Taylor Kitsch didn’t need much goading to portray an elite soldier. In “Lone Survivor,” he plays one of a team of SEALs fighting off an ambush in Afghanistan. It was a chance to try and get into the fighting mindset, the need to push yourself and be the best.
“I’m infatuated by it,” Kitsch says. But he knows he’s still just an actor, and he will never know what it’s like to have to face death with that intensity. “I will tell you I don’t understand that. Unless you’re in that predicament, you don’t know what you would really do.”
Still, researching into the role — in particular, talking to Marcus Luttrell, who wrote the book it’s based on and survived the ordeal — he got a glimpse into how soldiers deal with potentially imminent demise. “It’s that brotherhood that drives them,” he says. “They’re okay with death. It’s an honorable death. They die with their boots on. The worst thing about dying is leaving others behind to fight for themselves.”
Getting into his character — Michael P. Murphy, who was one of the three who did not survive — required hanging out with Luttrell, having “late night booze-infested talks” and getting to know both him and who Murphy was. And it was a lot of physical work as well. “Murph was a huge fitness guy. There’s actually a thing called ‘The Murph,’ which set a precedent for training. That helped me. He was a big boy.”
But it wasn’t just about working out. “Training will take you a f—ing fifth of the way, if that,” Kitsch says. “It’s the spirit of the guy — the fighting spirit that these guys talk about. You have to get that fight in you.”
And there was also the pain of shooting on a mountain. “I was grateful I trained as much as I did, because we were ten thousand feet above. There’s not much oxygen. It was excessively taxing, for us and for the crew.”
One easy thing was working again with director Peter Berg, who created the show “Friday Night Lights,” which made Kitsch a name. Berg also cast him in “Battleship,” a less accurate portrayal of the fighting life. “We’re friends first and foremost, so our shorthand is pretty darn great,” he says. That Berg was once (and sometimes still is) an actor helps, too. “If it’s a long day, he knows what you’re going through, or if you didn’t f—ing sleep the last two nights. He gets it.”