He may not be a household name but chances are you’ve seen his face before—especially if you’re a fan of horror or sci-fi. Kevin Durand has made a career out of being “that guy”: the hulking villain, the brawny sidekick, the hired muscle, the badass with a gun.
For many, he’ll probably always be Martin Keamy, one of the many memorable baddies on Lost.
“I thought it was going to be one episode, and I thought, ‘Well, it would just be nice to go to Hawaii.’ I went out there and we all kind of fell in love. I loved what they were writing, they loved what I was doing,” Durand says of that role.
It’s a good thing he impressed producer Carlton Cuse so much on Lost, seeing as how that led to his current work on The Strain. If not for Keamy, we probably wouldn’t have Durand as the enigmatic exterminator-turned-hero Vasiliy Fet.
“Thank God for that character. Thank God for Carlton Cuse,” Durand laughs. “All these years later I get a call that Carlton Cuse and Guillermo del Toro want to meet with me. I’m so grateful that Carlton thought of me for both characters, because I think these characters up to this point—and I’ve been doing this for like twenty-three years or something—they seem to be the characters that have had the most impact. And I’m so grateful for the fact that he thought about me for both times.”
Apart from their imposing physicality, though, Keamy and Vasiliy Fet are far removed. The former was a pretty unrepentantly evil dude, while the latter is easily one of the most heroic figures of The Strain.
“He really finds himself and is blooming like a beautiful Ukrainian flower amidst the apocalypse,” explains Durand with a hearty chuckle. “Fet has this Viking warrior inside of him. He’s a master at exterminating, and this new world really needs him and I think he’s so happy to step up to the task. Things are getting more intense as the minutes roll by, and it’s kind of like seeing a great prize fighter before a big fight staying really calm and relaxed and ready for action.”
When Vasiliy is first introduced, he’s a lone wolf on a hunt. It isn’t until the eighth episode (“Creatures of the Night”) that he throws his lot in with Eph’s group.
“I don’t think he’s used to playing with other kids in the sandbox, but he’s a smart guy and he understands that there’s a lot of power that comes with numbers. He looks around the room and he has a genuine respect for everybody in that group and knows that [they] can all play [a] role in taking down the Master,” says Durand.
It will be interesting seeing how these new group dynamics play out in Season 2, and how the changing relationships will affect Vasiliy’s confidence. As Eph noted prior to the initial charge against the Master, much of Vasiliy and Abraham’s confidence lay in the fact that they had no one waiting for them if they failed. They had only their own lives to lose or worry about.
“When you’re in a group of people under such a high level of duress there is an intense level of bonding amongst the group,” Durand agrees. “So I think the idea that Fet will develop feelings for people will definitely raise the stakes for him—and probably put fear in his heart. It’s just like Setrakian has told us before: love is our downfall.”
So perhaps next season will see the emotional stakes significantly raised for our favorite as-yet-unruffled exterminator.
Vasiliy is easily the most proactive and physical of the show’s heroes (thus far), but in Durand’s opinion he also plays another vital role: he’s the embodiment of hope in the face of nihilistic death and destruction.
“He’s not letting the fall of civilization get him down. I think he truly has hope in his heart—I think he really believes that he is going to get through it, and he’s starting to understand that he’s going to be instrumental. It really makes him feel confident,” which in turn encourages his fellow survivors to persevere in the face of so much evil.
Hope, Durand agrees, is vital for the longevity of a story like The Strain.
“You can’t be watching this show for five seasons thinking that they’re all doomed. There has to be some chance that they could make it, and this is the group of people that I would hope for in a vampire apocalypse. I hope there’s a real Fet and an Eph and a Nora out there to help take us through it.”
While Guillermo del Toro has said that he originally had the great character actor (and longtime friend/collaborator) Ron Perlman in mind when he wrote the trilogy the TV series is based on, Durand was a very close second choice for the part.
It’s not hard to see why: like Perlman, Durand has a magnetic pull when he’s onscreen. His physicality may be the first thing to draw the eye, but he also has the impressive ability to transform a character that could easily come across as little more than a brute into a layered, very human hero.
“To be an actor stepping into [a] role it’s always just such a wonderful challenge. It’s so exciting to kind of just—I call it ‘drifting’. I drift off into these characters and become a part of these different worlds. It’s always such a pleasure.”
And, like Perlman, he’s done stellar work in the past as characters that are more than simply human—like the human/dog hybrid Joshua in the James Cameron-produced Dark Angel series. “I spent so much time with Joshua because I was in prosthetics for five hours… When that show ended I genuinely missed [him].”
It’s that ability to connect viscerally with the characters he’s portraying that has kept Durand working for over two decades in a business that is notoriously cutthroat and competitive.
He never just turns up to work; there’s a lot of research and effort that goes into crafting his roles. Take, for instance, Vasiliy Fet’s distinctive accent.
“I kind of go about it organically. With Vasiliy I wanted to find a way to meld a Ukranian sound with a New York sound. If he’s talking to his dad, it brings out the Ukranian. If he’s hanging out with some dudes from the neighborhood then he definitely gets more New York.”
His attention to detail has served him well. From his turn as the Scottish Little John in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood to Vasiliy on The Strain, Durand has always felt authentic in the roles he inhabits.
And for Durand, working in genre isn’t just a way to bring home the bacon: it’s a passion.
“Since I was a child, much to the chagrin of my father, my mother would keep me up and I would watch horror films with her since I was about four years old, so I’ve always been a fan. And they always say that you marry your mother—and my wife is the biggest horror fan ever,” he elaborates.
And “sci-fi done right is, as far as I’m concerned, the greatest form of escapism. When sci-fi is done right there’s no limit to where we can take things and stretch our reality.”
With the success of The Strain, and a second season of vampire slaying on the way, Kevin Durand will undoubtedly remain a staple in the genre industry. And for fans like us, that’s a very good thing. Even if he never becomes a household name, there will always be people who appreciate seeing “that guy” grace their screens.
A good character actor can be hard to find, after all. Sometimes you have to lift a few manholes to find one.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”
Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.