Kaius Harrison’s phone is filled with pictures of him with celebrities. And if you ask how he met any particular person of interest, there’s always a detailed story.
Like when he was a rising junior in high school attending the American Legion Boys Nation and he performed his ape impression for President Bill Clinton, or when the late Anthony Bourdain gifted Harrison a set of kitchen knives for bringing down the house with a special version of “Tainted Love” at a punk rock karaoke night.
But the Worland native’s life wasn’t always so eventful. Harrison and his sisters were raised in a trailer park by a single mom who spent much of the day sleeping in preparation for her night shifts at work. Harrison’s way of coping was grabbing the remote.
“She didn’t really have money for a babysitter,” Harrison said. “My babysitter was ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ ‘I Dream of Jeannie,’ ‘The Price Is Right,’ ‘Care Bears,’ ‘G.I. Joe,’ ‘Transformers’ and so on. Basically, I played with my Legos blocks and action figures in front of the TV, and I just was enamored with storytelling.”
A budding performer
That same little kid who spent hours in front of the TV never missed a chance to play a part, whether it required sticking a toy in his mouth to serve as a beak or pouring ketchup all over himself and hiding in a closet so his sisters would find him when they got home and hung up their coats.
Bubbly, attention-seeking Harrison grew up to become student body president, homecoming king, American Legion Boys State governor and three-time state dramatic interpretation champion in speech and debate. But it was the school plays that sealed the deal on his future career in the performing arts.
“I was like, ‘Wait a second, people are getting paid to do this, this is a potential job that I could have and I can’t imagine, when this is available out there, anyone would choose to do anything differently,’” he recalled. “But, I knew that I would get eaten alive if I went straight from the least-populated state in America to either of the two meccas on the coasts, New York or LA. So I was like, ‘OK, I have to get some kind of education and cultural awareness about me.’”
So, the class clown cleaned up his act and eventually decided to study theater at the University of Wyoming. He put himself through school on a 4.0 academic and other honors scholarships, and he performed in nearly every production (with the exception of three) the school staged during his time there.
His Bachelor of Fine Arts program offered a semester abroad through a student exchange with the University of London, and that semester showed him just how far his acting career could take him (both literally and figuratively) as not only an actor but a writer, director and producer.
Making a splash
After some formative summer theater experiences in Laramie and Bellingham, Washington, Harrison followed an atypical route to Hollywood post-graduation. The first detour was to Orlando, Florida, where a friend convinced him to come stage a minimalist production of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.”
His time there ended up being more notable for his adventures in taxi driving (rather than acting), a side job he continued when another friend asked him to headline a sketch comedy club he was opening in Anchorage, Alaska.
“Next thing I knew, I was on Alaska Air, the very next day,” Harrison said. “Fast forward to two months later, when I had fallen in love with the community and gotten a car and an apartment, and now I’m playing Rocky in ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ only wearing a gold bikini and it’s freezing next to the grease traps backstage because Steve (club owner) still hasn’t made enough money off us to replace them.”
After a couple years, Harrison was tired of seeing himself on the cover of the Anchorage Daily News’ art section, so he decided he needed to settle in Los Angeles – but not before exploring his interest in eastern philosophy in Asia.
The sense of “existential turmoil” that resulted from aligning himself “with the most egocentric career path possible” led him to take a break from acting to teach English in South Korea.
“What I realized meditating on a rock in South Korea is something about this conundrum I was having of ‘Why am I in this business,’” he said. “What I came up with on this boulder was not to be angry at myself for having squandered my theoretical brains, and for not being an architect or a doctor, even something tangible that the world needs immediately, like a mechanic. Film, like any other art, when done right, when done passionately, can have the power to influence evolution within an individual’s lifetime.”
That was the final push he needed to head out to LA 16 years ago, where he’s since snagged roles ranging from Seaman James Dorsett in “Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History” to William T. Baxter in “In a Valley of Violence” (alongside Ethan Hawke and John Travolta).
Above all, Harrison has become known at comic book conventions around the world as Mr. Irish from Game of the Year “Red Dead Redemption,” a voice acting role he credits to the dialect training he got at UW.
On to the next chapter
Harrison realized several years ago that he does his best work where he can see the stars. That’s why he’s maintained home bases in both Cheyenne and LA, going out to California whenever a new audition comes up.
That all changed when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country in March 2020. Without anything to audition for, Harrison was suddenly able to stay home in Wyoming and work on his next screenplay, which he’s chosen to set in the Cowboy State (and film in not only Cheyenne and Laramie, but likely Fort Collins, Colorado).
The new project is what led Harrison to start hanging out at Dillinger’s downtown, where he was shocked by the level of talent he saw at both the comedy and music open mic nights. Now, he’s scouting as many local performers as possible to star in his independent film.
Jon Puls of E.M.P. 2020 has connected Harrison with several key players in the Cheyenne entertainment scene, including Hamilton Byd of Blue Pig Presents (who Harrison is now working with as director of theatrical programming for the The Chinook Drive-In Theater at Terry Bison Ranch) and Dillinger’s open mic regular Jonni Marie (who Harrison is now managing).
Harrison is also going up to Jackson next week for the next phase of this project, which requires securing more funding. He’s trying to network as much as possible and spread the word about what Wyoming has to offer LA-based production companies during the pandemic: a state of wide-open spaces perfect for social distancing.
“We could be making so much more,” he said of the state. “We are in an ideal place right now, the least-populated state. … This is a relative goldmine that can be putting lots of people to work.”
There’s a great deal of “back scratching” and location scouting left to do, but Harrison is excited to hopefully start filming the indie film this summer. Asked what the movie is about, he was only willing to say it follows a man who moves back to Wyoming from LA (not unlike himself) and a single mother starting a new business amid the pandemic.
“I can tell you that it deals with finding love in the apocalypse,” he said. “People in their more mature years who are having to rely on dating apps. And so the trials and tribulations that go on with that.”
Correction: The print version of this story in the March 19 issue of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle misspelled Hamilton Byrd's name and incorrectly stated that Kaius Harrison was born in Worland. In reality, Harrison was raised in Worland, but born in San Diego, California. The mistakes were due to writer error, and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle regrets the errors.