My interview with Taylor Kitsch appears in this week's WE.
By Andrea Warner
Taylor Kitsch calls from a cellphone while sitting in the passenger seat of a car speeding through Los Angeles, on his way to look at motorcycles. The 28-year-old Kelowna-born actor is an easy conversationalist; his words come tumbling out in a steady stream that reflects his myriad influences: 19 years spent growing up in B.C., and 10 years trying to launch his acting career in the U.S., which finally paid off three years ago when he landed the role of bad-boy quarterback Tim Riggins on the cult TV drama Friday Night Lights. Kitsch’s voice is a hybrid of elongated Canadian vowels and a smattering of Americanisms — a warm, friendly lilt often punctuated by a flurry of F-bombs.
It’s this delicious combination that has solidified Kitsch’s sexy-rebel vibe, and made him the prime contender to go shoulder-to-shoulder with Hugh Jackman in the summer’s first potential blockbuster, the highly anticipated X-Men Origins: Wolverine (opening Friday, May 1).
Kitsch admits that a starring role in a big-budget film was the last thing on his mind when he was younger. He calls his upbringing “stereotypically Canadian,” with years spent playing hockey and chasing girls. But a passing interest in acting gave way to strangely geeky passion. “I fuckin’ loved public speaking — a lot,” Kitsch admits. “I went to the divisional and to the regionals, like, three years in a row for these speeches — basically just stories I made up.”
Kitsch played semi-professional hockey for the Langley Hornets in the Canadian BCHL until he was 19, when a wrecked knee sidelined him permanently. His love for performance — and his pretty face — pushed him toward pursuing modelling in New York, where he was holed up in an agency-sanctioned apartment with nine other guys, all of them hoping for their big break. In between assignments for the likes of Diesel and Abercrombie & Fitch, he studied acting and surfed the poverty line.
“I remember for my birthday my mum sent me, like, $200 so I could buy a futon, and that was, like, glorious,” Kitsch recalls, laughing. “I think a lot of people come here and wanna wake up and be an actor. But paying your dues puts so much into being a success, because you have an understanding, for the most part, of what it’s about. Living day-to-day on three dollars, or living in an apartment with no electricity for well over a couple of months — those kinds of things shape a lot of who you are. It was a great experience, in retrospect. But I tell ya, I wouldn’t do it again. Fuck.”
Those years in squalour, and a streak of stubbornness, helped keep him focused on his acting goals.
“I definitely knew what I didn’t want,” he says. “To this day, I think if I was on a soap, I’d fuckin’ last an hour. That’s just a different type of acting, it’s a different art. I don’t think I’d be very good at that one bit.”
Kitsch landed a bit part in the heavily hyped (and ultimately unsuccessful) Samuel L. Jackson thriller Snakes on a Plane and a few other feature films before joining Friday Night Lights. If there were five viewers for every critic who has hailed FNL’s brilliance, Kitsch would already be a household name. Instead, he’s been marked as the show’s breakout star and an actor on the verge of being Hollywood’s newest ‘It’ boy — something the boy himself can’t help but laugh about. “Ummm, yeah. I’m on my way to buy three Lexuses, a mansion, a boat, and four other houses on an island,” he jokes. “That’s flattering, but you take it for what it is. It’s nice to have people — especially in this fuckin’ business — who are rooting for you.”
Even fanboys — a notoriously finicky group — were blogging with happy-face emoticons when Kitsch landed the role of Gambit in Wolverine, and he does seem (pardon the pun) tailor-made for the part: a charming Cajun thief and ladies’ man who can throw a mean playing card and manipulate kinetic energy.
“I knew X-Men and I knew of Gambit, but the more I learned about him, the more I wanted to play him,” Kitsch says. “He’s definitely a cool cat. And there’s so much room to take him and discover so many things that are a part of him, too. I’m really excited about it, and hopefully we can do a few of these.”
Kitsch describes the film as “pretty fuckin’ bad-ass,” and confesses that he’d “murder to play Gambit for the next 10 years, like Hugh did [with Wolverine].”
X-Men Origins: Wolverine pulls in plenty of characters from the X-Men universe to detail Wolverine’s evolution from man to mutant. Jackman has played the tortured title character since the first X-Men movie in 2000, and Kitsch brings up the Aussie actor’s name frequently and enthusiastically during the course of our conversation. He’s clearly smitten (professionally speaking) with his colleague.
“Working with Hugh, working off of him, is just a pleasure. We have really good chemistry on screen, and we have a lot of fun and give each other a hard time,” Kitsch says, laughingly recalling the good-natured ribbing he and the other actors would give Jackman about being a triple threat with his Broadway career, his action-hero roles, and his leading-man status. “It’s so ridiculous. His toolbox — mine’s, like, lunchbox big, and his is like a fucking shed with a padlock. He’s just kind of an enigma, a rare breed.”
One can’t help but hear how Jackman’s influence has already made its mark: Kitsch boasts a slight Australian affectation as he gushes about his friend, and his own good fortune.
“I can tell you, I wouldn’t want to be in this position five, seven years ago,” Kitsch admits. “I’m glad it’s happening now, and hopefully into my early thirties and stuff, you know? I didn’t have this kind of mindset eight years ago. And I think Hugh — when you look at how he stays the person he is, and that he had such a great sense of self when he started, and he knew what he wanted. According to the X-Men crew, he’s even more genuine than he was before, which is incredible.” ￼