The evening of Super Bowl LI was memorable for Richmond native and former Eastern Kentucky University student Bill Kelly, and not just for the game.
Kelly, who attended Eastern from 1979 to 1981, plays Anheuser-Busch co-founder Eberhard Anheuser in a Budweiser commercial that aired during the game. Then, after all the post-game hoopla, he played a police officer in the debut episode of the new Fox series “24: Legacy.”
Though he has logged numerous television and film roles, the acting bug didn’t bite Kelly until 2003, when he joined student productions at the prestigious Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts.
As a broadcasting major at Eastern, he attended the same radio production class as Sam Champion, who went on to national fame at ABC’s “Good Morning America” and The Weather Channel. His other memories center on his participation on the EKU men’s gymnastics team in 1980 and hanging out in the student union. “Eastern taught me independence and gave me confidence that I could tackle anything,” he said.
His first radio job was at WEKY in Richmond, and he remembers performing his aircheck audition using a couple of record players and a cassette machine while sitting on the floor in his room. “The program director called me and said I was hired and to come in that afternoon at 5 p.m. for training. I showed up at 5, got a crash course, and was put on the air at 7 p.m. I was terrified.”
Kelly went on to a 35-year career in radio, the past 30 with iHeartMedia in Tallahassee, Florida, and the past 17 years in sales.
“In 2003, we received a PSA announcing open auditions at the film school at Florida State,” he recalled. “I had always wanted to pursue something like this, so I went to the auditions and got a couple of co-starring roles in student films right off the bat. One, ‘The 17th Man,’ turned out to be a very well-made film that played at film festivals all over the world, including the Cannes in 2004. I ended up doing about 30 student films before pursuing an agent.”
Over the years, Kelly has played a variety of roles, ranging from a mechanic to a doctor. His first professional film role was in Michael Bay’s 2012 release “Pain and Gain.” Television roles include appearances on “Burn Notice” and “Graceland.”
“I get cast most in authoritative roles, such as DEA, FBI and Police and a Navy captain,” he said, adding that he is proudest of his recurring role as DEA Agent Clay Grunwald in “Bloodline” on Netflix. “I got to work with some amazing actors who taught me a ton!” Kelly has also appeared on “Ballers” (HBO), “The Detour” and “Halt and Catch Fire.”
To see his complete list of roles, visit billkelly.net.
The Anheuser-Busch commercial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtBZvl7dIu4&sns=fb) stirred some controversy because of its timely immigration angle.
“I’m honored to be in such a huge production,” he said of the commercial role. “I think every actor would love to be in a commercial that plays during the Super Bowl!”
Given that he came to acting at a relatively late age, is Kelly surprised by his success?
“It is surprising if I sit and think about it,” he acknowledged. “But I just go about my day living it just like everyone else.”