When the TV series Friday Night Lights launched three years ago, the character of Tim Riggins was a womanizing, no-homework-doing burnout who happened to be gifted on the football field. But Canadian-born actor Taylor Kitsch has brought vulnerability and depth to the role that Riggins has become a favorite Dillon, Texas resident, as he shows tremendous will amid a broken home, perennial heartbreak, and desperate dealings with the town's seedy underbelly. The show struck a deal to air its third season on DirecTV; that run ended a few weeks ago, but those 13 episodes are currently screening Friday nights on NBC for those without satellite dishes. Meanwhile, Kitsch is keeping busy: He just finished filming X-Men Origins: Wolverine (he plays Gambit), and he's been spending a lot of time in his dual homes of Austin and Vancouver. The A.V. Club recently tracked down the former model to talk about his love affair with FNL and the running joke he has about Samuel L. Jackson. Very minor spoilers ahead.
The A.V. Club: You've been getting a lot of attention about a moment from late in season three: Your teary reaction shot in a scene with Jason Street. What do you remember about filming that scene?
Taylor Kitsch: I remember filming that moment probably 98 percent better than any scene I've done on FNL. It was just really—it was a tough scene. I think from the beginning, I've had a really good connection with who Jason Street was to this guy. And reading it on the page, Six [actor Scott Porter, who plays Street] and I knew it was this kind of a scene. And as scary as that was for [executive producer Jeffrey] Reiner directing, I was really stuck on doing that much, and showing that much for Riggins, instead of him intrinsically dealing with things. I don't have many great moments in season three. I'm very much a supporting role in everyone's storylines, and when you do get those moments, you just want to knock them out of the park. That was probably my favorite moment of the year; that's pretty much why I do the gig.
AVC: Riggins has changed so much over the past three seasons.
TK: Yeah, I think that has to do with the mistrust with himself, and how he can't trust anyone because of his upbringing, or lack thereof. Even his brother. I think he can trust in the coach, but he doesn't really show that too much. I think it's more of his own problems, because he still hasn't grown through that and understood the repercussions of his choices. He basically gets through with booze and takes out his aggression on the football field, and skipping class, and getting away with all these things because of the rally girls, or because of the football.
AVC: Do you remember your initial thoughts about the character when you read for him?
TK: I think the best note Pete [Berg, developer] had for me when I read for him was, "He's not that guy at the party that's going to be screaming." First of all, that's boring to watch after one scene. Really, ya know? If you remember, and I certainly do, those guys at those parties, you roll your eyes and you're just like, "Fuck. That guy is a goof." For me, it was figuring out why he's doing all that.
AVC: Are you getting used to the show's multi-camera handheld-shooting style?
TK: Oh, I love it, man. We're fucking spoiled. We really are. We'll do 18 pages a day sometimes, and that's just unheard of in television and film. They pick up these idiosyncrasies—we have all this freedom. If we're doing a scene and, say, I want to do something with the bottle I'm holding, [the camera crew] will start with my hand on the bottle to give a segue to go into the scene. All those little moments shape these characters and make it so genuine and relatable. There's a scene in episode 12, it's one of my other favorites. Riggs puts his cleats on the field, and we're like, "Let's just keep [the shot] super-wide." It's making the viewers work and go, "Oh my God, I wonder what's going through his head." No other show would do that, man. No other show. Other shows are going to knock you over the head going, "He's crying. This is his crying moment."
AVC: Has it been an adjustment working on other projects, having spent so much time working in this format?
TK: Yeah, believe me, the shooting and all—it's understandable for a movie like Wolverine, with the camera, the shots, the lighting, and everything else. And it's so bloody worth it in the end, but your patience [runs out], because we move so quickly on FNL. When you go and shoot such a big movie and such an intricate scene where every moment is calculated—it's just a lot different. You've got to make sure you love this gig, because there's some downtime. It could be four or five hours before they get a different setup. It's definitely a test of focus. I feel a lot more drained doing those kinds of things, just because you're looking at a 12-to-15-hour day just to do one, two scenes tops. And on FNL, I would go in and do six, seven hours and do five, six scenes. It's nonstop. The setup is basically these guys reloading the fucking cameras, you know?
AVC: What goes into filming all the football scenes? Is it extremely pieced together?
TK: We have it down pretty good now. I mean, you can just tell me the play and I can run the route now. But in the beginning, it was a lot more concise and everything, in regards to what we're actually doing. I remember shooting for two nights, and the football game is a minute long, or fucking two minutes. Now, it's like everybody has a better sense of what's going to make it into the shot, so we're more efficient.
AVC: But do they shoot, like, Zach Gilford getting the ball, then stop shooting, then show you catching it? Or is it a complete shot?
TK: We'll run it. Of course, if I'm going to take a huge hit, that'll be my double, because these guys are ex-NFLers, ex-Arena Bowl players. And they're a hundred pounds heavier than me. But any of the catches, and a lot of the practice stuff, I'll do on my own. We'll run 'em. Fuck yeah. [Gilford] and I, we love doing it, especially in the game [in episode 12]. We have this one play, I haven't even seen it yet, but Riggins throws a touchdown pass, and he catches it, and that's all us. That was just fucking great. I threw like a 55-yard bomb right to him. And I was more impressed with me than him actually getting it. [Laughs.] That I actually got it to him! You've got to run the 50-yards and catch it right in front of the camera and make it look like he's not waiting for it, right? So we did that, and it worked like seven out of eight takes, so we were pretty pumped.
AVC: Critics seem to universally love the show, but it still doesn't have the ratings it needs. Are you surprised by the reaction the show is getting?
TK: Yes and no. I think it's frustrating in a sense. Like, fuck, man. It's a great show. I'm willing to talk about it and everything else. I think it should be marketed a bit stronger. It's a show that makes you work, so there's a fine line. I hope we can go even another round. It would be great.
AVC: Moving on to your other work, you've done a few movies now with Samuel L. Jackson, including Snakes On A Plane. Do you have a rapport now when you see him on set?
TK: No, to be honest. I worked the same day as him on Snakes, but I haven't really had a scene with him. It's kind of an ongoing joke. It's like, I'm sure I'll do another one with him and not even meet him, again. Because he did Gospel Hill green-screen, so I never got to work with him.
AVC: It's assumed you at least meet the people you're in movies with.
TK: Yeah. Little do they know…
AVC: During an interview you did for the Chicago Tribune last year, some guy walked by in the middle and mentioned he'd never seen The Covenant. You said, "Go into it with low expectations." What did you mean by that?
TK: [Laughs.] I think it had the making to be something really great. The movie was what it is. It was a lot of fun to make, and I had the time of my life. I'm still best mates with the majority of the guys. It just felt like the potential wasn't 100 percent reached. And I'm sure I'll do more movies like that. You can't win on every single one.
AVC: Some have claimed that it's a homoerotic film. Thoughts?
TK: Um… [Pauses.] What am I going to say to that? Shit.
AVC: Tim Riggins is quite the brooder. How do you get into a good brood mood?
TK: In the beginning, [I did] a lot more, but now I feel so fucking dialed into this cat. And you want to keep people guessing. It would be boring for people if I always just had my head down and that kind of shit. You're always investigating and trying new things and taking risks. And sometimes it works. In season two, I figured some stuff out differently to play—and that's the freedom within the show. It's like, "It's written, so let's try different things. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, fuck—we'll find it, guaranteed."
AVC: So you've developed different shades of brood?
TK: I don't know about that. I've developed different degrees for him, I can go in and out of it. So I'm not going to put on R.E.M. before I do a scene. "Everybody Hurts." You know what I mean?