Ryan Hurst carved a niche as a go-to actor for earnest, beefy athletes, soldiers and cops, before crafting one of the most compelling characters in cable drama as an outwardly menacing but big-hearted biker-gang member on the FX series "Sons of Anarchy" (2008-14). The tall, athletic scion of a Hollywood family, Hurst began his career frequently playing less-than-cerebral types, as per his first star turn on the short-lived sitcom "Campus Cops" (USA Network, 1995-96). He added some texture to his type as the tragic linebacker in the Disney football drama "Remember the Titans" (2000) and played it for comic hyperbole in the Coen brothers' "The Ladykillers" (2004). Hurst meanwhile became a player on the Los Angeles theatrical scene, founding L.A.'s The Viking Underground Repertory, and showed his range in a run of indie films, including "Perfect Lover" (2001), "Lone Star State of Mind" (2002) and "Noble Things" (2008). After some forays into episodic television, notably the Sci Fi Channel miniseries "Taken" (2002) and the TNT cop actioner "Wanted" (2005), he landed a regular gig and fan-favorite status in 2008 on FX's "Sons of Anarchy," playing a thoughtful, increasingly conflicted member of the central outlaw biker gang. Ever expanding his CV laterally, Hurst increasingly built a reputation as one of those thespians designated to steal every scene.
He was born Ryan Douglas Hurst on June 19, 1976, into a thespian household that included his mother, Candace Kaniecki, a drama coach who went on to start Los Angeles' Candace Kaniecki Acting School, and his father, Rick Hurst, an actor best known for playing the hapless Deputy Cletus Hogg on the TV series "The Dukes of Hazzard" (CBS, 1979-1985). Hurst received his secondary education at Santa Monica High School and, growing up Hollywood-adjacent, made an early start in show business in 1993, taking the recurring role on NBC's juvenile series "Saved by the Bell: The New Class" (1993-2000). Per his imposing 6'4" frame, he was cast as a high school jock, stereotypically named Crunch Grabowski, and it would establish a pattern for his early work, seeing him often cast as strapping all-American youths. In 1995, the still teenaged Hurst landed his first regular TV stint, playing an incompetent rent-a-cop on USA Network's absurdist sitcom "Campus Cops," but it only lasted a season. He rounded out the 1990s with some recurring television parts on "Boston Common" (NBC, 1996-97) and "L.A. Doctors" (CBS, 1998-99), while also making himself an active player on the Los Angeles theatrical scene. In 1998, he drew raves for his turn as a brash suitor to a young Southern Jewish woman in a 1998 production of Alfred Uhry's play "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" at L.A.'s Canon Theatre. He picked up some brief feature film appearances, most notably as an ordnance-deafened soldier assisting Tom Hanks and crew in their odyssey in Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning "Saving Private Ryan" (1998).
"Ryan" began a niche of supporting soldier roles, which he took again in the military legal thriller "Rules of Engagement" (2000) and the Mel Gibson-directed Vietnam flick "We Were Soldiers" (2002). Returning to jockdom, Hurst picked up what many considered his breakthrough role in one of Disney's periodic feel-good sports pictures, "Remember the Titans." The 2000 film starred Denzel Washington as an African-American football coach at a newly desegregated Virginia high school in 1971, the plot following his earnest, tough and speechifying attempts to offset animosity among black and white members of the team and turn them into unit. Hurst played Gerry Bertier, a star linebacker and early spark of racial tensions eventually won over by the coach, but whose tragic injury cements the team's unity with Disneyfied emphasis. Behind the scenes, he was also credited with directing some B-roll for the project's second unit. Increasingly on casting agents' radars, he picked up more textured roles in indie features that included a down-on-his-luck guy in a matriarchal-dominated near future who resorts to creating an android girlfriend in the sci-fi comedy "Perfect Lover" (2001), a sensitive hometown guy who just might be The One for a husband-hunting prodigal in the ensemble romance "Venus and Mars" (2001), and a hilarious yokel felon in the Joshua Jackson-anchored comedy "Lone Star State of Mind" (2002).
In 2002, Hurst joined the voluminous ensemble of the Sci Fi Channel's Spielberg-produced miniseries "Taken" as a member of a family deeply affected by a nefarious pattern of alien interaction, pegged to the 1947 Roswell incident. In 2004, he rejoined Hanks and took his dumb-jock niche to the wall and through it in Joel and Ethan Coen's remake of the British comedy "The Lady Killers" (1955). Hurst played Lump Hudson, the cartoonishly dim football player and hired muscle of Hanks' team of sorely incompetent felons. Hurst expanded his theatrical CV by founding L.A.'s Viking Underground Repertory, which began staging productions in 2004, with him taking producer and director duties on some plays. The next year, he and his new wife, actor Molly Cookson, started their own production company, Fast Shoes Productions. In 2005, Hurst picked up an infrequently recurring role as the brother of lead Patricia Arquette on the supernatural thriller series "Medium" (NBC/CBS, 2005-2011), as well as a cast job on the short-lived TNT action series "Wanted," playing the straight-arrow weapons expert on an elite team of federal law enforcement agents.
He continued to bolster his indie cred, returning to Texas as the tough brother to an aspiring country singer at a crossroads in "Noble Things" (2008), and co-starring with Jeremy London as a duo of wunderkind entrepreneurial brothers taking on the Federal Trade Commission in "Chasing the Green" (2009). In 2008, Hurst veered far afield from all-American-boy, donning tattoos, leather and an unkempt beard to join the cast of the FX original series "Sons of Anarchy." The show centered on a gun-running biker gang, its criminal endeavors and violent rivalries, as well as a growing rift between its Old Hand leader Clay (Ron Perlman) and his stepson, Jax (Charlie Hunnam). Hurst played Opie, an imposing but generally even-keeled member and Jax's lifelong best friend. Opie's arc saw him increasingly torn between the feuding factions and unsure of their loyalties, particularly as it was divulged Clay may have been responsible for his own father's death. The show's audience grew through its first five seasons, as "SOA" became one of the top-rated basic cable series on television and the biggest draw for FX. In 2011, Hurst added high-profile voiceover work to his résumé as one of the anthropomorphic reptiles in the goofy Johnny Depp-anchored Western spoof "Rango."
By Matthew Grimm
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made TV acting debut on two episodes of "Saved by the Bell: The New Class" (NBC)
Landed regular role on the short-lived cable series "Campus Cops"
Made film debut in the Kevin Costner directed "The Postman"
Cast in small role as a paratrooper with temporary hearing loss in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan"
Portrayed Gerry Bertier, an All-American linebacker in Disney's "Remember the Titans"
Cast in Steven Spielberg's Sci Fi Channel miniseries "Taken"
Played a soldier in the Vietnam War film "We Were Soldiers"
Directed, produced, and starred in a production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" at the Viking Underground Repertory
Cast as the former football player Lump Hudson opposite Tom Hanks in the Coen brothers' "The Ladykillers"
Cast as ATF Field Agent Jimmy McGloin on TNT series "Wanted"
Played the recurring role of Alison's brother Michael on NBC's "Medium"
Cast as Harry 'Opie' Winston, Jax's best friend on the FX drama "Sons of Anarchy"