The hunky star of the TV version of “Friday Night Lights” had his big screen coming out party in 2012, a lead role in two blockbusters (“John Carter”, “Battleship”) that broke the bank, not box office records. Reviews of both films zeroed in on the budgets ($250 million for “John Carter), the bloated silliness of the projects. And Kitsch got caught in the crossfire. Even in his native Canada, people were making fun of “the unfortunately named Taylor Kitsch” (Toronto Globe and Mail).
So the Kelowna, British Columbia native changed direction. He went back to ensemble work, which his TV show had championed. He chose scripts that demanded more of a performance. And he went back to Canada.
“I don’t know if it’s a burden, carrying a film” Kitsch, 33, says. ” You’d be an idiot to say ‘No’ to (“John Carter” director Andrew) Stanton. You’d be an idiot to say ‘No’ to Peter Berg (“Battleship”).
“But if you get to bounce off Gleason, Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts or Travolta — any of those guys — you dive right in. Surrounded by wonderful actors, you can just feel the weight off your shoulders. I don’t have to do the heavy lifting.”
“Lone Survivor” was an ensemble piece, a true story combat film set in Afghanistan that was a hit back in January. “The Normal Heart” is a new all-star HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer’s play about gay activism in the early days of the AIDS crisis. But the film that reminded Kitsch of why he loves “ensemble” is the first one he made, post-“Battleship.” “The Grand Seduction,” is a Canadian remake of an earlier French-Canadian film (“Seducing Dr. Lewis”). It’s a whimsical comedy about a dying fishing village that tries to trick a hip young doctor into settling there.
“I felt I could this guy justice,” Kitsch says of the role, a too-pretty plastic surgeon hijacked to tiny Tickle Cove, Newfoundland. “I could bounce off Brendan Gleeson (playing a townie in charge of the “Seduction” scheme) and not carry a huge film. No pressure working back in Canada. I wanted to work there because I’ve never a done movie there. And I like this guy. He’s dry and dorky and everybody else’s reaction to him is hilarious. There’s a charm about this script that is kind of infectious.”
“It’s refreshing to be standing in front of real people and a real waterfront, and not have a (bleeping) green screen behind me,” Kitsch cracks.
Better reviews have followed this change in direction, with “Seduction” moving John Hartl of The Seattle Times to call Kitsch a “self-deprecating hunk…who could be branded for life (in a nice way) with a line like “No one has cheekbones like that.”
The critically-acclaimed “The Normal Heart” was “the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had,” Kitsch says. “It gave me so much to do, to think about and work on. The whole process of making it was rewarding, start to finish.” Sharing scenes with Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts and others, playing a character with “duality” and a real story arc “made me a better actor, I think. And a better person.”
But “Grand Seduction” may turn out to have the biggest long-term impact on Kitsch’s life, if not his career. The production put him up “in this place on a 100 foot bluff overlooking the ocean. That’s living…That taste of small town living, the pace of really living, exposes you to all the negative things you’ve brought into your life. How much (bleep) you add on that isn’t necessary, you realize that when you’re back to living at that pace.”
So he’s moving to Austin, Texas, with its “very hard, fast-paced lifestyle — tubing and wake-boarding and golfing…It reinvigorates you, I think. The tone, the pace, the people, just the simplicity of life gets to you, especially if you’ve been doing time in Los Angeles.
“I have two acres on Lake Austin that I’ve yet to build on, and I was there just the other day thinking, ‘THIS is what it’s about.’ You’re not listening not to the city, the traffic, the phone. You’re listening to the changes in the wind. THAT’S living.”
Leading roles in major motion pictures may come back. “I’ve got one I THINK I’ve landed, unless I’m jinxing it.” But he directed a short film — a dramatic thriller “Pieces” — that he’s gotten the money to turn into a feature. And he’s getting into a whole different movie business scene, in Austin, where indie icons Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez and others have set up cinematic shop, just beyond Hollywood’s grip. That could pay off, too.
Austin filmmaker “David Gordon Green (director of “Joe,” “Pineapple Express”) and I are meeting up, having five or ten too many drinks — something it’s easy to do in Austin — and seeing if there’s something we can do together. If that’s how things work down here. I think I’m going to like it.”