If you push yourself, you can do anything.
Just ask actor/director/athlete, Kurt Yaeger, a below the knee amputee who has been in the business for more than 10 years. He has really made his mark in Hollywood booking roles that depict him as able-bodied, as well as disabled characters.
His show Quarry will be making its debut on Cinemax on Sept.9 at 10 p.m., and he’s ready for you to check it out. But before you do, here is more on the amazing Kurt Yaeger.
Born and raised in South San Francisco, Kurt is the youngest of three boys. His father raced motorcycles and cars, and instilled a love of the sport onto his sons. Encouraging Kurt’s passion, his brother took Kurt to a BMX track when he was young and he quickly got hooked. His father immediately saw his passion and Kurt was soon participating in professional races and quickly became a well-known name in the BMX world earning the nickname Crowbar (which he’s still associated with to this day).
With his BMX career in full swing, Kurt toured in races and BMX events in just about every state and several other countries. He’s spent More than 6 months at a time on tour and helped to build skate parks and coached kids at action sports camps. He also competed in the XGames 16 and 17. Major sponsors soon followed such as Solid Bikes, Etnies Shoes, Specialized Bikes, Odyssey Components, Drift Innovation Cameras, many clothing brands, Protection Equipment and others.
During his time as a professional BMX rider, Kurt joined the Nickelodeon/Clear Channel Communications live tour based on the popular cartoon show Rocket Power and toured the U.S. What was thought to be an acting role, turned out to be an athletic/stunt role and so his life as a stunt man was born. Kurt also dabbled in acting during this time working in commercials and smaller projects. After experiencing a few BMX-related injuries Kurt decided to work toward his Master’s Degree in Hydrogeology at San Francisco State. It was then he would be in the accident that would shape the rest of his life and career.
In 2006, while still in college, Kurt was in a severe motorcycle crash. Hitting a pole and going over a 40-foot embankment that resulted in multiple injuries with the most severe and life altering being the amputation of his left leg. After nearly a year of recovery, Kurt, not one to let this setback deter him, decided to focus his energy on returning to his acting career. He soon started taking acting classes and began acquiring role after role starring in Michael Anderson’s Tenderloin followed by Dolphin Tale with Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Harry Connick, Jr., Knife Fight with Rob Lowe, War Flowers with Christina Ricci, Tom Berenger and Jason Gedrick and the SyFy feature film Piranhaconda with Michael Madson and Rachel Hunter. He also had memorable turns on TV shows such as Without A Trace, Journeyman, General Hospital and Days of Our Lives. Kurt’s visibility in the world of acting was cemented when he played the fan favorite role of Greg “The Peg” on the hit FX series Sons Of Anarchy. The exposure and media attention of this role helped Kurt land roles on NCIS, Shooter, Personal Space, The Grinder, Shameless, The Ultimate Legacy and as a major character in the highly anticipated Cinemax series Quarry. Kurt was also the star of the music video (loosely based on his life) for the smash hit song, Waiting All Night by the band Rudimental which has currently amassed almost 150 million views on YouTube.
Public Speaker, Too
In addition to his acting, Kurt is a highly sought after public speaker for various disability organizations and has been awarded with Outstanding Credit for the Advancement of Performers with Disabilities in the Mainstream Media. Some of his highlighted speaking engagements include events for the Wounded Warrior Project, The American 300 Warrior Tour, The United Cerebral Palsy of NCY Women Who Care event, The Adobe Summit in London and Summit Fest in London (where he introduced the band Rudimental to the audience). Kurt also launched his own production company ArtistFilm which has currently produced nine short films and one feature film, Sedona’s Rule, which was distributed by Green Apple Entertainment. He is currently working on seven more feature films, as well as a reality TV project which has been optioned. Kurt is also involved with the Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Actors’ Equity Association Tri-Union global disability rights campaign called IAMPWD – Inclusion in the Arts & Media of People with Disabilities. He sits as the Chairperson on the AFTRA Los Angeles Local Performers with Disabilities Committee.
We recently spoke with the multi-talented Kurt to learn more about him and the upcoming show.
Keep reading, and get inspired.
Debbie Sklar: Did you ever think you’d have a career on TV, film?
Kurt Yaeger: I dreamed about being a creative person in the film industry for many years but never put my full attention to it. Through a series of circumstances, I ended up being in a place where I gave it my all. So far, it’s been pretty good to me. I’m most happy about the amazing people I’ve been blessed to work with.
DS: What has been your favorite role to date?
KY: I think two recent roles have been my favorite, NCIS LA and Quarry. They couldn’t be more different characters! In Quarry I play Ricky Suggs, a real amazingly fun and dark character. He’s one of those guys you do not want to run into in a dark alley but also has no problem doing what he wants to do in front of witnesses.
DS: What was the role on General Hospital like for you?
KY: The soap world is a very different environment compared to other TV sets. It’s extremely fast pace, you only get a few takes to shoot the entire scene and then you move on with what you got. On other TV sets, you can shoot up to 20 takes, with different angles just to get the same amount of footage. It’s pretty amazing when you think about the actors who are the stars of the soaps. They have to learn hundreds of lines each day, every day, five days a week, and still deliver a worthy performance. They are machines!
DS: How excited are you for the new show Quarry? How did it come about?
KY: Quarry is going to be amazing. I mean, it’s set in the 1970s for one, so our clothes are amazing, the cars we drive are badass, and the music, oh, the music! Plus Greg Yataines is an amazing showrunner, Michael Fuller and Graham Gordy are amazing writers, and the crew/cast was wonderful. I really think this is a show that will blow people away.
It came about for me like a normal role. I was asked to read for a character, I did, they like what I did and then I met the crew and they brought me aboard. It’s a very common way to come into a project. Sometimes, they already know you well enough to just write a role for you, which is where I’m beginning to get in my career, and other times you still have to read so they can see what you look like compared to the vision in their head.
The show is gritty, has a nostalgic vibe to it, and I think it will attract a wide audience. It’s got a complicated love story, lots of action, as I mentioned before the music is amazing, the way it’s shot is just beautiful and it’s got a lot of drama based upon historical facts of the time period.
DS: Do you miss the BMX period in your life?
KY: BMX is something that will never leave who I am. I still ride from time to time, in fact as often as I can, but I do wish I could ride more, so in that sense, yes, I miss that period of my life. BMX is how I met all of my friends, had amazing experience that expanded my horizons, but most importantly BMX taught me the only way to learn how to do anything is to crash, get up, and do it again.
DS: It seems even with your handicap you are a real go-getter and don’t let it hinder you … what do you say to others who are handicapped?
KY: That’s an interesting point. I was always a go-getter, before and after missing my leg. It didn’t define me, my character or the way I live my life. Granted, I had to make some adjustments, but in the end I’m still me. So, I guess, I would firstly say to able-body people to make sure they aren’t limiting what disabled people can accomplish due to their own fears and lack of knowledge. To disabled people I would say, don’t listen to society or any other the naysayers. Do what you want and make your disability your biggest asset. You can achieve anything and probably more.
DS: What has been the most difficult for you being handicapped?
KY: Not being able to do the level of physical activity I did before. Now, let me be clear, I am still more athletic than most people. This past year, I competed in a 55-mile Triathlon, and also ran up the Empire State Building for charity in 20 minutes and 19 seconds, beating more than half of the non-disabled field. However, I used to be able to run without pain, now that’s not true. I used to do two rotations in the air on my BMXbike (a 720), now I can only do one (a 360). So, there are limitations, but only perceived by me really. In fact, most people forget I’m missing a leg when I wear pants because I’ve worked very hard at not having a limp or any way you can tell. It’s fun when friends say: ‘Oh that’s right, I forgot you were missing a leg.’”
DS: Who have you enjoyed most working with?
KY: Honestly, there are very few people I didn’t enjoy working with. I really enjoyed working with Brain Krause (Charmed), Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica) and Chris Reed (Sons of Anarchy). Greg Yataines and John Hillcoat are amazing show runners, Kurt Sutter wrote an amazing part in Sons Of Anarchy that I had the honor of playing. Man, honestly, there are so many people I enjoy on set. Oh, in fact, one amazing memory was on the set of Charlie Wilsons War with Tom Hanks, directed by Mike Nichols. Firstly, Tom Hanks is THE nicest guy ever. He won’t remember me but we chatted for about a 1/2 hour in between set ups, he was just a solid guy. However, my story is about Mike Nichols, the famous director who did amazing work through his lifetime and happens to also be a hell of a nice guy. I was so, so very green at the time, but Mike was kind, encouraging and never lost his patience with my perpetual questioning. After completing my scene on the film, he took me aside and said: ‘Kid, you’ve got something here (pointed to his heart) that the camera likes, go for it.’ It’s one of my treasured memories of the late and great Mike Nichols.
DS: What was it like to receive the Outstanding Credit for the Advancement of Performers with Disabilities in the Mainstream Media award?
KY: I’m just happy that some directors and producers are beginning to recognize the power and value performers with disabilities give to a production in leading rolls. I mean, TV and FILM are visual mediums, watching a performer with disabilities in a unique roll that doesn’t call for a disabled actor is like adding a whole wonderful layer for the audience to read into. It’s the best possible thing to watch. I just look forward to more creative Hollywood executives giving me a call to create more content with disabled actors as a corner stone.
DS: Tell us about launching your own production company ArtistFilm which has currently produced nine short films and one feature film.
KY: It is so much work! Is it enjoyable, yes, but it is a ton of work. It seems like you have to scrape for everything you get but when you get to filming, it’s all worth it! We’re starting to raise funds for our next round of films, which if anyone reading this wants to invest, give me a call. I can tell you we’ve really got the financial side of things locked up, from it being a tax write-off for both personal and corporate tax, supporting a diversely owned production company and getting special tax credits for doing so! It’s a win, win, win.
DS: Are you married? Kids?
KY: Not married, no kids. Dating a wonderful woman who rides the tires off of motorcycles. She has so many amazing qualities, super intelligent, funny, is hyper-aware, but most importantly she puts up with me.
DS: Spare time?
KY: I still ride BMX when I can, ride motorcycles as often as I can, visit with family after that, but mostly it’s building the career more.
DS: Three things you like? Three you dislike?
KY: I like ketchup, I like cool breezes, I like a well written TV show. I dislike dishonesty, I dislike dill pickles, and I dislike traffic.
For more on Kurt Yaeger visit: Twitter @kurtyaeger; Facebook Kurt Yaeger.