Chance Kelly has never played a superhero, but—casting directors take note—he probably should. The actor and father of three has accomplished more in his fortysomething years than many people do in a lifetime.
A former college football player and amateur boxer, Kelly has created an impressive resume of more than 70 film and television credits, all while running a successful contracting company. Tall, blond, and blue-eyed, Kelly, at home in New Rochelle, observes that he’s starting to play “good guys” more often than “bad guys.” “I worked my way up by being the bad guy, the guy they could beat up and knock down, and then I’d get up and they’d kill me,” Kelly says.
Whether playing good or bad, Kelly’s work is gaining traction. In 2008, Kelly had two breakout roles: He played the double-crossing FBI detective Mitchell Loeb on J.J. Abrams’ Fringe and the gravel-voiced Lieutenant Commander “Godfather” Ferrando in HBO’s Generation Kill. Last fall, his character was revealed as über-villain Jason on the TNT series, Legends. More recently, Kelly played Lieutenant Colonel Jones in Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning American Sniper. He will be seen this spring on Aquarius, an NBC primetime series starring David Duchovny.
Kelly started acting after he graduated from New York University in January 1990. It hasn’t always been easy—for the first 10 years he questioned whether he really wanted an acting career. He describes “periodically quitting” the field to pursue different paths, like grad school at Columbia University, where he earned a master’s degree in 2000.
At the beginning of his acting career, Kelly also flirted seriously with amateur boxing. He trained at Mendez Boxing in New York City and won the super heavyweight division of the New York City Metro Boxing Tournament in 1995. He would line up boxing matches then land roles as an actor and have to drop out. “I was getting a reputation as a guy who walked away from fights,” he says. “I had to drop out of Golden Gloves twice. I thought, ‘I can’t keep entering competitions and quitting.’” Although he ultimately picked acting, boxing remains “in his bones.” He still trains and spars, and he says he has never found a better workout than boxing. “Boxing is largely about conditioning,” Kelly explains, adding that, at the same time, it draws upon a survival response. “When you’re in the ring with a professional fighter coming at you, you find a way to be, if not at your best, close to your best.”
Photo by Tom Caltabiano
Although he may have been ambivalent about what he calls the “ups and downs” of acting for the first 10 years of his career, he always had the support of his wife, Susan Kelly (pictured right). “Whenever he would think about quitting acting, he would land something,” Susan says. “We joked that he should quit all the time.”
The two grew up in Armonk and met at Byram Hills High School. Although they went to different colleges, they kept in touch through friends and reconnected romantically in New York City in 1995. They were married two years later.
The couple lived on Manhattan’s Upper East Side until they had their second child. “It was fine with one baby,” says Kelly. “When Chance Jr. came, everything changed. We didn’t go out to dinner for three years.” In 2001, they decamped for New Rochelle. Kelly describes the move as inevitable. “People who grow up here come back here,” he says. “Westchester is where we’re from. I like living here.” Susan agrees, adding, “It’s a great community, a diverse group of people doing interesting things.”
Although both commute to the city for work—Susan works in global marketing for Estée Lauder’s designer fragrance division, and Chance keeps an office in Manhattan—the two are grounded in their New Rochelle community. Kelly’s known as a neighborhood father who loves kids and is always ready to coach. Bob Gilmartin met Kelly when he was coaching Gilmartin’s son in baseball. “The great thing about Chance is he’s this big, tough-looking guy who, when he’s with kids, is so mellow and understanding,” Gilmartin says. “He’s not a macho sports guy. He really knows how to talk to the kids on their level.”
Kelly is the president of his neighborhood association. Neighbors say he’s galvanized the group, organizing events like biannual block parties; one time, he even put a petting zoo on the neighborhood green. Recently, he amended the calendar to include adult cocktail parties, where residents can talk about community issues. He’s also involved with the Boys & Girls Club of New Rochelle.
Although Kelly can talk firsthand about Clint Eastwood’s creative process, he and his wife laugh at the suggestion they are the glamorous couple on the block. He’s just trying to balance a wide array of success. When his contracting company, Prospect Development, got a contract for interior renovations at the Lyric Theatre in Manhattan, Kelly had every expectation he would be overseeing the job from the start date. But, the Friday before the project began, Kelly learned he needed to be in Los Angeles for American Sniper, and so he had to explain his “double life” to the unsuspecting people at the Lyric. “As theater people—and just good dudes—they took it in stride and were actually somewhat intrigued,” he says. Thankfully, the job went well without him.
Running a contracting company has been great preparation for what Kelly wants to do next—produce films. He wrote and is executive producing his feature film, Inside Fighter, which will be filmed in Westchester in the fall. The lead character, to be played by Kelly, is a heavyweight fighter who had early success in his career but a catastrophic experience in his ninth fight. As a result, his personal relationships are failing. “He’s cast out, living in a basement apartment,” says Kelly. “Metaphorically it’s about a man getting up off the canvas.”
“Westchester plays its own role in the story,” Kelly adds. He says that, unlike in an urban setting, “people tend to know who people are up here. You see a guy walking down the street, chances are people in the neighborhood know who he is.” Kelly has already done location scouting. “It’s easier to shoot up here,” he says. “We did a test shoot day on Central Avenue. We got the permit and had a crew of five or 10 people. The day before we were going to shoot, I got a call from the sergeant at the Yonkers Police Department. I thought, ‘Oh what did I do?’” But the sergeant was calling to ask what assistance the police department could provide. “You’re not gonna get that in New York City,” says Kelly.
Natalie Axton is a writer in Northern Westchester. She is the founder and editorial director of Critical Read.