Make some space in your full hearts, because the man behind your dream fictional boyfriend, Tim Riggins, is as real as they come
Friday Night Lights favourite Taylor Kitsch on life after Tim Riggins.
If there were any doubts that 12 years spent living in Austin (five of those playing the most-beloved Texan highschool footballer ever to grace TV screens, in the slow-burning cult series Friday Night Lights) had rubbed off on Canadianborn Taylor Kitsch, they’re quashed quicker than a Dillon Panthers touchdown when he answers the phone with the Southern drawl of a lifelong native, as a greeting of “good ol’ Aww-stralia” booms down the line.
The city is now his adopted home (though he “only just” considers himself an Austinite), and it’s there that he’s taking a quick breather in between projects, having just wrapped up TV movie Waco. Filming alongside Andrea Riseborough, Rory Culkin and Ozark’s Julia Garner was “a beautiful experience” that resulted in what Kitsch calls “the best work of my life”, playing David Koresh, a religious sect leader at the centre of a 51-day stand-off with the FBI in 1993 that martyrised most of the group and resulted in the deaths of several federal agents. For his role as the self-touted prophet, he also learnt to sing and play guitar, but coyly claims that “by no means am I any good yet”. Ultimately, he’d love to channel his newfound skill set to play legendary guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who worked with David Bowie and Joe Cocker among other greats (“his story’s fuckin’ amazing”), but in the meantime, there’s a certain joy in knowing time spent bar-hopping dive joints in Austin could mean witnessing the handsome actor honing his strum on open-mic night.
“There’s always a story worth telling. I think that’s what it means to be an actor, to immerse yourself in the swing and to breathe life into these guys,” says Kitsch of his roster of roles until this point, including a gayrights activist in The Normal Heart, the late Pulitzer Prizewinning photojournalist Kevin Carter in The Bang Bang
Club and a cop uncomfortable with his sexuality in the second incarnation of True Detective. “You always want to be scared. I’m always trying to take risks and do something different. For me, comfort is death.”
That chase of the next will soon see him direct his first feature-length film, Pieces, about three friends who intercept a drug drop on the Texas/mexico border in a misguided bid to
better their means. Kitsch, who also wrote the film’s script, knows better than most the shitty situations that could lead someone to make a brash decision – he has described himself as “white trash” growing up, and spoken of struggling so hard when he first moved to New York that he had to sleep on the train. “I’m fascinated by the choices people make given what they’re given – which a lot of the time is not a lot – the roads they go down and what the repercussions are.”
Kitsch enlisted long-time friend Peter Berg to produce the passion project – Berg being the creator of Friday Night Lights, in which Kitsch played the tormented and brooding Tim Riggins. Reportedly, at the encouragement of Berg, Riggins was largely improvised by Kitsch (knowing the actor was behind much of the #33-branded charm does little to alleviate any feelings of transference), a process Kitsch credits with much of his success since. “I had an absolute blast playing that guy and I still have relationships from the show that’ll last a lifetime. That show was a big springboard for me. But it was definitely time to move forward and to keep swinging.”
This month, Kitsch stars in Only The Brave, a firefighting epic based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots – an elite group of 20 wildfire specialists, 19 of whom perished during a fateful 2013 blaze at Yarnell Hill in Arizona (the biggest loss of life of firefighters in the US since 9/11). It’s not a load Kitsch carries lightly. “In my humble opinion, one of the most flattering [roles] an actor can be offered is someone who has lost a legacy,” he says. “I love the responsibility you hold when you’re given something like this, the way you now carry the torch for someone.”
“YOU WANT TO BE SCARED. I’M ALWAYS TRYING TO TAKE RISKS AND DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT”
To prepare for filming, the cast (which also includes Josh Brolin and Miles Teller) spent time with the Hotshots’ only surviving member, Brendan Mcdonough, and camped and hiked in the wild for two weeks – an immersion Kitsch calls “an honour”. “Those weeks training and growing together to become this crew helped [bond us] immensely. Everyone was going through their growing pains together.”
Brolin, who plays the crew’s leader, has said the group is “the most close-knit community of actors I’ve ever worked with”, and Kitsch adds that the cast are still in touch – through a group chat: “I don’t know how many times I cry laughing [at it], probably once a week.” But the contents of the text thread that includes some of Hollywood’s biggest dudes’ dudes are as elusive as you’d expect. “Oh man, that is for my eyes only.”
Only The Brave is out November 30