Taking on the role of photojournalist Kevin Carter in The Bang Bang Club was hardly a vacation for Taylor Kitsch.
“I didn’t sleep. It was a zoo to shoot,” he says of the film, which tells the true story of a group of photographers covering the violent last days of apartheid in South Africa. “It wasn’t a fun shoot for me at all. I had a lot of kidney problems playing Kev, through the diet and losing 30-something pounds.”
Known to audiences for his work on Friday Night Lights, and starring alongside Hugh Jackman in Wolverine, Kitsch threw himself into playing Carter, starting before heading to Johannesburg for filming.
“I had two months to prep on my own in Austin, so that entailed shadowing a photographer, getting a Leica, which is about a 60-year-old film camera that Kev used, developing myself with that, shooting about five to 10 rolls a day and then losing the 30-something pounds just running every day in Austin,” he explains.
“There’s so much pressure I personally put on myself to do this guy justice, so I prepped and prepped so much. It brings your game up more. I would’ve done anything to get where I needed to be, to feel I could let the scene go. I was a wreck. It’s an incredible amount of energy.”
But any amount of effort was more than worth it, Kitsch insists, given how badly he wanted to do the film.
“Even reading the script and fighting for the role, it was a matter of, like, I know I can play this guy truthfully,” he says. “There’s something that I know I could hit with him.”
But while he worked relentlessly on getting into character, Kitsch wasn’t necessarily prepared for how difficult it would be to get out of character, given the intense scenes Carter lived through. (Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for a photo of a young Sudanese girl resting being stalked by a vulture.)
“Some counselling was needed, and just separating yourself and being incredibly conscious of it and being OK that it’s taking time to let go was a big thing for me.
“Playing other characters, I can let go and I can laugh a lot. It’s not as heavy, obviously. But you take it home with you.”
Luckily he won’t be taking as much home with him again soon, as his next projects are more on the fun side. Of course, even his upcoming Battleship — based on the board game — isn’t without its gravitas.
“Just because it’s this big film doesn’t mean we can’t have a very, very intense moment here or there, or have loss,” he says.
Speaking of aliens, Kitsch will be keeping with the action genre as the title character in John Carter of Mars.
“I was looking at a 100-foot green screen and there was an X on it at the 75-foot mark, and that was supposed to be a ship that I’m blowing up,” he says. “In situations like that, escapism is a lot harder as an actor, and tests you in different ways.
“With Bang Bang, I had a f—ing child and a vulture. If you can’t put yourself in a present moment there, then you’ve got to go back to New York and study a bit more.”