He thought about playing football after graduating from Chisago Lakes High School, but Brett Rickaby skipped his road to the Heisman Trophy. Instead, he eventually won the acting world's equivalent prize, the Irene Ryan Award, in 1987 at University of Minnesota Duluth.
After completing the graduate drama program at New York University, the Minnesota native moved to Los Angeles, where he has appeared mostly as malevolent or strange individuals in various dramas from "CSI: Miami" to "NCIS."
It's an archetype Rickaby embraces. After appearing in the 2010 horror flick "The Crazies," he kept climbing the deranged ladder with his lead role in "Bereavement," now in theaters. Rickaby, 46, plays a patriarchal psychopath and child abductor. However, his jubilant and humble passion toward his craft reveals a much less sinister individual.
Q Were you intimidated when you made that first move from Duluth to New York?
A The New York move was easier, because there is a sensibility between New York and Minnesotans. They are both based on the idea that you put forth effort, and you will get your rewards. But being nice is very important in Minnesota and not so important in New York.
Q Why do enjoy playing malevolent or strange roles?
A I've always had an affinity for people who are not normal, and I say this with all love. A lot of this has to do with the family I grew up in. That's always translated. Also, my face is starting to come to that sensibility that I've always had in those characters, and that is someone who is having trouble dealing with life's issues.
Q Do you feel that your rural childhood in tiny Shafer, Minn., contributed to your technique when tackling these small-town characters?
A I look at things from a psychological standpoint. Why bring the characters out if there isn't something we can learn about ourselves and each other? I remember growing up, looking at different things and always wondering. I think to have that beginner's mind is always a good thing to have.
Q Your character in "Bereavement" is villainous but also a paternal figure. What was it like toeing that line?
A [My character] Graham Sutter really believes that he's doing the right things for his own redemption. That's one of the scary things about the character -- the belief that the actions we take for our own redemption are the horrors we perpetuate for our fellow man. We step on each other's toes to get what it is that we think that we want, and meanwhile, people are hurt along the way. A lot of the film is the cycle of violence, and what he learned from his father is now getting passed along. It's all twisted but it's still based on traditional archetypes in a way.
Q Did you audition for your role in "Bereavement?"
A No, they found me. That doesn't happen for me very often. Stevan Mena, the director, says that the thing that sealed the deal was this silly commercial for Altoids that I did. I'm kind of a creepy guy in it.
Andrew Penkalski is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.