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Interview: LONE SURVIVOR’s Taylor Kitsch

As the opening narration to the Fallout game series tells us, “War never changes,” but our perspectives on it certainly do. Making a successful film about war is a challenge in and of itself. not only because you have to make the relationships between the men and women who are fighting believable and grounded, but you get into all sorts of murky territory when elements like politics and religion bleed into the fabric of the film. For films based on actual events, it gets even trickier, because the filmmaker is then faced with the seemingly Sisyphean challenge of making something that will entertain the masses while honoring the memory of those who gave their lives. Such was the challenge director Peter Berg faced with his upcoming Lone Survivor, a real life story of brotherhood, camaraderie, and desperate survival in the face of impossible odds, and, thankfully, he hit the nail on the head.

Berg assembled an all-star ensemble, including Eric Bana, Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, and Taylor Kitsch, to tell the story of former U.S. Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and the fateful events of Operation Red Wings, all of which were detailed in Luttrell’s 2007 memoir Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. To take you deeper into the DNA of the film, I caught up with one of the film’s stars and a frequent Peter Berg collaborator, Taylor Kitsch, who portrays Lt. Michael P. Murphy, for a talk about everything from the intense SEAL training to the sense of brotherhood necessary to make this film succeed.

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Nerdist: This is a reunion for you and Peter Berg. I imagine you have a really good working relationship — have you guys developed a type of shorthand?

Taylor Kitsch: It’s just a great relationship. We’re just close friends, too; We know each other, there’s an incredible short hand, and the respect is mutual. That’s why we keep reconnecting. You go on these crazy journeys together when you’re filming, and it’s good to know that no matter what, there’s someone who’s got your back. That’s what our relationship is.

N: How did this compare to previous outings with him?

TK: Because our relationship has developed into what it is, the short hand — he can tell me a lot with a look. Obviously, this movie stands alone, for good reason, in the sense of the subject matter, true story, dramatic piece, the stakes that are there; the families and the communities are the reasons why we’re doing it. It’s bigger than us, and that alone puts everyone on the same page.

N: Especially with these movies that are based on a true story, you want to approach it in the right way, because you want to entertain the audience, but you also want to inform and educate and be respectful to these people who actually existed. What sort of research or prep did you do for the role? Were you able to speak to Marcus at all?

TK: If I talked to your best friend, I guarantee you, I could get a lot more information than even you would tell me about yourself. Marcus was a key factor in it. I’m flattering myself, but I think that there’s definitely pieces of my personality and leadership that were close to how Murphy led his team. Talking with Dan, his father, before we went to camera really solidified many choices that I had been leaning towards making, and to get his blessing was really important. The static part, gaining 20-25 pounds, having that stature — these guys… Murph was a big boy. I took that to heart and when you are in that state, you do feel like a warrior in a way. You build your body an armor and you carry yourself differently.

N: I can imagine – you guys were all physically imposing. What was the most daunting or challenging sequence to shoot?

TK: Obviously the call is no joke — the physical part I loved, it really puts you in the moment — you got your brothers beside you, all that stuff I looked forward to. The scene with the three of us or when we’re in the barracks and all that – that was a lot of fun for us. It’s when we get split up is when you’re missing that camaraderie, even between takes. I’d say that when Murph is alone, it’s some of the most important stuff, it’s why the action that he did is seared into people’s heads.

N: You mention the camaraderie, and that really comes through, especially in the first scene when you guys are in the base — there’s a loose, improvisational feel to it. Was it heavily scripted or did they let you feel your way around it?

TK: That’s what Pete does best — maybe that’s another reason why we keep working together. You’re working with great actors, too, and when you got everyone on the same page, you’re going to get some great stuff. Wahlberg and I were just improvising back and forth and we were just cracking each other up. It’s so important to have that, because this movie could have easily just been an action movie, and it’s not the action that drives the movie, it’s the brotherhood.

N: Coming from Canada, did that make it a bit easier to separate yourself from some of the politics of it?

TK: That’s something I feel like this movie is — no matter what side you’re on, what side you stand politically, the beauty of this is that you should be pro-soldier anyways. I don’t think we played politics at all, we just tell you matter of factly that this is what happens. I think that’s what Pete did so brilliantly.

N: You mention that you guys were joking around quite a bit on set. Do you have a favorite memory or experience from on set?

TK: Training was awesome, the prep when we were up in the mountains. Long story short, we’d be with real SEALs – some were original guys, true legends. We were training with them for weeks, and second week in, you’d go in with ammunition, which was hard plastic painted bullets in your guns, and they’d send us up the mountains, us four, and be, like, “Okay, you’re going to hit a group of Taliban,” and they’d dress up all these guys as Taliban and we’d go up the mountain, “and when you do, we want to just see what you guys do.” That was a lot of fun, you learn so quickly without being life-or-death of what you’re doing right or wrong. For Murphy, who’s the guy making the decisions, if we peel left or peel right, if we engage further or get online, if we jump off this cliff, it’s just cool.

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N: Are you just waiting for a role where you can be a fat dude eating ice cream or something, because you’ve been in peak physical condition for so long? I’m just curious.

TK: I love it, we just finished The Normal Heart, so I lost a bunch of weight. So that was nice. I’m looking for that fat supporting guy in a comedy, so if you have any scripts, throw them my way.

N: Shifting gears slightly, what do I need to do to get you as Gambit back into the X-Men film universe?

TK: It’s been really flattering the last two months because a lot of people are asking about it and want to see Gambit. But I don’t know. I’d want to go a lot darker. I had a lot of fun doing it, so who knows?

N: Are you looking to do more geek genre fare in the future or are you taking it project to project?

TK: I get so myopic; I hate spreading myself so thin so I go project to project.

N: Last, but not least, what would be inside your ideal burrito?

TK: Are you genuinely asking this or are you referring to the beginning of Battleship?

N: Oh my god, I didn’t even think about that. That’s amazing, but I’m genuinely asking.

T: [laughs] I’d throw an excessive amount of cheese, chicken, salad cream, some mild spicy salsa, maybe potatoes, then I’ll water it down with a huge chocolate shake.

Lone Survivor, starring Taylor Kitsch, comes to theaters on January 10th. Are you excited for the film? Let us know in the comments below.

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3 comments

  • I think everything typed made a great deal of sense.

    However, what about this? what if you composed a catchier post title?
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    Interview: LONE SURVIVOR

  • So glad to hear Taylor Kitsch is back. He’s such a good actor and underrated in Hollywood, especially since Battleship and John Carter didn’t do well. But in the main picture you guys included Ben Foster but didn’t mention him in the beginning of the article. He’s another good underrated actor AND he was Angel in X-MEN! I would love to read an interview about Ben Foster. Interview him next :P