Taylor Kitsch first landed on the national radar as bad boy football player Tim Riggins in Friday Night Lights, and he went on to star in big-budget disappointments John Carter and Battleship. But 2014 might be his best post-Friday year yet, with the hit Lone Survivor breaking box office records and earning Oscar nominations—watch the Academy Awards Sunday at 7e/4p on ABC—and the play adaptation The Normal Heart, about the early days of the AIDS crisis, set to premiere on HBO in May. Portraying two equally doomed but very different men, the British Columbia native segues from a movie about an outnumbered Navy SEAL team fighting insurgents in Afghanistan to playing a closeted gay man who falls victim to the deadly disease that had just been discovered. Kitsch is pretty psyched about both projects, as he explains in this interview.

I don’t have to be in LA. I’ve lived in New York and LA, and Austin just felt right.”

 

Lone Survivor and The Normal Heart are very different, but I imagine both were equally demanding.
Yeah. I gained 20 pounds for Lone, lost 25 for Normal Heart. In Lone, my character, Michael Murphy, is arguably one of the most renowned Navy SEALs of all time and I’m very close with the family, and to do that man justice is something that you take to heart and don’t take for granted. Bruce Niles in The Normal Heart is a guy that’s incredibly successful, in the closet. It’s about having AIDS and not understanding it and being scared to come to terms with it. It’s how people deal with fear of the unknown, and that’s really what I focused on more than anything. It’s an honor to breathe life into both guys.

Friday Night Lights turned you into a sex symbol. As an actor, how did that sit with you?
The media paints that picture more than I embrace it, but it’s very flattering, no doubt.

Are you into fashion and style at all?
Not really. Simple is best in my opinion, like the James Deans, those kind of guys. I don’t style myself after them, but you can’t go wrong with a pair of boots and jeans.

When FNL ended, you stayed in Austin, Texas. Why not move back to Hollywood?
I fell in love with it. I’ve lived there for six years. I don’t have to be in LA. I’ve lived in New York and LA, and Austin just felt right.

You’re doing a voice in an animated 3D movie, Almost Heroes.
Yeah, I play a guy who’s afraid to ask the girl of his dreams to be his wife. It’s cute. I also have a short film that I’m writing right now.

What are you most passionate about?
I love what I do. I get so much fulfillment from what I’m doing that I just feel incredibly fortunate. I’ve worked with an organization in Africa , the African Children’s Choir, for the last six years, and it’s changed my life. It’s grounding and I get so much out of it, being able to have a say and expose certain things that are going on. Hopefully I’ll get to go back.