LOS ANGELES — Taylor Kitsch struck out twice this year in the failed films "John Carter" and "Battleship," spoiling the "Friday Night Lights" actor's hopes to leap from TV to big-screen star.
Now, Kitsch has a third time at bat with Oliver Stone's drug-war thriller "Savages," opening Friday.
While the actor regrets the two previous movies flopped, he's actually a bit relieved that he can take jobs as they come without having to work around sequel schedules had those films developed into franchises.
"Maybe it's a blessing in disguise that it died, and I'm not tied to these things for the next 10 years," said Kitsch, 31. "I'm free to do whatever I want now. If I want to do something in January, February, March, April, I don't have to go through two studios to be greenlit."
Still, Kitsch started the year with the prospect of two studio blockbusters that could have given him steady work for years to come in the continuing adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars hero Carter and in more tales inspired by the board game "Battleship."
With a bloated budget and fan indifference that resulted in feeble domestic box office of just $73 million, "John Carter" inflicted a $200 million loss on distributor Disney and helped precipitate the departure of the studio's chairman, Rich Ross.
Universal's "Battleship" did fair business overseas ahead of its domestic debut, but it floundered at U.S. theaters in the wake of the blockbuster receipts hauled in by "The Avengers."
Yet Kitsch doesn't regard the films as wasted efforts. "I feel I grew an immense amount as an actor. On so many levels, it tested me. I wouldn't change a thing. I wouldn't take any of those choices back," Kitsch said. "I love what I'm doing. I've started to get excited again, and I think, obviously, it was hard on me that they didn't work. You have bosses, we all have bosses, you want to do well for them. But I gave everything I had."
That dedicated work wasn't lost on Stone, who had seen Kitsch on "Friday Night Lights" and cast him in "Savages" after catching an early cut of "Battleship."
Adapted from the novel by Don Winslow, "Savages" features Kitsch as a take-no-prisoners U.S. veteran of the war on terror, who partners with his best pal (Aaron Johnson) to run a Southern California marijuana business growing and selling the world's finest weed.
Kitsch and Johnson's characters are hurled into a bloody battle with a Mexican drug cartel in "Savages," whose cast includes Blake Lively, John Travolta, Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro.
"He was very masculine, a very strong and attractive guy but seemed like a solid guy, a guy who could be an ex-Afghani, Iraqi war veteran who would back his man to the end and bring his team out with him," Stone said of Kitsch.
Kitsch grew up in British Columbia and got his start in Hollywood in such movies as "Snakes on a Plane" and "John Tucker Must Die" before landing a starring role on "Friday Night Lights."
Peter Berg, who directed the big-screen "Friday Night Lights" and was an executive producer on the TV spinoff, also directed Kitsch in "Battleship," and the two are reuniting for "Lone Survivor," based on the real-life story of Navy SEALs pursuing a Taliban leader.
Despite the film flops, Kitsch figures he built work relationships that might lead to roles throughout his career.
"I know personally, and this is the main thing to me that matters most, you talk to anybody I've ever worked with, ever. They will say that I'm probably the hardest-working actor you've watched in preparation, in drive, in what I put into it," Kitsch said. "I think at the end of the day, that's what matters. If you and I work together, and I go, 'Yeah, I'll go to war with you again," I think that's the ultimate compliment you can give anyone."