The Curious Case Of Taylor Kitsch
The saying goes, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” Taylor Kitsch might be the case study for this quote.
Spike TV recently rebranded itself as the Paramount Network. The new channel aims to broaden its audience reach by becoming another outlet for prestige TV shows, similar to AMC and FX. Its first major premiere was the miniseries Waco, a dramatization of the real life 1993 Waco siege, and it’s shot with a cinematic quality that would have seen this released in theatres a decade earlier (I’m speculating, of course). The series stars Michael Shannon, one of Hollywood’s best working actors, and Taylor Kitsch, one of Hollywood’s other working actors. As much as Waco is the network’s attempt to revitalize its image, Taylor Kitsch is likely hoping, to an even greater extent, that it will do the same for him.
Let’s rewind to the summer of 2012. Taylor Kitsch was set up to be the next “It” kid in Hollywood, and the summer of 2012 was deemed by insiders, “The year of Kitsch.” With starring roles in three major movies, two of which, blockbusters with now failed designs for sequels upon sequels. Unfortunately, history had other plans for the Canadian actor.
Taylor Kitsch is a decent actor, but let’s be real, he’s gotten by almost entirely on his looks, which is not anything new when it comes to success as a celebrity. Ever since coming onto the scene in 2006 and making an impression as the universally loved Tim Riggins on NBC’s Friday Night Lights, Kitsch has been an actor that very few critics or audiences actively disliked. Sadly, that hasn’t translated to success post FNL, despite how much Hollywood seems to want him to be.
Whether it was financial bombs, critical failures, or a combination of the two, Kitsch hasn’t really found his audience yet. Rotten Tomatoes is not a perfect barometer of a film’s quality, however, at the moment only five of his films have a “fresh” rating. His films have seen varying levels of profitablility, but certainly not anything that would make sense for him to be a Hollywood leading man. His only hit films were those he played supporting roles that starred more prominent name actors like Mark Wahlberg in The Lone Survivor and Hugh Jackman in X-Men Origins: Wolverine; not to mention X-Men fans still hold a grudge for his subpar performance as the Cajun mutant, Gambit. (It should be noted that this was a terrible movie all around that featured a really bad first iteration of Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, which is now one of the hottest superhero franchises at the moment.)
The sample size for Kitsch would be Channing Tatum, owing to the fact that both actors were models before acting. Tatum was a music video dancer that started his career as an actor one year before Kitsch. Tatum, unlike Kitsch, has managed to put together a career that’s part of a small list of bankable, Hollywood leading men; a category that diminishes by the minute. I’d argue that Kitsch is actually a better actor than Tatum, but Tatum seemingly fell into the muse role for indie prestige directors like Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino (I guess you can’t really refer to Tarantino as indie anymore, but you get the point).
Back to 2012. John Carter, a ridiculously expensive film that is almost unwatchable despite the talent behind it. The interesting thing about this bomb was that it was put out by Disney, and Disney doesn’t miss. They’ve only had a handful of flops over the last decade, John Carter being at the forefront along with Johnny Depps much maligned, but not as terrible, Lone Ranger. Was this Kitsch’s fault? I don’t think so. It was a big concept movie with a good cast that delivered terrible creature design, laughable CGI, and a convoluted plot.
Next up was Battleship, the Peter Berg-helmed board game adaptation that had zero business getting made. I’ll give Kitsch half the blame. He delivers a solid performance, but this movie was a bad idea from the concept; even a good director like Berg wasn’t able to make it entertaining as it landed somewhere between a Transformers knockoff (yeah, not really the type of property to be accused of knocking off) and a poorly written cartoon.
The disaster that was summer of 2012 would wrap up with Oliver Stone’s Savages, based on Don Winslow’s New York Times bestseller of the same name. An excellent book with a compelling plot and out of the Taylor Kitsch 2012 trifecta, this is probably the best of the three; nonetheless, it doesn’t work. I’ll blame Oliver Stone for this fuck up. The source material was great, but the style was all wrong and only furthers the theory that Stone has lost touch with his audience.
So, why would Paramount Network choose Taylor Kitsch to co-lead such an important project? On one hand, financial reasons; A-list actors want A-list checks. Whatever list Kitsch is on is probably more affordable than say a Jeremy Renner, Chris Evans or even C-Tates himself; not to mention Kitsch was able to snag an executive producer credit. On the other hand, the network probably has the same faith in him that HBO did when it cast True Detective for their second season. Once again, not a terrible performance, but a no-win situation with the character he was playing. He’s been riding on that unspoken faith for years now, or maybe he just has really good agents who are better at getting him parts than advice on quality roles.
As for why Kitsch would accept the role, I think it falls in line with the kind of actor he thinks he is. For what it’s worth, Kitsch seems to be all in on acting and his role as cult leader, David Koresh, in Waco. According to his interview with Vulture, Kitsch admires and aspires to have the careers of men like Gary Oldman and Sean Penn (I mean, who doesn’t). He’s not there, and he’s not really on track for it either. He might think he is, and that’s a problem for him. Instead of using his failures to hone his craft and choose better roles, Kitsch has only learned how to blow past criticism and accept whatever happens.
Waco is off to a very strong start in terms of ratings (although, its reviews are more mixed). Just as in every other good project he’s done, Taylor Kitsch is just one part of Waco‘s cast. To be fair, I personally think that Kitsch works as a supporting actor, possibly even a character actor, he just needs to move away from roles that rely on his looks. Even his mullet wielding portrayal of Koresh doesn’t dilute the Taylor Kitsch ‘handsome’ as the role probably deserves. So Kitsch might just not be a movie star, but he very well could be a TV star; these days that’s a good gig.