It's a well-known fact that many of America's most respected actors and power players launched their careers in daytime drama. We're talking talent like Laurence Fishburne, Meg Ryan, Alec Baldwin and Christopher Reeve among them. Sean Kanan is following in this tradition, but taking a few alternative routes to get where he wants to go.
In over 100 countries, Kanan is known as charismatic bad boy Deacon Sharpe on The Bold and the Beautiful. He's also worked five years in residence at General Hospital and made a splash on Aaron Spelling's Sunset Beach. On his way to daytime prominence, Kanan had the opportunity to hone his acting craft while mixing with some of the best people in the business. He worked with Oscar-winning director John Avildsen in Karate Kid III (as Ralph Maccio's rival), was a regular in Francis Ford Coppola's television version of The Outsiders and rubbed shoulders with producer Oliver Stone and writer/director Bruce Weber in the ABC-TV mini-series Wild Palms. His guest spot résumé, which laid the groundwork for his career, is also impressive: MTV's Dead at 21, Walker, Texas Ranger, The Nanny, Who's The Boss and Step by Step.
It would be easy to dismiss Kanan as another pretty face with talent. However, it must be noted that Kanan made the time during a busy acting career to earn a political science degree from UCLA. He also took a proactive track to move beyond daytime by earning some behind-the-scenes credits on two well-received independent films-March and Chasing Holden. Chasing Holden, based on journals he kept during his teen years at boarding school, is a coming-of-age story he wrote, co-executive produced and starred in. In March (which he helped produce), he leads a strong, recognizable cast (Rena Sofer, Cynda Williams and Michelle Phillips) in a story about a man coming to terms with infidelity and his other weaknesses.
The Daily Grill in Studio City, California (normally a bustling entertainment industry meeting place) is unusually tranquil and relaxed. At 3:30 in the afternoon, it's an oasis from the fires, strikes, post-election fallout and economic concerns that swirl around Los Angeles at the moment. Kanan takes on his day-to-day life the same way. He is a busy person who somehow manages to stay calm in an often chaotic and political world. He wears an observant, almost-serene smile and emanates a quiet resolve to get the job done while not forgetting there's a world out there beyond him.
"I would be lying if I said I had always been grounded," Kanan admits as our chopped salads and lentil soup arrives. "I would never want to paint myself as something I am not. That being said, however, my family played a huge role in helping me keep my feet on the ground. We observed many of the major holidays while I was growing up, and I think that Jews, like many ethnic groups, place a strong emphasis on education.
"Although I was an established actor when I permanently relocated to Los Angeles, I started attending UCLA. I could have easily not finished college, but my parents were there for me and pushed me to finish. I got my degree-even though I did have to do it on the six-year plan. I am glad I did, however, because I now think it was one of the best things I have ever done. I don't know if the degree will help me in a literal sense, but in a more general sense having finished college gives me a sense of accomplishment. And who knows how I may use it down the line."
Although Kanan feels his political science major has a separate life of its own apart from acting, writing and directing, he says it has provided him with a greater insight into the world at large, as well as the discipline to see other challenging projects he takes on in the future. It also explains how his lifelong fascination with politics occasionally crosses paths with his professional life. His most recent triumphs separate from showbiz were his contribution to the book American Pride, where he was asked along with other celebrities, politicians and public figures to write about what being an American meant to him. This, in turn, has led to an invitation to attend a special luncheon on Capitol Hill where he read his passage with other book participants.
When not on the set, Kanan is active in philanthropic endeavors. He donates much of his spare time to a variety of charities, including The Desi Geestman Foundation, Chabad and the California Youth Theater. While many actors have their "signature" charity, Kanan prefers to spread the love around to many different people and causes. The Desi Geestman Foundation provides medical care, dream-fulfilling activities and other services for young cancer patients and their parents. The Los Angeles-based California Youth Theater helps at-risk children and teens get involved in the performing arts. In addition to their familiar community centers and places of worship, Chabad raises money and awareness for a variety of issues and crises affecting communities throughout the United States.
"I do not have one specific pet charity because I personally feel very fortunate to have the things I have enjoyed in my life, and want to give back however I can," Kanan affirms. "Whenever I am asked to give my time, I make an effort to do that. If that makes me a charity whore, so be it. But with the way I look at things, if lending my name and my presence to a charity helps somebody, it enriches my life and broadens my perspective of the world. For this reason, one of my greatest role models is my father (president of the Diamond Council of America and president of King's Jewelry, a large chain of retail jewelry stores on the East Coast). He is one of the most decent, integrity-riddled human beings I know. It is a tough set of shoes to fill."
With pride, Kanan then details how the charities have touched him personally.
"Bernie Geestman is a crew member on Bold and the Beautiful, and is one of the sweetest, kindest people you would ever want to meet," he says. "From time to time, he and his wife stage events to raise money for this wonderfully thought-out, well-organized charity created in the name of his daughter who died of cancer in her teens. Whenever their events take place, I try to be there in order to support the charity, as do many other people on our show.
"Participating in the Chabad Telethon was a very cool and very eye-opening experience. During the telethon, I had been asked to recount a story about a young person recovering from a life of drug addiction thanks to resources and counseling provided by Chabad. Being raised a Reform Jew, I had little experience with Orthodox Judaism or the Chabad organization prior to my being asked to participate in the telethon, which reaches to all denominations of Jews and even beyond that. It was really interesting to talk to Chabad's people, listen to their views and hear about their realities in regards to the faith. It was also wonderful to see many other entertainers, Jewish and non-Jewish (Jon Voight, Sally Kirkland, Chuck Negron, Danny Nucci), come out to support the cause. Though it was one of the most feel-good experiences in recent memory, I was glad that they did not ask me to get up and dance with the famous "Dancing Rabbis" that stand as the telethon's icons. I have two left feet."
Though dancing is not part of Kanan's résumé, he can still legitimately claim to be a "triple threat" as a writer, producer and actor. He draws his inspiration from versatile actors like Paul Newman, Nicholas Cage and Robert Downey Jr. and filmmakers Baz Luhrman, Oliver Stone, Bruce Wagner and Sophia Coppola. He also has an affinity for fellow multi-talent Sean Penn with whom he would like to work with in the future. ("I'd even carry cable on his set if that's what it took," he says.)
Though his past feature film and prime-time work provided him with an excellent foundation for his career, his claim to fame-daytime television-has proven to be a challenge that has driven him to expand his professional boundaries and his definition for success. Though he's aware of soap stars who have ascended to A-list fame, he knows the industry has changed to a point where his path needs to exist on another plane.
"You struggle as an actor and look for sources of validation, income and practical hands-on experience," notes Kanan. "Daytime offers you the chance to act, refine your craft on an almost-daily basis and take on plots and characters with a lot of emotional curveballs. The downside of all of this is that daytime is unfortunately a situation where the deck is stacked against the actor for no fault of his own, and it's simply due to the medium in which daytime dramas are made. You shoot on video instead of film. There is zero rehearsal time. Your character's history may be sacrificed for the sake of perpetuating the plot. You shoot 50-70 pages a day rather than seven or eight, so the process is rushed compared to a feature film. It doesn't lend itself to the same quality of work one may see in a feature film in either theater or features. It can be perceived as the McDonald's of acting. However, if you avoid the bad traps some soap stars let themselves fall into-specifically making too-safe choices rather than pushing yourself-you really can find opportunities to spread your wings. So many A-list actors who came from soaps have succeeded because they've learned how to make interesting choices in character that they do-they learned to think on their feet."
For these reasons, Kanan discovered writing and directing would serve as his saving graces. "Vin Diesel, who has directed to pave his own way, once said moving into directing comes out of frustration," Kanan notes. "In recent years, there has been this shift in the business where there is so much A-list product coming out. For example, more mainstream movie stars have been offered and accepted roles in television shows that it has made things all the more difficult for actors like me to get the kind of roles I aspire to. As a proactive person, I was frustrated with working in daytime. But I found a way to work with it, playing a character with interesting facets and complexities, and finding the time to create my own projects that will show people-skeptical and otherwise-what I am made of."
With that open-minded determination, Kanan set out to achieve his goals through the world of independent film. He began with his own story concepts, moved forward through the resources he has attained through his years in the business and then teamed up with a variety of talented people he trusted implicitly. Though aspects of the filmmaking and producing process proved to be frustrating and sometimes painful, Kanan has emerged with two projects he is proud of, along with an even stronger sense of self.
"The origins for Chasing Holden come from journals I kept when I was in boarding school," he explains. "Years later, I leafed through the journal. It inspired a story about this kid who is a misfit at his school and identifies with Holden Caulfield, the legendary character from Catcher in the Rye. He runs away to find J. D. Salinger to find out what happened to Holden after he left the mental institution, and learns a few things about himself in the process. To bring the vision to life, I brought the idea to one of my oldest, dearest friends who I had known since fourth grade and another friend with excellent writing credits. Though it was picked up by Lion's Gate, I later sensed a lack of enthusiasm in the way it was marketed and it got lost in the shuffle. Though it had a disappointing theatrical release, it's aired on Showtime and has been sold in different markets throughout the world. Also, the final film is somewhat different from what I originally imagined. However, you often make concessions in the independent film world. I wish it could have been the movie I had written but, that being said, I am proud of having seen the process all the way through as a writer and executive producer. Getting anything made in Hollywood is a major accomplishment, and with that perspective, I am pleased with it."
The drama March, focusing on a man's infidelity and crisis of consciousness, has had a life cycle in a similar vein. Kanan and his partners raised the equity needed to create the film, and used his resources to put together a strong, recognizable cast. At this point, March has sold all over the world for theatrical release, but his team is still searching for a domestic deal.
As he continues to seek new opportunities, he strives to use his work on The Bold and the Beautiful to hone his skills and add complexity to what could easily be a stereotypical or hyperbolic role.
"In a world where the actor goes where the part is, I feel blessed to have the role of Deacon Sharpe because he is so edgy and interesting-a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks, as opposed to other bad boy characters I have taken who were rich, spoiled bad boys. Two years ago, Brad Bell (The Bold and the Beautiful's producer) took a chance on me and gave me the latitude to make this character my own. Though I would love to segue to a film career, I am also open to great roles on prime-time network television or cable. I also love comedy and am always on the lookout for something that would showcase my comedic ability. What it all boils down to is that I don't know what lies ahead. That's actually one of the things that make being an actor so exciting. Though (Deacon Sharpe) will not be a final resting place for me career-wise, I know in my heart it will be difficult to leave or face a day when they choose to let me go. However, I will forever be grateful for everything Deacon and The Bold and the Beautiful have given me, and look forward to seeing where everything I have gained from this experience and my other work will take me."
Sources: Lifestyles Magazine