Taylor Kitsch doesn’t seem to be having any problems shaking his "Friday Night Lights" character Tim Riggins despite playing the high school footballer for five seasons. In fact, with looming tentpole films like "Battleship" and "John Carter of Mars" on the distant horizon, he's practically left that character and show in the dust. His latest film, "The Bang Bang Club," which premiered last night at the Tribeca Film Festival, finds Kitsch starring alongside Ryan Phillippe and Malin Akerman as a photojournalist dedicated to covering the atrocities that occurred during the end of apartheid in South Africa. Playing the affected and drug-addicted real-life Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer certainly seemed like a huge departure from lovable bad boy Tim Riggins, but to Kitsch, the role just seems to be another journey of character discovery.
The TV actor-turned-future and potential tentpole A-list star spoke about the transition from TV to film, how he has navigated the choices in his career, and how was able to portray a South African war time photographer and a Texan high school football player all in a span of three months (Kitsch shot the picture during the third season of "Friday Night Lights"). Eager to discuss his work with Peter Berg on "Battleship" and his excitement over being directed by Oliver Stone in the upcoming "Savages," Kitsch also discussed -- just a few hours before it happened -- the casting of "The Bourne Legacy." Obviously, the role went to a more well-known actor at this point (and two-time Oscar nominee), but was he hinting at something more? You decide.
What brought you to the film “The Bang Bang Club”?
Everything. The story was powerful and it was honest. These people just lived it. And I thought the script was incredible. This is a story about people who were left behind and it's important not to forget about history. This happened only 15 years ago, within our lifetime, which is crazy.
And the timing of the film’s release with the conflicts and yesterday’s passing of Tim Hetherington in Libya?
Yeah, still very relevant. Which is great though and I think it deserves it. And even the apartheid shouldn’t be forgotten. There’s things like this and other events that can be swept under the rug quite conveniently, and I think this [film] will raise awareness not even with the current events, but just at this time it's still relevant of the struggle and this going on, not just in Africa, but all over. Literally.
In the movie, filmed in Johannesburg, the race of the photographers, whom were all white, gave them access to places.
[My character] Kevin [Carter] was said to be ashamed to be white.
Was the atmosphere that tense where you could understand where the photographers were coming from? Or did the set provide you with enough shelter?
I think you want to be exposed to it. I think when you take, personally, when I take a job like this it's all or nothing. You are going to do whatever it takes to put you in that moment. Recreating those scenes. Recreating Ken Oosterbroek’s death on the actual site. Working near or on these killing fields. Working in these townships. Being surrounded with people that marched and voted that you see how relevant it is to these guys. Being on set and people coming out and trying to shut it down because they are not ready for it to be made. One woman came out during the filming of the scene where Kev thinks a body is still alive and she thought it was quite real. Like we had said, it hadn’t happened that long ago so it's still very visceral to all of these people.
How as an actor do you mentally prepare for a role like this?
I do anything I can. You shed the weight and I didn’t know this, but aesthetically I had to, personally to play Kevin honestly and it felt like a no brainer, there is no debate. I knew even getting the role, when I was still in the mix, like they were waiting to tell me and I knew that this is what I had to do and this is how I am going to do it. It needs to be done. I can’t have the body of the Riggins and play this role. And I had him, I was doing it.
How was it getting back to Riggins after this?
Not fun. I mean I loved being able to eat again. Those little things.
Speaking of Riggins, how was it working with Peter Berg once again on "Battleship"?
Love it. We’re very close and there is a lot of trust there. I think trust is everything on any set and he’s just a guy who lets me take risks. I can trust the guy and it allows me to be free and go. He has my back, and he won’t let me fall and that’s a huge thing as an actor. Believe it.
I can imagine joining a film that is based on a board game that you would need to trust the director?
I understand that there is an uphill battle. There are all these predisposed ideas about what it is. But there is also the consensus of the challenge like alright let’s surprise these guys with something and I think we’ve done that. I think there’s a lot of things people won’t expect within that film. Pete is a very good storyteller. Watch any of his films, he’s never going to have just a pure explosion kind of film. There’s always a beat to that and that was the reason I took the role – to work with Pete again.
You've had great luck with directors – Berg and now 'Savages' with Oliver Stone? How is it to work with him?
I can’t wait. It keeps you honest man. I am excited to prep because they day I wrap up reshoots on “John Carter of Mars” is the day that I begin prepping for 'Savages.' It’s a very conscious thing you do, you surround yourself with great people making great films and being a part of these processes is hard enough. You just want to give your best and grow through each experience. I'm excited I can’t wait. It's going to be something I have at the end of my career where I have worked with some incredible people already, and I’m 30. It's great.
How do you make the transition from a beloved television show, playing an iconic character, to films and separating yourself from Riggins?
It's all about choice. It's all about what you gravitate towards. I don’t think I want to be that conscious of it. Obviously you get a couple of offers to play a guy exactly like Riggins and hopefully I will keep throwing you guys curve balls my whole career where you cant really put me in a spot. That’s where Kev and Rigs and John Carter... and it's very conscious of challenging myself and taking a risk.
Lastly there was a exchange about "The Bourne Legacy" which ironically didn't go his way, but you wouldn't have thought that if you talked to Kitsch yesterday afternoon. Kitsch was inevitably asked, what about the rumored role in Tony Gilroy's upcoming 'Bourne' film which will now likely star Jeremy Renner as of last night. "What about it?" was his sly response when asked about the role a few hours before Renner was announced. "We have no news now, [but]," he paused with a sly, cocky grin, "There will be some sort of announcement soon."
Of course there's always the possibility that he could have a supporting role, hence the winking smile. Who knows, either that or maybe his agent led him astray. "The Bang Bang Club" hits theaters in limited release this Friday. It is also available now on Video On Demand. You can read our review here.