Established actor and broadcaster, Bill Kelly, is making his mark on the TV and film screen with a number of upcoming projects. Kelly worked for nearly four decades in broadcasting alongside his extensive career in acting. A fan favorite on hit shows, “Hillbilly Elegy,” “True Detective,” “The Wonder Years,” and “Bloodline,” Kelly will next be starring as Sheriff Jackson in the upcoming film “Where the Crawdads Sing” in theaters July 15th.
The Untitled Magazine had the opportunity of talking to Kelly about his journey in acting and broadcasting, working alongside Oscar nominated actors, as well as his background and personal words of wisdom.
You’re originally from Richmond, Kentucky. Tell us about growing up there!
It was a pretty normal story growing up in a small town. Just like most kids growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, we were outside all the time. Playing baseball, exploring, riding bikes, building tree houses and more. We had 3 channels on TV and the stations went off the air at 11pm every night. You really did have to find things to do to entertain yourself.
You graduated from Eastern Kentucky University. What did you study?
Girls, mostly! I started out as an architecture major but switched to broadcasting once I figured out how much I hated math. Which was good, cause math hated me right back.
Can you remember some of your favorite memories from school?
I lived in a dorm for a couple of semesters and that was a lot of fun. No A/C, communal bathrooms, and slow elevators. However, I discovered that I enjoyed gymnastics a lot…. specifically, the pommel horse. I ended up joining the team as a walk-on but never competed. I did a stupid thing and quit because of a girl.
Did you always plan a career in entertainment or how did you get into it?
I started out in radio in 1981 as a DJ. I had always wanted to be one, so I made an ‘aircheck tape’ and submitted it to the local AM station, WEKY and they hired me. I got into acting on a whim when I saw a fax come into the station in Tallahassee about the FSU Film school looking for volunteer actors to be the talent for student films. After about 30 of those (and a divorce), I decided to try it professionally. I got my first role in 2011.
You’ve appeared in over 50 television and film projects. Which projects have been the most memorable throughout your career?
Wow…they are all great! Most definitely, “Where the Crawdads Sing” is at the top! I had such an amazing time shooting this film. On television, it’s “Bloodline” on Netflix. Amazing time in the Florida Keys chasing bad guys!
You’ve worked alongside various award-winning actors, such as Anne Hathaway and Samuel L. Jackson. What are some highlights from working with them?
Realizing they are all just normal people working hard on their craft. I worked with Glenn Close on “Hillbilly Elegy” and on our first day as a group, we went to the location of the ‘Vance house’ just after a huge downpour. And here is the Oscar nominated actress (multiple noms!) walking around with flip-flops on and mud squishing through her toes! Just another day playing in the mud!
After 36 years of working in radio broadcasting for Clear Channel Radio/iHeart Media, you made the switch to acting. What inspired you to change career paths?
Radio DJ’s ‘act’ to some degree every day they’re on the air because they must hang their problems and emotions on the door of the studio when they walk in and act like the world is a perfect place. They need to keep their audience happy. I just took it a few steps further.
What are some highlights from your career in broadcasting?
The interviews I’ve done with country music stars, meeting the public, getting nominated for a CMA Award for “Music Director of the Year/Small Market.” Lots of great fun living the life of a DJ.
You’re a fan favorite on shows, “Hillbilly Elegy”, “True Detective”, “The Wonder Years” on ABC and “Bloodline.” How has support from friends and fans impacted your acting?
It’s been incredible and is that positive re-enforcement that I’m doing the right thing. A lot of my friends thought I was nuts when I told them what I was going to pursue! (I wonder how that ‘crow’ tastes)!
What are some of your most memorable scenes or characters you have played over the years?
Loved working with Dwayne Johnson on “BALLERS”! Great scene with just he and I. I also loved the scene with Anne Hathaway in “The Last Thing He Wanted”. Just us walking down a flight of stairs dressed in a wool Army uniform and her in polyester! We were absolutely burning up in the Miami heat!
Can you tell us about your role in the film?
My character is a career lawman who is good at his job. He knows the marsh and he knows the people of Barkley Cove quite well. Or does he? We shall see what happens….!
How did you end up getting cast for the role?
I was reading the book when I got the audition and down to the last chapter when I found out I got the part! Due to Covid, I had to tape the auditions and submit them, so they booked me off of tapes.
What are some of your most memorable moments from shooting “Where the Crawdads Sing”?
Working with Daisy Edgar Jones was amazing! She is incredible, as is the rest of the cast and crew. Seeing how the sets and shooting locations looked exactly as I had imagined them after reading the book. I remember the mosquitos and horse flies, too! We went through a LOT of bug spray!
In the future, any producers, directors, or actors you would love to work with?
I would love to work with my favorites! Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, and Morgan Freeman! Also, would love to work with Livi Newman again! She is a wonderful director!
Now, you live in Florida with your wife, three children, and yellow lab! How do you balance your busy career with family life?
I owe it all to my wife, Nancy! She keeps me going and pointed in the right direction.
What are some of your favorite activities to do when you aren’t working?
Working in the yard and doing things with my wife and kids. I used to race Go- Karts but gave that up due to the lack of time. I like to golf but I’m not very good at it.
Do you have a motto or words of wisdom you live by?
Always help who you can on the way up…’cause you never know who you’ll need on the way down. We all fall. Never forget where you started.
Any other projects we should look forward to seeing you in this year?
I shot a pilot recently that we are waiting to see if it gets picked up. But I can’t tell you about it. I also auditioned for another project….but I can’t tell you about that one, either. NDA’s, ya know.