I was flipping through the SIFF program guide this weekend when I noticed a film, Don McKellar's The Grand Seduction, in which Taylor Kitsch appears. After starring in major-studio fare like John Carter, Battleship, and Lone Survivor, a Canadian comedy is just about the last place in which I would expect to find Kitsch—and one of the more welcome.
Granted, I haven't seen the film yet, but Kitsch, who hails from Kelowna, BC, appears alongside two of the finest actors their respective countries have produced: Canada's Gordon Pinsent, the heart of Sarah Polley's Away from Her, and Ireland's Brendan Gleeson, who elevates every project with which he's ever been involved. The strawberry blond, ruddy-faced Gleeson is so good, in fact, that few people complained when John Boorman cast him as a Central American in The Tailor from Panama. I mean, that kind of casting doesn't even make sense, and yet Gleeson pulled it off.
So, with that caliber of talent surrounding him, Kitsch is gonna have to up his game, but I think he's up to the task. I had never even heard of the guy until 2006 when I caught the pilot for NBC's Friday Night Lights, and that's all it took to hook me on both actor and show. It remains one of the best pilots ever made, because director Peter Berg approached it like a movie: he introduces over a dozen characters, clearly establishes their connections to each other, and left me wanting to get to know them better rather than feeling overwhelmed or confused.
In retrospect, I'm not exactly sure why I tuned in. Although I still haven't read Buzz Bissinger's book, which takes place in real-life Texas town Odessa rather than fictional Dillon, I enjoyed Berg's 2004 movie, so that must've provided some incentive (Berg reunited with Kitsch for Battleship which doesn't appear to have pleased anyone on any level). In addition, I'll watch most anything involving Kyle Chandler, who took over the coach role played in the film by Billy Bob Thornton. Chandler, who won an Emmy for his efforts, has gone on to work with several Oscar-winning directors, including Kathryn Bigelow and Martin Scorsese. If there's anyone Kitsch should look to as a model for transitioning from TV to movies: it's him.
For all five seasons, Kitsch played Tim Riggins, a handsome ne'er-do-well who seemed to do the wrong thing more often than not. He wasn't a bad guy, but he wasn't a good guy either. Scruffy appearance aside, Kitsch was the cast member with the most conventional movie-star looks, but his character lacked drive and looked for all the world like one of those high school athletes who isn't good enough to go pro or smart enough for college. Everyone else moves on with their lives while the Rigginses remain rooted to the spot, going nowhere fast and spending their lives drinking away the sad fact that they peaked in their teens.
Jason Katims, the guarded optimist who created the series, opted not to let things get that dark, but he did present Riggins as one of the few Panthers to remain in Dillon once the show came to an end. Katims would go on to create Parenthood, which also sprang from a movie and ran for five seasons on NBC. In a surprise move, just announced last week, network brass have decided to give the show one final short season—details to be determined—presumably to wrap up some of the loose ends left hanging in last month's finale. If I prefer Friday Night Lights to Parenthood, I've gotten a kick out of the way Katims has brought back as many FNL cast members as possible, including Minka Kelly, who played Riggins' girlfriend; Derek Phillips, who played his older brother; and Michael B. Jordan, who played a Panther teammate—and broke my heart in Fruitvale Station.
As for Taylor Kitsch, it looks like he's still figuring things out as he goes along. If The Grand Seduction doesn't work—the trailer makes it look like a cozy cross between Northern Exposure and Doc Martin—I wouldn't blame him for trying something different. This also applies to Kitsch's other forthcoming feature: Ryan Murphy's HBO adaptation of The Normal Heart, which airs on May 25. With Kitsch's looks, I'm not surprised Hollywood came calling, but his roles to date suggest at least a passing interest in playing something more than just a cute, snub-nosed face—and a chiseled chest (if you're into that kind of thing). If, when all is said and done, Riggins becomes the character with which he's most closely associated, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but I'm willing to bet more memorable characters lie in his future.
The Grand Seductionplays Kirkland Performance Center on May 29 at 8pm and SIFF Cinema Uptown on May 31 at 5pm. Find more SIFF info here.