At 21 actor Dan Byrd has already assembled a stack of rules about what he does for a living. He should. He’s been acting since he was 9.
“It’s hard for me to listen to any actors whine or moan about anything acting-related because look at the world,” he says. “We really have nothing to complain about. Just to be working is a blessing. As a young and impressionable kid it’s something you have to get adjusted to and you have to develop a thick skin. I’ve definitely been completely devastated with certain things—especially when I was younger but yeah, you just kind of learn to cope.”
Aliens in America
Dan Byrd, Adhir Kalyan, Amy Pietz, Lindsey Shaw, Scott Patterson
Regular airtime: Mondays, 8:30pm ET
(The CW; US: 1 Oct 2007)
Coping wasn’t always easy, especially when he was a pre-teen commuting between his home in Marietta, Ga., to Los Angeles, nurturing his budding career.
“It was difficult because I had to have someone with me—a parent or guardian—at all times. So we couldn’t just like uproot the whole family and take them away from their friends and their lives. That’s obviously not fair. So all the credit is due to my parents who somehow made it work,” says Byrd, stretching his legs under the cocktail table in a hotel lounge here.
His education was erratic too. In fact, Byrd rarely attended traditional school.
“I was 13 when I came here and started high school. It was a brief experience altogether. I was enrolled for the full year but after the first semester was done I was pretty much not there at all anymore ... it was easier for me to try to keep on the same track of what was going on in the classroom. It was all independent study.”
Byrd, who defines independent study as “basically copying and pasting and changing a couple of words here and there and then sending it off to get graded” briefly attended school in Glendale, Calif., where he found himself a minority.
Still, it turned out to be the ideal training ground for his role as a dazed teenager who inherits a Muslim foreign exchange student on the CW’s new sitcom, “Aliens in America.”
“It was difficult to make friends,” recalls Byrd, who sports a thick head of curly hair and a baby face. “There were lots of Persian and Armenian kids. It was the first situation where I was a minority. So that was an interesting situation. I think it might’ve helped me grow and mature in the long run. But since I was in and out so much and was new and didn’t have any history with any of these kids who went to the school, it was really hard to get integrated into groups that were already established. It was sort of a weird year. I definitely have felt that, and it’s not a great feeling. But it’s something that’s pretty common for lots of kids.”
Byrd, who has a younger brother and sister, began acting in community theater, then snagged a few commercials (he was the boy who writes to BP about his idea for a non-stop gas station) and a couple of independent movies and was cast in Lifetime’s series, “Any Day Now,” with Annie Potts.
He also shivered as the imperiled kid in several horror movies. Horror movies carry a special challenge, says Byrd, who costarred in “Salem’s Lot” with Rob Lowe, “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Mortuary.”
(Courtesy Michael Courtney/The CW/MCT)
“The main one is that most of the time you’re required to stay at a heightened energy level at all times when you’re in these intense situations where you could die at any second. You have to stay at that place for maybe weeks. And that gets utterly exhausting after a while. I can easily say that `The Hills Have Eyes’ was the most exhausting thing. I was just fried every day because we were out in the desert every day and having to keep that intensity level at maximum at all times.”
Not only has he captured his first major lead in a sitcom, but Byrd is also experiencing other changes.
“I’ve heard this before from people: early 20s kind of screws with your head a little bit because you’re transitioning into adulthood and actually becoming an adult with responsibilities and paying bills. So all of a sudden it’s like you’re responsible now. You have the choice to do whatever you’re going to do as opposed to just going through a routine that you’ve been used to like high school, college. All of a sudden now it’s time to live life. And that can be a daunting thing to grasp but it also can be really exciting. So I’m trying to not operate in fear but trying to embrace it and just take it as it comes to me and make myself as well-rounded and open a person as possible.”
Damian Lewis, who’s so great in NBC’s “Life,” is another British actor who’s made good on American telly. Lewis, who gained his first national eye-popping in HBO’s “Band of Brothers,” says it’s always the script that magnetizes him.
“`Life’ was very tempting from the outset because of the strength of the script and that’s the only place you can ever start from as an actor,” he says. “It’s a big commitment signing up for American network TV show, but I felt very comfortable doing it because I enjoyed the script so much. The character is a wonderful character. There’s a little bit of wish fulfillment, a little bit of fantasy in there. We join the character, as creator Rand (Ravich) says, after some horrible, horrible central incident in his life, and we join the character at a time when he is reborn, liberated and freed from his previous life. And that gives you tremendous scope. And as Rand says, the chance of tremendous joy and optimism; and I thought that was a new take on a cop show. So I was all too happy to jump on.”
One of the better shows for the whole family this season is the CW’s new “Life is Wild,” premiering on Oct. 7. It’s about a family who relocates to South Africa and suffers an abrupt “readjustment” in their lifestyle. Filming on location near Johannesburg has been an adventure for everyone. The production shoots on a 1,500-acre farm replete with all kinds of animals, including elephant, hippo, giraffe, impala and wildebeest.
“You walk from the set to lunch, and you pass zebra or wildebeest. It’s just an incredible experience,” says the show’s executive producer Michael Rauch. “And we basically put the animal in the script that we want, find out if that animal would work in a scene. And if it’s scheduled to be the giraffe, you know, in the yard at 4 o’clock on Thursday, at about 3:55, the giraffes walk up, wait for the scene to be ready. We call `action.’ The giraffe walks in the background, and we do it again. It’s really amazing.”
Not only will “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” have a new home this fall on the USA Network, it’ll boast a totally new vibe. Though Dick Wolf, executive producer of all three of the “Law & Order” franchises, doesn’t like “personal” stories about his lead characters, this season we’re going to find out more about the lives of Goren and Eames, who’ve been battling crime for six seasons.
“We can only play what’s written,” says Vincent D’Onofrio, who portrays the quixotic Goren. “And the first—the season opener’s going to be great. It’s really Kate’s (costar Kathryn Erbe’s) episode. It’s going to be really good. It deals with Kate’s past a lot and the trials and tribulations of her past as a police officer. And, you know, during that show, there were connections between the two characters—Goren and Eames—that we hadn’t touched upon before. It was kind of a role reversal thing going on a little bit. Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting.”
The series season premieres Thursday.