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Taylor Kitsch: His Make-Or-Break Year

The ''Friday Night Lights'' star headlines three movies in 2012, two of which — ''John Carter'' and ''Battleship'' — are big-budget gambles. Feeling excited and a little bit nervous, Kitsch opens up about this giant moment in his career

As is often the case, Taylor Kitsch was working during Super Bowl XLVI. So he didn't get to see the ads that featured him in two Hollywood behemoths: Disney's ambitious sci-fi adventure John Carter and Universal's gonzo action pic Battleship. But that doesn't mean he didn't hear about them. ''It was pretty hilarious,'' says the actor, 30, just back from a remote island near Bali where he was finishing Oliver Stone's thriller Savages. ''All my best friends were texting me, saying, 'I would just like to watch the Super Bowl in peace.'''

Kitsch's friends had better get used to his hunky mug. In the next five months, the Canadian actor — best known as the brooding, impossibly sexy Tim Riggins on NBC's beloved Friday Night Lights — will star in three films hitting theaters in short order. ''He's going to have a tremendous amount of exposure,'' says Stone. ''I don't envy that position.''

But Battleship director Peter Berg — who cast Kitsch on Friday Night Lights not long after he was a dirt-poor wannabe actor sleeping on friends' couches and, occasionally, the New York City subway — has a notion of how his friend's career will play out. ''I liken him, in his own way, to a young Bruce Willis,'' he says. ''He's strong and very confident, but he's also very self-deprecating and funny. He's willing to fall flat on his face five times to get it done on the sixth.'' Here's a look at Kitsch's upcoming films — and a year that, for better or worse, he will never forget.

John Carter
Edgar Rice Burroughs created John Carter in a series of novels 100 years ago. He's a Confederate Civil War hero who gets accidentally teleported to Mars, struggles to find his place among its battling races, and falls for a warrior princess along the way. Director Andrew Stanton thought Kitsch would be perfect for the role after seeing only the pilot of Friday Night Lights in 2006, but, fearing he was too young, launched an exhaustive casting search. ''Then I realized that Sean Connery was 29 when he was in Dr. No, his first James Bond role,'' says the director (Finding Nemo, WALL•E). ''And Harrison Ford was 33 in Star Wars.''

Of all Kitsch's movies this year, John Carter is the riskiest. It cost a whopping $250 million, and — while there are certainly hardcore fans who know about the seminal sci-fi novels and how they inspired Star Wars and Avatar — the film hasn't yet set the larger moviegoing public's blood racing. Early audience tracking reports haven't been encouraging. Some advance predictions have put its opening weekend at $30 million, a daunting figure for a film that's meant to launch a franchise. But Disney's production chief, Sean Bailey, insists ''it's too early to tell'' how the film will do. ''Hopefully audiences will respond to this story and this grand, epic vision of Andrew's,'' he says. ''We're going to put everything we have into this one, and we're going to let the audience let us know if they want more of it or not. Obviously we're optimistic that they do.''

Kitsch will emerge relatively unscathed no matter what happens with the film, but he's still feeling the pressure. ''I'm in every scene of the film, almost. I don't think it can be good if I'm terrible in it — put it that way.'' And he loyally stands by his director: ''He's just a f---ing brilliant storyteller. Whether this does a billion dollars or 10 bucks, man, you cannot take that away from Andrew.''

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