“I think I was in too deep,” the actor says of portraying the cult leader.
Taylor Kitsch nearly reached a breaking point while prepping for his lead role in new TV miniseries Waco, about the events that led to a now-infamous standoff between cult leader David Koresh and the FBI back in 1993.
“I almost pulled out a month and a half [before the filming began],” he told Rolling Stone during a recent visit to our New York City offices. “I think I was in too deep. You spend eight hours a day in this 1,000-square-foot apartment in Austin playing guitar and reading about this tragedy every single day. It just started to really weigh on me. I had no outlet. And I was probably just scared shitless and panicked.”
Kitsch said he even went so far as to approach executives about possibly dropping out of the series because of the psychological gravity of the role. “I didn’t get sleep that day and was feeling vulnerable, and [I] was just like, ‘Hey, I wanna know the process of the repercussions if I pull out right now, because I don’t know if this is a story I want to tell.'”
In the end, Kitsch did push himself past the point of uncertainty to play Koresh, but not before really working to understand the man who has been called a con artist by some and crazy by others.
“The biggest struggle I had, you know, was the why,” he said. “If I’m going to play anybody, let alone someone like this, and how enigmatic this cat is, you have to try and marry yourself emotionally to him and his belief system and everything else that goes with that.”
In the Paramount Network’s miniseries, Kitsch plays Koresh, a man who claimed to be the final prophet of the Branch Davidians religious movement. He and 25 followers set up camp at Palestine, Texas, 90 miles from Waco, in 1985. There, they lived in tents and buses for two years with no running water and AC.
“I think he grew up with no sense of control, no sense of self or purpose really, and that abuse kind of went up until he moved away at 14,” said Kitsch, who lost 30 pounds and donned a mullet to transform himself for the role. “And then he memorized the Bible by 17 and then [he] create[d] this environment that [he had] absolute control over. I just want to show as much as I can who he was because he was more than what was sensationalized during the [time].”
Watch the video above and see what else Kitsch had to say about playing the polarizing figure, continued debate over the standoff, his recent encounter with Bruce Springsteen and Bono, plus his thoughts about ever reprising his role as Friday Night Lights heartthrob Tim Riggins.