If, on a dull day on the set, the boys of "Homicide" ever get around to playing a key childhood game -- who had the best summer vacation? -- five'll get you 10 that Kyle Secor, the tall, quiet young man who plays Det. Tim Bayliss, wins hands down.
Reason: His summer vacation movie opened No. 3 in the top 10, earning more than $9 million.
Yaphet Kotto and Richard Belzer's "Puppet Masters"? You've got to be kidding. It went nowhere! Ned Beatty's "Radioland Murders"? Into El Tanko!
But "Drop Zone," which features Wesley Snipes as a sky-diving U.S. Marshal and Secor in a brief but showy part as "Swoop," a bearded, crazed gravity junkie and free spirit, looks to be the Christmas season's biggest action thing, despite indifferent critics.
"Oh, I had a lot to do with its success," laughs Secor, who is discovered in a Fells Point coffeehouse looking a little like Christopher Marlowe plotting against the crown with two dark and swarthy types. It's an odd pairing because the young man is one of those fresh-faced, eternally youthful collegiate types who could possibly star in "The Rudy Vallee Story" or "The Sonny Tufts Story," when they get around to making those doubtlessly important films. His companions look as if they've been boosting trucks or pulling dark-of-night jobs. But they scurry away to continue their plots out of a reporter's earshot, and you think: Oh. He was conducting research.
The actor is lanky and crane-like, if a little nearsighted -- he wears, out of detective's suit uniform, some kind of thatchy, collarless shirt and oval Trotsky glasses. He's a surprisingly animated presence, which stands in great contrast to the dour neuroticism of the character he plays on "Homicide," a rookie detective consumed with self-doubts, rigid with duty angst and occasionally given to bursts of distemper -- as when he pulled a gun on a liquor store owner.
In life, Kyle Secor doesn't look like he'd pull a gun on a charging moose, but rather charm the animal out of its meanness. It's that Secor that director John Badham's camera registered in "Drop Zone."
"I looked at the script," Secor confesses, "and there wasn't a great deal there."
But Badham must have looked at him and seen a great deal. For, under a beard and a mass of unkempt hair, Secor's Swoop is one of the best things in the film, a gleeful maniac who manages to matter where little else does in the pell-mell and often nonsensical forward rush of plot and special effect.
"It wasn't a huge part," he says, "but there were certain elements to it that attracted me. For one thing, I'd never worked on a big film before, with blue screen and huge special effects and stunt work, and that was a gas. And then there was Florida, getting to go down there. And I got to hang out with scuba and sky-divers, a blast. It was a really good time."
One of the biggest thrills now, he says, is to watch the film with an audience and groove on the way they get into it: "Wow," he says, "it's kind of exhilarating."
The summer gone, he's back in school: That is, back in the daily grind of producing the innovative cop show, in a city he never heard of when he was growing up outside Seattle.
"If I had to circle on a map the cities where I thought I'd end up, Baltimore definitely wouldn't be one of them," he admits. But he also admits he's come to like it here.
"It's odd, but I really like to watch the seasons change. I spent 11 years in L.A., and the seasons never changed. Here, I have to get my car winterized. I have to put something around my neck. It's amazing. It's great."
He lives in an apartment not far from "Homicide's" principal set and eats all his meals out. "I love the restaurants in this town," he says. "When I cook, it's strictly a rice and beans warm-up kind of thing."
And the movie theaters: "I go to the Orpheum, the Charles and the Senator a lot," he says, noting that there came a sea-change about halfway through this, "Homicide's" second year (it was the episode of the coffin), when people began to recognize him around town. But still he goes to the movies and sounds like any art film fan: "Did you see that Chinese film 'Women from the Lake of Scented Souls'? I never thought I'd be watching a movie about a sesame oil factory. But it was good."
The "Homicide" pace can be grueling. "We go from one episode to the next. It's tough. I think it was only this year, over the last three episodes, that I finally realized that if you're going to do something of quality, you have to do it on a day-to-day basis."
And he's had to make peace with the fact that as the episodes play out, he'll do more in some than in others. "I like having a lot of work. I'm also fine with not working -- you get paid the same. The hard thing has always been feeling like a highly paid extra."