John Carter - Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch and Samantha Morton
Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) and Sola (Samantha Morton) ©2011 Disney

This year, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character John Carter, who has captivated generations of readers with his adventures on Mars. To celebrate this milestone, Disney brings John Carter to the big screen, based on Burroughs’ novel A Princess of Mars.

When war-weary American Civil War veteran John Carter is inexplicably transported from a remote cave in Arizona to Barsoom (Mars), the change in gravity gives him extraordinary powers, which he uses to save the planet from its strange inhabitants.

Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights, The Bang Bang Club, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), who portrays John Carter, spoke with journalists at the press day for the movie in Arizona.

Can you talk a little about the character?

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) ©2011 Disney

Carter has lost everything in the Civil War and he basically goes into this recluse mode of living, mining for gold. He’s covering up what he hasn’t dealt with – the guilt he feels over the loss of everything he went to war to protect. He has a fear of taking responsibility and losing everything dear to him again. He refuses to fight for any cause and pushes himself away from being close to anyone.

What kind of research did you do the role?

I used the books. I tried to [do as much research] as I could before I had the script, because they didn’t give me the script until after the [screen] test.

I then used the script as my bible. I just latched on to the emotional part of it. If the journey with Carter is not there emotionally, this movie is forgettable. And with Andrew Stanton, priority number one is that beaten down guy, that cause is completely stripped from him in the beginning of the film. So I latched on to the Civil War.

I studied the Civil War with historians at the University of Texas. I immersed myself with books and letters of Civil War soldiers. There’s no measuring stick of like, ‘I’m emotionally attached now.’ It just comes on the day. That prep is everything to me. So that’s how I immersed myself with John.

What was the most intimidating aspect of making the movie?

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) and Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) ©2011 Disney

Doing the emotional spectrum of it, honestly, because it was just so important to me. I [wanted] to do it right and to carry that part of it.

What did you have to do to get your body into shape for this movie?

My body is CG. I was actually 250 pounds playing him! No. I don’t know. I was raised playing hockey my whole life. That’s quite extreme. I don’t walk around looking like [I do in the movie]. It takes your life, it really does, 4:30 am workouts, and then you work out all day on set, in between takes.

Then you diet, and it’s the most boring diet you could ever imagine. Dry chicken breast with yams, brown rice, and protein shakes, basically, and you flood your body with water.

I take more pride in the emotional scheme of John Carter than the esthetic part of it, and I always will. I wouldn’t sign up to that movie, or to John Carter if it didn’t have the heartbeat it had. It’s a different sense of vulnerability, that I’ve never had. And it’s something you don’t get used to.

When you’ve got to go on set and gear down to where he had to go, you’re vulnerable.

There’s so much action in the film, were there any injuries?

Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) ©2011 Disney

I started with a high ankle sprain, which was tough. But it was the bizarre things that came into play, little things like Woola (a large, lizard-like dog) jumping on me. Obviously, there is no Woola, so you throw yourself onto the ground.

We were in a live setting on Lake Powell, so it was on a rock. And I threw myself down and my arm went numb for an hour. It was those weird little things, but nothing too crazy.

Is it the first time Andrew Stanton, who directed Finding Nemo, has directed a live action feature. What did you see in his style as a director?

Story first, story second, story third. That’s everything to him, and the script is incredible.

Have you seen this in 3D yet?

No, I heard it’s unreal in 3D. I can’t wait to see it in 3D, IMAX for sure. I think this is the type of movie to see it that way. There’s that whole stigma with 3D, which I get because God knows it’s been done badly. But if you do it right, I think it can be great, it just enhances that escapism.

What was Andrew’s direction on the set, as far as working in 3D?

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) ©2011 Disney

We didn’t shoot it in 3D, they had to painstakingly process it [after shooting] and change it.

This is your first major lead. How does that feel? Are you comfortable in the starring role?

I’m comfortable with it. It’s really the character. It just comes down to me surrounding myself with great people, being better for it.

I think the next gig, we’re gonna sign up to do a supporting role. I have no problem doing one or  two scenes in a film as well. It’s just a matter of the work and being better for it at the end of the day.

If anyone knows me from Friday Night Lights to The Bang-Bang Club, I love that. It’s more character-driven stuff.

Can you tell us a little about your new movie Savages with Oliver Stone?

It’s an unapologetic movie (about the Mexican drug cartel) that you’re gonna dig. I’d say it’s Pulp Fiction meet Goodfellas, but more violent.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane