Sometimes it’s tough to get actors to talk about training. Plenty of A-listers happily do as they’re told by the expensive personal trainer on the studio payroll, but not many actually understand how or why they’ve suddenly exploded into action-star shape. But when MF tells Taylor Kitsch that most of our questions are about training, he grins. ‘No problem, man,’ says the guy who your girlfriend almost definitely has a crush on. ‘I’ll talk all day about that shit.’
This isn’t surprising. When the Canadian-born Kitsch was a struggling model living in New York, occasionally homeless and sleeping on subway trains, he took to personal training to pay the bills. He’s a qualified trainer and nutritionist and worked in some of the city’s most prestigious gyms – though not always with their blessing. ‘Yeah, I got kicked out of a couple of places,’ he admits. ‘This one gym wanted 500 dollars a month in rent. I never paid that. They didn’t like me much.’
They could have had a future star under their roof. After finding fame as a model and a TV star in high-school drama Friday Night Lights, Kitsch made the leap to the big time in boardgame-turned-blockbuster Battleship and Disney’s John Carter, in which he plays a Navy lieutenant and a former Confederate soldier respectively. His next films see him in more serious military roles, as a drug-smuggling ex-SEAL in Oliver Stone’s Savages and in the true story Lone Survivor as Michael Murphy, the first man to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour in Afghanistan.
You’ve played highly physical roles ever since your breakthrough in Friday Night Lights. Did that help to prepare you for films like Battleship? Not as much as I thought it might. I’m an active guy anyway, I’m into athletics, so all that comes into play in a lot of roles. Even when it’s not a huge physical undertaking, it really helps to be in shape. I would say it helped me most with John Carter, having the nutritional background and knowing what I needed to do to give myself the best opportunity to get through the shoot successfully.
Do you stay in shape between films? I’m in shape year-round for sure. I wish I could walk around looking like I did in John Carter, but that’s an insane amount of discipline and hard work. I just do whatever the role asks of me. In Bang Bang Club [in which he played Pulitzer Prize-winning war photographer Kevin Carter] it was ‘lose 35lb’ [16kg]. For John Carter I gained a few pounds. Hopper [in Battleship] wasn’t a huge this-or-that, it was just an everyday guy, so that was good. For Savages, the Oliver Stone film, I trained with SEALs down in Texas, so that’s probably what I would look like if I was a Navy SEAL. God knows those guys train harder than anyone.
What was a typical day like with the SEALs? Well, a lot of the SEALs training is mindset, ‘How hard do you want to push yourself?’ stuff. So you might do three miles for time, two or three hundred sit-ups, a hundred-plus press-ups, all for time. That will just beat the shit out of you. And it’s dispersed, so you might do a mile for time, sit-ups, another mile for time, press-ups, then do 50 pull-ups – and that’s in the Texas heat. It’s psychological, it’s about, ‘Are you going to quit?’ They’ll keep you up for 72 hours… there’s guys that don’t even know their own name. Navy SEALs, man, they’re a different breed, they’re tested at a different level.
Nasty. How do you train when you’re on your own? Day to day it’s just maintenance. When I’m busy I’ll try to work out in the morning, just fit what I can in. I keep it high-intensity with training and weights – no rest, I’ll just fuckin’ bang it out. I try to do it hard and fast. Right now I’ve changed it all, I’m doing a lot of bodyweight stuff. But a lot of what your body looks like comes down to what you eat when you can’t work out as much as you’d like.
How disciplined are you? I’m like everyone else, man, I love a fuckin’ pizza and a beer just like anyone. And it’s good to have that day or two off sometimes. I wouldn’t tell anyone to get on that 30-grams-of-carbs-a-day shit unless they’re going on stage soon. You need that for your own mind, your brain needs it, let alone your muscles. It’s been years since I’ve weighed myself – I just go on how I look in the mirror. If I’m happy with the way I look, great. If not I’ll tighten it up.
We’ve heard that you basically train yourself… Yeah, I’m a certified personal trainer and nutritionist. While I was studying acting in New York I was taking courses, I was studying kinesiology, and I kept it up and got certified. I used to train people under the table in the US because I’m Canadian and I didn’t have a visa. I’d train people for cash.
So what’s next? Right now it’s just upkeep and getting myself ready for SEAL training. I’ll be going to Coronado, California, where they do Hell Week. In Lone Survivor I’m playing this guy who’s one of the most honourable ever to give his life and it’ll be intense, because a lot of those guys look up to Mike Murphy.
Does that put extra pressure on you? Without a doubt there’ll be pressure, but there should be. You should embrace it. You do whatever you’ve got to do to get to that level, and that’s the beauty of it. Don’t take that role on if you’re not ready for it. It’s going to be another level, man. I’m looking forward to it.
Kitsch changes size almost as often as he changes character. Here’s how he does it:
Photo finish To play war photographer Kevin Carter in The Bang Bang Club, Kitsch lost weight. ‘If I’m “leaning out”, I’ll be done with complex carbs before six, and my last meal of the day will just be lean protein and veggies,’ he says. ‘If I’m bulking I’ll have milk in my shakes, if I’m leaning out, just water.’
Mars star For John Carter, Kitsch packed on muscle and had more fun. ‘If I’m bulking I’ll take in way more complex carbs... and just way more food. I’ll add more good fat, I’ll throw in peanut butter, fish oil, maybe some oats and brown rice later in the day. Then it’s just about resting more.’
SEAL of quality For Savages, bodyweight training was in order. ‘I’m training a buddy of mine who lives in LA, and this is something I do with him: no matter what you’re doing, whatever the workout is, by the end you have to do at least ten pull-ups. Just do them between sets, whatever. I’m up to 50 per workout.’
Steady state Whatever type of physique you want, Kitsch has one piece of vital advice. ‘Be patient. There are a lot of variables that come into play. Be smart and keep it sensible, and remember that eating’s probably 85% of it. Don’t do three workouts and look in the mirror and be upset that you’re not seeing dramatic results.’
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