The Bang Bang Club is the real-life story of a group of four young combat photographers that risked their lives to use their camera lenses to tell the world about the brutality and violence associated with the first free elections in post-Apartheid South Africa in the early ‘90s. In the indie drama, actor Taylor Kitsch plays the doomed Kevin Carter, a passionate artist who left an incredible mark on the world, but eventually succumbed to drugs and killed himself. As a photographer myself, I have never understand the lengths that combat photographers go to, in order to get those shots that go on to win them a Pulitzer Prize, but I do respect and admire their need to make a statement with a photograph. They put their lives at risk, every time they go out in the field, but the adrenalin rush keeps them coming back for more and, every once in awhile, they capture an image that the world will remember.
At the film’s press day, Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) talked about the two months he spent preparing for the role, losing 30 pounds in order to physically show the deterioration of the depressed and manic drug addict, getting to know his character through the surviving photographers that were friends with him, how difficult it was shaking the role when filming was done, and that he hopes people are educated and inspired by this story. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
And if you’d like to read what Kitsch said about John Carter of Mars, Savages and Battleship, click here.
Question: Since the guy you’re playing is no longer around to get insight from, how did that impact your approach to the character and how much did you rely on what Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva told you about Kevin Carter?
TAYLOR KITSCH: That was huge. I had two months to prep on my own in Austin, that entailed actually going to L.A. and shadowing a photographer, getting a Leica – which is a 60-year-old film camera that Kev used – enveloping myself with that, shooting five to 10 rolls a day, and then losing 30-something pounds, just running every day in Austin. And then, I listened to his voice and cadence. The script was a huge thing, story wise and arc wise. Personally – and obviously I’m biased – I think you could do a film on just who Kev was. That was huge for me.
A big thing for me, going into it, was to show the whole arc and spectrum of who Kev was, rather than just the drug addiction and this depressed, manic guy that suffered. If you look up what he represented to The Bang Bang Club, there are people who are like, “Oh, that’s the drug addict,” but I wanted to show the whole thing of who he was. Everyone’s opinions of who he was are going to be derived from my performance, and that weighed a lot on me. And then, going to South Africa and meeting Greg and Joao was hugely emotional. Even reading the script and fighting for the role, I knew I could play this guy truthfully. There was something I knew I could hit with him, so I just used my gut on that a lot, as well.
I kept it simple with Greg and Joao. I asked both of them, “In five words or less, can you describe Kev.” What that did for me, personally, just from the acting standpoint, was keep my choices simple. It could have been a zoo, trying to play so many things with him at once, because he’s bi-polar, manic, has night terrors, doesn’t sleep, and has highs and lows, like a child. If he’s low, you’ve never seen anyone lower. If he’s high, you’ve never seen anyone higher. I did my thing with that. That really saved me. On set, Joao was introducing me as Kev. Hearing those kinds of things, or knowing that he couldn’t watch because I had picked up Kev’s mannerisms and the way he interacted with people, and how he was so loving and open, that validated my choices. And then, I was just off and running.
KITSCH: Absolutely, and that’s a validation of where I felt I was with the two months I had to prep. I was very heady about it, just with the weight, and only eating fruit and coffee. I didn’t sleep. It wasn’t a fun shoot for me, at all. And, once I had Joao and Greg tell me that it was quite spot-on, it let me know that I was making the right choices. Doing the scene with the vulture, Joao was there in the Sudan and he saw Kev, right after he took these pictures, so I asked him, “What was he like? What did he say to you?” That’s all I wanted to know. So, we did three takes and that’s all we needed, and Joao was a wreck with me, on that day. It was as hard on them, to relive the actual, true experience. That was probably one of the roughest days, to see this guy who is still a photojournalist break down like that.
Have you talked to Joao since he lost his legs in Afghanistan?
KITSCH: I sent him a note, and we’re going to send him a package, but I haven’t talked to him personally. I haven’t called him.
Do you think he’ll be back out in the field again, as soon as possible?
KITSCH: He has two fake legs now, and he is the most stubborn cat on the planet, but it’s incredibly endearing. I can’t speak for him, but I don’t think he’s the guy who wants people to be like, “Oh, here, let me help you up this cliff, so you can get this shot.” I don’t know what he’ll do. It will be fascinating to see what happens. I know he’s a fighter and he’ll probably be running in a week, but that’s just his personality. I respect him. He helped me an incredible amount, through this process.
How difficult was it for you to step into this guy’s life and do these re-enactments of actual events?
KITSCH: Very. There was so much pressure that I personally put on myself, to do this guy justice. I prepped so much. There were surprises where you would go, “Holy shit! This actually happened and this is what they did.” It really brings your game up more. I would have done anything to get where I needed to be, to feel I could let the scene go. The emotional stuff made me a wreck. At one point, Kev was broken and cracked and weeping in every scene. That’s very tough on you. It’s an incredible amount of energy.
KITSCH: Very tough. Some counseling was needed. I just had to separate myself and be incredibly conscious of it, and being okay that it was taking time to let go was a big thing for me. I can play Riggs (on Friday Night Lights) or these other guys, and I can let go and laugh a lot because it’s not as heavy. But with Kev, it was the type of guy that you take home with you.
Were there times with this film where you were consumed with the reality?
KITSCH: No. I never feared for my life. In creating these moments where you’re hearing gunshots, it’s not hard to play the realism in that. For me, personally, I love that stuff. As an actor, it’s a blessing to recreate that kind of stuff. But, I never felt like I was in danger. There are definitely higher stakes, when you’re dealing with a true story.
Why should people go see The Bang Bang Club?
KITSCH: If anything, come and be educated. Come and see what happened, 16 or 17 years ago, and understand that there was so much sacrifice to that first free election. Hopefully, you’re on board with the emotional toll and you understand the sacrifice that these guys gave, but come and see the film. I guarantee that you’ll learn something and you’ll be inspired by one of these guys. If anything, come and watch it for that.