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Taylor Kitsch could find indie success in Canadian film 'The Grand Seduction'

From left, Brendan Gleeson plays Murray French and Taylor Kitsch plays Dr. Paul Lewis in The Grand Seduction. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ HO, Duncan de Young/ Max Films

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From left, Brendan Gleeson plays Murray French and Taylor Kitsch plays Dr. Paul Lewis in The Grand Seduction. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ HO, Duncan de Young/ Max Films

TORONTO - Taylor Kitsch couldn't resist "The Grand Seduction."

Kitsch, who starred in football drama "Friday Night Lights" for five seasons and played the title role in Disney's big-budget flop "John Carter," says the timing felt right to return to his homeland for an indie comedy.

"Well, little do people know this was shot in Romania and the budget was $180 million," Kitsch, 33, joked in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

"No, you get an opportunity to come to Canada, being Canadian, and to work on the outskirts of Newfoundland — it was just exciting to me," he said. "I hadn't done a movie in Canada and a smaller movie in Newfoundland just felt right."

The film is set in the fictional harbour of Tickle Head, N.L., which desperately needs a resident doctor to land a lucrative factory contract. Enter Paul Lewis (Kitsch), a city-bred, jazz-loving, cricket-playing doctor who becomes the unsuspecting target of the community's "grand seduction."

Kitsch, who was born and raised in B.C. and also recently appeared in HBO Film's "The Normal Heart," said he couldn't stop laughing out loud while reading this script.

"There's a charm about the script that just stuck with you. When you put it down after reading, you just started thinking about it, kind of like 'I think I could do this justice,'" he said.

Directed by Don McKellar, "The Grand Seduction" also stars Irish actor Brendan Gleeson as Murray French, the town's leader who hatches the plan, and Liane Balaban as a post office worker who refuses to feign romantic interest in the new doctor. Canadians Gordon Pinsent, Mark Critch, Mary Walsh and Cathy Jones round out the quirky supporting cast.

Gleeson said he enjoyed improvising with Kitsch in their many scenes together. His character exploits Lewis's need for a father figure by teaching him to fish — even setting it up in one scene so the doctor, not exactly a natural fisherman, reels in a frozen whopper.

"We were kind of joshing each other a small bit and trying to ratchet it up. But also, that location was one of the most stunning places I've ever been on Earth," Gleeson said of filming the fishing scenes.

"It was absolutely extraordinary. We sat there in blistering sunshine for two days, playing this kind of fun, edgy sort of scene that was based on lies, and did this father-son bonding thing that was a lie."

Kitsch, for his part, spent his free time fly-fishing while shooting in New Bonaventure and Red Cliff, N.L., and joked: "Picking up the rod for the first time, I would probably be a better fisher than (Lewis)."

Both actors said it was tricky to pull off the story, which relies on the audience caring enough about the townspeople to go along with the scheme. Viewers also have to believe that Lewis would fall for the repeated lies — among them that the town is cricket-obsessed and that Balaban's character is in love with him.

But Gleeson said the film — a remake of Jean-Francois Pouliot's 2003 film "La Grande Seduction" — strikes the right tone.

"I think one of the things we needed to get right was that it meant something the community was saved," he said. "If you don't care about the people, it doesn't matter if they go under. That's life. That's economics ... So you have to value something about it."

The Dublin-born actor said he had always wanted to travel to Newfoundland, and found himself charmed by both the scenery and the people. Asked why East Coast folks are so interesting, Gleeson said they're tough but not aggressive.

"You need to be able to take whatever the weather's throwing at you and what everything else is throwing at you. There's a residual, in-built expectation of self-reliance. So nobody needs to swan around acting tough," he said.

For 33-year-old Balaban, who grew up in Ontario and is best known for her roles in "New Waterford Girl" and "One Week," her supporting turn as principled post office worker Kathleen could be a breakout performance.

Her character refuses to show any interest in Lewis because she disagrees with the town's scheme, even slamming the door in his face when he shows up late at night with a bottle of wine.

"When I watched the film, I thought I was being really mean, really cold," she said with a laugh. "I kept going, 'Stop it! Stop turning him down! Go on a date!'

"But the more I pushed him away the funnier it is because of the lies that are being told ... So it actually comes across as quite effective. I hope I don't come across as too cold."

But Balaban said she isn't concerned with how her performance will be received — she just hopes people see the movie.

"I'm not even going to say I want people to like it because I know that they'll like it if they come see it. I just hope there's a wide audience because it is a really good movie," she said.

"I think there are so few films about how people work with each other to make the world better and, without sounding too cheesy, I really think this film is about that — as much as it is a laugh-out-loud comedy."

Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

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