Actor Taylor Kitsch finds simplicity in Newfoundland village, shooting Canadian film

30 Aug 2012

By Jay Stone
Calgary Herald (Postmedia News)
View source article 

Taylor Kitsch (photo, Duncan.de.Young)

NEW BONAVENTURE, NL — In the dining room of Aunt Hattie’s Vacation Home, a green wooden cottage overlooking a picturesque harbour, Taylor Kitsch is reflecting on life in a quiet village at the eastern tip of Canada.

“I just love the simplicity of it,” he says. “I think once you really settle into it, you kind of realize how convoluted you can make your own life. All these things that we quote-unquote ‘need’ for everyday stuff, you really don’t. It’s nice to have that simple existence for a bit.”

Taylor Kitsch and Brendan Gleeson on the set of The Grand Seduction in New Bonaventure (photo, Duncan.de.Young)

It’s a moment that has several layers of built-in irony.

Kitsch, 31, the B.C.-born actor who came to prominence in the TV series Friday Night Lights, is suffering through a year of failed blockbusters. Andrew Stanton’s man-on-Mars film John Carter, which was supposed to launch his career as an action superstar, was a $200-million fiasco. His followup, Battleship, directed by Peter Berg, was also a box office disappointment. His third big Hollywood film, Oliver Stone’s Savages, didn’t make much of a splash.

“You don’t say no to Andrew Stanton,” Kitsch says now. “I don’t care who you are. That guy’s brilliant. And Pete too. And I’d do it all over again. And Oliver’s Oliver. I hope to work with him again for sure.

“You never know how it’s going to turn out with any movie. You just go with your gut. Some land and some fall terribly, and that’s the beauty of it. You’ve just got to throw yourself into it and keep it simple and see what happens.” 

Taylor Kitsch and Brendan Gleeson (photo, Duncan.de.Young)

His gut has led him to New Bonaventure on Trinity Bay, where he’s starring in a more modest project: the $12.7-million Canadian film The Grand Seduction, scheduled to open in 2013. A remake of the 2003 Quebec comedy Seducing Doctor Lewis, it tells the story of a remote village trying to lure a big-city doctor. The town fathers (played by Irish actor Brendan Gleeson and Canadian icon Gordon Pinsent) secretly learn about the doctor’s passions — he loves cricket, for instance, and beef Stroganoff — and custom-design the village to suit him. Suddenly there’s a cricket pitch on a hilltop and a beef Stroganoff festival at the local restaurant.

Kitsch himself was seduced by a script that he thought was very funny (“I laughed out loud a ton”) and by the chance to return to what he loves as an actor.

“It kind of takes me back to the Friday Night Lights days, which leads me to a very comfortable existence,” he says. “That’s what I love: just coming and making it about the work and not overthinking so many things, I guess.”

Brendan Gleeson  and Taylor Kitsch (photo, Duncan.de.Young)

New Bonaventure is a quiet village of some 30 souls three hours north of St. John’s. Its days as a commercial fishing centre are over, but it has found new life in the movies. Just across the harbour is the set that was built for Random Passage, the 2002 miniseries about early life in Newfoundland, now turned into a tourist attraction. After that was filmed, director Lasse Hallstrom arrived to film the drama The Shipping News, which starred Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore and Judi Dench, as well as Pinsent. Now, the lights and trailers of The Grand Seduction’s crew fill the hilly streets.

“It’s like a back lot,” laughs Don McKellar, who was called in to direct the movie when Quebec filmmaker Ken Scott — who wrote the original — dropped out to do a Hollywood remake of another Quebec comedy, Starbuck.

New Bonaventure is one of several villages that are being used to represent the fictional town of Tickle Cove, where the film is set. “It’s a beautiful harbour,” McKellar says. “It’s quiet. And the people are so sweet, you can’t believe. In our story there’s not supposed to be any cars in town, it’s supposed to be an outport town. Can you imagine how hard that would be almost anywhere, to keep cars out? It’s not hard here at all.”

The only thing missing was Joe’s Bar, a tumbledown restaurant where much of the action takes place. So the filmmakers built it: a ramshackle wooden building at the edge of the water, painted blue and artificially aged so the flaking paint would match some of the other buildings in the village.

Sitting at a table in Joe’s between takes, McKellar said that the movie’s 40-day shooting schedule means he will miss the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time. He couldn’t be further away — there’s not even cellphone service — but McKellar says, “I’m sort of enjoying it. I’m indulging  in the isolation.”

Kitsch is having a similar experience. He says that when he ventured into the nearby town of Trinity, he felt a buzz. “And I was like, ‘This is a big town.’ That’s when you know it’s starting to rub off on you. ‘Wow, they’ve got two restaurants’.”

McKellar says his remake will have a more realistic tone than the Quebec original, which had a fairy-tale feel. Kitsch has avoided seeing the first movie. He hopes his way of working — improvising and paraphrasing lines— will make the role of Dr. Lewis his own.

“The more I can escape into something the better,” he says. “I love disappearing into stuff. Savages and (The) Bang Bang Club (a 2010 film in which he played real-life South African news photographer Kevin Carter) stood out for me for that kind of stuff. This has been a lot of fun, to investigate parts of you that you haven’t seen on film yet.”

He says playing someone like Kevin Carter, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his photos of racial unrest, was a lot more pressure than being the star of a $200-million tent-pole film like John Carter.

“There’s pressure there, none more than you put on yourself. But the real pressure’s when you play someone who’s left a legacy and has done something. Mike Murphy, who I’m going to play in a month. Kevin Carter. That’s not a joke. You can’t screw around with that kind of stuff. I take that incredibly seriously, and that makes you scared.”

Murphy is another real-life character, one of a group of Navy SEALs who were assigned in 2005 to capture a Taliban leader in Afghanistan. His story will be told in Lone Survivor, which co-stars Mark Wahlberg, Eric Bana and Emile Hirsch. It is being directed by Peter Berg starting in September. Kitsch is getting into Navy SEAL shape with gruelling workouts, including running along the nearby Skerwink Trail with a 40-pound backpack.

“It’s a lot, but I love it,” he says. “I’m loving the training.”

After that, he hopes to make a couple of independent films. He likes the balance between big and small movies, and he likes the risks, doing things that scare him.

The night before, he’d finished writing a short film that he hopes to direct and act in. “It’s about a guy who’s in over his head, and it’s about the repercussions of what happens with this one decision that he makes.”

It sounds familiar, and it is tempting to view The Grand Seduction as a few weeks of rest from the spotlight. “It depends on how much you read into it,” Kitsch says. “It kind of brings me back to FNL days. It really does. I just am comfortable with that. It’s nice to come here and play around a bit and see what happens.”