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How Taylor Kitsch Completely Transformed For Waco

After five seasons of playing high school football star Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights, actor Taylor Kitsch decided to take on a very different type of role. In 2018, the actor completely altered himself to play the Branch Davidians cult leader David Koresh in the Paramount Network miniseries Waco. While reviews of the series itself were mixed, critics praised Kitsch's performance and his commitment to the role.

Koresh is one of the most controversial figures of the latter half of the 20th century, and to portray him, Kitsch had to undertake an extreme regimen of preparation. Not only did the actor need to understand what made the cult leader tick, but he also had to capture his physicality. Willowy Koresh was a far cry from Kitsch, whose ripped physique was shown off in John Carter and on the second season of True Detective. In many ways, the two men are complete opposites of one another, which makes Kitsch's work all the more impressive.

Let's take a look at everything Taylor Kitsch did to transform himself in order to play David Koresh on Waco.

Taylor Kitsch went on an extreme diet to play David Koresh on Waco

The most obvious adjustment Kitsch made to himself to play Koresh was his weight. The actor shed 30 pounds in preparation for the role, a task that pushed him to his limits. In an appearance on The Ellen Show, Kitsch broke down how he lost the weight, which he did over the course of four months: "I'd get 500 calories at breakfast and then it would go from like veggies in the mid-afternoon to chicken broth after four o'clock. And then you go run..."

Although Kitsch was committed to the role, he did admit that the weight loss routine "sucked." Thankfully, the hard work wasn't all for naught. Actress Melissa Benoist, who played one of Koresh's wives on Waco, described how effective Kitsch's transformation was to E News: "It was almost jarring the first day that we saw him on set... how much he had weight he had lost, the transformation he went through physically. he was so regimented and dedicated and that was impressive to see."

While the weight loss may have been the most jarring part of Kitsch's transformation, there was another very distinct aspect of Koresh's look that proved to be too much for the actor to take on.

How Taylor Kitsch got David Koresh's signature hairstyle

Other than his jar-lid glasses, one of David Koresh's most distinct physical characteristics was his mullet. The hairstyle did make a bit of a comeback in hipster circles, but that doesn't mean Kitsch had one ready for filming. In other areas, the actor went to the extremes to ready his body and mind for the role, but in the case of Koresh's signature hairdo, Kitsch had to opt for a wig.

Kitsch admitted to the artificial hair in a conversation with The Daily Beast. However, the actor cited practicality, not vanity, as the reason why he didn't produce a mullet of his own. "[It] would've taken eight months-plus to grow it that long," he explained.

The actor went deeper on the mullet talk with Indiewire. The version we see in the series was the result of many trial-and-error attempts at getting Koresh's hair just right. Ultimately, the team devised a system where the "business" (front) of the hair was Kitsch's natural locks, while the "party" (back) of the hair was a wig that Kitsch said took an hour to apply.

Of course, physical transformation can only take an actor so far. The most important — and most difficult — task Kitsch had in preparing for the role didn't involve counting calories or sitting in hair and makeup for hours. In order to embody Koresh, Kitsch had to immerse himself deep in the psyche of the troubled man.

The intense psychological toll of Taylor Kitsch's Waco role

In addition to his duties as an actor, Kitsch was also an executive producer on Waco. His dual commitments to the project meant he was very invested in getting the nuances of the character right, which lead to a long and difficult period of research that almost caused him to leave the series. The actor told Rolling Stone, "I almost pulled out a month and a half [before the filming began]."

He went on to elaborate: "I think I was in too deep. You spend eight hours a day in this 1,000-square-foot apartment in Austin playing guitar and reading about this tragedy every single day. It just started to really weigh on me. I had no outlet."

Despite the hardships Kitsch had with the difficult subject matter, he felt a responsibility to understand Koresh from the inside out. He said of his process, "If I'm going to play anybody, let alone someone like this, and how enigmatic this cat is, you have to try and marry yourself emotionally to him and his belief system and everything else that goes with that."