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March 20, 2019

Member Profile: Brian Oerly

From firefighter to stuntman to actor, Brian Oerly has taken a unique path.

Tom Knapp
  • Courtesy Brian Oerly
  • American Horror Story

    Courtesy Brian Oerly
  • True Detective

    Courtesy Brian Oerly
  • American Horror Story

    Courtesy Brian Oerly
  • Courtesy Brian Oerly

Editor’s Note: Today we begin a new series on TelevisionAcademy.com called Member Profiles. We will feature members from all peer groups talking about their careers, their lives, and their Academy membership. If you know a member that you think we should  feature, please contact us!


Growing up, Brian Oerly wanted only to be a firefighter.

Now, years since he attained and then gave up his dream job, Oerly is even prouder to say he was beaten up by both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger on the same day.

"Apparently," he said, with a certain amount of glee in his voice, "I'm the only person alive on the planet" who can make that claim.

As a child, he said, he spent a lot of time hanging out at the fire station in Big Bear, California, with his Uncle Ray.

"It's all I knew. A lot of my family was in the fire service, and that's all we did," Oerly said.

"I wanted to be around fire trucks. I wanted to be around firefighters, and I wanted to do the same," he said. "I went to the fire academy. I went to get my degree in fire science, my degree in emergency medicine. But life had another plan."

After about four years as an auxiliary firefighter in South Pasadena, Oerly on a whim went with a friend to Universal Studios, where his friend worked part-time on the emergency response team. Oerly met someone there who was in the Universal Studios stunt show, and he encouraged Oerly to audition.

"I didn't know how to audition. I didn't know what he was talking about," Oerly said. "But I showed up and, lo and behold, I got the part. They shipped me off to Japan for two years."

He performed in a stunt show called "Viking Adventure" at Wakayama Marina City, a resort town near Osaka, Japan, he said.

When he returned to the States, he got a role in "The Wild Wild Wild West" stunt show at Universal Studios Hollywood - the stunts were virtually the same as its Viking counterpart, he said - and then he started working at the "Waterworld" show, which kept him employed for nearly 20 years.

Then, Oerly got a call to go to Thailand to do stunt work on Rambo - the fourth movie in the Stallone series that started in 1982 with First Blood. Oerly was the stunt double for actor Graham McTavish ... and a new career was launched.

"From there, I started doing stunts for television and movies," he said. "Then I broke into small acting roles. Then those roles started getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Now I'm in a pretty nice spot."

He got his first real part in an episode of Nash Bridges, starring Don Johnson and Cheech Marin, and things progressed from there.

Now 50, Oerly has had recurring roles on several well-known series, from playing the demon Reinhardt on Charmed and a hitman on General Hospital to becoming Clifton - both alive and dead - on American Horror Story and Eddie, an inquisitive West Finger resident in True Detective.

Oerly has racked up more than 50 acting credits in less than 20 years. Look closely at his roles and you'll probably notice a striking pattern: He's usually a villain.

"I always play the bad guy, and I love it," he said.

His imposing physique, with a bald head and dramatic mustache, make him well-suited to the type, he said.

"Well, look at me, man!" he said. "I'm a bigger guy, and my looks go with that kind of part. I'm never going to be a Tom Cruise or a Brad Pitt, and I'm fine with that. Being a bad guy for pretend is fun."

Being bad just comes naturally, Oerly said.

"I just really enjoy the fantasy, I guess - the fantasy of being someone who's ruthless and bad," he said. "Just horrible. ... It's like playing dress-up when you were a kid."

The transition from stunt work to screen villainy came naturally, Oerly said, because stuntmen often play villainous henchmen on screen anyway.

"We are the people who get hit by cars, take a punch and catch on fire," he explained. "We might say a couple lines, then get shot or get thrown out a window."

But sometimes, he said, it made financial sense for the studio to find "stunt people who could act." That way, he said, they could flesh out those roles without having to hire two people for a single role.

It was, he admitted, a little challenging to transition from stunt work to developing characters and remembering lines.

"I'm not going to lie, I was a little nervous the first couple of times," Oerly said. "But I did it, and I pulled it off, and people said I did a great job. I was like 'Wow. Wow. Wow. That was incredible.' I had a smile on my face, ear to ear, and I just liked it. I really enjoy it.

"I will always and forever be a part of the stunt community, but I truly love acting. And when I get a gig, I immerse myself in it. I am never going to come to set and not be ready. I'm not going to be that guy."

That said, Oerly said he doesn't really have any aspirations to play a hero. It's not his type. But he does have some career goals.

"The roles I've gotten so far have been fantastic. I love them," he said. "But I'd like to be the main villain - like Alan Rickman in Die Hard. I haven't gotten there yet.

"For some reason I'm stuck in these supporting roles, the recurring roles, the guest star roles. It's not a bad place to be, I'm not complaining by any means. But if I could get through that door ... and continue my career in that direction, I'd be happy forever."

He also wouldn't mind a phone call from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard or Clint Eastwood, he confided.

"Steven, I'm waiting by my phone," he said with a laugh.

Oerly has been a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences "for quite a while" - in fact, he lives within walking distance of the campus - and he performed there in a skit that poked gentle fun at stunt coordinators.

"Every time I go there, it's like coming home. You see this person, you see that person that you haven't seen in years," he said. "It's like keeping the family together. You get to see people you haven't seen in years. You get to catch up."

He loves the connections that are there to be made, he said, and he enjoys reconnecting with people and getting to work with old friends and colleagues.

As for his days as a firefighter, Oerly remembers them with a tinge of nostalgia.

"I was all about being a firefighter, but this job, this life, this career literally found me. Not to use a stunt guy analogy, but I simply fell into it," he said. "I keep expecting it to end even now. It's one of those things, I can't believe I'm here.

"This is where life took me, and I'm just along for the ride," he added. "I can't believe I'm where I'm at. I can't believe this is my life."

Still, he admitted, "I can't say I don't miss it. I do. Every time I see the big red truck go by, I go 'aaahh.'

"But I love what I'm doing now , I wouldn't trade it for anything."

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