Charley Koontz is a professional actor. You can see him in celebrated films such as Rubber or Contracted and television shows like Community, Modern Family, and This Is Us. Fans of CSI: Cyber will recognize him from his starring role as computer wiz Daniel Krumitz.
Many of Charley’s acting roles have centered around or been contingent on his weight. Charley is a big guy, and was much bigger. Many actors find themselves trapped and defined by physical appearance. Most working actors have a “thing.” Some actors feel the need to stay “thin” or “sexy” or “buff” or “bald” to keep working. Personally, I like having a beard, but I know I’ve been cast in many roles, because I have a beard, so shaving it off is a scary thought.
Over the past few years, Charley has been focusing on his health, and he’s lost a ton of weight. He’s really in great shape now, but this weight loss that is saving his life, could be hurting his career.
One role you won’t find listed on his IMDB or Wikipedia page is his role as my friend. In real life, not in a movie, Charley and I have known each other for over 8 years. Interviewing a friend has been easier in some ways, and more difficult in others. I tried to ask some easy questions and some difficult questions. I’m not going to lie; I was worried I might be digging too deep. There’s a thin line between probing and stabbing, and that line is squiggly in a friendship. Asking a friend about their weight and scary career choices can be, well, scary, but the same way Charley Koontz is being brave by choosing to make changes and put his health first, I tried to be brave with my questions for him.
People Walker: I don’t want to bury the lede here, so I’m just going to start off with some obvious and straightforward questions. You’ve lost a lot of weight in the last few years. How much weight have you lost, and how important has walking been to your weight loss?
Charley Koontz: Walking has been 100% essential to my weight loss. Over the last two years, I’ve lost 170 lbs so far, and I could not have done it without walking. At my heaviest I worried about hurting the joints in my knees and ankles, so I started small. I just wanted to get moving and to literally take “the first step.” That first step became the recommended 10,000 steps daily, and I’ve seen incredible results.
PW: People Walker’s company mission is to create positive life momentum through movement and connections. We went on a few walks as People Walker and client. Did those walks motivate you or give you momentum? How so?
CK: I enjoyed our walks together immensely. It was so great to have a friend to chat with while my body was doing it’s work. Your journey with The People Walker has been tremendously inspiring, and those walks with you were so helpful in getting me up and motivated to move around. The first few days or weeks of exercising and starting your new routine can be stressful and difficult for anyone, but once you get moving, you gain momentum, and your body LOVES and CRAVES the work.
PW: Why are actors ‘on’ TV shows but ‘in’ movies?
CK: I have absolutely no answer for this. All I know is I will be ‘in’ or ‘on’ anything with people that inspire me. Getting a film or television show off the ground in the first place is incredibly inspiring. I love to act, I love to work, I love crews full of people working toward a common goal and I will show up for that every single time, big or small.
PW: Casting notices in Hollywood can be brutally blunt. I’ve gone to auditions looking for “hideous weird man” and “strange hairy guy.” One of your big breaks was playing a character called Fat Neil on the TV show Community. What was it like booking that role? And with your weight loss, you may not get cast or even audition for “fat” characters anymore. Is that scary or exciting or just something you have to accept and adjust to like a child actor growing older and not being a child anymore?
CK: At the beginning of any career there will be typecasting, and at that point I was willing to do anything to get in the door. I’m absolutely ok with that decision, not to mention the fact that the writer’s for Community were incredibly cognizant of the message we were putting out, and I think the idea of Fat Neil being fat shamed at school, to the point of depression, was handled with incredible grace. I’m grateful to them for that. My very first line on Community, after my character was referred to as Fat Neil, was “Neil’s fine,” which immediately addresses the issue and provides some push back from a character that was hurt by those words. Through the course of the character’s arc, he went from Fat Neil to Real Neil to Neil. In terms of NOT getting those roles after shedding weight, I’m not afraid of that. This transformation may work for me career-wise, it may not. Ultimately it’s my health that I am looking to take care of first and foremost. I hope that this physical transformation will open many more opportunities outside of that physical typecasting. I don’t look at it as losing “fat roles.” I look at it as gaining opportunities to play DIFFERENT types of characters. We’ll see what happens, but I fit into clothes better, and that will always be a win.
PW: There are all kinds of stories in Hollywood about actors gaining or losing weight for roles. Robert De Niro gained weight for Raging Bull. Renee Zellweger gained weight for Bridget Jones Diary. Christian Bale lost weight for the Machinist. If you were offered a role tomorrow that involved gaining back all the weight you have lost in the last few years, would you take it? Would you gain all the weight back? If so, how much would you have to be paid and or who would the director have to be?
CK: I’d hate to predict the future, but I am always open to anything. I’m certainly not looking forward to gaining ANY weight back, BUT if the character was moving to me, I would consider it. My main goal is to maintain health and wellness, and if I felt that I could reasonably do that in a safe way, I’d think about it. And look, if Fincher or Spielberg or Jordan Peele (!!!) come knocking on my door with a script and a checkbook I’d have to consider all options. That’s just being honest.
PW: This is kind of a follow up question. Have you ever dreamed of being cast in a role that would involve you losing a ton of weight and getting super buff? Just so you know, I have.
CK: Of course. That would be THE DREAM. To be working, acting, getting paid and showing the world a new side of myself would be the ultimate joyful experience. Most people don’t get paid to shed weight, so that would be an unbelievable blessing. I have had some strange conversations with “industry people,” who will remain nameless about not losing TOO MUCH weight, so that I don’t lose my typecast-able-ness. From an industry standpoint, I understand the perspective, but I am a person before I am an actor. A long, healthy, active life, that is what I am here for.
PW: Back to walking, when it comes to acting, how important is being able to walk and talk at the same time?
CK: CRUCIAL. People in normal human life walk and talk at the same time every single day, so in order to play a normal human being, I would say that it’s an essential skill. Sometimes, you may even be asked to walk, talk, and yo-yo at the same time, so any chance to practice dexterity and dual brain function is a must.
PW: Our walks may have given you some momentum, but I know you have had other support and motivation other than our People Walker walks. Who or what keeps you motivated to walk and lead a healthier life, and how important is it to have someone else there with you motivating you and holding you accountable?
CK: I have the good fortune to be loving and living with a wonderful girl named Emily that has been instrumental in my walking/weight loss journey. Before Emily moved in with me, we had a very honest and sometimes difficult conversation about HER need to live an active lifestyle and to have a partner that shared in that life with her. So we motivate each other. Having someone with you that you can exercise with and share the trials, tribulations and soreness with, makes it so much easier. I am very lucky to have her in my life. I want to be the best version of myself that I can be, not only for me, but for the people in my life. And it’s so much nicer to split a pizza on cheat day, instead of pounding it down yourself. Less shame.
PW: It’s been said that all great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. I know you love storytelling, so I think you’ll have fun answering this. In your story, the Charley Koontz story, right now, are you going on a journey or coming to town, and are you walking? Actually, I’m just going to go ahead and assume you’re walking. You better be walking.
CK: I’m walking on my journey from town to town, baby! This adventure has been so meaningful in my life existentially. I have learned a lot about myself and my feelings, not just my physical body. I feel that my emotional intelligence has been strengthened ten fold through this process. The more I know myself and can be reflective, the better I can help the people in my life, and the better I can serve any creative story that I get to be fortunate enough to be a part of. So to answer your question, I am walking on my journey from town to town, connecting my mind and body, and sharing stories to the town folk. An emotional Music Man with good intentions.
PW: If you could go on a walk with anyone, anywhere, living or dead, who would you walk with, where, and why? If you say Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi, I’ll know you are just phoning it in by quoting Fight Club.
CK: I would have to walk with Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was such a creative force, and someone very different from me. I cried when he passed away, because I would never get to have that walk. Tom Hanks is also someone that exemplifies creativity and kindness on a different side of the spectrum. A rare artist that doesn’t seem so tortured. How do I get there? How do you keep it all balanced? Also Orson Welles. I’m not even sure what I would learn on that walk, perhaps an unreliable narrator of his own journey but one with a very particular point of view. Also, Welles would be the dream role for me at this point in my life, so I’d consider it research. I won’t bore you with every writer, journalist, politician I’d walk with, but the list is long.
(Charley texted me later, asking to add ‘The Legend Margo Martindale’ to his answer.)
PW: What are you looking forward to? Do you have any projects coming up or coming out?
CK: I’m looking forward to the future. I feel like this journey has helped me see a longer future, and to teach me restraint and calculation to best take advantage of any future opportunities. If they come down the pike, I’ll be ready. In terms of projects, there is a film called Captain Black hitting VOD in June, I believe. Written, directed, and starring a great friend of mine, Jeffrey Johnson. And I starred in a wonderful existential short film called Eat Your Heart Out with an amazing artist I went to college with named Abby Pierce. It’s starting to make the festival rounds now. You can check out the trailer on the inter webs.
PW: Anything else?
CK: Let’s get walking on to the next town to see what we find and who we meet!