In this era of austerity, cinema has become risk averse. So when Beverley Hills cast a relatively unknown Canadian actor for a 250 million dollar film, you have to wonder what he’s got.
But Taylor Kitsch, 30, has done his time. His modelling career in New York involved a stint sleeping on the subway, while his first few months auditioning for parts in LA was spent living out of his $1000 car. When i-D strolls in to meet Kitsch, our biceps are definitely not on show. Kitsch is nursing a cup of coffee in a hoody, ripped jeans and beanie. His voice is like all the cigarettes in Soho strained through glass. Late night last night. But why not? Kitsch is John Carter, the face of a movie that cost Disney a pretty penny to bring to our cinema screens. Later this year, he’s starring in Peter Berg’s Battleship and Oliver Stone’s Savages. His star isn’t so bright this morning, but this kid is about to turn supernova.
You moved to New York from Vancouver ten years ago. How did that first happen? New York happened because my photos got bounced across to a modelling agency over there through a Vancouver agent. That was a bit of a segue for me; I was like “Hell yeah, I’ll go to New York and I’ll study acting.” I think if you want to do anything with a bit of longevity, you’ve got to put some time in and learn it. It was a big risk for me to go. I didn’t have a visa, being Canadian, so I couldn’t work, so I didn’t earn much money.
What was your life like? At first I was living in a flat with a bunch of guys, but I couldn’t afford it so I got my own tiny apartment way out in the projects, 181st in Washington. I was in Spanish Harlem, and I had no electricity for months on end. I was sleeping on my best friend’s girlfriend’s blow-up mattress, and that was all my furniture. I even ran out of money living there so I was homeless for a while. In retrospect it was crazy to be sleeping on the subway. But I kept studying acting. My coach was letting me do acting lessons for free, and it took me a while to pay her back.
When did you first start considering yourself an actor? I never really thought of myself as an actor, and I hate it when people say they’ve been an actor for thirty years because they played Santa in the Christmas play. I acted when I was a kid, but hockey was my thing. Hockey in Canada is like football over here. If you didn’t play it at school you were an outcast. I had a very stereotypical upbringing in a small town with the frozen pond in the back yard, so hockey was what we did every night. And then my knee went and put pay to that.
You see actors getting a profile and making the wrong decisions, and then they disappear… Meryl Streep said something years ago. I’m paraphrasing here, because this is what I took from it, but she said: “I see the next generation of actors coming through, and they’re making it so much harder on themselves to convince other people.” Because of the technology around, they spend their whole time telling people where they are, what they’re doing, where they’re eating. They tell people so much about themselves. If I did that, you wouldn’t see John Carter up there on the screen. You’d see Kitsch.
John Carter is released in UK cinemas today.
Text: Tom Seymour