Friday Night Lights turned Taylor Kitsch (aka Tim Riggins) into Hollywood’s Next Big Thing, but then he had a couple of high-profile movie fumbles. Now, True Detective is giving him another chance to be a hero.
“I hope the restaurant’s close because he’s taking his bike,” Taylor Kitsch’s manager says to me.
A bike-bike or a motorcycle-bike? I want to ask. But before I have a chance to, she hangs up.
An hour later, I’m sitting at a table on the outside patio of the Hungry Cat, located between John Wayne’s star and Jack Benny’s on Vine Street in Hollywood, and exactly .9 miles—close, but is it close enough?—from Milk Studios, where Kitsch has just completed his ELLE photo shoot. I’m scanning the sidewalk traffic. I’m hypervigilant because the Hungry Cat is nestled up against a larger building, and I’m worried he’ll pass it. Only, suddenly, there he is, turning down the little alleyway.
That Taylor Kitsch shouldn’t need an introduction at this point in his career, yet still does, is the central preoccupation of this profile, so let me provide one: Kitsch played running back Tim Riggins on NBC’s 2006–2011 series Friday Night Lights, a show about a Texas high school and its football team, though really about coming of age and family, the one you’re born into and the one you make, and racism and classism and America. It’s an anti–soap opera, a frank, uncondescending look at lives and loves in a small town. That everybody in the small town happens to resemble a movie star, and nobody more so than Kitsch—cheekbones as high as goalposts! eyes as green as Astroturf! nose as straight and true as a 50-yard line!—was the only thing Hollywood about it. FNL was a critical smash. (Lorrie Moore, yes, that Lorrie Moore, devoted 3,000 rapturous words to it in the hoity-toity New York Review of Books.) But it didn’t quite connect with a large enough audience. And if NBC hadn’t cut a deal with the subscription television service DirecTV to subsidize production costs in exchange for the right to air episodes first, it never would have lasted five seasons and likely would have been canceled after two.
As he walks toward me, I stand, my heart kicking in my chest. I’m nervous. This is a high-stakes game for me: FNL is my favorite show, Riggins my favorite character. I’m afraid that Kitsch is going to be a world apart from Riggins—that he’ll talk in actorspeak, use the word process a lot and tell me about the benefits of a gluten-free diet, gaze into every reflective surface, and fluff his hair. I’m afraid that meeting him will kill the fantasy, basically. The sun is slanting into my eyes, so while I can see that he’s got something on his head, I can’t see what. It’s only once he gets near that I realize it’s a motorcycle helmet, but worn like a backward baseball cap, pushed off his face and up on his crown. Immediately I start to relax, because it’s such a Riggins maneuver. FNL fans: Remember Riggins’s brief—blink and you missed it—foray into higher education, when he sat in a lecture hall taking notes with a never-been-sharpened pencil? It’s that kind of thing. What a person who’s less trying to amuse others than amuse himself would do. Now, I’m not going to go on any more about his looks except to say that he appears in the flesh just as he does on the screen. Okay, I’ll go on a little more: He has a physical grace to him, moves with athletic authority, has a smile that’s closer to a grin, and is wearing the clothes of someone who doesn’t think about them much—jeans, T-shirt, scuffed leather jacket.
We shake hands, say hello, and listen as the waiter recites the specials. Kitsch, who has just turned 34, points to his menu. “What’s this guy? The Maine lobster roll. It good?” The waiter attests to the roll’s deliciousness, but reveals that it’s sizable. “Oh, okay,” says Kitsch. “No bueno.” (It’s three o’clock, snack time, not lunch.) He asks what I’m ordering. I tell him the cheese plate. He says he’ll pick at that. We get started.