“I think gals want to help him … and a lot of guys just want to be him,” said Taylor Kitsch, the 28-year-old actor who plays heartthrob football fullback Tim Riggins on NBC’s Friday Night Lights. Mr. Kitsch was calling just a few hours before walking the red carpet for the world premiere of fanboy-frenzy-inducing X-Men Origins: Wolverine—he plays super-mutant Remy LeBeau/Gambit—but he was speaking to The Observer about his television character’s broad (ha!) appeal. “It’s incredibly flattering,” he said. Oh, but Mr. Kitsch, you just have no idea! New York women are agog!
“His lips are always so red,” said Lindsey Berns (rather dreamily), the director of college counseling at Brooklyn Friends. “And he gets that flush on his face … he has really beautiful skin. And I’m a sucker for well-defined arms.”
“He has Brad Pitt–circa–Thelma and Louise–era lips,” agreed Margaret Brown, a television producer who owns a T-shirt for Riggins’ team, the Dillon Panthers. “His hair is always a little bit greasy—but you know he smells like stale beer and sweat. Yum.”
“He’s just so pretty. He might be the prettiest,” said best-selling young adult novelist Gayle Forman.
“I think he has picked up the mantle of sweet Canadian teen hotness that was abandoned by Scott Speedman a few years ago. Long may he reign,” said freelance writer Jen Silverman.
Perhaps most to the point was the view of one lady who was too embarrassed to be named: “Watching Tim Riggins every week is like watching soft porn.”
So we have a question: Could ladies who love Tim Riggins help boost the somewhat troubled (negative early press, online leaks) Wolverine to big, big box office this weekend?
Mr. Kitsch hopes so. “It’s a good thing to have, that demo,” he said. “I think they’ll like Gambit, too. He’s very charming.”
And indeed he is (though he’s no Riggins!). Taylor Kitsch fans will be pleased to know that in the film the actor brings his twinkle and irresistible grin to the big screen quite successfully. Even among a bevy of beautiful male actors including Hugh Jackman (who we can happily report goes shirtless for much of the picture), Ryan Reynolds, Dominic Monaghan and a fantastically feral Liev Schreiber, Mr. Kitsch still manages to shine.
FOR THE UNINITIATED: In 2006, Friday Night Lights debuted on NBC, expanding upon Buzz Bissinger’s best-selling book and the accompanying 2004 feature film about a rural Texas town that revolves around its high-school football team. From its very first episode, it has been miraculous television—beautiful, dramatic and heartbreaking—though its critical acclaim has yet to be matched by Nielsen numbers (on March 30, Friday Night Lights fans breathed a sigh of relief when NBC announced a fourth and fifth season, thanks to its partnership with DirecTV). One wouldn’t think a show about football—on the surface, anyway—would bring in the female audience the way that it has, but many of the women The Observer spoke with consistently waxed poetic about the human relationships portrayed on the show, and specifically the finely drawn and complex male characters that have them hooked.
“That’s why the show is so smart—I think there must be some great woman writer over there who’s able to work out her fantasies,” laughed Ms. Forman, who explained that her favorite characters—like sweet rookie quarterback Matt Saracen (Zack Gilford) and ultimate husband and father Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler)—actually, with Riggins, present a cross section of female fantasies. Or, as Ms. Berns put it, “You hold hands with Matt Saracen, you marry the Coach but you have sex with Tim Riggins.”
About that Riggins: He’s a preternaturally good-looking high-school student with a tragic backstory who has no trouble getting girls into his bed, but seems to have a much harder time verbalizing what’s weighing down his soul. He’s a big ol’ manly brute on the football field, drinks too much when he’s off of it and shimmers with an almost ridiculous amount of animal magnetism. (As one woman told The Observer, “He always walks like he’s just had sex.”) But he’s also been known to display extraordinary kindness, enough that one can imagine that deep inside Riggins lurks the oft-hoped for heart of gold. In one episode, he rescues a too-drunk teenage girl from lecherous boys, and he’ll seemingly do just about anything for his friends or brother. He’s also devoted to his girlfriend (though before they got together he was a total man-whore). Did we mention that his parents abandoned him? It is an absolutely dizzying perfect storm of qualities that, combined with the actor’s somewhat insane bone structure, makes Riggins essentially catnip to many of us ladies who suffer the curse of reading troubled as interesting and seeing a broken man as a wounded animal to save.
“I think it would be a little bit like Angela and Jordan Catalano,” said Ms. Brown, citing My So-Called-Life’s Claire Danes and Jared Leto. “I’d hook up with him and know that in time he’d be 100 percent mine. But at school the next Monday, he’d pass me in the hall and glance in my direction and that would be it. Painful! But I’d still be anxiously awaiting next Friday after the game for round two.” Ah, yes, the great Jordan Catalano, the ultimate stand-in for that guy (you know the one) who maybe didn’t say a lot, but was clearly feeling deep, deep things that only you had the capacity to draw out and help. See, for example, Edward Cullen from the batshit crazy phenomenon Twilight: tortured, full of all sorts of dark, sexy feelings but completely harmless since, these days, young girls seem to like their bad-boys-who-are-secretly-good as chaste as chaste can be. Not so with Tim Riggins! Which might be why women in their 30s and 40s and beyond lust after him so. To put it more succinctly, as one Brooklynite said, “Riggins will treat you like shit and fuck your brains out.” And that’s a good thing. O.K.?
THE FIRST SHOCK when you talk to Taylor Kitsch is that Tim Riggins actually has a Canadian accent. The actor was born in Kelowna, British Columbia, and raised in Vancouver. He played hockey and reportedly was looking to go professional before a knee injury forced him to stop; he moved to New York City to pursue acting in 2002. Unsurprisingly, he did some modeling—for Abercrombie & Fitch and Diesel—before landing small roles in John Tucker Must Die, insta-classic Snakes on a Plane and The Covenant (don’t worry, we didn’t see it either). Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights was a huge break. “He [Berg] just gave me such an opportunity, especially when you look back and see—and especially with this big movie coming out,” said Mr. Kitsch. “There are a lot of people who came in and out, but he’s one of those people who really took a risk on me and saw the potential. I won’t ever forget that.”
Perhaps because the stars of Friday Night Lights make their homes in Texas, rather than in Los Angeles or New York, it’s even harder to keep them separated from their television personas.
“In Austin, which I call home now, people think they want to have a drink with me,” said Mr. Kitsch with another laugh. “They want to have drinks with Riggs … a lot of the time. They just want to go party with that guy.” In fact, people seem downright disappointed to discover that Mr. Kitsch isn’t actually living with his brother Billy and drinking beer in their ramshackle home. Ms. Berns found herself going down the YouTube rabbit hole after watching a trailer for Wolverine—“disappointing ’cause of that rat mustache”—and looking at old Taylor Kitsch interviews. (Note: fun to watch if only to see the lady correspondents swoon.)
“He just wasn’t as attractive in the interview,” she said. “Maybe Taylor Kitsch really is a good actor! I had always expected he was playing himself.” (In fact, Mr. Kitsch has new non–Friday Night Lights projects in the works, including Gospel Hill (with Julia Stiles) and The Bang Bang Club (which he’s currently filming with Ryan Phillippe and Malin Akerman, based on true-life combat photographers capturing the last days of apartheid in South Africa).
The X-Men franchise is a big one for Fox, and the last film, the third in the series, grossed nearly $500 million worldwide. This time around, it’s the ever-popular Hugh Jackman character as the focus as we learn about how our favorite man-with-claws became the Wolverine we know and love today. (Here’s some hints: Love! Revenge! Evil government agents at work!) But an internet leak of an incomplete version earlier this month has put the film—which reportedly cost $100 million to make—in a new scary place, with mixed reactions from the rabid fans who took to the Internet to write their reviews. Perhaps Riggins admirers can give it a bump?
“That’s probably the whole reason I’d see it,” said Ms. Berns. “I’m curious.”
But others fear that seeing Mr. Kitsch in a different role could tarnish their vision of him as the perfectly desirable bad/good boy of their fantasies. “Honestly, I’m not sure I care to see Taylor Kitsch in other things,” said Ms. Brown. “It may be that I love Tim Riggins too much. But I did order Papa John’s pizza the other night and Taylor Kitsch was on the box with the other Wolverine characters, and I must say, I was a little excited. I kept the empty pizza box a little longer than I should have.”