Although Taylor Kitsch was never a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp works, auditioning for the lead in Disney’s adventure John Carter did give the actor an opportunity to geek out – over working with Pixar director Andrew Stanton.
“I got a call that said, ‘Hey, would you go down to Disney to meet with Andrew Stanton?’” Kitsch said. “I was like, ‘Oh, God, yeah! I loved Wall-E and I’m a huge fan of his!’”
Kitsch, who plays an Earthman transported to Mars (known as Barsoom to the Martians), explained to Spinoff Online and other members of the press that as a studious actor he was prepared for the demanding detail that went into the movie.
“When I walked in the door it was floor to wall prep of John Carter of the visuals and arc and everything else,” he said, recalling his first meeting with Stanton. While the director auditioned actors from across the globe, the Friday Night Lights alum eventually landed the plum role.
“You know when those opportunities come around they’re rare and you have to fight for them,” Kitsch said. “Well, I threw my hat in the ring as soon as I could!”
Laughing, he admitted he had no idea what made him stand out in Stanton’s mind.
“That’s a good question! I keep asking him if I’m ever low or down on myself,” he said. “I think he was a fan of FNL, and the story he gave me is he was watching some of it on a plane years earlier and he’s like, ‘I don’t know if he’s too young right now, but once we get going maybe we’ll bring him in.’”
Although Kitsch acknowledged John Carter is the blueprint for modern action-adventure heroes, he didn’t let the pop-culture importance of the role overwhelm his approach to the character.
“I don’t worry about that kind of stuff, of outside pressure, because for one, no one is going to put more pressure on it than me,” he said. “For me it’s more the emotional toll or ride you went on with John. That’s what I worry about, that’s what I use to prep.”
Rather than look to preexisting versions of the character Kitsch pulled his characterization from John Carter’s past as a Confederate Civil War captain, and researched the era extensively.
“Soldiers in the modern day fight for different reasons for the most part,” he said. “I just chose that it was to protect [Carter’s] family and the honor and the simplicity of what it was back then to go and fight. You don’t travel like you do now, so Virginia represented the United States of America for him and a lot of those soldiers, so they were protecting their farmland.”
“[John Carter] fought more for the protection of his family and lost that fight,” Kitsch added. “That’s what I stick to, that guilt that he left ironically to fight and protect his family but leaving them vulnerable to be attacked. […] I certainly didn’t play him as a hero. He’s just this everyday guy who is in this extraordinary circumstance.”
Although the actor is no stranger to exposure after his portrayal of troubled high school football player Tim Riggins on NBC’s Friday Light Nights, Kitsch told reporters his standard for taking a role is not whether a particular script will further his career but whether it tells an emotional story.
“I wouldn’t sign onto this gig if that emotional ride wasn’t there,” he said. “In that first meeting with Stanton it was, story is one, two and three in terms of importance, and everything else will take care of itself if we do this right. That was music to my ears, because god knows I get pitched roles that are action driven that aren’t as near character-driven as this to me, and that’s an automatic no.”
Talking more about his role on the hit NBC drama, Kitsch said he was glad Friday Night Lights was something of a sleeper hit, and described his dream roles as the ones that challenge him the most.
“I had the best of both worlds, garnering that critical acclaim as a show and as Riggs, and we’re not so overexposed that I have more of an uphill battle to prove that I’m this guy,” he said. “I pick the roles that are going to make me better … It really boils down to character.”
Circling back to working with Stanton, Kitsch laughed when reminded of his work with director Oliver Stone on the upcoming film Savages, saying the two are actually more similar than one would think.
“They prep, the similarity is script first, script everything,” he said. Speaking specifically to Stone, he continued, “He’ll give you that freedom but you have to earn that freedom — he’ll challenge you and you’d better come prepared. I over prep if there is even such a thing, so we got along quite well.”
“A lot of these guys get Oscar nods in his movies for a reason, because he will pull it, rip it, whatever he has to do to get the best out of you,” the actor added.
On the other hand, Stanton spent a lot more time getting to know his actors and the characters they played in John Carter.
“He knows you so well and he directs you for what you’re strengths are and what your needs are,” Kitsch said. “Lynn [Collins] will attest to that, he’ll direct her entirely different.”
Labeling Stanton’s direction as a “collaboration,” the actor concluded that while Stone worked on challenges, Stanton worked on trust. “I think there’s that trust,” he said. “If I have an idea I’ll either show him in a take or go to [Stanton] before.”
As for his next role, Kitsch told reporters that whether it’s another blockbuster adventure like John Carter or something smaller, “This next role no matter what will be gritty, and I’ll hold out unless it’s something I want to do.”
John Carter opens Friday nationwide.