and professional athlete Kurt Yaeger is best known for his recurring
role as Greg the Peg on the FX series, Sons of Anarchy.
A motorcyclist since he was four, he grew up to be an avid BMX aficionado,
and even had his exceptional riding talent incorporated into the popular
Nickelodeon cartoon, Rocket Power.
After a motorcycle accident, Yaeger became a below-the-knee amputee.
But hes kept it moving, teaming up with business partner Josh
Gillick to create the production company ArtistFilm, which has produced
a number of projects and has an extensive slate of productions on
tap. ABILITYs Chet Cooper and John D McMahon recently
met up with Yaeger at his managers Los Angeles home near the
famed Hollywood sign.
John D McMahon: I read that when you were a child in a play about
the birth of Christ, you sat on your hands and wouldnt budge.
Kurt Yaeger: Thats right. I was seven, and I was a stubborn
little brat who was afraid to go on.
McMahon: That article made it sound like it was a hop, skip and jump
from acting classes to getting your role. Was it that easy?
Yaeger: Theres nothing easy about this industry; acting is probably
one of the hardest things Ive ever done in my life.
McMahon: What was your first break?
Yaeger: Im still waitin for it! (laughs)
McMahon: Did you start getting feedback right away?
Yaeger: Yes. I went out and started auditioning at places and booking
roles. I dont know why, but I took classes then, and I still
take them. You never stop learning, because youre always trying
to figure out new roles, new characters, new things. I dont
really ever feel like I have a problem when Im on set.
A lot of people are like, Oh, thats Ron Perlman, youve
got to act against him. Im like, Okay, just give
it to me and Ill do fine. My biggest problem is memorizing
material for an audition, because when I walk into the room theres
all this stimuli. Lets say its your office: Youve
got pictures of your family and your friends, little doodads, a penguinand
all these thoughts are going through my mind right at the moment that
I need to focus on what Im doing. So now I get on set early,
on my own time, and just sit in the space and get used to it. For
me, working is easier than auditioning.
McMahon: Did you have a fear of auditions?
Yaeger: Originally I had a fear of rejection, which is a lack of self-confidence
ultimately. But thats partially why I had to do this. Now I
have a production company and Ive done a feature film and a
bunch of shorts, and we have a bunch more projects in the works. And
when you can look behind the scenes at the casting process, you know
its not about rejection. It might have been the most amazing
performance ever, but if the person is too tall, too short, too brown,
too white, has blond hair or whatever it ismaybe the person
looks too much like the casting directors exthen not getting
the gig may have nothing to do with the performance. You have to learn
to treat auditioning as matter-of-factly as drinking a glass of water.
McMahon: What do you like the most, being in front of or behind the
Yaeger: I dont have a preference. Acting for me is liberating.
Its almost like therapy, because I grew up in a blue-collar
environment where youre not supposed to have feelings. So its
freeing to be in a safe place like a TV or film set where you discover
feelings, and where youre supposed to be open and honest with
everybody while exposing the weakest parts of you. Thats really
interesting. And then when people congratulate you on revealing the
weakest part of who you are, then you start realizing that that might
not be weakness. It might be a different kind of strength. Being behind
the camera, on the other hand, you have control; you have the ability
to make decisions for characters, for where the story lines
going to go, how you want to put it out there, how you want to edit
it. Acting is like where you paint on the
Yaeger: Thank you. Acting is like being the canvas, and being behind
the camera is like being either the paint or the paintbrush. Theyre
both a part of the creative process, its just that they have
two different functions.
McMahon: As an actor, do you search for the characters weaknesses
Yaeger: I try to discover the characters primary motivation.
In a screenplay, you can make up a hundred different variables of
a character. Is he there for love or respect, or is he there out of
fear? Whats he doing? Why is he doing it? Then I can build on
the intricacies. Does he pick his fingernails? Does he always do this
when hes lying? All the little things that come with it. But
its also like, if youre doing a caricature and youre
like, I want to do a blue-collar guy from Jersey, you
have to go and do the research on the region, the who, what and why.
If its a period piece, what they would be saying and how they
would be saying it? You have to have enough knowledge as an actor
to be able to throw out some improv if the scene just goes to a different
place, for some reason. You have to be that character even outside
the words on the page. Or else all youll be is the words on
the page, and that usually falls flat.
Cooper: Talk about Sons of Anarchy.
Yaeger: It has been a great experience. To wake up in the morning,
put jeans and a t-shirt on, ride my motorcycle to the set, get into
wardrobe and put on a different pair of jeans and t-shirt, and get
out and ride a different motorcycle is a pretty good gig. My character,
Greg the Peg, is a new nomad that comes in and causes
trouble inside the club. I wanted to give Greg a little more heart
than some of the other new characters that come in. I dont want
to just play a guy whos a murderer. Thats basic. I want
to explore whats different about this guy. He seems to be the
only character that has a conscience. I wanted to play that out in
the words he says.
Cooper: Did you get to choose the bike?
Yaeger: We all ride Harleys, but we can choose which one we want to
ride. So I chose the Fat Bob with the dual headlights.
Cooper: Do you like the dual headlights because they afford better
Yaeger: Yes. I dont want to get run over on set by the camera
McMahon: Whats it like to work with Ron Perlman?
Yaeger: That guys a character, man. He tells the funniest trash
jokes you can imagine, and then the director says, Okay, were
ready, and action! And Ron sits down and goes, [in a serious
voice] Now listen, guys
And youre thinking,
Wait a minute, you were just telling a joke a minute ago.
I love it.
McMahon: So he can really switch?
Yaeger: Absolutely. Hes a pro.
Cooper: Can you remember one of the jokes?
Yaeger: No, I dont remember any.
Cooper: It would be cool if you could.
Yaeger: It would be really cool, but Ive had 11 concussions,
so that doesnt help.
Cooper: Have you really had 11, or 12, concussions?
Yaeger: (laughs) Yeah. I dont know if you can tell, but
my jaws been broken. Its a little crooked. Ive broken
my scapula. Never broke my clavicle, which is really weird, because
thats the one part that shouldve popped.
Cooper: What happened with your motorcycle accident?
Yaeger: In 2006 I hit a pole and went over a 40-foot embankment, crashing
on the side of the freeway. I dont know how long I was there,
maybe 10 minutes, and when I woke up, I could move one leg, but not
the other, and my pelvis was broken. I pulled out my cell phone and
called 911 to come get me.
Cooper: How did the accident happen?
Yaeger: A car ran me off the road; weve never found the individual.
Cooper: I want to say, sorry about that; I spilled some coffee
on my lap and...
Yaeger: Its okay; Im perfectly fine now, but you do owe
me quite a bit of money. (laughs)
Cooper: Where did this happen?
Yaeger: In San Francisco. Id been riding motorcycles since I
was four years old, so its not really a matter of something
I did wrong. Anyone who knows motorcycle riding knows that theres
only two types of riders: the ones whove already crashed and
the ones who will down the road.
Cooper: What kind of bike was it?
Yaeger: A Ducati Monster 1000 SI. I ripped the baffles out and cut
the pipes down, which makes it noisy because loud bikes save lives.
When someone revs the engine [on a noisy bike], its them saying:
Im over here, in your blind spot.
Cooper: I know that you lost your leg; can you talk about your
Yaeger: I spent three and a half months in the hospital. My pelvis
was broken in half, my bladder was torn in half, my ACL was torn,
the MCL in my right leg
I had seven broken vertebrae, collapsed
lungs, broken ribs on my right side, deep pain thrombosis in my lower
limb. They removed my left leg below the knee. There were a lot of
problems. A lot of the recovery in the beginning centered around moving
slightly, or having body parts moved for me, to keep some circulation
going. But mostly it was about resting and not doing anything that
was going to injure me any further.
I did that rehab all on my own for about six months, because when
I went to the facility it was more like geriatrics: Heres
a band. Stretch it. So I just did it on my own. Up in San Francisco,
Lake Merced has a seven-mile loop around it. I would go out there
when I couldnt even walk, and grab a wheelchair, put it on my
shoulder, go down each step with one leg to get to my car, crawl to
my car, put the wheelchair inside, drive to the lake, and then get
out and push myself around the lake. Seven miles. Thats just
the stuff that I would do to recover.
When I got my prosthetic leg I thought, Im off to the
races. I put that thing on and took one step and I was like,
Aaagh! This hurts! It probably was another two months
of me walking and trying to do everything I could, and then I went
back to my prostheticist and he said, Why arent you moving
forward? My leg was a bloody mess. He said, You need to
see the doctor. So I went to the doctor, and they were like,
We need some x-rays. I got x-rays, and then they said,
We need MRIs, and I knew there was something wrong. So
when we got the results of the MRI, they said to me, We dont
know how to tell you this, but they cut your leg off wrong; were
going to have to do it again.
Cooper: But it was the correct leg?
Cooper: Oftentimes they will prepare the leg knowing the prosthetics
coming. Odd they overlooked that.
Yaeger: They had so much other stuff to deal with to put me back together,
and the leg wasnt a life-saving thing.
Cooper: You were still in survivor mode.
Yaeger: Yeah. They were like, Look, weve got to rebuild
his internal systems. So they saved my life in first, but because
I had compartment syndrome, if this was my leg, they had to keep cutting
it back. So at some point they were like, Were just going
to keep cutting and not worry about fitting the prosthetic foot later
on. He might lose his knee, so whats the difference if we make
this really pretty and perfect? And then it finally stopped.
I started to heal. At that point, I was able to have a leg that wasnt
going to have to get cut from the knee up.
Cooper: So you had another surgery?
Yaeger: I had about 28 surgeries when I was in the hospital. I think
Im up to 56 surgeries now.
Cooper: So when you go to the hospital, they all yell, Kurt!
Yaeger: Yeah, I have my own parking spot and they wave me right in.
I get to inject myself. Theyre like, Oh, he knows what
hes doing. Im like, Oh, the occipital arch
on that bone doesnt look very good, Doc. Hes like,
Oh, you see that, too?
Cooper: But you learned a lot about medicine in the process.
Yaeger: Oh, yeah. I have anatomy books at home so I could learn about
different parts and bones, and what they do and why they do it so
I could fix them in my mind, and make it work for my body. A doctor
can only tell you from the outside what your bodys doing. He
can give you a best guesstimate, but only you really know whats
going on inside. Because of my high tolerance for pain, thereve
been plenty of times when Ive walked into the hospital and said:
I need to get x-rays. And they go, Im sure
youre fine, young man.
And then I show them my broken knuckles snapped and my twisted wrist,
and theyre like back: Oh, my gosh! You need pain medicine.
And Im like, No, I need you to yank this back into place
and put a splint on this, because I cant do it. Its
that kind of pain tolerance. So only you know whats going on
in your body, and its your responsibility to learn as much as
you can in order to give them the best information you can about yourself.
If the doctor doesnt have the information from you, hes
making a wild guess. Probably a good guess, but you make the best
assessment of your own body.
McMahon: Would you say youre kind of like Evel Knievel?
Yaeger: I could not compare myself to Evel. He was the man. He was
doing stuff before anybody even thought it was cool. He didnt
have any suspension. He was just a daredevil. But the thing is, you
noticed from his character that he was calm and took calculated risks.
McMahon: Are you a bit of a daredevil as well?
Yaeger: I dont consider myself a daredevil, but I do take risks.
Cooper: Calculated risks.
Yaeger: Yes, but I dont like being afraid of something. If someone
dared me to do something that I thought was a poor decision, I wouldnt
do it, no matter what they said. But if I thought I could do it and
they dared me, Id ask how much and at least put some money on
it. I just looked up right here and theres a tall roof and a
little roof, and I wonder, can you make this distance? Two story down
to one story? I bet you could.
Cooper: So tell me about this rider named Darius Glover.
Yaeger: I met him through a friend of mine. He lost the use of his
legs in a motorcycle accident, I believe, along with spinal injuries.
Hes probably the fastest kid Ive ever seen on a motorcycle.
At Milestone he was jumping the big tabletops, the back 100-foot one,
with only a cage around his legs.
Cooper: So he was riding a lot?
Yaeger: As a kid, he rode a lot, trying to get sponsors, and then
got he hurt.
Cooper: What does he ride? KTM has done a really good job supporting
riders. Where as Honda cant see itself
Yaeger: They probably dont want to mark it that someone can
get hurt riding this very dangerous thing. (laughs)
Cooper: Tell us about your BMX riding.
Yaeger: Ive been on the BMX since I was a kid. Ive been
on motorcycles since I was four. My dad had a cabin up in Paradise
Pines, which is north of Chico, and wed ride motorcycles all
the time. It was so much fun that I would ride BMX every day that
I was not at the cabin. We had a field behind our house where I built
jumps. They were one mound, which turned into doubles, which turned
into bigger doubles, stretching out further and further. Then I was
doing 40-foot-plus jumps.
Cooper: You sent me a video of you. Are you the first person to
Yaeger: Yeah. Im the first amputee to pull a back flip in historythat
I know of. No one else has come to claim it, so Im assuming
its true. And then Im the top adaptive BMX in the world
right now. I went to the X Games. I can do tailers, back flips,
360s, bar spins, every trick. But it was a long process of relearning
to ride. Its not just pedaling the bike, its weight distribution,
its pressure distribution, its the fact that I have less
muscle on the left lower half of my body than I do on the ride side,
so not only do I have less power, but I physically have less weight
on one side now.
Cooper: So is it easier to whip your bike in the air because of that?
Yaeger: No, its just difficult all the way around. Riding bikes
is just so much harder with one leg.......
in ABILITY Magazine
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by Christopher Patey
from the Kurt
Howland His Lost Girl Fantasy
China Art Exchange and Mao Yu-yan
Sessions The 38-Year-Old Virgin
Kurt Yaeger Son of Anarchy
Croizon Quadruple Amputee Swims Four Straits
in the Kurt Yaeger Issue; Ashley Fiolek Off Season, But Still
Racing Around; Geri Jewell Lets Vote for Each Other;
Humor A Day in a Life; Philippe Croizon Quadruple Amputee
Swims Four Straits; Paul Pelland 2 MS, Eat My Dust!; Rick Howland
His Lost Girl Fantasy; Solo-Dx Silence Never Sounded
So Good; The Sessions The 38-Year-Old Virgin; Kurt Yaeger
Son of Anarchy; China Press Art of the Exchange;
Chinese Lessions Shes 86, Teaching From the Heart; DRLC
Enforcing the ADAs; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and