshole. Whatever it is. But the one thing I do have control over is how I came to set and how prepared I am and how hard I work that day.”

Kitsch said a big part of the work he puts in is choosing the right material. “We’ve always just chased the material. When I say we, I mean my management team who has been with me since I was literally homeless.”

Kitsch was referring to a time before Friday Night Lights when he was struggling to make it as a model in New York, working bar mitzvahs and birthday parties under the table—“I was the guy where I’d get people on the dance floor,” he said—and then getting fired unfairly and not being paid for it.

Kitsch said the only reason he stuck with acting was because he didn’t have a backup plan.

“I think when people [make contingencies]—‘We can always go back to this,’ or ‘If I fail’—If you plant that in your head, you’re bound to do it,” said Kitsch. “And so for me, it was never like, ‘One day I’m going to lead a $250 million movie with an Oscar winner and all of these brilliant actors. It was never anything like that that kept me afloat. It was really just I didn’t have a backup plan.”

The $250 million dollar film Kitsch is referring to is Disney’s John Carter, which, even though it’s seen as a huge commercial failure, Kitsch said he has no regrets about it. And according to him, it hasn’t even been the biggest risk of his career.

When Bailey asked him about the experience of playing closeted gay activist Bruce Niles in HBO’s A Normal Heart, Kitsch said it wasn’t anything about the character that made the part risky. “I don’t know if it was a risk, playing the head of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a guy that was obviously gay and in the closet,” he said. “But it was more of a risk in the sense that career-wise, if you don’t hold water in this, it’s going to go a completely different way. So in my opinion, professionally, it was a bigger risk than John Carter was.”

And next up for Kitsch? He’s working to move behind the camera. In 2013, he wrote and directed a short film, “Pieces,” about a man struggling to pay off his gambling debt. A feature version of the story is in the works, as well as another film about minor league hockey.

And in the mean time, he’ll continue hunting for material that makes him a better actor. “When you get a script, it’s always a red flag when they’re like, ‘The material’s pretty good, but you’ll elevate it.’ I want to be able to elevate myself to the material.”

Tom Sveen / Film Independent Blogger

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  • Penny Douglas

    Taylor is one of my favorite actors, and I loved his performance in John Carter. There is no reason for him to have regrets, so I am pleased to know that he doesn’t. Thank you for a great article.