The spring and summer of 2012 are forever ago in movie years, and that suits Taylor Kitsch just fine. For him, that was a year worth forgetting.

The hunky star of the TV version of "Friday Night Lights" had his big-screen coming-out party in 2012 -- with leading roles in two wannabe blockbusters. But the trouble was that "John Carter" and "Battleship" broke the bank, rather than box-office records. Reviews of both films zeroed in on their bloated budgets, and Kitsch got caught in the crossfire.

So the Kelowna, British Columbia, native changed direction. He went back to ensemble work, reminiscent of his TV series. He chose scripts that demanded more of a performer than making special effects exciting. And he returned to Canada.

"I don't know if it's a burden, carrying a film," says Kitsch, 33. But "you'd be an idiot to say no to ("John Carter" director Andrew) Stanton. You'd be an idiot to say no to Peter Berg ("Battleship").

"But if you get to bounce off (Brendan) Gleeson, Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts or (John) Travolta -- any of those guys -- you dive right in. Surrounded by wonderful actors, you can just feel the weight (lift) off your shoulders. I don't have to do the heavy lifting."

"Lone Survivor," a fact-based ensemble combat film set in Afghanistan, was a hit back in January. "The Normal Heart" is the all-star HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer's play about gay activism in the early days of the AIDS crisis. But the film that reminded Kitsch most of why he loves ensemble acting was the first one he made after "Battleship" -- "The Grand Seduction."

A Canadian remake of the French Canadian film "Seducing Dr. Lewis," "The Grand Seduction" is a whimsical comedy about a dying fishing village that tries to trick a hip young doctor into settling there.

"I felt I could do this guy justice," Kitsch says of the role, a too-pretty plastic surgeon hijacked to tiny Tickle Cove, Newfoundland. "I could bounce off Brendan Gleeson (playing a townie in charge of the "Seduction" scheme) and not carry a huge film. No pressure working back in Canada. I wanted to work there because I'd never done a movie there. And I like this guy. He's dry and dorky, and everybody else's reaction to him is hilarious. There's a charm about this script that is kind of infectious."

Kitsch says he also found it "refreshing to be standing in front of real people and a real waterfront, and not have a ... green screen behind me."

Better reviews have followed since his change in direction. "Seduction" prompted the Seattle Times to call Kitsch a "self-deprecating hunk ... who could be branded for life (in a nice way) with a line like 'No one has cheekbones like that.' "

Kitsch says "The Normal Heart" was "the most fulfilling job I've ever had. It gave me so much to do, to think about and work on. The whole process of making it was rewarding, start to finish." Sharing scenes with Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts and others while playing a character with "duality" and a real story arc "made me a better actor, I think, and a better person."

But "Grand Seduction" may have made the biggest long-term impact on Kitsch. During the filming, he stayed "in this place on a 100-foot bluff overlooking the ocean. That's living. ... That taste of small-town living, the pace of really living, exposes you to all the negative things you've brought into your life. How much (stuff) you add on that isn't necessary, you realize that when you're back to living at that pace."

So he's moving to Austin, Texas, with its "very hard, fast-paced lifestyle -- tubing and wake-boarding and golfing. ... It reinvigorates you, I think. The tone, the pace, the people, just the simplicity of life get to you, especially if you've been doing time in Los Angeles.

"I have 2 acres on Lake Austin that I've yet to build on, and I was there just the other day thinking, 'This is what it's about.' You're not listening to the city, the traffic, the phone. You're listening to the changes in the wind. That's living."

In Austin, he'll be getting into a whole different movie-business scene. That's where indie icons Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez and others have set up cinematic shop beyond Hollywood's grip.

Kitsch says, "David Gordon Green (director of "Joe" and "Pineapple Express") and I are meeting up, having five or 10 too many drinks, and seeing if there's something we can do together. If that's how things work down here, I think I'm going to like it."