Kyle Secor: Making His Case
By James Panter
An actor’s world is filled with choices - which role to play, how to play it,
what medium (film, television, theater) to work in - and all have consequences.
But, for a perceptive performer like Kyle Secor, the creative stimulation from
working with other actors must be paramount.
“The thing I desire the most is being involved with people who like to collaborate, who say yes to things instead of immediately saying no,” he says. “Or, if they say no, they have a really good reason for it. And they’re looking for input, and they appreciate what you have to say.”
Secor, 41, is building a strong reputation as an actor with something to say. He is in his seventh, and final, season as Detective Tim Bayliss on the critically acclaimed NBC drama Homicide: Life On the Streets. It is a role shaped by his talent, intelligence and instincts.
“Bayliss is someone who has really gone through a great deal of change,” the actor describes. “He started out as the new guy on the block, naive about many, many things, with a very, very open heart and very sensitive to the people he was investigating for. He had a great deal of empathy for the victims’ relatives.
“Then he went through a period where he started getting cynical and jaded about the job and wearing down a bit,” he adds. “And then we started finding out some interesting things about his life - the sexual abuse as a child, and then he’s trying out both men and women (for sex). And then we come to this season, when he has a near-death experience, and he starts looking at things like Buddhism, to open up to him why life is the way it is. To find out who he is and what his true nature is. We’re exploring all of that, and he’s also motivated by doing a great job. He wants to be a good cop, and he wants to be a good human being, too. And sometimes I think he sees those things as being very, very different.
“With my partner (Andre Braugher), we had tried to, with our conversations, reconcile these things: How can you be a cop, and how can you do certain things to manipulate people? What game are we playing here, and how does it look to God?”
Secor has found the ensemble work on Homicide to be most fulfilling. It is one of only two television comedy or drama series to earn three Peabody Awards in the 56-year history of the awards program, and it has earned two Emmy Awards and two Writers Guild of America Awards. The Television Critics Association has named it both “Program of the Year” and “Drama of the Year.”
It is a pinnacle in a career that the actor has perhaps dreamed about since growing up near Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Washington. With no backyard fences, he and his childhood friends could get up football, baseball or soccer game at a moment's notice, or they could make up characters.
“The kids would go down to the water, at Puget Sound, and we’d build rafts and we’d make believe we were pirates, and you could imagine all sorts of creatures on the water,” he muses. “It’s good for the imagination, and it’s probably why I became an actor.”
Secor wrote a couple of plays in junior high school and acted in high school productions, and later he discovered his life's ambition.
“I saw a play (Hello Dolly!) a friend of mine was in at a college, and it just hit me over the head that it was what I wanted to do,” he recalls. “It was fun. I saw people dancing and singing in it and having a ball, and people applauding and laughing, and that just spurred me on. It looked like someone was actually able to live another life. My life wasn’t so great at that point, and I thought, ‘I want to live that kind of life’.”
He attended Green River Community College, in Auburn, Washington, where his talents were nurtured.
“We got to do some Shakespeare, some musicals and some plays, like Equus,” he notes. “The great experience was that the instructor, Gary Taylor, was a great lover of the British actors, like Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud. It was a time of great imagination, because I thought I could be just about any person than who I was.”
Without funds, Secor took the $500 he won from a statewide drama competition and traveled to California to stay with his brother for a couple of weeks. He settled in Los Angeles and began working in theater productions, supporting himself by taking jobs as a theater usher, delivery driver for a liquor store, waiter and, fortunately, as a driver for the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival.
“I got to drive actors from around the world who were there for the festival, and in Los Angeles at the time it was all theater and dance,” he recalls. “They brought in all these (performance) companies from all around the world, and it had a huge influence on me to see all of that.”
While teaching yoga, Secor got a foothold in his acting career in 1987, when he landed a role on the daytime drama, Santa Barbara.
“It was a big break because someone wanted to hire me and pay me money,” he says. “I was basically sleeping on the floor of the yoga center I was teaching at, getting paid $10 a class, and my car didn’t run and my clothes were packed into the car. I was on the verge of giving it all up, and then this job came along. It gave me a boost of confidence, and at the same time, I got a Three Musketeers commercial that paid me an enormous amount of money at the beginning of every year.”
Freed from money worries, Secor was able to be more selective in his acting projects. His role in the play Inherit the Wind is especially memorable, because had the opportunity to work with established actors Kirk Douglas, Jason Robards and Darren McGavin.
“To watch these people - they’re the elders,” he notes. “Because of the teacher at Green River Community College, I was given a history of the theater, of great actors, of productions, and this was the first time I was in the midst of these people who had been a part of that history. I saw Kirk Douglas and the way he worked and Jason Robards and the way he worked - all of them had different ways of working - and they all accepted me as being this young kid with wide eyes who was willing to soak it all up. That was an amazing experience.”
Aware of the need to relieve stress and keep fit, Secor has practiced yoga for many years and currently practices four to six times a week for one to 1-1/2 hours. In addition, he has his own exercise regimen, which involves cardiovascular conditioning and weight lifting, and he loves to hike.
“I found out, as an actor, and for the type of lifestyle I lead, just being limber and being open in the body also translates into being, hopefully, more open as an actor and as a human being,” he explains. “So that’s why I do yoga.
“You can get into certain yoga poses, and you can experience certain things in your body. And if you continue to stay with the breathing, even though you’re experiencing all these things, that's sort of the process of acting, too. It’s the process of meditation, and it seems to be a good process.”
He also relies on chiropractic care, which he first experienced as a teen-ager.
“When I was 18 years old, I worked at a Shakey’s pizza parlor and I threw out my back, trying to lift a barrel of something quite heavy - a barrel of pizza dough - and I just fell on the ground,” he recalls. “I couldn’t move. And I didn't know what to do. So, periodically, through the years, my left side would sort of go out.
“And it would happen when I was doing yoga, so a few years later, my girlfriend had a chiropractor she went to in Los Angeles, and I would go to him periodically and he would give me adjustments. I didn’t understand if they did any good at all, because I was still in the ‘Superman’ mode.
“In 1997, I had a minor back problem, and I saw a chiropractor a couple of times, and around Christmas time, I was picking up something, and my back just gave on me. And, because I still didn’t get the whole chiropractic (approach), I looked elsewhere and let other people work on me with other forms of body work.”
When he returned to Baltimore to work on Homicide, Secor visited a chiropractor as much as three or four times a week, and then when he went to New York and was practicing yoga, in the spring of 1998, he discovered Dr. Robert DeBonis.
“Someone had told me about the work that he had done on them,” Secor says. “And I went to see Dr. DeBonis, who, first of all, could explain to me, in a way I could understand, what he was doing. And I think that was important: He could explain to me in a way I could understand. Many other people have explained many things to me, but it was only when I saw him, and I was doing yoga at the same time, that it all sort of started making sense, and I was able to see the value of doing what he said for me to do when I wasn’t seeing him, in the way that I moved. He’s so subtle with what he does.”
DeBonis, a 1978 graduate of New York Chiropractic College, has been in practice in New York City since 1979 and was recently inducted into the Distinguished Fellows of the International Chiropractors Association. He serves on the Board of Examiners for the New York State Board of Chiropractic and is the past executive officer of the New York Chiropractic Council.
In describing his practice, he says, “It’s very eclectic. My youngest patient is a newborn, and my oldest patient is 98. I take care of families and lots of single people, people in the arts and the entertainment industry, television personalities, Broadway people, shopping bag ladies who live in the subway, and Fortune 500 corporate executives, who drive up in their limousines.
“One of the joys that I have in practice is that when I walk into that next room, I have no idea if it’s going to be a celebrity, a doorman or a corporate executive, and we strive to give all of them the same quality care.”
DeBonis has provided care to actors in Broadway productions, such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Crazy For You, Victor Victoria and Footloose, and he has even set up a table in the sound booth to adjust crew and staff members of the The Late Show With David Letterman.
He emphasizes preventative care and wellness in his subluxation-based practice.
“I will help guide patients in those avenues of importance to their health, such as diet, exercise, proper rest, mental attitude,” he says. “I think the job of a chiropractor is to be that wellness expert, and to encourage their patients to maintain their health.”
Secor has found DeBonis’ care has provided a new sense of well-being and has eliminated barriers in his acting career.
“When I first came to New York, I saw him for the first two weeks that I was here,” the actor says. “I saw him three times a week. And there were a lot of things that felt very, very stuck in my body. I was afraid of doing certain things in yoga. I was afraid of bending forward, I was afraid of bending backward, and there was just a great deal of fear.
“And after those two weeks, I felt a degree of freedom that I hadn't felt in a while.”
After the initial care, Secor continued to see DeBonis once or twice a week and is now on maintenance care.
“The great thing that happened was that the yoga started opening up for me again and my body started opening up for me again,” Secor explains. “I started having less fear about doing what I was doing, and I started to be able to live these promises that people had told me about, to be able to be pain-free and to have more confidence in what I was doing, because I was throwing my back out a couple of times a year.”
In addition to adjustments, DeBonis provided his patient with advice on preventive measures.
“He said there are things in yoga I might not want to do, like headstands and shoulder stands, that I may want to stay away from for a while,” Secor says, “and that’s something I really took to heart and still do, although I just started doing headstands again, but in a very different manner, where there’s no weight on my head.
“But he showed me ways of doing simple things, like standing up and sitting down. It was just little things that I was doing, like scrunching my neck when I would stand up. He did very simple things that were very profound for me.
“I think I have much greater range of motion, much greater flexibility. I’m able to do things in yoga that I haven't done in 10 years. It’s just given me more confidence, and there’s no more pain in my neck like there had been. I’d been carrying a lot of stress and a lot of tension, and I think now that I move through stressful situations a little lighter, and I think I got that from Dr. DeBonis. I’m in a stressful business.”
DeBonis, who uses a variety of techniques, including full-spine, provides care on twice-monthly basis to Secor, who travels to New York from Baltimore, where he shoots Homicide.
“Kyle is very, very interested in this whole concept of wellness and maintaining his own health,” DeBonis says. “He’s seen the benefits of chiropractic care, which allows him to do what he wants to do - both on screen and in life.
“At this point, what we’re doing with him is just maintaining his structure and keeping him healthy, maintaining the integrity of the central nervous system. He is truly coming in for chiropractic care, and not necessarily for the treatment of symptoms or a condition. I think he’s gained a greater appreciation for chiropractic can offer, in terms of increasing his overall function.
“Optimal function, as far as his well-being, has far-reaching ramifications as far as his ability to learn lines, be clear thinking, have a sense of well-being, get in touch with his inner self.”
Secor has also referred his girlfriend, an actress who lives in New York, to DeBonis.
Stretching As An Actor
Not only has the actor made his mark in television and theater productions, but he has also refined his skills by working in a variety of feature films.
A 1991 independent film, Delusion, gave him a unique experience.
“I was cast as something completely different than what I was seen as before - a hit man, who was an ex-boxer from New York,” Secor says. “They allowed me to improvise, to rewrite scenes and to write lyrics for songs, because they had lost a song, at five in the morning. I asked, ‘Well, what do you need for the next day?’ and they said, ‘We need this kind of a song, and we'll try to put one together.’ It was a great sense of collaboration.”
In the box-office hit City Slickers, with Billy Crystal, Secor enjoyed “getting to play a cowboy on horseback and have six-shooters and wear chaps and jeans and a hat, and to be around cows and roping things,” and in Drop Zone, a sky-diving adventure, he came to terms with his fear of heights.
“I got to, in a very profound way, come up against my fear, while being held by my belt, leaning with my body halfway out the airplane, with a parachute on my back that I didn’t know how to use, while the plane’s dipping and I’m looking at all these jumpers being taken up 300 feet in the air by a cable and with nothing below me,” he recalls. “There was a real camaraderie, because a lot of people had some of those same fears, that turned it into real excitement. There’s a kind of machismo thing that goes on with action films.”
Before his current role, his television career has provided other memorable experiences, most notably one on the acclaimed series St. Elsewhere.
“That was one of the first times they had an actor playing a person with AIDS, throughout an entire season, and showing this person having it, getting a little bit better and then going through an whole range of health conflicts and health battles and finally dying at the end of it," he describes. “I was happy to be a part of that.”
Tom Fontana, the executive producer and head writer of St. Elsewhere, remembered Secor’s remarkable performance when he became one of the executive producers, along with famed film director Barry Levinson, of Homicide, which is based on David Simon's critically acclaimed non-fiction book, Homicide: A Year On the Killing Street. Fontana called Secor in for an audition.
“I felt I was going very well on the track I was on, doing films,” Secor recalls. “But I auditioned for Homicide, and they said, ‘We want you to do this’. And I said I don't know if I want to do it. Tom had me read the book, and then he told me what the sixth episode of the first year would be like. I just felt that I just had to do this, because you just can’t pass it up.
“It was like doing theater on camera. There were long, long, long takes, and there was going to be three of us in an interrogation room for an entire episode. It sounded amazing. I thought the show was too good to go beyond one year, and here we are, seven years later. I was wrong.”
In the last couple of years, Secor has been able to provide more input to develop his role, and he has directed three episodes of the show.
“I always have notes or ideas that I give, and the writers and Tom have been kind enough to start incorporating some of them, because it something that seems logical to me for the character, and it’s also something that keeps me interested as an actor,” he says. “Sometimes you can get into a place where you’re just spouting a lot of detective dialogue and jargon, and for me, it's a little more interesting to go into what motivates him and why he does what he does.”
Shot exclusively in Baltimore, and often in crime-ridden neighborhoods, Homicide has a gritty, realistic look that mesmerizes the audience with its intensity.
“I think we can give the illusion of seeming more real, with our style of photography, and the writers’ own outlook on life and on death,” Secor points out. “Their outlook on death is a very important aspect as to why this seems more real. We shoot a lot of the times right in the areas where murders happen.”
After completing his work on Homicide, Secor plans to seek out acting and directing projects upon his return to Hollywood.
“I’d like to continue directing, because I really like that a lot,” he says. “I’d like to continue learning more about that and doing some writing, and I’d like to be able to initiate projects.”
Secor has a sense of what he has accomplished so far, but he truly revels in the experiences that being an actor has opened to him.
“I think that the greatest thing I’ve accomplished is being able to experience other people’s work and appreciate it, and being able to appreciate where I came from, where I am now, where I could end up,” he says.
“A lot of things have happened to me in acting that I never expected would happen that had nothing to do with the acting, but they had a direct impact on the acting, and were caused by doing the roles I’ve done and being the places I’ve been in and being in contact with people.
“I think I have a sense of gratitude now that I may not have had a few years ago,” he adds. "The roles come and go, or they won’t come, but I think what is important for me is that I can live every day and be able to look people in the eye and have some gratitude for being here and being able to be kind to someone.”