On a recent afternoon, Rick Kain stood on a homemade wooden platform 30 feet above a leafy hill in the woods behind his Woodbine home, grinning as he strapped himself into rappelling gear.
Then he turned his back to the platform's edge, skipped off and began swinging like a pendulum through the air, agilely bouncing between two of the platform's support beams and letting out yips of laughter.
The feat was impressive, especially considering Kain was one day shy of his 54th birthday. But it was also run-of-the-mill stuff for the local actor and stunt man, who grew up in Simpsonville — his mother was local theater pioneer Jean Anne Kain — and has lived in Woodbine with his wife, Susan, since 1979.
More impressive are the credentials stacking up on Kain's resume, including a leading role in a new short film and Web series called "The Nextnik" and his first credit as stunt coordinator on a major feature film, set in Baltimore and called "LUV." The film is premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this month in Park City, Utah.
In "The Nextnik," episodes of which were made available at Nextnik.com on Jan. 1, Kain plays a middle-aged man named Larry Zimmerman who is laid off from his job and goes on "a quest to re-invent himself," Kain said.
In "LUV," from director and Baltimore native Sheldon Candis, Kain coordinated the stunts — including "street fights and gun play," he said — for the film's cast, which includes the rapper Common and actor Danny Glover.
Kain said he couldn't "go into a lot of the details" about the film before its premiere Jan. 23, but the Sundance Web site calls it "a lion-hearted tale about virtue as it shines through a complicated slice of black male life in Baltimore."
The film stars Michael Rainey Jr. as 11-year-old Woody, who is caught up in a morass of family woes, economic struggles and city crime.
Another feature-length film called "The Henchman's War," in which Kain stars as a mob henchman named Joe King, who kills the woman he loves during a job gone wrong, is currently in production. Kain has also worked on a variety of other television shows and movies, including "The Wire" and "Die Hard 4."
A wild streak
The recent trajectory of his career has been exciting, said Kain, who left a successful 21-year career as a manufacturing executive in the 1990s to study acting at Howard Community College.
He feels similar to Zimmerman, his "Nextnik" character, a man in his mid-50s dealing with transition, and feels his own transition from stunt man to stunt coordinator for "LUV" is an appropriate one as he gets older.
"It's kind of like an actor becoming a director," he said.
Kain's wife, Susan, said her husband's success is well-deserved, and that his penchant for stunt work — and his professional transition into the field — were not surprising, considering he'd always had a bit of a wild streak.
"It's just an extension of what he's always done," she said. "Now it's just a career. It's nothing out of the ordinary for him to come up with these little plans and follow them through in the back yard."
In his work as a stunt man, Kain — a father of two and a grandfather of two — has thrown himself off structures into air bags (as he's done from the platform behind his house), raced cars and motorcycles, and handled big guns, among other things.
Being a stunt coordinator requires the technical expertise to supervise stunts like those, set up rigging for larger, more dangerous falls and generally assess and plan for any sort of stunt needed in a film, he said.
"It's like sitting there and calculating what the risks are and figuring out all the things that could go wrong," he said.
It also involves working directly with the director and cinematographer to ensure the movie has a cohesive feel and that transitions between scenes are smooth, working with actors and stunt performers to ensure they are safe and comfortable, and deciding when to use doubles during technical stunts, he said.
It's "not a matter of the actors not being tough enough," he said, but a matter of the stunt men and women having the training to complete technical tasks, including falling.
"It's all about landing," he said. "It's called body awareness."
'Great asset' on set
Anthony Greene, director of "The Henchman's War," said Kain's technical expertise — he not only acted in the film, but handled his character's stunts as well — made him a "great asset" on set.
"I think as an actor he's great, but as a man who understands action and great visual effects and stuff like that, he's paramount," Greene said. "He goes above and beyond to make sure that what you need in a film looks professional."
Susan Kain appreciates her husband's professionalism as well, knowing it will keep him safe.
That he is able to use his natural creativity — he holds two patents from his manufacturing years — is also a good thing, she said.
"He's very much into creating, making things work and coming up with ways to make them happen, so this is sort of an extension of that," she said.
Michael Alban, an actor from Washington who has worked with Kain on film and television projects, said he is happy things "are coming together" for Kain. He called Kain a "super cool guy" who is always willing to help fellow actors on sets, especially when it comes to instructing them on how to pull off a stunt.
When shooting a scene for Discovery Channel's "Forensics: You Decide" a few years back, in which Alban had to pretend to swing an oar at a woman in a canoe with him, Kain's guidance was invaluable, Alban said.
"I never would have gotten through the shot without Rick," Alban said. "He was instrumental in instructing me on how to do this safely, but still sell it."
Greene said "working with Rick makes the (movie-making) process easier," which was a big help in making "The Henchman's War," which was Greene's first feature film.
"He's very knowledgeable about the film-making process, he's very straightforward, he's very easy-going," Greene said. "He's a great person to have on set."
Kain, a graduate of Atholton High School, is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, keeps an apartment just outside of New York City, in New Jersey, and regularly travels there for work, he said. His agent is also in New York.
But even as his career takes off, he has no plans to move from Woodbine, and will continue to keep his skills sharp locally — in part by jumping off the platform in his backyard.
"It's like sports. You practice all the time so when it comes time to do (a stunt), it shouldn't be an issue," he said. "…The reality of it is, you can't balk."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun