Tonight, NCIS: New Orleans is bringing you an episode entitled “In Plain Sight” that should deliver a few emotional gut-punches — and it also brings you a heck of a performance from Kurt Yaeger. This episode features a wide array of performers with disabilities as Patton looks to try and chase down who is responsible for killing a longtime friend of his — Yaeger’s Kevin Simms is just one of many he comes across along the way. He’s a guy with a rather-bristly personality at first, but he could prove to be very useful to the case … if he can get on the same page as NCIS.
In our interview, Yaeger (who had his left leg amputated below the knee after a motorbike crash) speaks about playing this character, working alongside his longtime friend Daryl “Chill” Mitchell (who we also interviewed this week), and what he believes the overall message of the story to be.
CarterMatt – What sort of characters tend to appeal to you the most as a performer?
Kurt Yaeger – I do like characters who are very dynamic, where there are some major changes and you can see an arc. I like someone who actually flips to the other side of the coin — almost like Two-Face, where he is who he is, but then something happens and you’re sent off almost in a completely tangential position.
I love shows with a good story that go to a real place and I like shows that create their own world and people really believe that the world exists.
What did you know about this character [Kevin Simms] prior to you getting the role?
I actually didn’t know a whole lot. They kept it close to the chest. I talked to the showrunner and the writer and they gave me a little gist of what was going to happen, but I was not prepared for the amazing arc that came my way. I was thinking that you’d come in, do your bit, and then move on, but this character was written so well by Katherine [Beattie]. I was blown away; I looked at it and I went ‘all right; time to put the big-boy pants on’ (laughs). I’ve been in that position before, but I really wasn’t expecting Chris [Silber], the showrunner, to put that kind of faith in me. It was fun to come to the challenge and nail it; I felt really good about it.
How would you describe this character?
He’s your no-nonsense, bull-headed, alpha male covering a sensitive side.
I spoke with [Daryl] Chill [Mitchell] and he talked a little bit about getting to know you over the years. Was it nice to actually be able to perform alongside him?
Like Chill said, we’ve known each other for a long time and I’ve tried to work on stuff with him and it just hasn’t quite worked out. The second I was on set, I was talking to some people and in comes Chill like a whirlwind just yelling, saying stuff like ‘there’s Kurt Yaeger! There’s my man!’ and doing his whole thing (laughs).
Working with him was really interesting; since we already have this relationship and this bond, it was so easy to connect with him. I’ve already connected with him on a regular level; I already know how he speaks. You can jump right into character and he’s such a giving actor that even if I didn’t know him, he just gives you room and pause and play and it’s not the same every time. You get to dabble in different things. He’ll be like ‘let’s do this this time,’ and ‘let’s do that.’
Kevin is a character who goes through a lot in this episode, and seems to be having a hard time accepting his lot in life. How did you get yourself into the right emotional place to play him?
Tragedy has, in the past, landed in my lap. I understand going through some dark times. I think you understand a different level of a character going through that than someone who hasn’t gone through tragedy. It’s not playing the tragedy; it’s playing the compensation over the tragedy. Do you know what I mean? You think ‘I gotta be stronger and faster, and now I’m Frankenstein and women aren’t going to like me anymore. Maybe people will laugh at me.’ There are all of these things that go through your head, and you try to compensation for that and cover things up. I think the emotional place of this character is one of denial and pain, but then also fortitude.
I think one thing that this episode is going to showcase is that people with disabilities are natural problem-solvers. They have to solve problems two or three times more often than normal people. They go to a place where there’s no ramp, or there’s no interpreter, no access, or way to get there in an Uber, or that the vehicle that shows up isn’t wheelchair-accessible. They are problem solving day in and day out, so they are hyper-tenacious.
The title for this episode is ‘In Plain Sight.’ People overlook people with disabilities. They don’t see them as threats, they don’t seem as sexual, and because of that, they’re not seeing them as actual people anymore … I think this episode is going to bring humanity to a mass of people who watch the show. They’re going to realize ‘oh, they’re normal. They are just humans using a wheelchair.’ They’re exactly the same. They have the same fears and wants and needs and desires as everyone else.
If you haven’t seen a sneak peek featuring Yaeger for this episode yet…
You can see it below! Meanwhile, be sure to share some of your thoughts and hopes for tonight’s NCIS: New Orleans in the comments. (Photo: CBS.)