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Tribeca 2011: Taylor Kitsch Joins “The Bang Bang Club”

Tribeca 2011: Taylor Kitsch Joins “The Bang Bang Club” (photo)

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There’s a reason Taylor Kitsch is the first person you see in “The Bang Bang Club,” despite the fact he’s not the film’s central character. As Kevin Carter, the real-life Pulitzer Prize-winning war photojournalist who fearlessly took photos of the demons plaguing South Africa during the end of Apartheid in 1990s while battling his own internally, he has the unenviable task of playing the lone member of the group with the titular nickname (referring to the pictures they snap) to wear the weight of the tragedy of his surroundings on his face as indelibly as the tattooed outline of Africa on his arm.

However, Kitsch’s Carter could be called the film’s beating heart not only for the decency he brings to the role, but also a charisma that as anyone who’s watched him play the stoic Tim Riggins on “Friday Night Lights,” currently finishing its final, extraordinary season on NBC, could tell you can seduce you even if he’s breaking your heart. While these things come naturally to Kitsch — he exudes both in person — several other aspects on “The Bang Bang Club” didn’t, requiring two months of heavy research, practicing a Johannesburg-inflected accent, subsisting on a diet of fruit, coffee and hot sauce to lose 30 pounds, and shadowing celebrity photographer Jeff Lipsky to operate a camera properly – all ironically serving the purpose on screen of making you not notice what a deeply nuanced performance it is.

With his rugged good looks, it’s been easy to be distracted from Kitsch’s acting prowess, but with this film and two upcoming blockbusters on the horizon (Pixar’s first live-action film “John Carter of Mars,” directed by “Finding Nemo”‘s Andrew Stanton, and Peter Berg’s “Battleship”), the secret’s about to be out and recently, I sat down with the star to talk about the toll of his most demanding part to date, the importance of trusting his gut and how his days of living on subways prepared him for a career in the movie business.

You recently co-hosted a benefit [with Friday Night Lights” co-star Connie Britton] in Austin with an African children’s choir – did that actually connect to “The Bang Bang Club” and has the experience lingered on more for you than some of the other work you’ve done, shooting in Johannesburg?

[The benefit] didn’t, [but the experience] definitely did. It took me a while to come out of it and to go back to Austin, it was a big thing to just be conscious of it and allow yourself to take your time to let go of it. Being in Austin helped because you’ve got people who know you for who I was before I went away and I may see a couple of things different when I come back. They just understand and allow the process to just kind of seep out. So it took quite a while and even now, there’s still quite a few emotional triggers with [Kevin Carter]. It just took a lot of me to play him and I just wanted to do it right.

TaylorKitschBangBang_04212011.jpgSince you still have a slight Canadian lilt, you’ve never actually used your own voice on film. Does having an accent every time out help you get into character?

I think any actor has to love that. It feels funny when you’ve played something that’s really close to you because that’s when you feel like you’re acting. When you’re playing something that’s so far from who I am, it just feels like you’re more in tune with that guy. So [in “The Bang Bang Club”] when you put on the accent and you lose the 30 pounds to play him and you have a different walk and you grow the gross beard, you pierce your ear, you dye your hair, it’s like all these little things add up and they help so much.

I’ve heard you shadowed photographer Jeff Lipsky, which is something that may be evident in how you hold the camera, but not necessarily something that shows up on screen otherwise. How did that help you?

It’s so technical because obviously we don’t have point-and-shoot cameras, so to make that an unconscious trigger where if I’m in a scene playing with my Leica, I don’t want that Leica to take over the scene where I’m like oh fuck, hopefully, I look like I know what I’m doing. I need to know the shit so inside out that it’s unconscious because that’s what they did. So shadowing Jeff and having this Leica with me for months before I go to camera with it, now when I see it, it’s like this is what it’s supposed to mean to me in a scene and if I can prep and give myself the best opportunity to play it honestly, it’s a no brainer to do it, to put that time in.

Even with two months of prep, this must’ve been one of the quickest shoots you’ve done in recent years. How does that compare to some of the marathon shoots like “John Carter of Mars” or “Battleship”?

I think every journey’s so different and I love that about the projects we’ve done. Each character and the story has been so different, and I’m very thankful [“The Bang Bang Club”] was only a three- to four-week shoot because I was quite a wreck doing it. If it was two, three months, it wouldn’t have ended well. I don’t think it would’ve been good for me, just with the weight loss and where I was psychologically, so I was very grateful it was a very quick shoot. And for me personally, it allows me to just go all out. Knowing that “Fuck, Kitsch, you’ve got three weeks then you’re done? Go. See what you can do.” But if you’ve got this marathon shoot, like I did “John Carter” – 107 out of 107 shooting days, I’m in every scene, so you’ve got to pace yourself. You’ve got to shut down, relax, sleep when you can and do all this. With Kev, it felt more like all in. It’s a different mindset for sure.

I had to ask an aside about “John Carter” since I’m so curious…

Great. I just saw the trailer hours ago, by the way. [grins]

It’s one thing to act against those green tennis balls on a CG-heavy movie, but is it harder giving a performance when you don’t necessarily know how you’ll wind up appearing onscreen?

I’ll tell you something about [Andrew] Stanton – I would get his coffee tomorrow. That’s how smart this cat is and with his years of preparation, I could see where he’s going -he storyboarded and had tests of what tharks [aliens on Barsoom] look like and he showed me, so that allowed me a trust because if I’m acting to tennis balls, I’ve got to trust in post, they’re going to kill it. They’re going to fucking make this guy do everything and anything Stanton’s saying right now to me what this guy is doing. For me, it’s just an enormous amount of trust for me to just go all in and believe him. With “Bang Bang,” I have more of a gut instinct going on a scene with someone right in front of me, like “okay, I’d love to try this and that.” With “John Carter,” I was lucky to work with Willem [Dafoe] and Sam [Morton], but there’s also takes where there’s nothing there and I’m talking to literally air and in post, they’re going to put a thark in, so there’s a bit of a difference there.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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