Taylor Kitsch will forever be Riggins to passionate fans of Friday Night Lights. But in The Grand Seduction, a remake of the 2003 French-Canadian film, Seducing Doctor Lewis, he plays a doctor who’s lured into spending a month with a tiny Newfoundland harbor village. The town needs to convince Kitsch’s Dr. Lewis to stay permanently so that a company will be encouraged to build a new factory nearby; Brendan Gleason plays the elder tasked with making the quaint hamlet everything Lewis ever wanted. (Yes, it sounds a little like Doc Hollywood.)
Kitsch, who won plaudits for his performance in Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor and just starred in HBO’s The Normal Heart, was hooked by the story and the opportunity to work with Gleason. “It’s really his movie,” Kitsch says. “He was a huge factor in me signing on and we’re hopefully going to work together again. He’s that type of guy: ego-less. It was really refreshing for me to go away and just work with him and see how much he cares about the work.”
The 33-year-old spoke to EW about the movie, which opens May 30, his knowledge — or lack thereof — of cricket, and the directors he stole from for his directorial debut, a short film that’s playing a festival next month.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Dr. Lewis is a very different character than ones you’ve played before, which is, of course, the point. But when you first read the script, what made you say, “Yes, I want to play this guy up in Newfoundland for a bunch of weeks?”
TAYLOR KITSCH: One, I just kept laughing at loud, and two, you felt grounded enough where there’s a heartbeat with these guys. With Dr. Lewis, it was more just a guy living on the surface, being this surgeon, and off and on just doing blow and all this sh–. He kind of takes life for granted. Albeit it’s a comedy, you want to try and find those things that kind of make him tick or why he’s doing what he’s doing. I didn’t want it to be schtick kind of comedy, because I don’t think that’s funny. To ground him is the best way to do it.
Dr. Lewis has certain tastes and interests that the town tries to either accommodate or fool him into thinking are attractions of the area. So, what can you tell me about the great sport of cricket?
I still have no background on it. It was more of just basically using my love for hockey and putting it towards cricket.
It’s funny you say that because watching the scene in the bar where the gang is pretending to care about cricket while pining to check the hockey score reminded me of going to New York pubs with Canadian friends who crowd around the one lonely television with the Rangers or Islanders game.
No doubt. Even here in L.A., where hockey has grown so much, I’ll be at a sports bar and it’ll be the Stanley Cup playoffs and they won’t even have the game on. They’ll have like women’s softball or baseball or whatever it is. I’m just like, you just don’t get it.
You’ve gained weight for roles and lost weight for roles. For this movie, though, it seems like you just got to be yourself in that sense.
I didn’t have to go crazy in the gym or not eat, like The Bang Bang Club. I was very spoiled on this movie. Schedulewise, I remember it was like, “Hey Kitsch, you’re working Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. You got a four-day weekend and then we got you for two more days next week.” I’m used to six-day weeks or five days non-stop, 15-17 hour days. I was very, very spoiled on this film, in the sense of I’m in the middle of nowhere, fly-fishing, whale-watching, training for Lone Survivor — which I gained 20 pounds for — hiking one of the top-10 trails on the planet. There’s so many incredible things to do around there.
You filmed in August 2012, not long after Battleship and Savages were in theaters. In some ways, the movie feels like a regrouping for you, where you had the luxury to figure out this character and maybe what you want to do next.
Yeah, I was very fortunate about the timing. It was more about just going to work and not worrying about so many other things, which you can find yourself getting into the trap of. Just simplifying your life, you know. When your phone doesn’t work 90 percent of the day, you forget about those things and you’re way more engaging. To have gone to the outskirts of Newfoundland and to live in a three-bedroom cottage house with my best buddy there with me training and just working out and breaking the material down, it was really refreshing. It was a really great thing for me to take on. I was very lucky in that sense. I also wrote this short that I ended up directing, like right after. So on many levels, it was just a creative outlet.
Is that The Pieces, a drug thriller?
Yeah, we actually got into the Palm Springs ShortFest. So we’ll go there in a few weeks and screen it. We shot in L.A. for seven days, and it was one of those sets where nobody wanted to leave, we were having so much fun. And no one’s getting paid, ’cause I financed it so I made sure that everyone was clear that nobody is getting paid. Derek Phillips [who played Billy Riggins in Friday Night Lights] is in it. He’s one of my best friends, and I think he’s a really truly great character actor. And then Abigail Spencer (Mad Men‘s Miss Farrell) is great. It’s like 35 minutes [long]. We got $5 million to make it into a feature [and] I only need like one [million]. I’m probably 80 percent finished with the [feature] script.
You’ve worked with some high-profile directors, like Peter Berg, Oliver Stone, and Ryan Murphy. What have you picked up from them that has informed the type of director you are and want to become?
I’ve stolen a lot from Berg. I’m quite against over-direction, and I just think his process is a beautiful thing when you know what you want and you can empower the actors. He just always has that way of getting whatever it is he wants out of you the right way, you know. It’s funny, but I didn’t ask him for any help or anything and I sent him the [finished] short. I mean, he’s one of my best friends and he’s like, “Why the f— aren’t I in it?’ Which is pretty funny.