This year marks the 25th anniversary of the horrific conflict that took place in Waco, TX between members of the cult known as the Branch Davidians, led by cult leader David Koresh, and the ATF (U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). The agents were given an order by then-Attorney General, Janet Reno, to intervene at Koresh’s compound in order to seize an illegal weapons stockpile kept by the cult. As a result, a firefight and fierce 51-day standoff took place outside of the compound that ended in complete tragedy with the Davidians, at the order of Koresh, burning their entire compound with everyone inside it to the ground. So much has been said over the years, as many believe that not only were the Davidians in the wrong for what they did but that the government had also violated their rights during this siege.
It was a complete mess.
This sad moment in American history has been adapted into a brand new miniseries titled “Waco” with Taylor Kitsch portraying David Koresh. This miniseries was written and directed by the Dowdle Brothers (No Escape) and will premiere January 24th on the newly minted Paramount Network. The series also stars Michael Shannon as Gary Noesner, the FBI negotiator who tried to de-escalate the conflict at Waco, John Leguizamo as ATF agent Jacob Vazquez who went undercover with the cult before the siege, and Rory Culkin as David Thibodeau, a survivor of the Branch Davidians. I caught up with Kitsch to find out what it was like playing the infamous cult-leader.
How much did you know about the history of Waco before signing on for this project?
“I think was, like so many people, that I’m going to say I knew like 99%. I get a call from the agency saying ‘the Dowdle brothers want to meet you and they are thinking of you playing Dave Koresh. Will you go sit down with them?’ You quickly turn to Google and Wikipedia and start reading up on it. You go through the whole gamut of everything. All of the emotions that go with that. I was flattered and then, of course, I said ‘yes’ to the meeting. We had an amazing two-hour meeting and we got along super well. The more they actually told me about what actually happened the more enthralled I was. A few weeks later, I got the role. Then the actual research started. I couldn’t have been more happy and excited to have taken on that role. The writing is really strong and obviously this a character you dream of as an actor.”
What was it like getting into character to play David Koresh?
“I started prep on January 2nd and hit camera in late April. It was beyond scary. Learning to play the guitar and sing (David Koresh played and sang in a bar band with fellow members of the Branch Davidians) and obviously diving into his whole story. Diving into David’s home videos and hundreds of hours of calls. Reading David Thibodeau and Gary Noesner’s books (‘Waco: A Survivor’s Story’ and ‘Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator’). You just try to take in as much information as you can. Then obviously losing the weight is just a part of it. It was scary, to be honest, but I think that gets the best out of you.”
Those scenes of Koresh playing in his bar band kind of humanized him for me in a way.
He took it so seriously! He actually recruited Thibodeau from L.A. to be in his band. Dave was really, really serious about his music. I think that the beauty of this story is that you’re going to see every side of him. I think that’s what the Dowdles did so well. I think when you’re tackling someone like this, that’s the point. You wanna show every side of Dave for who he was before, after and during the siege. It’s just so much material so you just have to get myopic on certain parts. I think every actor’s first question is: ‘why, why, why?’ You try and wrap your head around and not oversimplify it. Some of those questions will never be answered because he isn’t here anymore and because there are still so many of them. You just do your research. You lock everything else out and just get that tunnel vision. Which is why you do it, for that process. I really enjoyed it and it opened my eyes to a lot of things.
Both sides of this standoff, the Branch Davidians and the ATF, could be blamed for how horrible everything played out at Waco. The show doesn’t pull any punches on showing how both sides did not come out of the situation clean. Did you have any sympathy for Koresh while playing him?
“Yes, to be blunt. For all of the Davidians. The kids and their families. Obviously, it’s an amalgamation of ego on both sides. Just one wrong decision after another. It’s a tragedy. I truly believe that the end didn’t have to happen that way. Not that it’s about sides or anything. I think what we do in this is play it all out as matter-of-fact as much as we can and allow the viewers to make their own decisions. I think that was super important and we were really conscious of that while filming.
2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the standoff in Waco, TX. What do you think is Waco’s legacy?
“There was a huge injustice there on so many fronts… As for the legacy: I think that’s up for discussion. Which is the beauty of it as well. You take all of those things in and hopefully we can talk about it and raise awareness that one kind f*ck up after another lead to this. On both sides! You watch some of the hearings they had on capital hill and see that there were some biases in it and the political game being played at its best. That’s what’s scary as well. For David’s legacy? I feel like there is so much more to be said. I wish he was still around so we could pick his brain and talk to him, and the rest of the Davidians, so that we could learn more so that it never happens again.”
I have added all the missing events of 2017 (save for one) that Taylor attended to our image gallery.
I’ve just added some photos from last summer when Taylor attended the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as a few photos from yesterday when he participated in the NHL All-Star Celebrity Shootout during NHL All-Star Weekend.
Last week, Taylor was reunited with a few of his Friday Night Lights co-stars to do the Spartan Super Race and I’ve added high quality photos from the race into the gallery.
• Public Appearances > 2016 > June 11: Spartan Super Race
Jeff Bridges and Taylor Kitsch have rounded out the ensemble cast for Black Label Media’s untitled firefighter film that currently stars Josh Brolin, Miles Teller and James Badge Dale.
Black Label will also continue its strong partnership with Lionsgate, which now has worldwide distribution rights, including North America, through its Summit Entertainment label. This news comes on the heels of the project’s strong international sales at the Cannes Film Festival.
Lionsgate seemed like the obvious home for the project given Black Label’s strong ties to the studio following the success of “Sicario” and the upcoming Ryan Gosling-Emma Stone musical “La La Land.”
“Tron: Legacy” helmer Joseph Kosinski will direct the film, which follows the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of firefighters that faced one of the deadliest wildfires in history in order to save an Arizona town, resulting in the tragic death of 19 crew members. Kitsch and Bridges will play firefighters in the pic.
Ken Nolan developed the story on spec with the producers.
Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Erik Howsam, Conde Nast Entertainment’s Jeremy Steckler and Dawn Ostroff, Mike Menchel, Black Label Media’s Molly Smith, Trent Luckinbill and Thad Luckinbill are producing the film. Black Label is financing.
Di Bonaventura also has “Deep Water Horizon” on the pipeline with Lionsgate.
Kitsch most recently appeared in HBO’s second season of “True Detective” opposite Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams. He is about to make his directorial debut with “Pieces,” which he will also star in. He’s also attached to topline “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” with Jessica Chastain.
He is repped by CAA and Untitled Entertainment.
Bridges is coming off strong reviews following the premiere of his heist film “Hell or High Water” at Cannes. He is repped by CAA and MGMT Entertainment.
Black Label Media’s Molly Smith, Thad Luckinbill and Trent Luckinbill have several other high-profile projects in production/pre-production, including writer/director Danny Strong’s “Rebel in the Rye,” starring Nicholas Ho
Taylor Kitsch will make his feature directorial debut and will star in Pieces, a drama that he also wrote. This puts Kitsch back together with Lone Survivor cohorts Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films’ Randall Emmett and George Furla, and Peter Berg and his Film44. E/F/O will finance the film, and Emmett and Furla will produce with Berg and Kitsch. Kitsch will play the lead role in the story of about three best friends from Detroit who change the course of their lives by intercepting a drug run.
Berg and Kitsch have a relationship that goes back to the long-running Friday Night Lights series. Kitsch played the team’s troubled fullback Tim Riggins, and it’s good to see him on a winning track after a rough transition to feature leading man with John Carter and Battleship. Berg helped him put one in the win column on Lone Survivor, in which Kitsch played Navy SEAL Michael Murphy, a legend where I live on Long Island for his bravery and fitness fanaticism. He also starred in the Emmy-winning The Normal Heart and most recently in the second season of HBO’s True Detective. Tim Sullivan and Tony Callie will be co-producers on Pieces, which will shoot this summer in Texas.
Emmett/Furla is currently in post on the Martin Scorsese-directed Silence, and just wrapped the Elliott Lester-directed Arnold Schwarzenegger-Scoot McNairy starrer 478, with Darren Aronofsky producing, and the Steven C. Miller-directed Bruce Willis starrer Marauders. Next up is the Michael Polish-directed adaptation of David Mamet’s Speed-The-Plow with Irwin Winkler producing.
We chatted with Taylor Kitsch about his New Year’s Eve Rock the Brazos benefit in Austin, what he loves most about Austin, and why he doesn’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions.
Taylor Kitsch is once again throwing a New Year’s Eve party in Austin to support his favorite charity, and it promises to be one of the best events of the season. “It’s very Austin-esque, in the best way,” Kitsch says. Rock the Brazos, held at Brazos Hall, will feature and support the African Children’s Choir, which the True Detective star has been passionate about since his first visit to Africa years ago.
Austin Way spoke with Kitsch about why this cause is so important to him, what’s coming up in the new year, and why Austin has been a true home to him since his Friday Night Lights days.
You’ve worked with the African Children’s Choir for years. Why is this group so important to you?
TAYLOR KITSCH: Unfortunately, there’s a stereotype toward these kinds of things, and how dire it is over there. [You think] you can’t really help. I’ve been a huge advocate of these guys ever since [my first visit] because you really do see that you can make a difference. I’ve been a huge advocate for them and what they stand for and how they run their organization. I love kids, and the energy these kids have is unlike anything else. They’re so open and so free when you meet them, even through these circumstances. There’s a four-minute video I did on YouTube of what the African Children Choir does… Obviously it’s really dire, but it goes back to how happy these kids were to be able to go to school, be able to eat every day, be able to have the transportation to get to school.
How does the African Children’s Choir use the money you raise?
TK: For everything—food, paying the teachers. At a lot of the public schools, the teachers don’t get paid, so you’re going to get the best teachers as well. Their university is paid for, and they help their families as well through meds and education. It’s all about the one kid who has the opportunity to make a difference, to go to school, to get a job, and elevate this family to a potential where they can co-exist and try and get healthy, and give themselves the chance to move forward.
This is your third New Year’s Eve party, but at a new location. What can partygoers expect this year?
TK: I never really had a solid New Year’s; it was always a lot of hype where you pay $200 and you just go to a club or a bar. I pitched this party [to the African Children’s Choir] and said, “Let’s take a swing at this.” It’s not formal—I just want good energy there, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have it the two times we’ve done the party. If anything, we’re going to have a great time, we’ll wake up with a hangover, true, but at least we will have started the year by making a difference, and your money went to something great rather than just a bar. I guarantee you’ll be inspired, and Rob [Thomas] is just fantastic. We’ve got Sting’s guitarist coming with him, and it’s just a really great show. Obviously, the kids will come out and do their thing. When you have these 8- and 9-year-olds that come from nothing, it’s just great energy.
How did Rob get involved?
TK: We’re very close friends. I met him in New York on the set of Savages. He and his wife Mari are really amazing people. I’m pumped for them to get here.
Your career has exploded since Friday Night Lights; you could make a home anywhere. Why is Austin so special to you?
TK: It’s the people, the vibe. Austin allows me to prepare the way I want to prepare. It really reminds me a lot of where I grew up. There are no ulterior motives when you meet people, and that’s a huge thing. You can have a quote-unquote regular existence. I’m building a home on Lake Austin right now, and hopefully I’m here for good. It goes back to just centering yourself before you go and dive into whatever job’s in front of you.
And that next job for you is Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan?
TK: Yes, Xavier and I have been trying to collaborate for a while. I met him for the first time in Toronto years ago. He had won at Cannes and there was—and still is—a large amount of buzz around him. He’s a talent. He sent me this and said, “I know it’s not the craziest, biggest role, but I can’t imagine anyone else doing it.” I’m excited. What I’ve loved so far is just collaborating with him. I usually come in with a strong opinion of who these guys are… hopefully we won’t want to kill each other by the end of it [laughs].
Are you a New Year’s resolution guy? Do you have any for 2016?
TK: I’m going to lose 50 pounds, I’m going to speak four languages, and I’m going to play the guitar [laughs]. Actually, I’m not a big [resolutions] guy. Hopefully, you’re living your life the way you want to, and you don’t need the kickoff of a new year. Whatever works, though. I think you just set yourself up for failure. There has to be a stronger motivation than a calendar year for you to see something through.