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Battleship - Taylor Kitsch interview

Taylor Kitsch in Battleship

Interview by Rob Carnevale

TAYLOR Kitsch talks about limbering up for Battleship after the physical challenge of shooting John Carter, reuniting with director Peter Berg and getting to play soccer.

He also talks about working with Navy veterans and spending time with Seals in preparation for his next collaboration with Berg on Lone Survivor.

Q. Was Battleship as fun to make as it is to watch?
Taylor Kitsch: I had a lot of laughs, which was great for me because I haven’t been able to show that part of the comedic, fun part of who Hopper is. And working with Pete [Berg, director], who is such a dear friend… it was great just to go and engage with him and collaborate quite a bit.

Q. You helped on the script, didn’t you?
Taylor Kitsch: Yeah, we talked a lot. He would send it to me and say: “Rip it in half and do whatever you feel would be great for Hopper. Throw it in there and send it back.” I think that’s a very empowering thing to give any actor.

Q. With John Carter you obviously had the source material to draw from, whereas you’re operating from a blank canvass with this character. Which do you prefer?
Taylor Kitsch: That’s the beauty of Hopper, especially, because this is a guy who, at the beginning… the arc is insane to Hopper. This guy is jobless and living on his brother’s couch and by the end of the film is getting a silver star. It’s insane. But that’s the fun part of it… the relateability of a guy that has zero purpose. I remember driving around in Texas and Peter called me and we were just talking Hopper and we were talking about the [chicken] burrito scene and what we could do at the beginning to really just get people into the movie and how fun it is. It’s a very unexpected scene but it’s such a great character opening. But that’s all part of how much we collaborated.

Q. Have you ever had zero focus in a Hopper kind of way?
Taylor Kitsch: I think everyone does at one point in their life. I think he’s a guy that, when it all boils down, is afraid of his own potential. So, he doesn’t engage. That’s who he is and that was what I hung onto for the film. He’s a reluctant leader as well and I love that human part of him that he doesn’t want to be the leader. It’s through attrition only that he has to do it. It’s a pretty cool moment in the film and very human.

Q. As an actor you have to put yourself out there, though, and become a leader for certain projects. So, how did you gear yourself up to do that? Was there a particular moment where you said ‘I’m ready to put myself out there and lead this big blockbusters’?
Taylor Kitsch: I think I would do it all over again with both John Carter and Battleship. When an Andrew Stanton, Oscar-winning storyteller/director comes at you with an incredible vision, I’d do it. And when Pete Berg, a dear friend and amazing director and storyteller comes at you, I’m going to do it. And I trust these guys enormously. So, I think it’s just that. And I don’t really focus on the grandeur of it all. I try and make it as simple as I can for me, otherwise you just get f**king crazy if you start thinking about s**t that’s out of your control, if you know what I mean. And so much of it is.

Q. And I guess having a dear friend helps put you at a certain kind of ease?
Taylor Kitsch: Oh my God, it is. It’s a big thing for him. I mean, he flew out to London to pitch Battleship to me. So, it’s a big thing for a dear friend to be like: “Yeah, let’s work together… again!” Especially on this big of a film. It can go that way, or it can make you tighter and thankfully we’re even closer friends.

Q. So, how has that relationship evolved?
Taylor Kitsch: Oh man, we’re doing Lone Survivor together now. So, it’s evolved and there’s an enormous amount of trust. So, unless I f**k it up royally in Lone Survivor I hope to work with him again. We keep talking about developing some stuff together… maybe another Battleship, which would be great.

Q. Would there be aliens next time?
Taylor Kitsch: I don’t know. I’ve heard some cool premises and Hopper will be even more fun, in my opinion, with where we’re going to take him – which is a lot of fun, man. It’s fun to play that guy.

Q. Could he then slip again?
Taylor Kitsch: Why not? I think it’s fun to watch. He’s just a royal f**k up at the beginning of the film [laughs].

Q. Is Peter Berg your Scorsese then?
Taylor Kitsch: As of now I guess so. But we’re very much on the same page. Even talking a few nights ago in Germany, we were talking about something we want to hit after Lone Survivor. We want to keep doing incredibly different stuff and that’s the beauty of our job, to keep doing amazingly different things… and smaller stories as well.


Q. You obviously played a lot of American football on Friday Night Lights and now you’re playing soccer in Battleship. So, which do you prefer?
Taylor Kitsch: I’m more comfortable with soccer because I grew up playing hockey and soccer. So, I played for 15 years and it’s funny because it wasn’t put in the original script this soccer game. He called me and said: “Soccer…” I said: “What about it?” And he said: “Can you play?” I’m like: “Yeah, I can actually, why?” So, he replied: “It’s going to be in the movie now.” I was like, ‘perfect’. I played very competitive soccer, for whatever that level is in Canada.

Q. So, you had to fake the bad penalty?
Taylor Kitsch: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s Hopper that missed, not Kitsch. That’s all I’ll say!

Q. Do you follow an English team?
Taylor Kitsch: Well, Mark Strong is a good mate of mine and he’s an Arsenal fan. So, if I had to pick one… but I don’t really follow it though, if I’m being brutally honest.

Q. How was working with Rihanna?
Taylor Kitsch: Good man. She came ready for Pete’s process and I think that’s a great step to take. If you’re truly going to try and break in as an actor it’s a good way to start, to work with a great director like that.

Q. Did you feel like one of the older heads on this film? I mean, you’ve got Rihanna making her debut, Brooklyn Decker doing her second film…
Taylor Kitsch: No, I don’t look at it that way. I just think that if they want advice, or if they want anything, then I’m there. But I’m not that guy that’s going to come and volunteer advice. But if they ask, I’ll be there with open arms.

Q. How was working with Liam Neeson?
Taylor Kitsch: Great. I think it would be great to have more of Liam and I in the next one, if that happens. We just got along right away. I met him in the make-up trailer and it was just like [clicks fingers] ‘boom’. And you know right away that the scenes are going to be good when you’re on the same page just as people too.

Q. How physically demanding was this one as opposed to John Carter?
Taylor Kitsch: I’d say one hundredth of it. John Carter was insane. It was a big thing and a big break for me to come into this and not have to be in that shape.

Q. You look as if you throw yourself around quite a bit, though. Were there any injuries?
Taylor Kitsch: I did hurt my knee a bit but nothing too crazy. I stepped in between these huge things in the water. You know when Hopper is walking on the water during the first encounter, I stepped in between these huge metal cages that were under the water and twisted it up real good on day two! But it worked out well. It was just a bit of a tweak. I thought it was done. It meant a later start for me the next day because I had to go and get X-rays.


Q. Does it make you think twice about doing your own stunts?
Taylor Kitsch: No. I’m very stubborn, man. If it’s going to make it better, then I’m going to do it. If there’s something where there’s no way in hell you’ll know if it’s me or not… it helps everyone – the cameraman, the crew, if it’s me. And you want to lead by example too. But not try and be that hero that says: “I have to do it!” There’s a great stunt where Hopper jumps over the side of the ship and hangs on, I made sure that was me. It was three takes. But Peter knew I was very comfortable with it. So, once they know you’re good and safe and it looks good, they’ll go: “Just one more.”

Q. How was working with the Navy veterans?
Taylor Kitsch: I loved it! I loved it! We were shooting in Pearl Harbor on Battleship Row. We shut down the Missouri. So, to shoot on the Missouri for two weeks straight… that’s a f**king insane place to work. We were very lucky. And to work with some of these guys… some 90-year-old veterans that were on the Missouri or USS Oklahoma or part of the Arizona, all that kind of stuff… These stories they were telling us were incredible. It was like a movie. The stories were insane. I’ve played soldiers before and I’m dear friends with a lot of Seals, so those are the men’s men. They are the real heroes.

Q. What do they think of the Hollywood interpretation of their persona sometimes?
Taylor Kitsch: Well, I played Kevin Carter, who was a war photographer in The Bang Bang Club who actually lived and passed on, and then I’ll play Mike Murphy coming up, who has passed on as well. So, that will be my first actual take on an actual soldier that’s served. If you want to talk high stakes, that’s high stakes.

Q. You’ve obviously spoken to a lot of Seals, so what did they tell you that surprised you about their mindset?
Taylor Kitsch: I have a very similar mindset. I think their courage is unparalleled and their sacrifice and that’s something I’m in huge admiration of because I don’t know if I could do what they do. You like to think that you would but when you actually understand what they do and the sacrifice, it’s insane. So, it’s very flattering to get the chance to play one of the most honourable soldiers of all time.

Q. Peter got embedded with a Seal team. Did you do the same?
Taylor Kitsch: We were actually training with the Seals during the filming of Battleship at the base in Hawaii. It was great. And they’re just like everybody else… just guy’s guys. At the end of the day, they’re legit, to say the least. But they’re also very humble guys. They don’t like the limelight in any way. And they’re really down to Earth, so we were loving the Sunday barbecues, going on the hikes and doing all that kind of stuff with them but also training hard. They’re just another level those guys.

Q. Have you started filming it yet?
Taylor Kitsch: No, we’ll hit camera in September. I think we’re shooting in New Mexico. It will be hell to shoot, guaranteed. I’m already expecting some serious injuries. But what you put in is what you get out. But to be surrounded by… obviously, Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor, the one out of the four guys that is still alive… so be surrounded by Mike Murphy’s best friend and a lot of other Seals will be very inspiring and it’ll push all of us to a limit that we don’t even know yet.

Q. How was cutting your hair for the first time in 12 years for Hopper? Did you mind?
Taylor Kitsch: I just didn’t know what to expect because I couldn’t remember what I looked like with short hair! But I loved it. It’s all part of Hopper and the movie… and it grows back. I didn’t stress too too much about it. With Savages, it’s shaved shorter than Hopps. And there’s scars all down his face.

Q. How much did you enjoy working with Oliver Stone on Savages?
Taylor Kitsch: I loved it. I love a director that pushes you and I think it helped that I play a mercenary more or less. So, I wouldn’t be pushed around too much. Even unconsciously you adapt into that character. But I think he’s a guy that will get the best out of you and I’d love to go to work with him again.

Q. Do you find that you are continually learning with each film, both during the shoot and afterwards while on the press tours?
Taylor Kitsch: That’s when you know you’re making the right choices, when you’re growing from the role and the people you surround yourself with. Like, I’m a better actor for doing John Carter and I’m a better actor for doing Savages and that’s when you know you’re doing the right thing. I don’t want to be in my comfort zone. It’s boring.

Q. How much more of a responsibility is it to play real-life characters such as Kevin Cater and Mike Murphy?
Taylor Kitsch: It’s funny because people keep asking me about the pressure of these $200 million plus movies, or playing the lead and how it’s your coming out party and it’s your make or break year. No one knows pressure like having someone’s family watching you breathe life into someone that’s lived. So, that’s so flattering to be able to do and it’s going to get the best out of me. But that’s what you want. You want to be pushed to the limit and then some. Murphy will be the same.

Q. Have you met his family?
Taylor Kitsch: Not yet but I will though. I’m looking forward to it.

Q. Will you meet them before you shoot?
Taylor Kitsch: I think going back to playing Kev in The Bang Bang Club, though, it helped me a lot. And I know what to expect for the most part, prep-wise. I met Kev’s daughter, who was 18 or 19 when I was in South Africa, and she was awesome. And obviously, meeting Kev’s best friends and working with them and stuff. So, I think it will help me very much so with Murphy’s side as well.

Read our interview with Peter Berg

Read our interview with Brooklyn Decker