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Queer actor Daniel Kyri on Chicago, coming out on TV
by Matt Simonette
2019-12-24

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For Chicago-born actor Daniel Kyri, who identifies as queer, working on the NBC drama Chicago Fire has been both "incredible" and "educational."

This series, filmed in Chicago, was Kyri's first time working in television. He has long been a fixture of the city's theater scene.

"My character had a three-episode arc, and then they decided to keep me on," he recalled. "It's opened up a whole new side of Chicago for me, different from the one that I had previously experienced. Growing up and living in the city, and working in the city as an actor are two totally unique and separate, but ultimately cohesive experiences. I just feel like the city of Chicago is unfolding in different ways for me, and it's incredibly educational and rewarding."

Kyri spoke of being surprised by the collaborative nature of the television industry, noting, "There are so many crew members that put together a single episode. learning what they do and how they impact how to tell a story is invaluable information."

He added that the cast and crew has been "like a family. … I've been accepted and loved here."

When Kyri learned that his character, Darren Ritter, would be coming out in an episode this past fall, "It felt very personal in some pretty unexpected ways." When he filmed the scenes in question, he added, "My own coming out experience ended up 'covering' those moments for Ritter."

He admitted that, when first seeing the scene on the printed page, "I was honestly a little nervous. There is this idea that, that is more popular with younger folks, about 'not owing' you coming out story to anyone. Reading it on the page I began to understand that testament a little more deeply. In a lot of ways it is very personal, and in the [scene] he is coming out to a person he respects, who holds a certain amount of power in terms of what we see as acceptance."

The more he contemplated the scene, Kyri determined "more ideas about how to handle the moment and just make it as nuanced and fully formed as possible. It ended up being like an easy 'non-event' that just melts your heart when you see it."

The response to Darren's coming out has been positive, he added. "For our show to have the demographic that it does, which is largely blue-collar and working-class, I very much enjoyed having the fan base be so open and welcoming, and supportive of the character."

Kyri, a South Side native, became interested in acting at age 10 thanks to his uncle, a performer and theater professional, who got him involved in a production of Once on This Island.

"It was the backstage life that enthralled me the most," he said. "I got to watch these older actors trying to be backstage, do quick changes, have conversations in the wings, and then watch them 'put on' their character and go back onto the stage. There was something witnessing the act of transformation that I thought was so magical."

Kyri and writing partner Bea Cordelia last year unveiled a web series, The T, about the relationship between a white trans woman and Black queer man in Chicago. The pair co-wrote, -produced, -directed, and-starred in the series. They hope to eventually get more episodes off the ground.

"Bea and I have a couple of prospects," Kyri said. "We will do a second season if the money is there. Luckily enough, we have been in talks with a couple of people with whom that might be a probability. We have dreams and goals in our work, especially as it pertains to The T.

Kyri considers himself lucky to have grown up in Chicago, which he called "a city at the forefront of a lot of really innovative storytelling, especially in the theater community," where has been able to both work and be openly queer. Chicago, he added, "helped me to find my voice."

"I found the stories that I care about telling," Kyri explained. "Those involve the radical representations of all human beings as they exist. I'm not prettying up, or covering up, or forcing a character, person, or story to fit into a predetermined mold. I frankly think that's bullshit, and I want to be engaged in the work of dismantling that."


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