Actor opens up about the rough road to unexpected stardom
Taylor Kitsch is someone you’ll be seeing a lot of, and soon. From his first role—a minor part in Samuel L. Jackson surprise hit Snakes on a Plane—to his breakout part on NBC’s high school football drama Friday Night Lights as running back Tim Riggins, Kitsch has taken some huge and unusual risks (and look, even if John Carter didn’t pan out the way Disney hoped it would, it’s still a pretty good movie). He’s been rumored around a major role in the next season of HBO’s True Detective for months, and he’s starring in a cool new trailer for 72andSunny’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare campaign directed by none other than Berg himself.
Adweek: How are you doing?
I’m really good. I mean—just to come here and hang out, I love it. I see a lot of old buddies from when I was studying and all that stuff. So, saw the Rangers game on Sunday. I love New York City, so any time I can come and hang out.
You’ve got True Detective coming up?
[Nodding] Mm-hmm. (For the record from sources involved in the negotiations: the deal is close, but not complete.)
It’s a great show.
Yeah, I’m really excited. I’ve just been prepping. It’s been almost a full year since I’ve been on camera, so I’m itching, man. I’m overdue. You’ve just got to grind it out. Even taking this year off was, I mean you want to work, but you also don’t want to just water it down and work for the sake of working. So, it was tough to sit a year out, keeping a finger crossed that I was going to get True.
Is that why you took the year?
Yeah, I mean it was just showing a lot of patience on my end and turning a lot of stuff down because I wanted to be a part of it. And having this meeting with Nic Pizzolatto, it kind of brought me back to when I was here in New York and why I wanted to be a actor, why you struggle and why you don’t quit. And when we’re talking, I mean he’s obviously incredibly smart and passionate, so that rubs off. And you’re just excited to go now. I can’t fucking wait to hit camera. So I’m excited. I loved that first season of it so much. It’s just unlike anything I’ve seen in, you know, I don’t know when. And it was so grounded. It could really happen. This is very similar, and I love that. It makes it more relatable. It makes these guys more real. Nowadays, it takes fucking balls to stand by that and do it that way.
When was the last thing you worked on?
Normal Heart was the last thing I did, which we shot here. And I loved it. I love shooting on location. And that’s one thing, too, I’m excited for True. I mean, we’ll be on location.
We’ll be in L.A. I mean, this is a whole new slate.
Did I read that it was set in the 1970s?
No, it’s contemporary. But the characters, I think, are going to have that great tone. I don’t want to give too much away.
No, definitely don’t!
But these guys feel like that old school vibe.
Your Call of Duty spot is great—the first-person perspective is really a cool idea. Are you a gamer at all?
I’m not a gamer, but I mean it’s hard not to get hooked when you get exposed to it. It’s creepy real! And having worked with Navy Seals, I’m very proud of the way I can handle a gun now, having worked with the best. But it’s it’s remarkable how close that game is. It’s crazy, man.
What was it like working with Peter Berg again?
Working with Pete—and I think with this whole commercial and what they’ve done and they’ve said and, in my humble opinion, what kind of separates them from others is when you feel you’re having a good time just watching it, like you can do anything. We shot it in California, a couple different locations, some in studio. A lot of it was actually very close to where we shot the ending of [Oliver Stone thriller] Savages. So, it was fun, man, yeah.
Between The Normal Heart and True Detective, you’re taking a lot of stuff with an edge to it.
I hope so. I hope to keep throwing curveballs, too, you know?
What’s it like moving to Los Angeles and trying to find friends as somebody working hard to get jobs acting?
I had worked here and then, I went to L.A., man. And I was living out of my car in L.A.
What the hell, man?
I was naïve, I guess. I ran out of money real quick. It’s a good story: I was homeless here in New York, and then I got my manager, who was like, “Come out to L.A.!” So, I went and worked and dug ditches in Barbados where my dad had been working. And I think I made like $4,000 or $5,000 in a couple months—like 45 days. Six-day weeks, working digging ditches. I made like 4,500 bucks or whatever, in my pocket, so I’m like, “Fuck, I’m good for like six months in L.A.!” Which is pretty stupid, if you think about it. I sublet a room, and within the month, I’m done, I’m out of money, and I had this little shitbox car that was terrific. It ran basically on fumes. I think it was under ten bucks to fill it up back then. Twelve-inch wheels—it was a little hatchback. And so yeah, it was a joke. I remember I didn’t. I’m not going to tell everybody that I’m sleeping in my car at the time, but I remember over Christmastime, my manager’s like, “Hey, do you want to make like 100 bucks?” I’m like, “Yeah.” So, I was delivering cookies and letters, like thank you letters to casting directors. Isn’t that fucking great?
I really ran out of money. At one point I lost my shit in my car, just had a little meltdown. The window wouldn’t roll down. So, I just starting hitting it, and it broke. Now cut to me with the plastic in the window. The duct tape. It couldn’t be more trash. I told my buddy, Josh, “Hey, I think I got to go back to Vancouver and at least work to come [back to L.A.]” And his mom gave me like 75 bucks to fix the window. She’s like, “I’m not letting you drive 24 hours with that fucking plastic bag.” I drove home. And then one of the first readings I had back in Vancouver was Snakes on a Plane.
And the rest is history.
What was your dad doing in Barbados?
He’s kind of been out of my life for my life. He had lived in South America, in Guyana, mining for diamonds. His brother is a really big construction, like it was—I don’t know how many millions his whole operation was. What we were doing is we were digging tunnels [under the highway] for the oil and gas to go under for them to use it at the airport. My uncle had that contract. And my dad was the foreman. So, I went there to dig ditches. That’s the most time in my life I had spent with my dad. Forty-two days, whatever, something like that. But I’m grateful for that, too, you know?
How was the work?
No one likes it. You literally have a jackhammer into the coral which is no joke. And it was long days. It was like 5:00 to 5:00 six days a week. And I remember falling asleep standing up on my shovel. And it’s like, this is the boss’s son, right? And it was not a good start. They weren’t pumped this little punk was coming around, you know? First time I had really used a jackhammer or anything. I’m trying to act like I run the place or at least belong. Didn’t work. I had some good moments but I remember it like yesterday.
How’d you lose your place in New York?
Just no money. The biggest thing was I didn’t have a visa there to work, so I was illegal. At that point, I didn’t even have a social [security number]. I remember my best buddy was doing these crazy big bar mitzvahs and weddings and catering. But he was like Johnny Personality—he’s the guy that got the party started, waving people onto the dance floor. Really good-looking, charismatic guy. He was like, “Kitsch, come and do this and work under the table.” In catering, you know? He was making good money. Especially, at the time. And I talked to the boss then, and he was like, “Yep, no problem, blah, blah, blah, we’ll pay.” And I’m like, “Cool!” So, I was doing that. And more running booze. You don’t want me to start a dance-off, you know? I’d get fired pretty quick.
You seem a little laid back for the guy at the front of the conga line.
Yeah, maybe at the back. And so I had worked two weeks and I was expecting some good change, cash under the table. And he was just like, no, you’re fired. And that was it. I couldn’t really work, so just ran out of money. I had coaxed a guy in getting a place on 181st and Washington, Spanish Harlem. And I couldn’t turn the electricity on, nothing. Where I got my light was, I stole all these candles at this garage sale. Isn’t that terrible?
You and Berg have been friends since Friday Night Lights, I take it.
He’s a good time, man. He’s one of my closest friends in L.A. We box together all the time. The last time we sparred, it got well out of control. Where I couldn’t box the next day because I still had a really bad headache.
Wait, because Peter Berg hit you so hard?
He can box. He’s got a counter. His counter is really fucking good. He’s quick, and he’ll just turn into a fucking brawl. If you pop him, we’re not even boxing anymore. He’s turning into a street fight.
Well, in the ring, you’re allowed to be.