The actor, who stars in Netflix’s ‘Painkiller,’ tells THR about his time away from the spotlight — spent building a healing retreat for veterans and people battling addiction.
When Taylor Kitsch signs on to the Zoom call to discuss his new charitable endeavor in rural Montana, he looks very much the part. The 42-year-old, clad in a T-shirt, is perched in the driver’s seat of his adventure van, fresh from a supply run for the geodesic dome he’s building. It looks like the kind of setting where it might be a miracle to even have a cell signal.
Two years ago, after selling his onetime dream lake house in Austin, Texas, the actor drove this same van 20 hours north to Bozeman, Montana, where he rode out part of the pandemic. He was attracted to the area because of his interest in wildlife photography and a yearning for more serenity, but once his real estate agent showed him a particularly stunning piece of land (which he first visited in waist-deep snow), he had a vision of a nature retreat that could offer healing to people in need. He got to work.
Now, he’s deep into building an A-frame house (which will serve as the central meeting space), as well as cabins and that dome on the property. Kitsch’s excitement about the project is palpable, and he’s prone to giddy non sequiturs about his plans. “I’m just rambling,” he says with a laugh five minutes into the interview, after chattering fervently about everything from baby fox sightings and a new idea for an outdoor shower to the ice baths his crew has been conducting in the soon-to-be wood-burning hot tub. “I’m just really excited about this, about it being a base camp for people to empower themselves.”
Kitsch is interested in helping all sorts of people, but his plans revolve around the veteran and sober/recovery communities. He has been focused on veterans’ issues since he became close with retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell while collaborating on a film a decade ago, and has even recruited several of the Marines he met along the way to help during the building stage. (“With my limited skills, I’m more of a runner,” Kitsch says with a laugh. “Consider me sort of the first AD.”) His desire to help those dealing with addiction comes from a personal place: It runs in his family, and he took time away from the spotlight last year to support a close relative’s sobriety. “The stakes were very life-and-death, and Marcus was one of the few people I called for help,” he says. “When you get into that community, it’s like you’re a brother for life, and it’s really beautiful.”
So far, “every fucking nickel” of the project’s budget has come out of Kitsch’s own pocket, but he feels grateful to be able to contribute. He says he feels lucky that he found a charitable passion, and a place to call home that is far removed from Los Angeles. “I got a later start in the business, and I was able to have a sense of who I was and what I needed,” says the Terminal List and Friday Night Lights actor. “Being in L.A. was never a great thing for me, and I love being out here — there’s just so much peace to grasp. That’s what this place represents to me: It’s not going to solve every problem, but hopefully it will help at least one person work toward what they need.”
The Friday Night Lights alum digs deep to play a man addicted to opioids in the new limited series.
For Taylor Kitsch, joining the cast of the scripted limited series Painkiller was a “no-brainer” for several personal reasons. One, it was another chance to collaborate with executive producer and director Pete Berg, who worked with Kitsch on his breakout role as Tim Riggins in the 2006 football drama Friday Night Lights.
“He’s like an older brother to me,” Kitsch said of Berg on the set of Painkiller in early 2022, prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike. “We’ve been through a lot, and when I got this call, it was quite simple, to be honest.” After Friday Night Lights, Kitsch and Berg teamed up on the 2012 blockbuster Battleship and again on 2013’s Lone Survivor. “You already have that trust,” said Kitsch, “and the shorthand is really important as well.”
That trust was necessary in grappling with the heavy subject matter of Painkiller, a fictionalized retelling of some of the origins of the opioid epidemic that is believed to have caused over 300,000 American overdose deaths over the last two decades. The six-episode series hones in on an ensemble of characters to tell a broader story: Richard Sackler (Matthew Broderick), the billionaire senior executive at Purdue Pharma who pushes the wide distribution of opiates for profit; Edie Flowers (Uzo Aduba), an investigator at the US Attorney’s office who chases down answers about OxyContin; Shannon Schaeffer (West Duchovny), a recent college grad who’s recruited to Purdue to sell the drugs directly to doctors; and Glen Kryger (Kitsch), a mechanic who, after getting injured on the job, is prescribed OxyContin, which traps him in a vicious cycle of addiction.
Although Glen is a wholly fictional character, he’s the series’ main face of OxyContin’s devastating effects — another reason why Kitsch felt a personal responsibility in portraying Glen’s struggle. Kitsch has watched people close to him fight addiction. “Man, it’s pretty close to me, this thing,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think we’re all one degree away from someone who’s an addict.”
Authentically capturing Glen’s attempts at detoxing as he hides the seriousness of his addiction from his wife Lily (Carolina Bartczak) and stepson Tyler (Jack Mulhern) required some creative risk-taking from both Kitsch and Berg. Berg’s directing style, which Kitsch knows well, is dynamic and at times improvisational to keep the performances raw and real. “Sometimes he tries to get you out of your own head or your own way,” said Kitsch. “You don’t get faulted for mistakes — he just pushes you left or right. He keeps the set very alive and you move quick.”
The conversation about the opioid epidemic is far from over, as everyone involved in Painkiller understands, and Kitsch hopes his portrayal of Glen helps continue the conversation and remove some of the stigma and shame about addiction. “I’m very lucky to have served a lot of true stories and heavy things,” said Kitsch. “And this is right up there for me in the sense of purpose, of why I get to do what I do.”
Painkiller is now streaming on Netflix.
The mini-series streams August 10th on Netflix.
Netflix has officially announced the release of the limited series Painkiller. All six episodes will begin streaming August 10th.
Along with the release date, Netflix has released the series synopsis:
A fictionalized retelling of events, PAINKILLER is a scripted limited series that explores some of the origins and aftermath of the opioid crisis in America, highlighting the stories of the perpetrators, victims, and truth-seekers whose lives are forever altered by the invention of OxyContin. An examination of crime, accountability, and the systems that have repeatedly failed hundreds of thousands of Americans, PAINKILLER is based on the book PAIN KILLER by Barry Meier and the New Yorker Magazine article ‘The Family That Built the Empire of Pain’ by Patrick Radden Keefe.
The series also stars Matthew Broderick, Uzo Aduba, Dina Shihabi, West Duchovny, and John Rothman.
Screen captures from all episodes from Prime Video’s “The Terminal List” have been added into the photo gallery. Head over and enjoy!
I have been working on adding tons of production photos for all of Taylor’s previous works into the gallery, along with a couple press conferences as well. Screen captures of The Grand Seduction, The Normal Heart, and Waco have also been added. We are currently working on captures for The Terminal List and they will be added once they are ready.
Netflix has ordered a six-episode limited series titled “American Primeval” with Taylor Kitsch set to star, Variety has learned.
The drama series hails from writer Mark L. Smith, whose past writing credits include the Oscar-winning film “The Revenant” and the Netflix feature “The Midnight Sky.” Peter Berg will direct all episodes as the first project under his first-look deal with Netflix, with Eric Newman executive producing under his Netflix overall deal.
“American Primeval” is described as “a raw, adventurous exploration of the birth of the American West. The violent collisions of cultures, religions and communities as men and women fight and die for control of this new world – for a land they truly believe is their destiny. The ensemble tells a story of the sacrifice all must pay when they choose to enter a lawless and untamed wilderness.”
“We are very appreciative that Netflix is trusting us to take a big swing with ‘American Primeval,’” Berg said. “I’m looking forward to taking viewers into the most dynamic, intense, and heart pounding survival tale humanly possible. We are going into the belly of the beast. Cheers to Ted, Bela, Peter and the entire Netflix team for the support!”
Kitsch will star in the series as Isaac, said to be “a traumatized man struggling to overcome his demons and find a reason to live in this brutal and punishing world.” This marks the second limited series collaboration for Kitsch, Berg, and Newman, as they also teamed for the upcoming Netflix series “Painkiller,” which is slated to premiere in 2023.
“’American Primeval’ is a portrait of the American West unlike any other – raw, thrilling, action-driven and brought to life by a tapestry of emotionally compelling characters led by the talented Taylor Kitsch,” said Peter Friedlander, vice president of scripted series, US and Canada, for Netflix. “We’re excited to explore new depths of this genre as we grow our creative partnership with the extraordinary Pete Berg at the helm backed by the deft storytelling vision from Eric Newman and Mark L. Smith.”
Berg will executive produce under his Film 44 banner, while Newman will executive produce via Grand Electric. Smith is also an executive producer.
Kitsch is best known for his starring role in the NBC high school football drama “Friday Night Lights” and also recently starred alongside Chris Pratt in the Amazon thriller series “The Terminal List.” His other TV credits include “Waco” and “True Detective” Season 2. He is also known for features like “Lone Survivor,” which was directed and written by Berg. Berg also directed Kitsch in the film “Battleship,” released in 2012.
Kitsch is repped by WME and Untitled Entertainment.
In addition to his work with Kitsch, Berg is known for writing and directing the film version of “Friday Night Lights” in addition to developing the TV series. He has also directed films like “Deepwater Horizon,” “Mile 22,” and “Patriots Day,” the last of which he also wrote.
He is repped by WME and Hirsch Wallerstein.
This marks the second announced Netflix project for Newman in recent weeks. Variety exclusively reported that Newman is currently at work on a political thriller limited series for the streamer titled “Zero Day” with Robert De Niro attached to star. Newman was also an executive producer, writer, and showrunner on Netflix’s “Narcos” and then became the showrunner and executive producer on the followup series “Narcos: Mexico.” He is also an executive producer on the upcoming Netflix series “Griselda,” in which Sofía Vergara will play infamous cocaine queenpin Griselda Blanco, and the hit series “The Watcher.”
Newman is repped by CAA, Hansen Jacobson, and Rowe PR. Smith is repped by CAA, Black Bear Management, and attorney Mark S. Temple.
This is also the second Western series that Netflix has ordered in the past few months. Back in October, Netflix picked up the Western drama “The Abandons” from Kurt Sutter, about a group of families in 1850s Oregon.