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                        Celebrating the Art of Cinema, ... and Cinema as Art


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(includes excerpts from FRINGE, GENERATION KILL, LAW & ORDER, HOPE & FAITH and more)


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  "Who Is Jack Reacher?" (J. Kraemer) JACK REACHER score


     There are a lot of things I didn't know about Chance Kelly.  First he played offensive guard at Ithaca College when they were nationally ranked.  The list goes on.  After losing a bet during a poker game, he was forced to address his fear of public speaking, and as a result plunged into acting. During that time he also felt compelled to simultaneously pursue the world of competitive amateur boxing.

     In real life he competed as a 6’3” superheavyweight, entered the NYC Golden Gloves competition, and won his first bout by knockout, only to have to subsequently drop out of the competition for work on a film.
Full circle.  And if you don’t mind, I’m going to call him Chance so I sound like I’m talking about a person and not a public figure.

     Chance has his own version of the 90/100 rule: some time ago he and his buddy contrived a theory (one night while drinking a lot of beer) that if each person on earth took an inventory of all the people in their immediate environment, those who could be considered worthy of a meaningful, long term association would total about 2%.  But my guess is that’s 2% more people than Jack Reacher thinks are worth spending time with. Even with a soft spot for undeserving victims, Reacher was more prone to avenge them than to join them in Karaoke.

     Continuing on, the Chance dossier scrolls like a generic Ebay search—it keeps going and going and going.  It includes roles in notable shows like The Sopranos and Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Los Angeles and Law & Order: SVU ... because they can’t milk that concept for enough episodes. He appeared in Jonny Zero, which I mention only because his character is literally listed in the credits as “Huge Guy.” Get my drift?

     He was in The Unit—a show I watched because it featured Dennis Haysbert, probably best known as the guy who sold the snot out of Allstate Insurance. With me Haysbert earned television immortality as my favorite president ever, David Palmer, in the first two seasons of the series formerly known as the number 24.

Chance Kelly (right) as Lt. Col. Jones in AMERICAN SNIPER (2014)       

     Chance’s resume continues with appearances in Rescue Me, starring eternal smart-ass Denis Leary, the eye candy called Burn Notice, and the soaps One Life to Live and As the World Turns.

     You’d have to think you’d have seen him somewhere. No?

     How about Fringe, Army Wives, Blue Bloods and The Blacklist? Homeland? Hostages? Come on, you have to give me something? I know, House of Cards. Certainly you recall him as Steve, the esteemed bodyguard to Kevin Spacey’s deviant soon-to-be leader of the free world, Francis Underwood (no connection with “underworld” or “underwear”). Francis was the one banging the poster MILF, Robyn Wright, as the tall, boobless and fantastically hot, Claire. Anyway, in the last episode in 2013, in which Chance played a man dying of cancer, he lost 25 lbs. in eight days.


     I told him he could be the spokesperson for Weight Watchers.

     Then he told me how he did it, saying humbly how easy it was. Actually, he said, it was his fault he had to do it at all. At a reading eight days prior to filming, director Joel Schumacher asked if he could drop some weight for the scene. Chance, thinking he should have thought of that sooner, took it personally.
     He'd relate that, if you want to starve yourself for three days and eat (or rather slurp) cabbage soup for four more, to work out for two hours a day, and drink only water, give it a try. Then two days prior to shooting, limit your water intake even further. Prescribe to this and you too can play a once powerful security guard wasting away at the hands of a terminal illness when Robyn Wright comes to call on you.

     Every man’s dream, right?

     Still don’t recognize the name? He was preserved in the voiceover for the video game version of Homefront. And admittedly that doesn’t mean anything to me because all my kid does is use me as target fodder.  But if you have a GameStop punch card, surely you’re acquainted.

     Like Tom Cruise, Chance has also worked with Tony and Ridley Scott—the former with Denzel Washington (in both The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 and in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster) which also starred Russell Crowe (whom Chance joined again in Broken City).

     Chance was also on the cast list with Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen in Martin Scorsese’s four-time Oscar winner The Departed. He had the honor of joining Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt in The Devil’s Own, and has also taken direction from M. Night Shyamalan in Unbreakable and Signs.

     That’s not even a complete filmography. But even in summary wouldn’t you think he’d get a shot at a bad-ass wanderer who kicks some constant villain butt?

     A friend thought so. Chance had been a family friend of hers for years.  And she said:

     “The first Reacher book I read, The Killing Floor, struck me about a third of the way in as being a great vehicle for a movie. I thought to myself ‘Who would make a great Jack Reacher?’ I searched my brain for all the tall he-man types… with the ability to play a wise-cracker as well as romantic lead. And Chance popped up. A few months later when I was well into my seventh or eighth of the series (and picturing him as the leading character in all of them), I saw Chance and told him of my vision. I also gave him a copy of one of the Reacher books (it may have been The Killing Floor, but I'm not certain).

Kelly at Cantor Fitzgerald's 2013 9/11 Charity Day event 

     The saga continues in her finding a techie friend who figured out how to post a petition: “…my hope was that people would circulate it (this was before Facebook was around) and all the passionate Jack Reacher fans would check out Chance's website and agree with me that he'd be perfect for the role and sign and forward the petition, and a ground swell movement would organically occur and the studios would catch wind of it and also agree with me (or at least bring him in to read and he'd win them over naturally); and then I would have my wish (fantasy) come true, and Chance would be the star of this fabulously entertaining series.

     That, of course, has not come to pass. She continues, “It saddens me that Tom Cruise owns the rights and has cast (or rather miscast) himself in not only the first of the series, but I understand he has another one in the works as well. A travesty to us loyal Reacher / Lee Child fans. I guess I'm an idealist or something with no clear concept of how casting and studios work, but I am still convinced that Chance is and would be the best choice for this role on screen. I do still love the books and the character and am hopeful that maybe someday Tom Cruise will put his ego aside and actually cast the part as it is written.

     It appears as though she’s in good company.  Maybe Reacher fans live by the 90/100 rule too: only 2% of the population can play Jack Reacher.  And for this fan, and many like her, Chance Kelly is the 2%.

     Maybe the problem was Chance would have been a risk. By the time Cruise bought the Reacher rights in 2005, Chance had yet to star in his most memorable role, as Lt. Col. Stephen “Godfather” Ferrando, in the HBO mini-series Generation Kill (2008).  It was a role in which Chance earned, as supporters and fans, countless Marines as well as Col. Ferrando himself - the man whom he portrayed. Chance was subsequently appointed Honorary Marine by the Marine Corps League for his work in the series.


     In other words, he’d been fighting to get roles in Hollywood but hadn’t yet landed on the kick-ass radar. And perhaps had the timing been perfect, the Cruise who earned his wings as the maverick Pete Mitchell in Top Gun, would have reconsidered anteing up as Jack Reacher.

     Will it matter? Chance Kelly is on a role. He can be seen in the recent TNT series Legends, developed with Howard Gordon of 24 and Homeland fame. Chance was also cast in the much anticipated Aquarius on NBC with FX and Californication legend David Duchovny, who seems to have a flair for elongating things. Pun intended.

 As Lt. Col. Stephen "Godfather" Ferrando (center) in GENERATION KILL

     When they filmed Aquarius in July, Chance was only cast in two episodes. Then they asked if he could do two more; ... then two more. At some point whispers were overheard: “We really like this guy”. Then he completed the season appearing in all 13 installments.

     Somebody knows his name.

     Working with David Duchovny was easy, Chance says. "He’s a great guy and someone with a dry sense of humor who was on set like everyone else". There was no ivory tower for the writers whom he calls “the coolest people”. He says John McNamara, the head writer (who wrote with two guys and two girls), knows how to make television. With a rating akin to Sons of Anarchy and Breaking Bad, Aquarius turns normal network fare into that gourmet shit.

     On Christmas Day, Chance was on screen with Philly native, Bradley Cooper, in American Sniper (which ironically wasn’t playing on many Philly screens). The film is based on the autobiography by Chris Kyle, a former Navy Seal credited with more confirmed kills than any other American marksman. Co-written with his wife, Taya (who would go on to consult on the script after Kyle was gunned down on a shooting range in 2013 by a fellow veteran suffering from PTSD), it was directed by Clint Eastwood. In the Journal News, Chance called working with the director a “life-changing event”.

     Recently Chance auditioned for the Tina Fey project about Afghanistan called The Taliban Shuffle.  And he’s also in Stealing Cars, a long delayed but now upcoming movie due out in 2015 with a co-executive producer in Mark Wahlberg. Chance had the opportunity to observe one of the things Wahlberg does best—take ownership, like what he did in The Departed and Broken City. Chance calls Wahlberg shrewd and smart; and he believes that’s how to succeed in Hollywood.

     Which is why Chance is developing a script he wrote called Inside Fighter. He wants equity. He isn’t a household name, but he says it’s been five years since he got his act together, and those are five years he spent sober. As Chance says, “If you’re not growing and learning, you’re dying”. Coincidentally, the tag line for Inside Fighter is “The day you stop fighting, is the day you start dying.” It’s also interesting to note that the main character in this movie is named Billy Hays— Hayes which is his grandmother’s maiden name, and Billy after his grandfather, William.

     That’s the same William, as in William Fay, who was a screenwriter in the 1950s and 1960s, and who wrote Kid Galahad (1962 starring Elvis Presley), as well as episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955), The Big Valley (1965), Wagon Train (1957), General Electric Theater (1953), The 20th Century-Fox Hour (1955), Alcoa Premiere (1961) and Schlitz Playhouse (1951). About ten years ago, his uncle gave Chance his grandfather’s box of scripts, something he has yet to explore. Looks like it’s a family tradition. Add a BA in English and writing at New York University, and there’s no doubt Chance is definitely qualified to write a screenplay.

INSIDE FIGHTER promo (2014)

     What you might not know is that Chance earned his Masters in real estate development. The impetus for post-graduate work came when his oldest child was born. The reactionary in him compelled him to pursue that degree, however, he got the role in Unbreakable soon thereafter and shifted his focus again to acting. Nonetheless, earning a Masters is a decision he doesn’t regret. Perhaps that’s where he gets the propriety bug that turned his interest to writing and producing, to developing the very stories in which he’d like to star. Perhaps following the example of Mark Wahlberg and Tom Cruise, he’s found that ownership is key—in any type of property.

     Chance is also working on two additional screenplays, one called The Cross, about a high school football coach in a very diverse suburban setting who ends up becoming a man. His wish list of talent includes Denzel Washington, whom Chance worked with twice - on The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and American Gangster. If he can’t get Washington, perhaps Terry Crews would star in this When We Were Titans meets Hoosiers meets Walking Tall themed creation. Chance has also written several short stories he’d like to adapt to film at some point.

     After all this, what does he think about being Jack Reacher? Friends told him he had to read Lee Child because he was, literally, Jack Reacher. So about six years ago he read four titles, and he agreed. Even though he was lauded for his performance in Generation Kill, that series was filmed after he might have been considered for the part of Reacher. And when the rights were purchased, Chance didn’t know if Cruise intended to play the part. Chance also says people knock on Cruise but he has no issue with him. He’s not a bad person, and he did a fine job as Reacher.  At the time, Chance wasn’t well known.

Former boxer Kelly with the legendary "Smokin'" Joe Frazier; after  
Kelly's Philadelphia performance of the play "Bare Knuckles" (1997) 

     Is there an upside to being unknown? We talked about no-name actors in the movies cast as specific well-known characters, and we both agreed that to take a popular actor and put them into a tent-pole project isn’t preferable to taking a no-name. To us, a new face builds a brand new persona. I tend to have a stereotypical ideal of big stars in big roles and like to see not only someone new get a chance (pun intended) but to get the opportunity to define the role from the beginning.

     To me it’s like casting Daniel Craig as James Bond. He wasn’t a popular choice compared to the better known options, but he nailed it. Or Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games series, Daniel Radcliffe as the great and powerful Potter or Ellen Page in Juno. Even seemingly ridiculous choices, in my opinion, like Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, spun high-quality thread into gold.

     In any case, while reading Child’s books, I myself pondered if a certain phenomenon exists regarding the difference between readers and viewers. In One Shot, Reacher isn’t dressed to kill but in the movie, Tom Cruise goes back to his Top Gun days and paints himself cool with a leather jacket. As a reader I never came away with the impression that Reacher was stylish.

     So was Reacher Hollywood-ized? It happens. Literature sets the imagination in gear whereas films project reality on screen. As a result, eye candy is often chosen to buttress up the top line. Chance calls the phenomenon “models with guns”. He also says, in this respect, the director makes the calls. He/she is the one targeting a specific audience, and chooses what is selling to that audience. If we’re talking about book adaptations, however, the first consideration is that it should be a great story. It’s about adapting them. For instance, he says Bonfire of the Vanities was a great book but a bad movie. Silence of the Lambs on the other hand ruled on both fronts. It’s about capturing the pacing of the book and properly structuring a screenplay.

  In tv's NIKITA (2012)

     Would Chance like to adapt a book to film? The answer is no.

     As we were talking, he received a text from his agent letting him know that Legends had been picked up for a second season. Although his prior involvement with the series was a straight offer, he still auditions, receiving about 50% of his roles as a result. And like a little kid, he still gets nervous.

     Chance Kelly is a happily married, actively employed actor who’s raising three kids, has entered the season of sobriety, and is building equity in the film industry. Would Jack Reacher have been a dream role? Possibly. But to survive and thrive in Hollywood, you have to know who you are. In this case, missing out on the Reacher role looks like a case of no harm / no foul because from where I’m sitting, it was their loss.

     The cool role is being Chance Kelly.

                                                                                                                             CF- February, 2015

Pg. 1,2,

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