Best known for his role as high school football star Tim Riggins in the ABC series Friday Night Lights, BC-born actor Taylor Kitsch comes across as someone striving to be more than just another generic Hollywood heartthrob. His role as the mutant Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine was eloquent and subtle, while his portrayal of real-life war photographer Kevin Carter in The Bang Bang Club was the highlight of the film and deserved more recognition than it got. Given Kitsch is such a well-rounded actor, it’s no surprise Andrew Stanton cast him as the title character in his epic sci-fi adventure, John Carter.
Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story A Princess of Mars, the film tells the story of a Civil War vet who is transported to Mars while out looking for gold. Captured by natives on the planet, he’s forced to adapt to survive and is soon battling in a completely different war. As his first starring role (John Carter came out before Battleship), Kitsch delivers the most solid performance of his career and proves he’s got what it takes to be the next great leading man. We spoke with Kitsch about the film. Read our Q&A below.
Since John Carter is based on such an iconic book series did that create a challenge for you?
Taylor Kitsch: I don’t think so. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if it’s a buddy comedy, sci-fi or horror. Hopefully it’s about the character first, but no one is going to put more pressure on it than me to do it justice. The beauty of my gig, and hopefully with writers, directors, storytellers, artists, is that you’re going to make it your own. I’ve had that with Gambit all the way to this guy. Everyone except for maybe Kev Carter, who I was worried about doing his real life justice. THAT’S pressure.
Was there more pressure on you given the size of the production?
TK: I act harder the more budget there is [laughs]. Maybe unconsciously there was. I mean, it was truly an exhausting marathon for me but I wouldn’t let that beat me. I love the challenge and I rose to it and I’m proud I didn’t succumb to it. I’m very much a leader by example and not a cheerleader on set. I’m not trying to make everyone best friends and I’d much rather inspire through work than with pom-poms.
Did you enjoy the western angle to the film more than the sci-fi angle?
TK: I keep pitching Andrew Stanton to write me a western because we had so much fun doing that part of it. We were on stages in London for four months and then we went to this incredible western town that they built in this nook between two mountains. I was living the boyhood dream.
What was it like shooting a movie with a lot of special effects and stunts?
TK: You learn patience incredibly quickly. Even the trust needs to be enhanced because there’s so much there that needs to be put in in post. The tough part was when there was nothing that Stanton could do and there’s only a pink ‘X’ on the wall that is supposed to be something you’re battling or something you have to be emotional towards. That’s tough. And I pride myself for being subtle as an actor and in this I felt like I was overacting a lot because the stakes are so insanely high and the energy needs to be that way and I can’t act off of anything.
How about the stunt aspect?
TK: It was kind of insane. The wire work, the 150ft jumps, the sword training. And then just keeping the aesthetic of the character for seven months was tough. But I loved it.
What do you mean by ‘aesthetic’?
TK: Just staying that fit for seven months. Working out at 4:30 a.m. for six days a week and then going to work and doing it all over again for six days a week was tough. And being in every shooting day really chipped away at me. But I think the beauty of Carter comes out in the action. Who he is as a man and his motives comes out through the action, which differentiates this film from a lot of big action movies.
There’s a lot of violence in the film. How important was it to keep it family-friendly?
TK: We tell a good a story. That’s the bottom-line. It’s up to Stanton though, and I’m sure he has to keep it in the realm of PG. And we got away with a lot by making the blood blue. If I was dipped in red blood in the scene where I come out of the giant ape it wouldn’t be PG [laughs].
What did you like most about the character of John Carter?
TK: I love how dark he is at the beginning of the movie and this full spectrum he goes through. It’s rare to see in these types of movies. I wouldn’t have done the film if it was action for the sake of action.
What scared you most about doing the film?
TK: So many things. Once I broke down the script, which took three full reads and a chalkboard, it was doing the script justice that was scary to me. Bringing life into Andrew Stanton’s dream was a lot. To be the title guy and all that. He’s wanted to see this on the screen since he was 11 and it has shaped so much of him.
Working with a director from an animation background, did you notice a big difference at how he approached directing?
TK: I’ve never met anyone that prepped as much as he did. But I don’t know if that’s his background or his personality. He’s truly a genius. We can do a couple of things at once, but he can do like five, six, or seven things at once.
Did you get to keep any of the props?
TK: I kept the rings, which were everything to Carter. And the journal. I burned the skirt I had to wear [laughs].
Do you have a dream role or project you’d like to take on?
TK: There’s a lot. I’m still very hungry and I keep wanting to do something incredibly different. I’d like to play a musician. I don’t know. A comedy maybe.
Do you feel you can grow more as an actor?
TK: I’ve worked with the best of the best and I know I can grow a lot more. Working with people like Mark Strong, Oliver Stone, and John Travolta, you see why they’re the best. It’s exciting to see people better than you. It’s one thing to say you need to be better and one thing to know what you need to do to be better. And that’s what it does for me when I work with people better than me.
John Carter is currently available on DVD, Blu-ray, and 3-D Blu-ray. You can catch Taylor Kitsch next on the big screen in Oliver Stone’s Savages.