Kevin Kent served in the United States Navy SEALs for twenty years and counting. As of right now, he's a military/tech advisor, stunt performer, actor, and entertainer.
Kevin spoke with us about his career from military life to entertainment, including his favorite films, directors, and experiences.
We can't express how grateful we are to be able to chat with you, a Navy Seal with over 20 years of experience. We know you have a wealth of stories to tell about your time in the military, but after such a remarkable career, can you tell us what made you want to pursue working in the entertainment industry?
My twin boys, Ethan & Gavin Kent had been playing Bill Paxton’s son, Lester Hendrickson for a few years on HBO’s “Big Love” when my great friend and mentor, Harry Humphries asked if a group of other SEALs and myself wanted to be in the feature film “Red” starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, and Mary-Louise Parker. Harry had started his military technical advisor career working with such phenomenal industry icons as Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, and Ridley Scott about fifteen years earlier on such shows as “The Rock” “Blackhawk Down” and G.I. Jane.” Harry and I hit it off in the next few years, working on “Transformers 3 and 4” as well as the television show “The Last Ship.” Once I retired from the Navy in 2013 it seemed only natural to continue my work with Harry in this industry.
When you first started working on films did you find it noticeable to see inaccuracies and did it concern you at all? If anyone knows how it actually happened it would be you, but as you’re well aware Hollywood has a tendency of glamouring things up for us. Was this something you just had to take or do producers come to you for authenticity?
My wife tells everyone that I’m one of the worst people to watch a movie with because of the inaccuracies or inconsistencies that I constantly point out. Luckily when I first started advising for film, I had Harry Humphries to show me the things he had learned over the course of twenty years in the industry. Things like training actors and stuntmen during preproduction to look good on film, while not necessarily trying to turn them into Navy SEALs or superhuman commandos in real life. Ideally, we want the actors to be as comfortable as possible while moving with a weapon, so that they can concentrate on the acting portion of their job instead of worrying if they look authentic or not.
When training individuals to portray military units like Army Special Forces, Marines and Air Force units there are many items such as their dialogue, military protocol and uniforms that vary significantly from SEALs or regular Navy, as well as which era they’re portraying. However, the shooter’s individual tactics, techniques and procedures are very similar throughout all branches of the military considering it’s typically an operator shooting, moving, and communicating safely with his team in the parameters we’re able to capture for film. Obviously, in films like “13 Hours” I want the characters to look as authentic as possible to give tribute to the SEALs I served with, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty, who were killed in action in Libya.
When it comes to producers coming to me for authenticity, I manage certain expectations and get familiar with what exactly they want very quickly. I traditionally ask a lot of questions and try to compare tactics or a team’s action to other films producers might have seen or a specific unit like the Marine Corps Silent Drill Team, which I was recently asked to make a group of background actors look like.
Working with Spike Lee on “Da 5 Bloods” I relied on Harry’s vast knowledge of U.S. Army tactics from that era, since he was a SEAL in the Vietnam War. We trained the cast in varying postures and stances with their weapons and live rounds on a range, to give them as many tools to work with on camera as possible and then would give specific critique points to the actors as we shot the scene. Working on films such as “The Tomorrow War” with Chris Pratt was a joy because the storyline lends itself for the main characters to have a vast array of knowledge and experience with their weapons handling.
Have you noticed an increase in people wanting to learn more about the Seals? Are you finding that more military-themed films have been greenlit during the past 20 years?
When I entered military service in 1992, SEALs were still known as “silent professionals” even though there were several bestselling books on the market like “Rogue Warrior” by Richard Marcinko, and films like “Navy SEALs with Charlie Sheen, among others. I believe SEALs have become less mysterious and shady characters in the information age that we live in now and are given more credence as badasses because of stories that sparked films like “Captain Phillips” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” There’s more allure than ever because of this and I frequently must dissuade projects from writing every character as a SEAL.
I don’t know if more films are being greenlit or if my work in the industry has made me notice it more. There’s been a lot of great SEAL films that I haven’t been a part of in the past such as “The Rock” and others involving small SEAL cameo parts like “The Abyss.” Interesting note: Michael Biehn played both of those roles as well as a SEAL in the aforementioned “Navy SEALs.”
I think the smaller SEAL cameo parts have become more mainstream like Luke Grimes’ character Kayce Dutton in “Yellowstone” because it gives these roles amazing backstory if done correctly. I recently had the opportunity to script and character consult in preproduction as well as work as the technical advisor on set during the filming of the Netflix project “Obliterated.” This eight-episode series by the creators of “Cobra Kai” has an amazing cast of characters that encompass the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.
Act of Valor, 13 Hours, The Last Ship, and most recently Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan all feature your outstanding work. Is there a job or role you've played that you especially like the most?
Obviously, I enjoy every role I’ve been given, and I am extremely grateful to have a second career in this industry doing something that I’m passionate about. However, the many different roles that I have been able to reprise onscreen in all four seasons of “Jack Ryan” are truly special because it shows the absolute trust in me by the showrunners. Every season I have been given drastically different characters to portray. Producers John Krasinski, Allyson Seeger and Andrew Form as well as directors like Dennie Gordon and Patricia Riggen have helped me grow as a filmmaker as well as relying on me to make the action and dialogue as realistic and believable as humanly possible.
What movies or filmmakers have been particularly influential to you?
To echo a lot of the sentiment mentioned above, I would not be in this industry without people like Michael Bay giving me and other veterans a chance to excel in this business. Many of the guys who are responsible for the amazing action content on projects like “The Terminal List” “SEAL Team” and of course “Jack Ryan” got their start from Michael trusting them on the Transformers franchise among other projects. Ultimately Harry and Catherine Humphries entrusted us and are responsible for putting forth hundreds of veterans and especially SEALs in the past thirty years for work in many of Michael Bay’s projects.
What kinds of questions do actors typically ask you if they want to learn more about their characters and make sure they're carrying out their roles properly?
Starting a project from the ground level is always a phenomenal experience for me because I frequently get to help shape and mold the characters before the casting process. Frequently, I am pleasantly surprised with the level of questioning once the actors are cast for roles and the lines of communication are opened between them and I. Many of the questions are very different and I can’t pinpoint anything specific or out of the ordinary. However, the worst thing an actor can do in my opinion, is to not ask a lot of questions. Especially in the case of a role that involves someone with a specific skill set or type of experience that’s foreign to the layman. This is the specific reason I am hired, and I get immense joy out of seeing a character’s arc progress throughout a project. Although, I have found that talking to actors like SEAL students or “dropping them down” into the push-up position isn’t very well received on set. Early in my career, I quickly had to learn how to boost the onscreen talent but critique them honestly on what I was specifically seeing on the monitors while I’m equally managing expectations of the director and producers.
Do you think you'll ever direct or write your own movie? Are there any projects in the works that we could learn about?
Over the last few years, I have been lucky enough to be coerced by several actors, directors, producers, and stunt coordinators to get smart about the industry and the technical side of filmmaking which led me to enroll in a Bachelor of Science degree program in digital cinematography. I learned many aspects of the filmmaking process like writing, storyboarding, audio design, cinematography, lighting, and finally bringing everything together in a finished product by directing. This program stressed me to the limit as I continued to work full time while keeping my grades up. I managed to graduate in August of 2021 with a 3.95 GPA while I was filming season 3 of “Jack Ryan” in Europe. Since then I have produced a few short films and one feature called “Jo” that comes out in the spring of 2023. Additionally, I continue to write my own content and am currently producing and directing “The Christmas Slay” short film that I hope to have out by the end of March 2023. You can see my upcoming projects and a few of my short films here.
© 2020 The Macoproject Film Festival All Rights Reserved.
Macoproject FF 2021MD9145