10 Actors to Watch 2011: Taylor Kitsch

Taylor Kitsch relaxed in the comforts of a coffee shop in Austin, Texas, an ironic location to take stock of how far his movie career has taken him.

Over the next 12 months, the film world will take Kitsch to Mars in “John Carter,” the high seas in “Battleship” and a clash with a Baja Mexico drug cartel in “Savages.” But for a little while at least, Kitsch could sit back in the former shooting location of “Friday Night Lights,” the critically acclaimed drama that was his onscreen home for the better part of five seasons, and reflect.

Though “Lights” never did draw a mass audience, the Canadian-born Kitsch’s brooding portrayal of Texan lost soul Tim Riggins attracted casting agents like fireflies, setting the stage for roles including a drug-addicted South African photojournalist in “The Big Bang Club” to Gambit in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”

First in 2012 is March’s “John Carter,” a sort of “Cowboys & Aliens” in reverse that transports a Civil War veteran to the red planet and required seven months of filming under director Andrew Stanton.

“You have a meeting just to break the ice just to see if you’re even clicking,” Kitsch says. “We’re kind of huge fans of each other, and that kind of goes full circle with ‘FNL.’ He loved ‘FNL.’ John is a beaten and broken man when you meet him, and there was a piece of him in Riggs.

The next release is “Battleship,” the May tentpole pic with Liam Neeson that reunited Kitsch with “Lights” exec producer Peter Berg, who cast Kitsch in the series.

“Five plus years ago, we were in this little board room improvising all these interviews of Riggs talking about his father or lack thereof,” Kitsch says. “I remember that like yesterday.”

Then scheduled for next fall is the Oliver Stone-helmed “Savages,” in which Kitsch co-stars with Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek and Blake Lively as a Laguna Beach marijuana grower caught up in the cartel clash.

“Buckle up, dude,” Kitsch says with a laugh. “I’m telling you, a very unapologetic story. I loved the grit of this guy. … I definitely want to keep playing a lot of these guys.”

Lucky break: “As far as professionally, and a gig that was setting the table for me, definitely ‘Friday Night Lights.'”
Favorite film: “I can give you a few. ‘Raging Bull’ for sure: I miss the simplicity and the character arc of that. It’s rare to see those kind of things now. ‘Butch Cassidy’ is epic for me. I love it. ‘Heat’ was a big one, that reminds me a lot of ‘Savages’ too.”
Career I’d like to emulate: “Basically, I can answer like this: Hopefully, down the road, if (I’m offered something) with a Daniel Day-Lewis or Philip Seymour Hoffman or Sean Penn. . .then I’m signing on without reading it.”

10 ACTORS TO WATCH 2011:
Benedict Cumberbatch | Jean Dujardin | Luke Evans | Josh Hutcherson | Felicity Jones | Taylor Kitsch | Brit Marling | Elizabeth Olsen | Octavia Spencer | Shailene Woodley

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