By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
CAREFREE, Ariz.—For five seasons, handsome Canadian Taylor Kitsch played ladykiller Tim Riggins on the hit series “Friday Night Lights.” The 30-year-old now tackles an iconic character from classic science fiction, portraying Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter soldier-turned-outer space adventurer in a big screen action-adventure adaptation of the author’s 1917 novel, “A Princess of Mars.”
Retitled to appeal to the target young male audience, “John Carter” marks Kitsch’s first big screen leading role, in what could become a lucrative Hollywood franchise.
The 30-year-old seemed to be taking it all in stride as he spoke to journalists about his experience working on the film with a top-notch cast (Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Dominic West, Mark Strong and Bryan Cranston) and with award-winning director Andrew Stanton (making his live action debut after “Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E”) near where many of the film’s exteriors were shot.
Front Row Features: This is your first leading film role. How does that feel? Are you comfortable in the lead, or do you prefer supporting parts?
Kitsch: I am comfortable with it. It’s really the character. It just comes down to me surrounding myself with great people, and being better for it. The next gig I’ve signed up for is a supporting role. I have no problem doing a one-two scene in a film as well. It’s just a matter of the work and being better for it at the end of the day. Anyone who knows me from “Friday Night Lights” or “The Bang-Bang Club,” knows I love (supporting roles).
Front Row Features: How did you begin to immerse yourself in the world of John Carter? Was it the script or Burroughs’ books?
Kitsch: The books. I tried to read as much I could before I had the script because they didn’t give me the entire script until after the (screen) test. I had a couple scenes for the test out of the script obviously. Then I used the script as my bible when I got the part. I just latched on to the emotional part of it. If that journey with Carter weren’t there emotionally, then this movie would be forgettable. With Stanton, that is priority one. Carter is that beaten down guy whose cause is completely stripped from him in the beginning of the film. So I latched on to the Civil War. I studied with historians at the University of Texas. I studied the Civil War and immersed myself with books and letters of Civil War soldiers.
Front Row Features: How do you feel about being eye-candy for the women in the audience?
Kitsch: My body is CG. I was actually 250 pounds playing him. (He laughs.) It’s flattering. It is what it is. It’s part of the gig. I can’t complain about it because I signed up for it. Look at any other actor—from (Marlon) Brando to (James) Dean to (Hugh) Jackman—they used it. SO I used it to my benefit. You have to make sure that’s not all you got because you will not last, though. I take more pride in the emotional scenes of “John Carter.” I wouldn’t have signed up for this if it didn’t have the heartbeat it has. My personality is quite all or nothing, so I’d rather raise the bar in that sense, for the aesthetic of the guy, than to just get away with it.
Front Row Features: Did you work out?
Kitsch: Yeah. I’ve been playing hockey my whole life. But (the way I look in “John Carter”) is quite extreme. I don’t walk around looking like that. To get in that shape, I’d get up at 4:30 a.m. and work out, and then I’d work out all day on set, in between takes. The diet is the most boring diet you could ever imagine: dry chicken breast with yams, brown rice, and protein shakes, basically, and I’d flood my body with water.
Front Row Features: What do you see in Andrew Stanton’s style as a director that separates him from other directors you’ve worked with?
Kitsch: He’s all about story first, story second, story third. It’s everything to him. And that script (by Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chambon) is incredible. For all these lines that are thrown away at the beginning, and for them to come full circle like that at the end, that twist at the end, is rare. It says a lot when you can get (actors) like Bryan Cranston, Mark Strong, Willem Dafoe and Sam Morton. It says a lot to what he’s done and created, that all these people want to come and be a part of this. I don’t know if you noticed, but I give everyone nicknames. I call Dominic West, Dommer. I remember seeing him for a couple like little scenes, and then I’d see him in Arizona like months later, and he’s like, “you’re still here, huh?” It was just cool to reunite. One day, I’m working with Dommer, next is (James) Purefoy. Then I got to do the Civil War stuff with Cranston.
Front Row Features: Did you get injured filming the action sequences?
Kitsch: I started with a high ankle sprain, which was tough, because obviously there’s jumps and all that kind of stuff, but it was the bizarre things that came into play that were really dumb, little things like Woola (Carter’s pet canine-like calot) jumping on me. Obviously, there’s no actual Woola, so you throw yourself on the ground. We were in a live setting on Lake Powell, so it was on a rock, and I threw myself down and my arm went numb for like an hour. We’re all just chillin’, waiting for my left arm to de-numb. There was nothing too crazy, though. I cut my chest in this fight sequence on one of these airships because they have all this armor, and the armor literally stuck in and pulled or cut it quite intensely. I was leaking pretty good. I cut some people open, but that was probably me just being unprofessional.
Front Row Features: How did you and Lily create such a great chemistry?
Kitsch: She’s so good. Her idea is how can we make this scene the best it can be? When you work with someone like that, the giving and taking is just so great, and the trust is immense.
Front Row Features: Have you seen it in 3-D?
Kitsch: Not yet. I can’t wait to see it in 3-D IMAX. I think this is the type of movie to see it that way. It just enhances the escapism.
Front Row Features: Did you have to alter your acting style for the 3-D?
Kitsch: No. It was (Stanton’s) first live-action movie. We have to do an extra 15-plus takes for the Woola special effect. So then to add more or whatever that process is. The stakes are so high at all times, though. So for me to be doing these takes an extra 10 times, because of the effects, chips away at you.
Front Row Features: What was the nature of the reshoots? What did you cover on reshoots?
Kitsch: A lot of it was—and this is something (Stanton) and I didn’t really see coming—was the technicality of the jumps. I mean it was just so incredibly technical. That’s something, hopefully, if we do another one, we’ll have it down. There are so many variables that come into it as well. It was great for me because I was working six days a week. (I’m) in almost every shot of the film, for the most part, so I was beyond exhausted. I was like coming into the reshoots super-apprehensive because it was just like an energy thing. I’ve got to just save it. Andrew would say, “I just want a couple looks across with you and Dejah, to enhance that little thing.” It was more like these little seeds that we’re planting throughout the film, before the kiss. We added a scene for Tars (Dafoe), which was really great for the character.
Front Row Features: Were all the jumps done on a soundstage against a green screen?
Kitsch: For the most part. They built these huge sets, and then there is green screen about 80 percent around you. The jump looked terrible the first time we did it, so we went back and did it again.
Front Row Features: Your next film, “Savages,” is due out July 6. Can you talk about working with director Oliver Stone on it?
Kitsch: I’m just going say it’s an unapologetic movie that you’re gonna dig.
It’s “Pulp Fiction” meets “Goodfellas,” but more violent.