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Throughout his acting career, Taylor Kitsch has played all manner of machismo-laden characters in projects like Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor, True Detective and more. But for Paramount Network's Waco, he took on a completely different portrayal as the notorious sect leader David Koresh, and it's instantly obvious that this was a carefully conceived performance. When CinemaBlend spoke with Waco developers John Erick and Drew Dowdle, they explained to me just how deep into preparation Kitsch got for the role. According to Drew:
The very first time future audiences laid eyes on Taylor Kitsch with his Waco appearance, the transformation was an impressive one. I wouldn't have guessed the actor lost as much as 30 lbs, but as David Koresh, Kitsch definitely looks far more fragile and wispy than he did as John Carter. (Which is good, since no one would buy some jacked-up muscle-head as the leader of the Branch Davidians.) And when that weight loss is combined with the glasses and distinct hair, Kitsch is fairly easy to lose in his role while watching Waco.
All the things that Drew Dowdle said Taylor Kitsch learned are on display throughout Waco. We get to watch him quote from scripture, we get to see him play the guitar, and we get to hear him once again adopt a Texas accent on TV. One of the most important aspects of this role is showing viewers that David Koresh wasn't some lunatic zealot who leapt before he looked. For that, Kitsch was able to draw from all manner of references in developing his humanizing performance, including conversations with surviving Branch Davidian member David Thibodeau, whose book A Place Called Waco was half of the miniseries' source material.
All that isn't to say that Taylor Kitsch's cult leader is portrayed as a hero or a protagonist in any way. Waco does aim to show all the angles of the epically mishandled situation at Mount Carmel, but in a way that doesn't glorify or condemn the parties involved, so while Koresh's charismatic side may be on display, so is the fact that he sired children with different wives, some of them of the underage variety. And Drew Dowdle lauded Kitsch for taking on such a stigmatizing part.
If Taylor Kitsch's performance would be the only visual or audio evidence we have of David Koresh's persona, it'd still be easy to understand why people followed him, especially when his messianic talents are on full display for the sermon. Starting off with such a gigantic moment might have flustered some actors, but according to John Erick and Drew Dowdle, Kitsch was beyond ready for it.