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“That’s how I pick my roles,” the British Columbian-born actor said. ” ‘Wait, is there aliens in it? Oh well, why am I doing it, why would you call me if there are no aliens in it?’ That’s basically how it goes.”

He’s joking, but it’s true. Mr. Kitsch, 30, has leading roles in two big movies this year - “Battleship” and “John Carter” - that will see him leave the small town Texas football scene of the critically acclaimed “FNL” TV series for the big screen world of sci-fi.

First up is Disney’s interpretation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel, released in March. In “John Carter,” Mr. Kitsch plays a former military captain who is transported to Mars, a planet being torn apart by war.

It is directed by Andrew Stanton - of “Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E” fame - who is taking on his first-live action movie.

Carter gets caught up in the conflicts and jumps into battle with a sword, loin cloth and plenty of muscle. Mr. Kitsch said Mr. Stanton insisted on a grueling regimen to get him mentally and physically prepared.

After that, it’s Peter Berg’s “Battleship,” which also stars Liam Neeson, Alexander Skarsgard and features Rihanna in her movie debut. Loosely based on the classic naval combat game from Hasbro, it sees five ships take on another five ships from a different planet.

“Battleship” reaches theaters in Britain on April 13 before hitting the U.S. in May.

The Canadian actor said he really enjoyed collaborating with his old “FNL” executive producer, Mr. Berg, on his “Battleship” role of naval officer Lt. Alex Hopper. There are still aliens, but this time instead of a dusty planet there’s a lot of ocean.

Mr. Kitsch said he found his sea legs pretty quickly, which was good because the crew spent several weeks shooting on the water and some scenes had him blown straight into the ocean.

“So many variables come into play, obviously time consuming, you’re always fighting the light apparently when you’re shooting outside,” he noted.

Still, Mr. Kitsch said he was very happy with the result.

“It’s seamless the way they’ve done it,” he said.

‘Welcome Back Kotter’ actor, Robert Hegyes, dies

Robert Hegyes, the actor best known for playing Jewish Puerto Rican student Juan Epstein on the 1970s TV show “Welcome Back Kotter” has died. He was 60.

The Flynn & Son Funeral Home in Fords, N.J., said it was informed of Mr. Hegyes’ death Thursday by the actor’s family.

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