Canadian-born Taylor Kitsch has worked as an actor for over eight years and is known for his role as Tim Riggins on the NBC television show "Friday Night Lights," as well as many others in films such as "Battleship," "John Carter" and HBO's "The Normal Heart." Recently, however, he has mixed things up and taken on his first directorial project. His new short film, entitled "Pieces," tells the story of Kyle (played by Kitsch), whose failure to pay a crushing gambling debt puts his life in danger and his best friend, Evan (Josh Pence), in an awkward position, having to navigate through a seedy underworld he knows nothing about in order to save him. Indiewire caught up with Kitsch on the eve of the film's world premiere at the 2014 Palm Springs International ShortFest & Film Market to discuss the project and directing as a whole.
What pushed you to direct?
Well, I think it is as simple as just storytelling. I love it, and whether it’s me in front or behind the camera, it's that process where you get to work with these guys.
So it was a natural progression?
I would like to think so, sure, yeah. I think a lot of it has to do with prep and really knowing what you want. And I've had this story on my brain for a while.
The story is interesting -- someone in a terrible situation. What is your personal connection to it? Have you ever felt 'in too deep'?
Not at that level obviously (knock on wood). But what I'm fascinated with is the repercussions of certain choices that we make every day; that if it's something that is unbeknownst to us at the time when we make that choice -- that repercussion may be down the road to who it's affecting – and what level you have to go to the rectify that choice if it is a negative one. And with him, that's what fascinated me.
So there was no personal incident in your life?
I've been exposed to some of that kind of stuff in the sense of like drug running and whatnot.
What have you seen in that respect?
Just stories through other people. Doing "Savages," having these kinds of people come in that used to be in drug cartels in Colombia and Mexico, and talking to these guys -- and albeit I was kind of talking with the Navy Seal part of it, but being exposed to Benicio Del Toro's part of what these guys were doing. So that started to tinker my curiosity.
In the short you show a variety of perspectives – not necessarily your own character's. How did you work with the actors to achieve that?
I don't know. Working with Abigail Spencer, she was terrific and just killed what she was given, which wasn't admittedly. That's why you need a great actress. She didn't have a ton of screen time but the stuff she did have she was connected with, and that’s really just how good she is.
Josh Pence as well?
Josh Pence -- I've known him 10 years now and it's like he was kind of perfect for that role. And I'm more interested in seeing that repercussion, that decision, through his eyes. That's more interesting to me, rather than to just watch this guy.
Speaking more broadly, coming into directing you've previously worked with many great directors like Ryan Murphy and Oliver Stone. Is there something that you really took out of working with them?
I think with me experience-wise – "Normal Heart" is very much a play, quite literally, and you can’t fuck with that dialogue because it serves its own purpose with the story and these characters. And that’s Murphy's process and Larry Kramer, who wrote it. And then you go to a Pete Burg, who has an incredible frame and he has the ability to, as all directors do, enable that trust factor on set where he can improvise and throw these lines out that are going to serve him and his characters and the story.
Do you feel you have a style you wish to pursue as a director?
Simple done well. I just love characters. I get a high off an amazing shot or writing a feature. We talked about it last night. The opening scene of the feature is hopefully a five to seven minute one-shot-steady, and I love that. I love that intense part of it.
Would you want to experiment in any other ways?
No doubt. You always have to be open to that. You never want to put yourself in one kind of pigeon-hole area, especially with creativity. Someone can expose me to an idea on the day that could elevate it to its true potential that I didn't think of because I'm super myopic and in my own world anyway, thinking about what he's going to do later. I think it should be a collaborative process.
How was it taking on that dual role on set, both acting and directing?
It was very interesting. My character obviously didn’t go through what these guys were going through, and that’s exactly why I could be in that position, where it's not about me in that sense. So I could spend more time on these guys. I was very comfortable with the role that I had. I knew I could be fine at it. That was never a worry. It was just the duality and the juggling of that that was an interesting process because I had more fun, at least with this, when directing, just watching and kind of editing it.
Would you direct a film you weren't in?
No doubt. We’ve already had offers to direct things.
Is it right you were approached to make a feature version of "Pieces"?
Yeah, I'm all for it. It will go way more into his world and into mine. But it’s really taking the skeleton of that and diving tenfold because for one, we have more time, which is imperative obviously to get into these guys worlds and more fascinating to me. So this is very surface-esque comparatively and it should be.
Would you alter the structure/ style?
I would continue that. We're actually in the middle of writing it now and I would continue that. I think you would get more into the life of Kyle, my character. He’s a completely different guy than what he is in the feature because of just the way we have more time. We get to dive into him. So I want to make him have so many more layers as well. In the short, it’s tough. Because as a filmmaker with these actors, I want to fucking know more about this guy, and hopefully when it ends you’ll be, 'I do want to see what happens.'
When do you film?
The beauty of this is that I’m in no rush. I'll know the next year layout hopefully in the next two weeks on the acting front, which is still priority number one anyway. The beauty of this is that I'm going to be a better actor in a year if I make the right choices.