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September 08, 2014

Member Profile: Kevin Brief

What’s it like to be an actual working television actor? Performers peer group member Kevin Brief talks about the fulfillment and the struggle in this edition of TelevisionAcademy.com's Spotlight.

Libby Slate
  • Actor Kevin Brief

People think they know Kevin Brief when they see him out and about.

And they do know him, if they’ve been watching television during the past 25 years or so.

Since 1987, Brief has been making a living as that showbiz rarity, a working actor. He was the bartender who brought an admirer’s drink over to new mom Rachel on the Friends episode where she enjoyed her first girls’ night out post-baby. He was the partner of the policeman who became Will’s lifetime love on Will & Grace

Last season he recurred on The CW’s Hart of Dixie, as the state comptroller attempting to convince two towns to merge for financial reasons. And he enjoyed a run as the beleaguered guy who needed Nyquil and Dayquil in a series of commercials.

Not that Brief didn’t put in his time as a real-life bartender. He did so in Kansas City, Missouri, where he’d moved because of a romance, having first earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater at Cal State University Long Beach and a Masters in Fine Arts in acting from the Asolo/FSU Conservatory in Sarasota, Florida. 

While in Kansas City, he began appearing in television movies filmed there. He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s, and has since amassed credits in recurring, guest-starring and co-starring roles in more than 80 shows, along with parts in theater and film.

He is married to Pam, a landscape architect, and has a stepdaughter, Lauren.

A very active Performers Peer Group member, TelevisionAcademy.com checked in with Brief for this edition of Spotlight about what keeps this working actor working.  

What was your early career like?

There were a lot of movies for television that were made in Kansas City, and I got cast in everything that came through.

That helped me when I came out here. It gave me credibility with casting directors, that I had been on a set.

My first (recurring) sitcom was Wings. I did it once and was brought back four more times. They called me “Teaser Man.” I  played a regular commuter on the Sandpiper Airline, an insurance salesman — and something bad/funny always happened to him in the teaser.

I don’t know if it’s something about my face, but I’ve had a lot of those roles.

I guess I bring an “everyman” quality to those roles, that people relate to.

Does that make you stand out from the many others vying for the same roles? What are some other keys to your success getting cast?

I’m not trying to bring something to stand out; I want to play the truth, the reality of the moment.

My job is to bring in the fullest, most complete interpretation of a role. But I think there’s something else – for me, it’s funny. A friend of mine, who created a procedural series, said to me, “Find something funny.”  That was her advice to me.

When I did that one time on Hart of Dixie, to my delight, they called again.

At the table read, the director said, “They really liked your ‘Eeyore-ness,’ so do that.” That is, the downtrodden, nothing-good’s-going-to-happen element.

The show is a drama, but usually they keep it light.

But you don’t play only humor.

No. On The Closer, I played a character with a greater arc, whose daughter had been killed. You can’t bring the funny there. It was very exciting.

I did a lot of sitcoms early in my career.

In the past two years, I’ve done more dramas. But even then, there’s comedy to it.

What are the biggest challenges to being a working actor, day-to-day, job-to-job?

The challenge is, you get cast, and then you arrive on the set, and you have to make sure you keep this well-oiled machine unclogged in your presence.

You’re dropped into the environment. You want to get positive reinforcement, but that’s not what they need to be doing.

The director wants you to step up, be professional. He or she doesn’t want to have to deal with you. A seasoned professional brings that to the table.

Some would say the challenge is to get cast in the first place. How do you handle that aspect?

It’s a tough business. It’s not for the faint of heart. You get beat up a lot. You get a lot of Nos.

Sure, I wanted the fame when I first started out. But now, I just want to work.

You need perseverance. It’s not about you if you don’t get something. There are so many factors.

Out of the blue, my sister said to me, “You must be really strong. People say, ‘No’ to you all the time, and you’re still doing it.” It’s an interesting battle.

What role has the Television Academy played in your life?

I joined the Academy in '06 or ’07. It was a thrill for me.

It’s great to be part of the society that gets to vote on the Emmy Awards. That’s really exciting.

It’s a matter of pride. They don’t let everybody in. And I enjoy the events.

What do you like to do when you’re not acting?

Volunteer work. I’m involved with the theater ministry at Bel Air Presbyterian Church and I’ve done a lot with the Special Olympics.

Acting is such a self-oriented occupation. I find it good to get out of my head. It’s stuff that’s not about me, not about finding work and getting your name out there.

Are you recognized in public?

People think they know me, but not necessarily as an actor, just someone they know.

My favorite time was when my wife and I were in Paris. We were at a café, and these people from Britain were there, being loud.

They asked me, “What do you do in America?”

I said, “I’m an actor.”

And this guy said, “I knew it!”

And he stood up and quoted my exit line from a scene in Will & Grace!

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