Kurt Yaeger started his career as a pro BMX rider. After a tragic accident left him an amputee, Kurt endured a year long recovery and turned his attention to his first passion; acting. He has starred in such films as Knife Fight with Rob Lowe, Flowers with Christina Ricci and Tom Berenger , the Syfy feature Piranhaconda with Michael Madsen and the recent #1 movie Dolphin Tale with Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr. and Morgan Freeman.
Kurt has also made a return to BMX and is currently the number one Adaptive BMXer in the world.
Kurt is also involved in numerous charities and organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and sits as Chairperson on the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) Los Angeles Local Performers with Disabilities Committee.
Here’s an interview with Kurt about his latest projects and more…
Mandy: You have several movies in post-production now, and they all range in genre, is there a certain type of genre that you prefer?
Kurt: You know, I don’t really have a preference. I’m game as long as it’s an interesting story, a good script and people I’d like to work with. I do have a lot of fun on creature features and comedy projects because you get to act like a fool and are encouraged to go even further.
Mandy: One of your movies in post-production is Piranhaconda, what was that like to make, I assume there was a great deal of special effects involved?
Kurt: That project was an amazingly unique experience. We filmed in Hawaii when the Japanese Tsunami hit, had to shut down production and get to high ground. When that was all finished we were off schedule, tired from sleeping in the parking lot of an evacuation center and the chaos of the island trying to find normalcy stunted filming. A day later, a van with several members of the crew was in a freak accident when the brakes didn’t work and flipped over nearly going off a cliff. And to top it all off I drank whiskey all day and night with Michael Madsen. I guess the word “unique” is an understatement.
Mandy: Out of all the movies that you have done recently, what was your favorite to work on and why?
Kurt: Dolphin Tale, hands down. The film is so inspiring, so good natured and based upon the true story of Winter, the dolphin who lost her tail in a crab trap line. I’ve been to several screenings of the film, doing the press rounds, and I cry every time. I see this adorable little girl who’s missing a leg in a wheelchair say a line “look mommy, she’s (Winter) just like me”. It’s heart wrenching and overwhelmingly inspiring. A must see.
Mandy: What is your favorite part of being an actor? Least favorite?
Kurt: My favorite part of being an actor is a little different for me than most people, I think. I grew up in a rougher part of where I’m from, one of the few white kids in school. I learned to grow up fast, drugs were available and fights were normal life. I wasn’t allowed to have a significant relationship with the emotional side of myself and acting has bridged that gap. It has allowed a safe environment for me to explore that hidden, tucked away self.
The least favorite has to be the depression that follows when I’m done filming. You’ve made friends on the set that you may never see again. You leave the enjoyment of being needed behind and re-enter normal life. Sometimes you just miss having fun and acting like a goof with great people. It’s what drives me to get more work.
Mandy: If you could work with one actor/actress/director living or dead, who would it be and why?
Kurt: Daniel Day Lewis – because he seems like he could give a shit about all of the superficial musings of this technological age. He just performs and leaves the rest to the rest of us.
Mandy: What are your thoughts on shows like “Glee”? Glee has been slammed in the past for hiring an actor to play a teenager who is handicapped but at the same time they also employ an actress with Down Syndrome?
Kurt: Glee didn’t do anything wrong by hiring an able bodied person to play a disabled character, as long as they auditioned disabled actors who fit the character descriptions, which I’ve been assured by the casting director they did and I believe him. Every show should always hire the best actor for the role, no matter what.
Before I get to the problem let me first be very clear, it sickens and enrages me to see the hypocrisy of many in Hollywood. Many do not practice what they preach. The problem is this – you have a role for a 45 year old, salty haired man with a low raspy voice, and he’s going to play a judge in a courtroom. Casting will not see a person in a wheelchair for the role because that’s not in the character description. Since when is a wheelchair a character trait, it’s not, it’s a mode of transportation. And since when is it considered that a wheelchair user can’t be a judge? And yet they won’t even give the actor, who uses a wheelchair the opportunity to get gainful employment. They write him/her off before the actor even gets a shot and by the way it’s against the law, yet no one fights it because everyone is afraid to loose work over fighting for the rights of the most innocent. Money triumphs morality in Hollywood and don’t let anyone tell you any different.
I do, however, want to defend casting directors. I’m not knocking them specifically. They get work like an actor. They’re hired by a production company or studio/network to cast their projects. If they bring in people that aren’t exactly what those entities asked for, well, they will be fired and replaced by someone who will. So it’s not casting director’s fault exclusively, but it’s the system that lets the most underrepresented group in America go unnoticed, while crushing the dreams of hundreds of disabled actors.
Mandy: You’ve worked with several organizations/charities regarding actors with disabilities, do you feel Hollywood has changed at all in regards to their attitude towards those with disabilities?
Kurt: Nope. But I’m going to do my damndest to change it.
Mandy: What is one change you would like to see?
Kurt: Actors with disabilities getting a fair shot at auditions to play able bodied characters. Of course outside of a role that requires a certain amount of physical prowess. Something like a firefighter carrying two people on his back down a flight of stairs, you know. I understand that.
I’m not for equal outcome, I think those policies hurt more than they help but I am for equal opportunities.
Kurt: Yup. I still ride; still do back flips over jumps, even with one leg. I was in the last two years of X-Games. In fact, I have a new video coming out of me riding for the ESPN web page. It’s going to be very exciting and there are some pretty rough crashes in it where I took some major hits. Nearly broke my legs in one. But, whatever, you know, it’s worth it.
Mandy: What would be your dream role be?
Kurt: A nice long series regular on a hit show where I get to play a rough and tumble guy who’s discovering life’s peaks and valleys while sending a good message to people in TV land which would be – honorable, say what you mean and mean what you say, and be generous because you can’t take it with you.
Mandy: Tell me about the films you have coming out and the one at Cannes.
Kurt: The one that just came out is Dolphin Tale. It’s an amazing film about the true story of a dolphin named Winter who was rescued on a beach after being entangled in a crab trap. The little girl was nursed back to health but had to have her tail removed because it was too damaged. Winter really plays herself in the film and she is an amazing little girl!
The one that played at Cannes, which will be coming out soon, is called War Flowers with Christina Ricci, Jason Gedrick and Tom Berenger. It’s a story about the struggles of a woman dealing with the ravages of the civil war while trying to take care of her daughter and keep her out of harms way from corrupt people who try to take what they can.
Mandy: You recently did a big celebrity event for Cerebral Palsy in New York and spoke with Ivanka Trump, the President of Chile, Robin Givens and more. How did you get involved in the event? What were the highlights for you?
Kurt: I can’t say enough good things about James Grant and his PR firm. Those guys who organized this event made it such a great experience for everyone. The event was a hit and the highlight for me was standing on stage talking candidly to seven hundred or so of some of the most powerful people in New York. Sort of gave me a thrill to have them all listen to me.
Mandy: You inspire many people… who is it that inspires you?
Kurt: I know this sounds cheesy and I don’t care. My father is my hero. If I can be half the man he is, I’ll be doing pretty good.
*Interview by Mandy Raytik