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Janna is a staff writer for The Hudsucker. Born and raised in a small Ontario town, she made her move to Toronto for university and immediately fell in love with the excitement and pace of the big city. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production from York University, specializing in editing and screenwriting. She currently works as an assistant editor for a television production company. Janna loves stories told in all mediums, especially film, and takes herself to the movies as much as she possibly can. She can generally be found taking a Zumba class, exploring some of Toronto’s lesser-known gems, or relaxing with her fluffy feline roommate.

The Working Actor: Chatting with KEVIN O’GRADY

For many Canadians, seeing actors and actresses from their home country find success can be thrilling and encouraging—even more so when the actor is talented, deserving, and his career is really starting to blow up.

So as a Canadian myself, seeing the blossoming success of actor Kevin O’Grady is incredibly exciting. But acting wasn’t O’Grady’s first love; before being bit by the acting bug, he had his sights set on becoming a comic book artist.

Born and raised in Winnipeg, O’Grady has always loved to draw. “From a very early age, I was just really into comics,” he tells me over the phone from Vancouver, Canada, where he now lives and works. “When I hit high school, a lot of the comic artists that are still very popular today drew me in. Like Todd McFarlane, [the artist] who did Spawn. I think I was at a 7/11 and I was looking at some of these comics, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, what is this? These aren’t the comics I remember as a kid!’ That’s when I started collecting comics as an art fan.”

O’Grady was always drawing;he tells me he drew tons of images of Wolverine or Spider-man as a kid. But hequickly discovered that being a comic book artist wasn’t exactly an easy career path to take. Despite still enjoying superhero stories, O’Grady’s mind was open to other possibilities.

“[Being a comic book artist] doesn’t have a place where you can go to have real, qualified people teach you how to do it. From what I’ve heard, the artists just teach themselves and then market their work to companies. I just didn’t have quite enough of the push to do that, obviously,” he says. “And then I went to Vancouver, met a few [actor] friends, and started thinking, ‘Oh, acting. That’s pretty cool.’ Which was weird, because I’d never done any acting in Winnipeg. Next thing you know, I go to Vancouver, and the rest is history. Here I am.”

Despite having no acting experience whatsoever, being only twenty-four years old on that fateful Vancouver trip made the decision to give acting a try a fairly simple one for O’Grady. He tells me he wasn’t nervous at all, starting a new career path so suddenly.

“At the time, I was pretty young, and I was in that twenties stage of life where it was like, “Yeah, sure, let’s do this!’. When I found acting, it was something that sounded cool. My mom leant me a couple thousand bucks to take a class for six months, and that’s when it became more than just a fun thing to do.”

Shortly after enrolling in his acting class, O’Grady began taking acting more seriously. He immersed himself in the world of film, learning everything he could about performing and building believable characters. After performing a scene from the play Orphans and winning a citywide showcase event, O’Grady signed to a talent agency. While signing with a professional agent was thrilling, it was by no means the end of his hard work.

“I’m one of those guys that didn’t get any bookings after getting an agent for almost two years,” O’Grady reveals.

But finally that barrier broke, and O’Grady began booking roles in commercials.

“Commercials were a great way to get the experience of doing auditions and going on set. It was a way to get in the groove,” he says. “For many years, that was my experience. I wasn’t part of the union for the first little while, and this is how I was able to survive—because I was able to work on all these non-union commercials and make money.”

O’Grady has an impressive commercial resume, having done almost sixty since 2002. Though commercials weren’t where O’Grady wanted his career to stay, they did have their perks.

“One of the biggest paying jobs I’ve ever had was still from my first year of booking—it was in 2002 and it was Bud Light beer commercial. And it did so well that it’s still my best paying job,” he laughs. “Of course, that’s so far—hopefully that record will be over soon, if I can book a lead! But I still think about that and am like, ‘Come on! Really?’”

Fortunately with the way O’Grady’s career has headed in the last twelve years, that lead role he’s coveting may not be so far away. Since joining the union in the mid-2000s, he’s booked a multitude of film and television jobs. O’Grady has had a large number of guest appearances, including roles on Syfy’s Special Unit 2, Flash Gordon, and Eureka; FOX’s hit drama Fringe; and CW’s Smallville, Life Unexpected, and Arrow. He also had a supporting role in the Hallmark Channel’s original movie Hitched for the Holidays starring Joey Lawrence.

O’Grady describes his film and television appearances as a sort of cause and effect dynamic. “The next thing you know, my confidence and abilities were coming up,” he shares. “I started booking more film and TV.”

With his career steadily moving forward, O’Grady began to land more feature film roles. He was cast in the summer blockbuster The Rise of the Planet of the Apes alongside James Franco and Freida Pinto; and in 2012, played the supporting character Agent Boyles, Tom Hardy’s right hand man in the action/comedy This Means War.

“This Means War was one of my favourite roles so far, because I was working with such huge actors that I respected so much,” O’Grady enthuses. “Tom Hardy wasn’t Tom Hardy at that point—when we shot, no one knew him if I brought up [his name]. And then when it was released, [his career was blowing up and] everyone was about to know him in The Dark Knight Rises. Now everybody in the industry is like, ‘Oh, I love Tom Hardy!’ So it was just so cool to work with him.”

While This Means War is one of O’Grady’s most notable roles to date, he has another that has just started getting casting agents talking: a guest starring role in the premiere episode of the television show Fargo, based on the Coen brothers movie of the same name.

“It’s the first thing I’ve ever been in that has this much excitement surrounding it,” O’Grady says. Fargo’s premiere episode received numerous positive reviews, several of which mentioned O’Grady’s powerful scene as a highlight. “It’s exciting to know, too, that I actually had a role I can be pretty proud of. It’s a Coen brothers thing, with Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman, and it’s like… you can’t go wrong here.”

Credit FX Productions

Credit FX Productions

In the pilot of Fargo, O’Grady plays Sam Hess, the old high school bully of Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman). The show’s narrative all starts with a chance meeting between the two, and the ramifications from this catalyst scene spread far: Hess’ encounter with Lester sends Lester to the hospital, where he has another chance meeting with the mysterious out-of-towner Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton). While Sam Hess’ fate may have not been a positive one, working on Fargo was the chance of a lifetime for O’Grady.

“I’m a massive Coen brothers fan,” he enthuses. “Being from Winnipeg originally, I watched [the original Fargo film] and kept going, ‘Oh my god, something that finally shows where I’m from!’ I could relate, with all these people scraping their cars and driving through white-outs and stuff. I loved it!”

The script for the television adaption of Fargo excited him just as much. “I was already excited about Fargo, but at the same time, when I got the audition sides, I hoped they were good. Even if they weren’t, I was likely going to think they were amazing. But when I read it, I was just blown away by what I was going to be able to audition for,” he recalls. “It’s the same flavor as the movie. It’s not written by the Coen brothers, it’s written by Noah Hawley—and he nailed it. It’s as if the Coen brothers wrote it, it’s so good. It’s really rare, as you can imagine, to have something like that as an actor. So that was another big part of the excitement for sure.”

Despite the excitement and passion behind the project, all the days on set weren’t exactly a dream come true for everyone. Fargo was shot in Calgary in November, and the show’s many outdoor scenes were no walk in the park.

“Calgary was starting to get pretty cold,” O’Grady recalls with a bit of a chuckle. “The day I shot my scene with Martin, it was easily -15, -20°C. And I’ll tell you, he was having a real hard time. It was his first day shooting a scene like that. They had me so bundled up—I look like a Sasquatch because of the massive jacket they gave me. I’m supposed to look like a big bully douchebag, right? Having grown up in Winnipeg, I was pretty warm. I didn’t even have any gloves on. And I remember Martin looking over at me one time, when we’re waiting, and he’s just dying from the cold. He’s getting angry, he’s so cold. And he finally snaps at me: ‘How are you not wearing gloves?!’ I was like, ‘Oh. I didn’t even really notice.’ He thought that was real funny.”

Credit SyFy Channel

Credit SyFy Channel

Suffering through all the cold, however, was worth it: 4.46 million viewers watched the premiere episode of Fargo in its first three days of release on FX, drawing strong praise from critics. It’s a solid showing, and being able to list Fargo on his resume has certainly caught the eyes of casting directors at auditions in the last few months.

“I’m the guy from Fargo’s catalyst scene. Without my scene with Martin, the whole show would have never gone on the narrative that it did. So it feels good to be able to say, ‘Hey, yeah, cool. I did that.’” O’Grady tells me proudly. “I had an audition just today where [the casting director] looked at my resume and went, ‘Fargo, wow!’ That’s pretty cool, because he’s heard all the hype. He was all, ‘Oh, wow, good for you!’ And I couldn’t help but feel like, ‘Yeah, damn right!’”

Fargo has helped O’Grady’s name shine a little brighter, and the projects he has lined up next are only going to bring him closer to his goal of landing a lead role in television or film. He plays a cheapskate church council member in UP Network’s television movie Match Made in Heaven, starring Samaire Armstrong, as well as the super “try hard” Principal Taylor in the pilot Exposed for ABC starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead. He also has a small role in the summer blockbuster Godzilla, though he isn’t telling too many people about that one just yet.

“It’s a silent bit of me doing stuff, so you may see me in that if you don’t blink,” he jokes. “But I’m not promoting it a lot, because it could be one of those things where people go to see it and then yell at me afterwards. Like, ‘O’Grady, where the f*** were you?’”

One of the most exciting things on O’Grady’s horizon is his role in an upcoming episode of the CW’s hit show Supernatural. While he tells me he can’t speak much about it, due to legal restrictions, he shares a bit about his time on set.

“The part’s going to have a bit more to it [than your average guest bit],” he hints. “When I got on set, I’ll be honest: I got a little nervous. There’s such an instilled fan-base for Supernatural, and I’ve never had that experience before. It’s like, they’re going to love you or hate you, I guess. So I was a bit like, ‘Oh god, am I doing this right?!’ But I think it all turned out pretty good. I can’t say specifics—I’ve been legally bound because of how big the show is. But keep an eye out!”

It’s been a long road for O’Grady to get to this point and though he’s been steadily booking jobs for years now, he’s more than familiar with just how difficult it is to pursue a career as a working actor.

“You do these roles, and then the next thing you know, you’re technically out of work. You always have to keep in the right mindset. ‘I’m going to get that next big role. It’s going to be the one.’ I always keep it very positive so that I don’t go home and feel like I’m out of work. That’s so draining,” he says. “Attitude is one of the biggest things in this industry, aside from perseverance. And of course, some talent is necessary, too. That’s a little bit important.”

Attitude isn’t always an easy thing to keep positive, especially with people giving their unsolicited opinions on acting as a career. “Anything artistic, really. You get those jerks that we all grew up with saying, ‘Don’t quit your day job!’ I want to kill them. You know? Well, guess what? This is my day job now!” O’Grady laughs. “You have to want to act more than anything in the world, and you can’t let others [get you down]. There’s no sympathy in the way the acting business is set up. You either show up for an audition or you don’t—and if you don’t, you’re not going to get jobs. It’s harsh.”

O’Grady’s realistic outlook on the filmmaking industry is likely a large part of his continued success—the ability to throw himself into each audition and to treat every job seriously and professionally isn’t something everyone has, and it’s served him well. Teamed with his optimism and passion, it’s a combination that will only be leading him to bigger and better things.

“Despite everything, I still love it. I just know that acting is what I need to do. It’s my prime goal,” O’Grady tells me. “There are other things I could do that might be smarter, but this is what I want. You have to be willing to be persistent, you have to be willing to adapt, find your niche, and feel really comfortable and confident. And it’s not easy. But you have to work hard, and have fun, and go after every opportunity you have. You’re going to get hit in the face, and if you want to be an actor, you really have to want to go through all of that.

“I don’t know why I’ve wanted that,” he says with a laugh. “But I have. And now here I am.”

With ‘here’ being solidly making a living as a working actor and being booked for bigger things all the time, ‘here’ looks like a pretty great place to be. Kevin O’Grady has the acting world at his fingertips, and with casting directors sitting up and taking notice, it appears that O’Grady is about to find that lead role he’s always wanted—and deserved.

To learn more about Kevin O’Grady and to stay up to date on his upcoming projects, visit his official website and Facebook.

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