Kyle Klaus, actor, writer, producer, entrepreneur

Kyle Klaus on keeping it real as an actor, producer, writer and entrepreneur

Kyle Klaus is not your typical actor. Whilst many struggle with side hustles to support themselves during a long-term struggle to find work in the acting profession, Kyle has gone in another direction with more of a jet-set lifestyle. Whilst he’s jumped on the long-haul flight that is the film industry alongside others in the acting fraternity, he’s anything but a passenger.

For Kyle is also a successful entrepreneur with his own YouTube channel; he opened his first real estate business back in 2012 and has since become a retailer and restaurateur. One wonders how he fits acting in at all. Oh, and did we mention he writes and produces, too?

Kyle Klaus Actor
Kyle Klaus, Actor

Among his acting credits includes roles in Homeland (2011 – 2020), Standing Eight (2016),Billions (2016 -), The Last O.G. (2018 – ), Happy! (2017 – 2019) and The Blacklist (2013 -).

In the following lengthy interview, Klaus gives us a great insight into his experiences of becoming an actor, securing roles and getting his work seen. We also discuss his love-hate relationship with agents, how the pandemic encouraged video-call casting and, of course, his many business interests.

(PS. He’s done the actor bartending thing too by the way…)

Putting a script together and getting it seen

FF: What area of the film industry are you in?

KK: I’m mainly in acting, my passion is acting, that’s what I started with and that’s my goal… but recently I’ve become somewhat of a producer. I have some producing credits, and recently I have written a feature length piece, which right now I’m having some very high-quality meetings regarding. I’m trying to put that together, and I’m working on the production stuff as well.

FF: Fantastic. Are you able to tell us anything about that project? Or is it still too early?

KK: I think I’m able to, but there’s not much to tell you about it. It was something that came out of a real-life event that happened between me and a friend. We just started talking about how the story would make a great movie. Of course, we dramatised everything and made it Hollywood, and we ended up writing it. It’s funny because my writing partner is on the other side of the country. I’m in New York, he’s in L.A., but we wrote and got this thing done regardless. I think it was 130 pages at first, which is a rough draft, but we cut it down significantly. I think it’s around 90 or 100 pages now. We have it out to some pretty big studios, and some people that work with producers from those studios – they’re very interested in it.

FF: So, you went straight in with the script, you didn’t approach studios with a treatment or anything?

KK: No, straight in with the script. We had the treatment done afterwards, so we did it backwards, but I guess there’s no right way of doing everything.

FF: Absolutely. It’s all about creativity. It’s just interesting to hear different people’s journeys, because some people can go straight in with a script, and other people have three or four hoops to jump through before they can get in front of people. It’s nice to hear. How did you create your pitch for the studios?

KK: Luckily, I had a couple of good relationships, that and some connections who had connections with the studios. As a result, it was easier to get it in front of them and have them read the script, and they asked me to come in. They said we need a one-page or a treatment, and there’s all different types of one-pages or treatments. We ended up making a one-page that was very simple, and I loved it. It was just to outline the characters and outline the story. I looked at a bunch of other people’s treatments and they were so in-depth. They were sometimes almost like a comic book, almost too in-depth. I felt that with ours at least it was simple. You want people to be able to read it. I guess it’s different for each project, right?

The business side and the creative side – they have to work together

FF: Oh absolutely. One thing I know a lot of new filmmakers can find a little bit daunting is having to format scripts to industry standard. Was that something you were already aware of from the beginning? Or did you have to convert your script afterwards to make it industry standard?

KK: No, I useFinal Draft. It’s very helpful. Our first draft definitely had a lot of grammatical errors. We had some not-so-high-level producers to read it and they made us aware of that, so we went back and revised it. We’ve been through three revisions by now. We nailed down not just the story, but we also cut out all the fat from the story to make it great, and eliminated the grammatical errors too.

FF: To be fair, creatives are not necessarily going to be amazing at grammar. They are two different skill sets – someone can be fun, but terrible at telling a story and vice versa.

KK: You need a mix of both. You can’t be perfect; one size rarely fits all. Do what works for you. Here’s something that I thought was interesting about our process: when I was writing it, I was the one who said to get up every day. I actually felt like I didn’t have any more time in the day to write. My day was so busy with acting, with side hustles, and it feels like writing is another time-sink. To get the time to write I was a big proponent of waking up an hour earlier than I usually do. Just writing, committing to five pages a day. My writing partner, using his more creative brain, was like, “That’s not me. I need inspiration to write.” We had these arguments back and forth. I was like, “Well, that’s great.” A lot of times, I found inspiration once I had the ball rolling. Once I started, the first one or two pages were hard, but then things would just come to me, and I’d just start creatively writing. Grammatically it was horrible, but creatively, it was coming out well. I just said, ‘Look, if somebody hired you on a TV show to write, and you said you’re not going to come in that day, and that you can’t write today because, I’m sorry, I’m not inspired’… well, that’s why you need a mix of both.

FF: I agree with you on that. I think it’s great to be inspired, but also, if you want to be a serious writer, you do have to set time aside and try to find that inspiration.

Mark Wahlberg and Kyle Klaus, The Happening (2008)
Mark Wahlberg and Kyle Klaus, The Happening (2008)

The roles you get are the roles that get you to where you are

So let’s talk about your acting career. What have you been doing? Anything that people might know or be able to watch?

KK: I guess with Netflix now a lot of things are just on there. Recently, it’s been a couple of years since, I suppose, 2016 or so was my first line on primetime TV. It was in the first season of Billions (2016 – ). Once you get over that hurdle it’s all just about growing and getting bigger. I guess last year was my most productive year. I was unfortunately just getting the ball rolling as this pandemic hit. I did an episode of The Last O.G. (2018-) with Tracy Morgan, it was a great episode in the second season. It’s an underrated TV series, and it’s on Netflix – you should check it out. They’re quick episodes, but they’re funny. I was also on the show Happy! (2017-2019), which I think they cancelled. It was a two-series show, it was on Sci-Fi. Then I had a recurring role on The Blacklist (2013-), it wasn’t a huge role, but it spanned a couple of episodes. That was my last gig before this thing stacked.

Making moves and making the move to New York

FF: As an actor who made the move to New York, one of the major acting cities in the world, how did you manage to support yourself? Obviously, you’ve been doing acting work, but you mentioned side hustles. I imagine it’s quite expensive to be in New York full time.

KK: It’s quite expensive. I did luck out on that end of it. I put in a lot of hard work, but I was smart. I never got into acting in high school, it wasn’t until I left my hometown and went to college that I moved outside of my bubble. I realised, “Wow, I want to do this.” I was always involved in sports and girls in high school. That was basically it. Acting wasn’t something you did in my hometown – it’s a small town. Then I got to college and asked myself, “What do I want to do?” I had never thought about acting as a reality, but you broaden your horizons, and I guess I knew I was going to act right after I graduated college. I was figuring out what I could do, bartending and waiting seemed like obvious choices. Waiting tables is the common thing that everybody does.

One day I got an idea though, my uncle was doing real estate, he sold a house on a Saturday. My brain just put it together, “We don’t have auditions on Saturdays. I could work then. I don’t mind working nights and weekends.” Real estate was something that I could see myself doing. A lot of my friends’ parents were realtors and I felt that was a good, reputable job to aspire to. Not only that, let’s be honest, acting can take 10 years to get a career off the ground. It did for me. You hear about those people that are driving to L.A. with the clothes in their trunk and they become overnight sensations, but how many people manage that? I didn’t want to bet on that. I got into real estate right after college. I told myself, “I can figure this out. I think I know this, and everybody has to live somewhere. I think I can help people out renting – that’s not a big deal.”

I started selling and buying houses, and it just grew alongside my acting career. That’s how I ended up supporting myself and making a good living, coinciding with acting. It was just something I loved. It ended up growing into something even more because it’s such a great side hustle for actors, because for real estate you have to be presentable and personable, and that’s what actors are. You’ve got to learn how to use that business side of your brain, it helps in everything, but you’ve also got to be creative and figure out problem-solving ways to help people.

FF: It’s interesting, because I went for sales and marketing, mostly sales. You have to have those transferable skills. If you’re selling to someone you need to be open and friendly. You also need to be able to gauge them quite quickly, to relate to them in the way that you speak to them. It’s another great way to support yourself with a reasonable income.

KK: I think people get caught up in the bartending business, because – and this is something I keep seeing – they don’t want to accept that they’re anything else but creatives, an actor. They say, “Sure I need a side hustle, but I’ll just do this thing where I go in and get paid, but I’m still an actor.” At first, I was very risk averse. I was bartending in a nightclub on Saturday nights, making a great amount of money in Pennsylvania. I knew that I could move up here, at least sustain myself by driving home for two hours on Saturday, bartending, and then staying at my parents’ house and driving back. I did that for the first year until I got my feet under me up here. Back then I was bartending in the city, and I was in my young 20s. I had bags under my eyes because I was going home when the sun was coming up, and I usually had an audition four hours from then. I couldn’t stand it. It’s like you said, you have to be able to relate to people. You only have yourself, and actors are likable, for the most part. You can improvise, and you can adapt, we just have that natural instinct. I suggest that people use that. You don’t have to go into an audition hoping to pay the rent, because it’s going to screw you up.

FF: Also, I think that those types of skills – if you’re selling or showing things or marketing or working in publicity – those are all things that you can transfer over to when you go for auditions. When you meet casting directors, and when you’re doing other things, it just makes you more personable and personal, and affects your presence as well. If you know how to do online marketing, for example, you can sell yourself online too.

KK: Not to mention, real life experiences, building them up is going to make a perfect example. In Happy! (2017-2019) I played a rich man that was looking to buy a house. I had to draw from my life experience. There’s a lot of actors that I feel put off obtaining those life experiences.

FF: I think the more people that you’ve met, and have seen how they live, the more likely you are to be able to portray them. That’s another benefit of being in different side hustles. I’ve always been juggling at least three different things.

KK: I’m the same way. I have a couple of different side hustles going on. I call them side hustles. Until you’re a made actor, that’s where you make your living. This guy and I figured it out one time, with my sister, I had about 25 different types of jobs while growing up. Everything from a chef to a grocery bagger, a construction worker to everyday lifeguard.

FF: I’m exactly the same. When I start talking about it people ask me, “How many things have you done?” They think I’m older than I look, because I’ve managed to do so many different things simultaneously.

KK: You have to build life skills, and then you can transfer them to your creative side.

Becoming a bi-coastal actor

FF: So obviously you are acting in New York. What about L.A.? Is that something that you’re looking to do? Would you consider moving there?

KK: Funny you say that. One of my best roles today, and it pains me talking about this, there is a show calledSilicon Valley (2014-2019). I got my first guest star role on that show. I put myself on tape, I went to my acting coach in the city, got hired for it, flew out there… and it was the day after the last election, it was when President Trump got elected. I remember people being depressed, everybody being down on set. I had an amazing couple of scenes, which I thought were hilarious. I spent a couple of days in L.A., it was fantastic. On my first day driving to the set, I saw the Hollywood sign, it was just surreal. I was thinking “This is it, I’m a bi-coastal actor.” Three months later, I get back to New York, and I’m sitting in acting class when I get this email from the casting director saying, “I’m sorry, but we had to rewrite the whole first episode of that season.” All of my scenes were on the cutting room floor. They assured me it was nothing I did. Even the directors and producers were saying how hilarious it was, how funny it was, but unfortunately, they just had to rewrite the whole episode once they got to the end of the series.

FF: Well, that sucks.

KK: That was the coolest thing I’ve ever done, and I still haven’t seen the footage of it. To answer your question, that’s what I want to do, be a bi-coastal actor.

Entrepreneur Kyle Klaus
Entrepreneur Kyle Klaus

Putting together your showreel, and why you might not need one some day

FF: One thing I know was a challenge for me, and maybe you can talk about it yourself, was getting footage for my showreel from different projects that I had been on. How long did it take you to get a showreel together that you were proud of, one that represented who you are as an actor?

KK: Probably after my third year in New York City. I had done a couple of good independent films by then, one was with a member ofTwisted Sister,Dee Snider, who did that songWe’re Not Gonna Take It (1984). They’re the coolest family ever. His son,Cody Snider, was the director, he’s in L.A. right now. We still keep in contact. Together we did this amazing short, it was calledAll That Remains (2010). That was probably in my second year in New York. After I thought that I had enough from independent films I went ahead with making my showreel.

They can do wonders if you have the right video editor, just by scoring the footage. It made me look so much better than my actual career had been, and all it took was putting in a couple of good scenes and then just scoring and editing together the right way. The thing I remember about being an up-and-coming actor was thinking that I needed so much stuff. I overthought everything I needed. Was it better to have a New York phone number? Most people won’t even think about this now because we use cell phones. Then, though, I wondered if it was better to have an area code from New York so that people know I’m in New York.

It doesn’t matter, nothing like that matters. Your showreel? People honestly aren’t going to watch more than a minute. If they watch a minute, you are so lucky, because that means they’re interested. Usually, they’re going to watch 20 seconds of it, because they have so much to do. If they like it, you’re in. They say “Okay, this guy’s good. We’ll bring him in.” I haven’t edited a new showreel in about five years. Now it’s all about just getting scenes. On The Last O.G. (2018-) I played a cop, a racist cop. Tracy Morgan and I had a good one-minute scene, so I got that clip together and put it in there so my agent can send it whenever it’s relatable to a project. They don’t even have to send the whole show reel anymore, you can just send relevant material.

FF: They choose clips based on which part you’re auditioning for, and they can tell if you’re suitable from that clip, right? With a showreel they’re waiting to see all the different types you can play, then probably tuning out before that even happens. I know with my showreel, when I finally got some semblance of a showreel together I started to get a lot more auditions, and a lot more parts in general, just because I had something to show. Before that I was just a headshot.

KK: Yeah, you can’t get too much from that. They need to hear your voice; see how you talk and everything. That’s what makes them want to bring people in.

FF: Once you’ve got some acting credits, and you’ve got your IMDb page, people start to have a bit more faith in the fact that you can act. They get to know you and want to see you play that role.

KK: 100%. That speaks for itself. I did a couple of daytime soap operas, they were not the same as primetime TV, but that tells them “Okay he does daytime soap operas.” That’s fine, but getting on to primetime and cable TV was a hurdle. Once I had that one line on TV, they knew “He can do it, he can be on a set, he can talk on camera and not freak out.” They just want to know you can do that and trust you, because their jobs are on the line. Once you can present that to them and say “Okay, I did this, this and this on real TV shows, and I got paid as a professional actor,” everything is good from there, and that speaks for itself. It’s a great place to get to and it took me a while, but I guess you’re always trying to go to the next level. Right now, I have to prove to people that I can do guest star stuff, then series regular stuff. Beyond that, there’s always something you’re aiming for

Agents, self representation, and setting yourself realistic goals

FF: How did you go about getting an agent to get you into these roles? I imagine they weren’t all open casting calls.

KK: I’ve had the most love and hate relationship with agents. I’ve probably been through 20 agents. Unfortunately, you just have to submit yourself to the agents. You just have to keep submitting yourself. I can’t say with any certainty, because it’s going to be so different from one person to another, but if you feel something’s wrong, trust your gut. If you’re with an agent, and they don’t act like they have time for you or they’re condescending, or they’re not getting you anything, then why are you wasting your time? Don’t ever feel like you need them. Here’s more of a point – I got my Blacklist (2013 -) recurring role without an agent, with nobody. That was coming from being an agent that did get me in the door for Happy! (2017-2019) and did get me in the door for The Last O.G. (2018 – ) I just came off of doing those when my agent and I had a falling out. We ended up parting ways very mutually, so I went back to the drawing board.

Then, someone saw that I was right for this role, I don’t know what it was, it was some lead FBI role. It was only a couple of lines, but it was a recurring role. I wasn’t overshooting myself, that’s one thing that actors have to understand. You’re not going to go in for the same roles, I’m not going to go in for the same stuff as Leonardo DiCaprio, that might be limiting myself, but you have got to be realistic. I’m not at that level professionally, and it’s important, knowing what your type is, knowing the level of what people can trust you to do. I ended up getting these casting directors’ emails, the younger casting directors are more willing to do it. You might go to a casting workshop or something. A lot of people don’t like doing those. I say that if I want to meet you, sure, I’ll pay that. I’m not going to do it all the time, but I just wanted to meet you and wanted you to meet me in person and read for you. You’ll remember me that way.

Another thing I think actors sometimes do is… we’re a little long winded. Instead of writing them a long-winded email, write this: ‘Hey, so and so,’ I don’t have to say like, ‘This is Kyle from blah blah,’ they know who I am. I say “Hey, so and so.” It was a three-line thing. It was very quick. “At this time, I am in between representation,” that tells them why I’m reaching out, he doesn’t have representation. “At this time, I’m in between representation, which is why I’m reaching out. I just noticed that this role was casting, and I thought I’d be perfect for it. I recently just did The Last O.G. and Happy!” Then I just attached my resume. It was just that quick and simple. They were like, “Great. Can you come in tomorrow and read for it?” I did and I got booked.

Kyle Klaus Realtor
Kyle Klaus, Realtor

FF: See, that’s amazing. Like you said, they don’t have a lot of time, if you can make things short and sweet, that’s good. I recently just landed a quite well-known agent in the UK. My submission literally was just quotes from different film reviews, from the indie film that I’d recently done where I’d gotten shoutouts, because I thought there’s no point me sitting there begging, I just said “This is what other people think, you can make up your own mind from there.” It worked. She called me, and I got a few different offers from that same email type. I think sometimes just finding a way to add value or credit to your request definitely works to help with getting in front of agents or casting directors. They’re investing in you one way or another.

KK: Right, you’re adding value to them. They need actors, so add value to them. Like you said, it’s validation – you have validation from other people, which wasn’t you telling them about yourself. It was someone else telling them about you. Even just for the fact of you getting hired by somebody else shows validation. Just saying my last credits were Happy! (2017-2019) and The Blacklist (2013-), they think “Oh, somebody must have thought he was good since they hired him, and he worked on the job, he did the job professionally. Congratulations on getting the good reps, because that’s something, after The Blacklist (2013-), I had to go back out and do that again. I had to do the rounds and get back to pitching myself. The current agents that I have now, it’s the same pitch. You say you just recently did this and this, and you’re looking for new representation.

FF: I was self-represented for quite a few years, I just wanted to build something where I could show that I’m working, even by myself, so imagine what I can do with you if you take me on! I think it definitely works. As an actor you can’t expect to get an agent immediately. You have to be prepared to submit yourself and do whatever it takes to get noticed, and definitely if you’re working on an indie project, encourage the director or producer to submit their film for reviews. You never know, you might get that shoutout that can raise your profile as well. There are different ways. Anyway, you can build different relationships, depending on what level you’re working on. I find the indie directors and producers are a bit more open to a friendship.

KK: The cool part of that is you’re growing together; you work with somebody and they want you to do well and want and then you keep going back and working together. You’re both coming up together, that’s what’s cool about that. I’ve been lucky with being able to get my own footage, but I know a lot of people, like indie directors, they run out of money, or the film never gets finished. It’s unfortunate, but hopefully if you’re on that level with them, you can get their footage.

FF: Do you have any final tips or tricks that you would like to share with actors that have maybe come from a similar background as yourself?

KK: I’m a big proponent of actors and artists not being starving artists, but being well rounded. I know it’s probably a bad word to say, but being a rich artist lets you flip the script on that and get more power on your own. Then it’s not about what these other people want. It’s you. You can build a life the way you want it. You can do exactly what you want, and you can break stereotypes and break boundaries. I even had acting coaches tell me you have to be a creative actor or a businessman, you can’t be both, and it’s BS. You have to be a good businessman or woman to have a good acting career in the long run. I’ve known some of the most talented people that haven’t even worked professionally, never got paid for acting. They’re in acting classes. I guess that’s my main thing that I would love people to take away, work hard at your craft, be as good as you can possibly be, but build a life outside of acting as well.

Credits

Transcription & Edited by: Ben Kelly
Introduction, Artwork, Second Editor: Richard Williams
Special thanks to Anca Chirita of LDV-PR
Images courtesy of Kyle Klaus, Anca Chirita & sourced from IMDb