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Taylor Kitsch: the 'Friday Night Lights' star ditches the football field for The Bang Bang Club

 
It’s on the heels of the tragic deaths of two well-respected photojournalists – Academy Award-nominated Restrepo co-director Tim Hetherington and Pulitzer-nominated Getty photographer Chris Hondros, both killed on April 20 by a grenade in Misurata, Libya – that The Bang Bang Club hits theatres. Set in early ‘90s South Africa, the film recounts the true-life story of four young combat photographers who documented township violence during the final bloody days of the apartheid regime and became known abroad by their so-catchy-it’s-practically-offensive nickname “Bang Bang Club” – they apparently also didn’t care for it.

For Taylor Kitsch, a young BC-raised actor you might recall as Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or for the vulnerability he brought to the role of Texan high school football hotshot Tim Riggins in Friday Night Lights, committing to the part of Bang Bang photojournalist Kevin Carter definitely found him upping the ante. “I’ve never been more challenged in my life, both physically, as an actor and a human being,” a heartfelt Kitsch tells me during a phone interview back in February. But the gamble pays off in spades, as the former Abercrombie model steals the spotlight from ringleader Greg Marinovich, adequately rendered by Ryan Philippe.

 

THE PICTURE IS POLITICAL
The real-life Johannesburg-raised Carter won a Pulitzer in 1994 for a photograph he snapped of an emaciated Sudanese child being stalked by a nearby vulture (see below), only to have the tables later turned on him when the press took issue with his inability to justify why he hadn’t helped the young girl to safety. The film raises the ethical debate of journalistic responsibility in the face of tragedy, but offers no clear answer to the question – hinting at the fact that one doesn’t exist.


Kevin Carter's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, taken in 1994 during the Sudanese famine (Credit: Kevin Carter archives)

In conversation, Kitsch repeatedly brings up the importance of doing justice to the spirit of Carter, who committed suicide shortly after receiving his Pulitzer. To say that the Canadian actor fully committed to the part would be an understatement: studying to nail the Johannesburg accent, shadowing celebrity photog Jeff Lipsky, meeting with the late photographer’s friends and family and shedding 30 pounds on a strict regimen of strenuous exercise and a diet of fruit, coffee and hot sauce. Even for a guy once upon a time homeless and napping on subways in Manhattan, those were pretty extreme conditions, which undoubtedly took their toll on Kitsch.

 

IN MEMORY OF...
“I think it still does,” acknowledges the 30-year-old actor. “I saw the film not long ago for the first time, and there are just so many emotions, from losing the weight, to the time and commitment you put into it and the amount of pressure I had in how I would justify Kev; not to just play him as drug addicted but the whole spectrum of what he represented. It just meant so much for me to do it, and to really do it right and honestly, so that definitely took its toll.”
 


Taylor Kitsch as Kevin Carter in The Bang Bang Club

For Kitsch, who you’ll definitely be seeing more with upcoming roles in John Carter of Mars, Battleship and Oliver Stone’s Savages, it’s his steadfast commitment to such resonant parts that reminds us he relishes thespian challenges over the Hollywood 'It Boy' buzz. A personality trait he attributes to his small town Canadian upbringing. “I still live a pretty ridiculously simple life in Austin, Texas and that’s by choice,” he says with pride. “I think that’s just about having a strong sense of self and, having had a later start in this business, to recognize when something’s bullshit, to say no and walk away, but also know when to fight for things that speak to me.”

 

The Bang Bang Club
In theatres May 6 | thebangbangclub.com