updated 03/09/2012 AT 9:00 AM ET
•originally published 03/09/2012 AT 10:20 AM ET
With Disney’s sci-fi adventure John Carter opening Friday, Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch is primed to vault onto Hollywood’s action hero A-list.
And sure, he looks every inch the rugged and impossibly buff star set for galactic battle. But with starring roles in two more big films hitting screens over the next four months – the action epic Battleship and Oliver Stone’s thriller Savages – Kitsch, 30, is ready to prove he’s more than a one-blockbuster wonder.
Here are five things you may not know about 2012’s breakout star:
1. He got his start on Friday Night Lights
In 2006, Kitsch got a big break, landing the role of Tim Riggins, a sexy and brooding running back on NBC’s critically adored show. When FNL wrapped last year, Kitsch snagged a few keepsakes: Riggins’ signature boots and a handful of his football jerseys. “I loved Riggs!” he told PEOPLE.
2. He was almost a pro-hockey player
Raised by a single mother in a trailer park outside of Vancouver, Kitsch had his eye on only one prize: the NHL. Before a career-ending knee injury foiled his dream at age 20, he was a rising star in Canada’s competitive British Columbia Hockey League. “Hockey was everything to me. I was so myopic, it’s insane,” says Kitsch, who nursed his share of sports injuries, including a broken nose, scars on his chin and “lots of black eyes.”
3. He used to be homeless
As a struggling model in New York City, Kitsch slept on friends’ couches and, on occasion, on the floor of an 8th Avenue subway train. “I’d try to stay as low to the ground as possible so [security] didn’t see me,” he says. “I’d get on the subway late at night and sleep for five or six hours.” During a stint in L.A., Kitsch lived out of his Pontiac Firefly. “That was probably the best purchase of my life,” he says. “That car lasted forever.”
4. He had the best hair in high school
Two years after being voted “Funniest Person” in 10th grade, Kitsch nabbed the school’s “Best Hair” title. His tousled locks were back in the spotlight during Friday Night Lights when Kitsch modeled Riggins’ early look on Gary Oldman’s character in State of Grace. “I was enamored watching him,” he says. “In that movie, Oldman was a wreck and he had long hair that was greased.”
5. He’s a workout junkie
To stay buff during the seven-month John Carter shoot, Kitsch set his alarm for 4:33 a.m. six days a week to work out before breakfast. On top of that, he squeezed in training sessions in his on-set mobile gym throughout the day. Blasting AC/DC and Metallica to get pumped up, he says, “I blew the speakers out twice during the shoot.” Also on his iPod? Dierks Bentley, old Pearl Jam, User and Kings of Leon.
For an interview and photo shoot with Taylor Kitsch, pick up this week’s issue of People, on newsstands Friday