‘John Carter’ star Taylor Kitsch took path of most resistance to big screen
BY CINDY PEARLMAN March 2, 2012 5:08PM
"JOHN CARTER" John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) Ph: Frank Connor ©2011 Disney. JOHN CARTER™ ERB, Inc.
Updated: April 5, 2012 8:10AM
Before he got to see his name up in lights, Taylor Kitsch couldn’t pay the light bill.
Homeless in New York City without a work visa, the handsome, Canadian-born actor was more than down and out.
“I slept on a subway car in New York City and eventually lived in an apartment with no electricity in Spanish Harlem,” says the 30-year-old, who back then legally couldn’t work in the United States.
“I struggled. I ran out of money,” says Kitsch. “I started doing this catering job, worked for two weeks and they didn’t pay me when they found out that I was Canadian.”
Funny how things change. Kitsch is the star of Disney’s big-budget spring film “John Carter” (opening Friday), and Oliver Stone personally tapped him to star in his upcoming crime thriller “Savages.” Kitsch also stars in the summer action flick “Battleship” with pop star Rihanna.
“I think hard times do make you a better actor,” says Kitsch. “When it came to auditioning for ‘John Carter,’ I was a lot hungrier for it than the next guy. I had struggled more than the average guy.
“I said, ‘I’m not letting this get by me.’ ”
In “John Carter,” the former star of “Friday Night Lights” brings a character from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels to life. He plays a Confederate Civil War hero who finds a strange medallion and is jettisoned straight to Mars, where he gets involved in a species war and must save a young princess.
The film cost a reported $250 million and is based on material written 100 years ago. Director Andre Stanton scoured the globe for his leading man, although he felt a pull to Kitsch, an actor he admired from “Friday Night Lights.”
Fans have been waiting for this film for a long, long time. “The pressure was there, but it didn’t drive me,” Kitsch says. “The pressure within is what drives me. I’m the one who had to breathe life into this guy.
“At the end of the day, this is my childhood dream to make big movies like ‘John Carter.’ I was the one who needed to sit back and be proud of the work.
“That means everything,” he says.
He landed one of the most coveted young adult roles in Hollywood. “I was on a wakeboard in the water in Austin, Texas, when I heard the phone ring on the boat,” Kitsch recalls. “The director, Andrew, called me personally and said, ‘So, we talked about it and you’re John Carter.’
“I said, ‘Look, I don’t know what this journey will bring, but you’re going to get everything I got,’ ” Kitsch recalls. “We hung up, I got out of the water and started preparing.”
The workouts were paramount. “The training was absurd because I had to be in perfect shape for this film,” says Kitsch, whose John Carter has strange powers on Mars, including the ability to leap over very tall alien beings and buildings.
“I was battling exhaustion because I trained for four months before we filmed and seven months during the shoot. I had to be in perfect shape for 11 months, which is asking a lot out of your body,” he says. “I woke up every morning at 4 a.m., and there were moments where I thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’
“It’s that old cliche of what you put in, you get out,” he says. Kitsch didn’t even work with a trainer. “I’m a certified nutritionist and I know my body,” he says. “I knew what I had to do to shoot for 106 out of 106 shooting days for almost a year.”
“John Carter” was shot in Arizona, Utah and London. But it was in the desert of Utah where Kitsch got the feeling that he was on the right path. “We were in the middle of some mountains in Utah and 200 yards away, there was NASA playing around with the Mars lunar stuff for real. It tells you something when NASA is looking over your shoulder. You also know you’re out in the middle of nowhere when NASA is doing training next to you.”
His career is jettisoning to other places. In “Savages,” an adaptation of Don Winslow’s 2010 novel, his co-stars are Benicio del Toro and John Travolta. Stone asked to see 30 minutes of “Mars” before casting Kitsch as Chon, a Navy SEAL turned pot dealer who decides to go up against the Mexican drug cartel when his girlfriend (Blake Lively) is kidnapped.
“It was one of those, ‘You better be freaking ready for this, Kitsch’ moments,” he says. “Oliver and I got along very well. I love that the guy demands so much. He doesn’t settle, which is also my personality.
“The character I play is literally 180 degrees from John Carter,” he says. “I have a shaved head and scars all over my body, which is also half-covered in tattoos.”
Kitsch is signed on for a total of three “John Carter” films, which will be made if the box office rolls in for the first. Between films, he has a real home in Austin, Texas, and is building a new one as we speak.
“Living in Austin helps me keep my feet on the ground,” he says. “The good news is I’m not a kid. I found this career late and I have a good sense of self that was firmly in place before all of this s--- started to happen.
“I can laugh at all the rising star stuff and not get caught up in it,” he says. Kitsch grew up in a small town outside of Vancouver. “It was an apple orchard to the left and a frozen pond to the right in my backyard,” he says. “I played hockey with my brothers every single day.
“I wouldn’t trade that childhood for anything.”
His private life can be summed up in three words: ice hockey forever. “I’m in a men’s ice hockey league in Austin, and I love it,” he says. “It’s one of the best things for me, escapewise.”
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