If you ever watched TV’s Friday Night Lights, then you’re probably already a Taylor Kitsch fan. You know he’s got the charm and acting chops to carry a film, and he’s carrying two blockbusters this year. First up is Andrew Stanton‘s John Carter, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ novel A Princess of Mars. Kitsch plays John Carter, a Civil War veteran who finds him transported to the surface of Mars and thrown into a new civil war, but this it’s between nine-foot-tall green aliens and princesses who literally bleed blue. While on the film’s set, we talked to Kitsch about finding the balance between everyman and action hero, being the audience surrogate, working with director and co-writer Stanton, acting in physical environment as opposed to a green-screen soundstage, and more.
Hit the jump to check out the interview. John Carter opens March 9th.
TAYLOR KITSCH: I feel worse than I look, so what does that tell you? No, I mean I think getting into it you just try to prep as much as you can and get ready for the adventure, you know? Like I said, it’s just a lot of mental [strain] too. If you keep telling yourself “You’re beat” or this and that, you’re going to fall into that trap. You just try to stay positive really.
Were you a fan of the source material at all before you signed on?
KITSCH: Once I had the first meeting with Stanton… I obviously wanted this gig and the opportunity to work with him, so yeah you kind of envelope yourself with it, at least for the job. I wasn’t allowed to read the script before I screen tested for it, so you grab little things that you can at least grab a hold of for the character in the screen test and then take [Andrew Stanton’s] direction of course when you get there.
So what were some of those kernels of character?
KITSCH: I think for me personally, for at least the screen test… I don’t know, you learn a lot about [John Carter] with how he deals with fighting and stuff and in the books he would smile. It would be very hard for him to turn away from a fight. So you grab onto those things and then for the script it was a lot of… I just enveloped myself in the Civil War and studied with all of these historians and guys who knew the Civil War inside and out. You read the letters from the soldiers and I built a ton of John Carter off of that, where he actually came from and why he went to war to begin with.
John Carter, I guess, is kind of the audience’s surrogate, because we go with him and we sort of open up this world. What’s it like playing that character whereas all of the other characters are aware of each other and are in that world? You have to go through and figure it all out.
KITSCH: I think that’s just it. It’s been a huge experience for me, just because I’m basically the only “human” in the movie, so I’m showing you [the world] and a lot of things just happen to me, so I’m learning to really just let those things happen to me. Of course a lot of it is reactive stuff and absorbing these characters and everything else. Of course it’s sci-fi, so it’s not like every scene throughout the whole movie I’m going to be like “There’s an alien!” You finally have to get a grip onto where you are and that’s the journey of John Carter, but I think it’s allowed me to learn. There are scenes that I’m able to drive, to truly take the reins and really craft that moment. So that’s been a huge experience for me.
KITSCH: Definitely. You’re not going to get a lot of “Kitschisms” or stuff like that.
KITSCH: It’s a lot tighter, the dialect of John, especially since he ages throughout, so you will see that too. The look and everything… We just went over it will Bill Corso, who is incredible with the makeup. We have, I believe, eight or nine different looks, so as an actor I’m salivating. I love it. It’s great.
Speaking of that, I just read in an interview recently about Polly [Walker] when she was younger. She would show up on a set and think “Oh how nice of the art department. You had to make all of this up, just for me?”
KITSCH: (Laughs) I don’t know if I think that way. That’s a bit selfish, is it not?
I mean to play the titular character in this huge production with all of these elaborate sets. Do you ever find yourself having to check yourself?
KITSCH: Sure. You pinch yourself, man. I don’t know, Stants and I get along and we are collaborating an incredible amount and I think that and the journey and the project and maybe the way all of that kind of comes in and makes that bond a bit stronger that we are… You want this to just be a great movie that people come to see and enjoy the character and the ride of it. Once you start immersing yourself with that, then hopefully everything else will just kind of set in the way it should be. If I start thinking about “this, this, and that” and how it’s going to do, then you just drive yourself crazy. It’s just not work the energy. I would rather put it into John.
John Carter gets to do a lot of incredible things. He gets to literally leap tall buildings in a single bound, but at the same time you’re an alien on a world full of aliens. How do you find the balance between action hero and the audience cipher?
KITSCH: That’s a good question. You know, I think… I mean just leaving set right now… Like I said, prep for me is everything and I trust Stanton throughout, so you’ve just got to take it a day at a time. “Where is he at this point in time?” “Where is he with the relationship with Tars, with Sola?” and “How do I relate with everything that I’ve gone through on earth?” and “Why is he the way he is?” I just try and let it be organic as possible, let it run its own course, take the direction, and just go with that. If I start to look forward to six months from now “I’ll be doing this scene with Tars,” it’s just too much. Right now, I’m just immersed in this one scene. It’s great.
What is it like working with Andrew Stanton on his first live action feature? How is it in relation to other directors you have worked with? How is it different?
KITSCH: He’s brilliant, first of all. The script is truly remarkable. I keep saying “Prep is everything,” he’s done it tenfold, so he knows exactly what’s going on and with something as big as this of shooting these guys and how technical this can be, the trust has to be just that much more. I have to trust him that much more with what I’ve done in previous stuff… The technicality, if he goes “I need it again.” I just have to trust him. I just trust him, because he’s so smart and he’s written it and the vision is already there, so really I’m just trying to bring this guy to life as much as I can,
How is the experience of being on location as opposed to in the studio? How much of that gets integrated into the character?
KITSCH: Yeah, as you were saying it’s these sets, you know? A month ago I was surrounded by 360 green on a one-man flyer with wind machines, so you come out here and it really does start to feel like an epic adventure movie. We are on Lake Powell and there are all of these crazy great set designs. It’s half the battle, I don’t have to envision “this, this, and that” here, it’s in front of me, so it helps me as an actor tenfold.
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