Transitioning from military to civilian life often takes people in unexpected directions; for one former U.S. Navy aviation electronics technician, post-service life has included spending time as a zombie, an orc, cop and even as a soldier.
“It’s fun,” said actor Dan Kyle. “I always had this thing about wanting to entertain people and I loved movies growing up – when I was in high school, I was always encouraged to go out for drama, but usually the kids that went out for drama were the weird kids, so I never took that initial step. Then later in life you find out you’re one of those weird kids.”
Born to a military family – his father served with the Navy in Korea and his grandfather with the Army in World War I ̶ Kyle enlisted in the Navy apprenticeship program after Iraq invaded Kuwait the summer before he graduated from high school. He ended up in Norfolk, VA attached to the then newest aircraft carrier USS George Washington and he made third class petty officer before heading home to Oregon.
For eighteen years, Kyle worked as a union iron worker. One summer when work was slow, a good friend who was hired to do uniforms and firearms for films and video games invited him to work as an extra.
“He said, ‘Come to the set and I’ll dress you up and get you into your GI uniform and you just stand around and eat,’” Kyle said. “I also have a couple of firearms from WWII, registered with the ATF, and a Thompson machine gun that was my grandfather’s and safety and blank adapted. He said, ‘Bring out the gun and I’ll pay you.’”
As his experience on set increased, Kyle’s interest in acting grew.
“I was thinking I want to be the guy who is in front of the camera,” Kyle said. “I started taking some private lessons with a really good friend of mine and from there slowly progressed into finding work on my own because I wasn’t represented at the time with an agent. Want ads, open calls, stuff that you can get your foot in the door where casting directors can see you: you have to build a resume.”
Kyle said his military experience strengthened his transition to a career in front of the camera.
“A lot of times people ask me what life was like on a carrier with over 6,000 personnel and 90 aircraft and on a big ship how does it work,” Kyle said. “Everybody has a specific job that we have to do in order for that ship and that community to function. From the commanding officer to the executive officer and everybody on that ship has to work efficiently and at 100 percent, work as a group, as a team to get the tasks done.
“There’s similarity on set, everybody’s got a job to do, from lighting to actors to hair and makeup to people who make the food and the goal is to make this machine run smoothly and as efficiently and as quickly and safely as possible. And it’s basically the same thing in life, whatever you’re doing.”
Known for his work in the crime series South of Heaven: Episode 3 – The Long Walk Home and as a cyborg talker in Z Nation, Kyle’s work spans a range of genres including commercial, thrillers, horror, fantasy, comedy-musical and adventure.
“It was transition from military life and military bearing to my union iron work and eventually all that stuff transitioned to my acting,” Kyle said. “In the military, what do you do? You train and you train, and when you’re sick of that you train some more – so when that time comes and you get called up or there’s an emergency situation, you know what to do. You are there at the right place at the right time and you’re ready. That’s basically what acting is too. You work and you work until that training is done and when it’s time, I know how to work because I’ve done all this other work where I never got cast or where I never got a call back – but I did the work, so now I get the call and I’m ready to go.”
Though the COVID-19 shutdown slowed things for the industry, Kyle said projects that were postponed last year are shooting now and the past few weeks have been busy. Postproduction work has resumed on several projects, including Jason Rising: A Friday the 13th fan film expected to be released later this year.
“I'm playing Jason Vorhees, the main bad guy,” Kyle said. “Last year I also worked on my own role, a mini-biography/documentary that we’re finishing up on the relationship between body building and acting and how the body building and the acting cross. It’s only about 7 minutes long and it was a lot of work being the executive producer. That’ll be coming out later this year.”
The more challenging the real or imagined character, Kyle said, the more he wants to play it.
“Monsters are fun, you can get away with your own take on it,” Kyle said. “Well, what does an Orc do? What does an orc do swinging an axe? Getting together with the people making the prosthetics and the writer along with your (own) vision, it becomes a team of people working together to bring this character to life and that’s the challenge that I like.
“With real people from history, the challenge is how did that experience feel and how am I going to be that in a way that is realistic. I’ll never know, a lot of us will never know what certain combat is like or to be scarred or disabled because of war, but as an actor we try to get as close as we can because it’s an honor and a privilege to play some of those characters and you want to do it right.”
DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.