The Actor Who Played Tim Riggins In Friday Night Lights Is Unrecognizable Today

For those who happened to catch "Friday Night Lights" at its zeitgeist, Taylor Kitsch's performance as the lovable rogue Tim Riggins might still live on fondly in your memory. Unfortunately for fans of the show, it never quite got enough reach, and it was only through a deal with DirecTV that it was able to go on for five seasons. 

After being picked up on streaming by Netflix, the show regained some popularity, with viewers old and new returning to the small town of Dillon, Texas. But whatever happened to the actor behind fan-favorite Riggins? "I was doing character stuff," Kitsch told The New York Times when asked. "The people that really know me, or that follow the career will understand it because I'm not so famous."

This is almost by design — after a few failed blockbusters, Kitsch focused on finding roles that spoke to him, and has kept himself and his personal life out of the spotlight since.

Kitsch grew up in a Canadian trailer park

Taylor Kitsch's origins aren't too dissimilar to that of the character he portrayed in "Friday Night Lights." Where Riggins grew up in Texas playing football, Kitsch was doing similarly against a Canadian backdrop in British Columbia and playing hockey instead. 

The youngest of his parents' three children at the time, his father, a construction worker, left him to be raised by a single mother when he was only a year old. "My dad was never around," he once told Scripps News, adding, "I can relate to Tim in that way, that absence of some sort of figure in our lives."

Still, when talking about his childhood in Kelowna, Kitsch has described it as a "stereotypical small-town upbringing" that he wouldn't change for the world (via Maclean's). According to his Elle profile, he was raised in a trailer park and self-describes as "white trash. Growing up, I really was. Proud of it." 

He got injured playing hockey

Before getting into acting, Taylor Kitsch's biggest passion was hockey. In an Instagram post, he recalls going to buy a pair of skates with his mother, secondhand due to financial restraints, and feeling upset about it. According to Kitsch, his mother then told him his options were wearing it or not playing. "I played," he wrote in the caption. "Was only player in league with these skates. And the second I touched the ice I never once thought of these skates again."

Starting from age 3, Kitsch had dreamed of becoming a hockey player, making it all the way to the junior league — where he played for the Langley Hornets — before a knee injury took him out. "When the knee went, I was pretty traumatized for a while," he told The Daily Beast. "My hockey career ended very abruptly."

Despite that shock, the actor still credits his sports career as the reason why he has been able to roll with the punches throughout his life. "As a hockey player, the losses are what shapes you a lot more than the wins," he said (via CBC).

At the beginning of his career, Kitsch was a model

Though it was an understandable source of frustration to see the end of his dream career in sports, Taylor Kitsch was fortunate enough to be approached by a modeling scout in Vancouver soon after. By 2002, after a lot of insistence, he had been signed with IMG Models and was living in New York, but it wasn't quite the glamorous life one might expect. Though the agency provided housing, he was left with very little every month and, eventually, Kitsch was homeless.

"It's not like I was this mainstream f***in' runway model," he told Elle. "I wasn't working. I lived in an apartment in Spanish Harlem with no electricity, and then I lost that." The apartment was unfurnished except for a borrowed blow-up mattress — which he replaced after getting birthday money from his mom, who Kitsch says "didn't know how bad it was" (via Maclean's). But they kicked him out for being unable to pay rent, so Kitsch started sleeping in subway cars.

Quickly, it became clear to him that New York wasn't working, so he relocated to Los Angeles. There, he got certified as a personal trainer, getting jobs despite not being legally able due to a lack of green card and visa. But Kitsch, despite scoring a manager during this time, was still living out of his car. Ready to admit defeat, he returned to Vancouver with little to show for all that struggle, only to finally start getting roles.

Taylor Kitsch has a great sense of humor

Having a good sense of humor and being able to laugh off the hardest times he's had in life is probably Taylor Kitsch's biggest asset. "I chase laughs," he told Esquire about himself, and that fact seems to hold true in every aspect of his life. In fact, he was even voted funniest in his class during his high school years, saying: "I was the funny guy at school at all costs" (via The New York Times).

That is likely a good thing, as having a positive outlook in life seems to have helped Kitsch through the many ups and downs that have been thrown his way. Joseph Kosinski, who directed him in "Only the Brave," told Esquire, "He's also got an incredible sense of humor that I think is his secret weapon."

Whatever it is, Kitsch's attitude toward life has worked out for him, with the star's hustle mentality and good-natured approach to his career leaving him content with where he is, and grateful for what he's been able to accomplish.

He almost didn't get the role of Tim Riggins

After taking a lot of hits, Taylor Kitsch decided to move back to Canada but, not one to quit, he carried on auditioning and started getting some small roles. At first, in movies like "Snakes on a Plane" and "John Tucker Must Die," they didn't require much from him besides standing there and looking pretty. Then he got cast in 2006's "The Covenant," a cult favorite D-tier horror flick whose main appeal is a cast list packed with Hollywood hunks and budding stars. "[It] should have been nominated," he joked in his interview with The Daily Beast. "I don't know why it wasn't!" 

But his big break didn't come until he got cast by Peter Berg in "Friday Night Lights." Kitsch almost didn't get the role of Tim Riggins, however. At the time, his manager wanted him to read for the role of Jason Street, as Berg already had three other actors shortlisted for the part. The actor, however, felt that he was uniquely suited to play Riggins, as they shared so many similarities.

Still without a visa, he auditioned on tape and was flown out to Los Angeles to meet with Berg at the NBC lot. According to The New York Times, it was after seeing Kitsch stepping out of the car that Berg decided "this guy's it." The rest is history.

Minka Kelly says their relationship was toxic

Tim Riggins' background isn't the only thing Taylor Kitsch had in common with the character he spent five years portraying. Though it wasn't widely known back then, Kitsch admitted in a 2018 interview with Andy Cohen that he was in a relationship with co-star Minka Kelly for much of the time he spent on the show.

In her memoir, "Tell Me Everything," which was published earlier this year, Kelly talked about how the two of them were on-again-off-again both on and off-screen. Writing about their time together during the show, she shared that focusing too much on Kitsch negatively affected her relationship with her co-workers. "All the effort I might have invested in connecting consistently with the girls on the show went to Taylor. So when my relationship with Taylor became toxic, I had no one to turn to." 

The actor recounts breaking up and getting back together more times than she could count, with neither of them being mature enough to navigate the situation well during the times they were separated. "Life became very difficult both on and off set whenever we broke up," she wrote, adding, "We were young and had very few tools to handle our emotions and personal grievances."

John Carter should've been his big break

Finding success in "Friday Night Lights," Taylor Kitsch started getting cast in other movies, and things were looking up for him after a successful appearance as Remy LeBeau (aka Gambit) in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." With the show wrapping up in 2011, the year to follow looked to be very promising as the start of Kitsch's career as an action-hero movie star, with three back-to-back projects slated to air in 2012. 

Unfortunately for Kitsch, all of those films underperformed at the box office. Despite their blockbuster potential, "John Carter" and "Battleship" — both of which would have had him starring in at least two sequels each — were busts. "Worst case scenario, I'll just keep it simple as to why I got into this," he said in an interview for Maclean's back then. "I have no problem doing indies for the rest of my life."

If you look at his career since then, you can tell Kitsch meant it. He got a lot pickier about his projects, and stuck to movies for a while before returning to television in the second season of "True Detective." And while he may not be a world-famous superstar, the actor seems happy to be exactly where he is.

He moved away from Hollywood to figure things out

After booking "Friday Night Lights," Taylor Kitsch relocated to Austin, Texas, a city he previously knew nothing about. There, he bought a lake property in the wake of the show's ending, where he lived until 2021 and originally planned to make it into his dream home. "It's just not for me," he said of Los Angeles then (via The National). "It's so unfulfilling to be a part of that Hollywood thing."

Kitsch, who loves the outdoors and maintains some distance between himself and the Hollywood hubbub, found himself outgrowing his adopted home as well. "There weren't many like-minded people for me," he told Esquire. Austin kept growing, getting crowded, and after spending time roaming through Big Sky during the pandemic, the actor finally decided to sell the "stupid house that [he] didn't need" and moved to Montana, where he's lived ever since. 

"I live quite simply," he said of his new home. He said Bozeman reminds him of his hometown, and it gives him plenty to do between filming — including hikes, fly fishing, and his newfound hobby of wildlife photography.

Kitsch put his life on hold to help his sister get sober

For a while, Taylor Kitsch's focus was on helping his younger sister, Shelby Kitsch-Best, get sober. At the time, she had been struggling with an addiction to amphetamines and opioids, and Kitsch put a lot of effort into helping her on her journey to sobriety. 

In his Esquire profile, published last year, he talked about going to "hell and back seventeen times" with her, recounting some of what it took before she was finally able to stick it out. This included looking for her in sketchy places, having her run away from rehab or simply refusing to go, not to mention the cycles of overdosing and detoxing. 

"He literally put his life on hold to help me," Kitsch-Best said in an interview, now able to celebrate seven years sober (via The New York Times). "I don't even know how to put it in words."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Taylor Kitsch is still unmarried

The more you learn about Taylor Kitsch, the more you can tell he likes to keep his private life away from the press. So much so that very little is known about his romantic history even now, 20 years into his career — his relationship with Minka Kelly, after all, remained only a rumor until only a few years ago. 

"I'm married to my work. I'm in no hurry," he told Maclean's in 2012. He also told Elle, "How do you build a relationship with a gal and then tell her, 'Hey, I gotta do press all over the world. I expect you to have the same feelings you have now in eight weeks.'"

In the early days of his career, Kitsch spoke of wanting children and hoping to raise them like he was raised, active and outdoors. And while that hasn't happened for him yet — Kitsch remains unmarried — the actor did tell Esquire last year that there was "maybe" a special someone in his life.

He has no formal acting training

When Taylor Kitsch first started acting, he had no formal training. It was a combination of his good looks and charisma that got him in the door back then, with only a few lessons with acting coach Sheila Gray under his belt, acquired during the time he was living in New York. 

"His talent was immediately evident and he has a very wise soul," Peter Berg told The Daily Beast of the actor, with whom he continued to work over the years in projects like "Battleship," "Lone Survivor," and "Painkiller." While "Friday Night Lights" was recording, Kitsch spent a lot of his time on set with older actors, hoping for their advice and wanting to learn as much as he could from them. The show was a great learning curve for Kitsch, who had a lot of freedom to try new things. 

During his time there, he was allowed to pitch his own ideas, as well as paraphrase his lines and improvise. "That combination of talent and knowing the character is rare," Taylor Sheridan, his acting coach for the role, told GQ. And while Kitsch has returned to learn under Sheila Gray in his career, his successes are mostly due to a lot of hard work and raw talent. "The only thing that eliminates self-doubt for me is prep," he told The New York Times.

His latest project is very personal to him

Despite the traumatic experience of coaxing his sister through sobriety, Taylor Kitsch was able to harness that distress into what is his most personal project to date — his role as Glen Kryger in "Painkiller." The show, inspired by a Patrick Radden Keefe piece in the New Yorker, tells the story of a hardworking family man who becomes addicted to OxyContin after having it prescribed by a doctor.

According to Kitsch, he could not get through the script when he first got it because all of the emotion of what he'd gone through with his sister "was still right there" (via Esquire). But he wanted to honor the pain she had gone through and what it had taken her to get clean, which led him to take the part. 

During shooting, he asked Shelby Kitsch-Best to consult, which she did, claiming it was "difficult to watch because it's so real. But it's good how real it is" (via The New York Times). She got to cameo in the show, and even helped choreograph a detox scene. "Bringing her was incredibly cathartic and obviously full circle," Kitsch told the Times. "I was the emotional mess, and she was just killing it."

Kitsch seems happy with a low-key career

In his 2015 Elle profile, Taylor Kitsch spoke of how much he's had to sacrifice for his acting career, though he didn't seem too upset about it. "It's my choice," he said, "But it better be worth sacrificing for." That certainly seemed to be the case for the actor for a very long time — he threw himself headfirst into every project, racking up injuries during the filming of "John Carter," losing weight for "The Normal Heart," and even having a bit of a breakdown in the lead-up to "Waco."

And it's not that Kitsch is less invested in his work these days, only that he seems to have found some balance. After taking a break to take care of his sister, he finally slowed down. "I pride myself on being picky, because it is so much energy and sacrifice," he told The New York Times. "If I can't be all in and really be in service of something and be scared and be uncomfortable, then I don't want to do that." 

These days, the actor works less, enjoys his free time more and, in his own words, has "started to live a little more." His career may not be flashy, but it suits him just fine.