Kelly Reiter’s acting career didn’t begin glamorously.
The Chatham County native moved to Los Angeles when she was 18 for a film role she’d landed, but was immediately hit with a new reality when she showed up on set.
“In the beginning, I was brought to L.A. for a role, and when I would not be romantically involved with one of the producers, I was fired,” Reiter, who’s now 23, said. “That was sort of a rude wake up call for how things were going to go.”
Undaunted, Reiter decided she’d stay in California to pursue a career, and in short order found herself working on small independent films while working various side jobs to ensure she had enough money to pay her rent — all the while waiting for the proverbial big break.
Thanks to COVID-19, she got it. And on Friday, she’ll make her major studio debut alongside one of Hollywood’s most well-known actors — Bruce Willis — in the film “Deadlock.”
Reiter got the role of “Amy Rakestraw” in the film in a rather untraditional way, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and her connection to the film’s director, Jared Cohn.
Reiter knew Cohen from one of the first films she did when she moved to Los Angeles, where Cohn was an up-and-coming director in the independent film industry.
“I knew he (Cohn) was doing this movie with Bruce Willis, and I was so happy for him because he was so talented and this was his biggest movie at the time,” Reiter said.
The film, which turned out to be “Deadlock,” features Willis as the antagonist — very different from roles he has taken previously, including his wisecracking action hero turns in the “Die Hard” film series, comedies like “Look Who’s Talking” and the gripping thriller “The Sixth Sense.”
In “Deadlock,” a crew of mercenaries — led by Willis’ character, Ron Whitlock — hold nuclear power plant workers hostage, and it’s up to some of the hostages to try to save the day.
Reiter reached out to Cohn to ask if there were any roles for her in the film, whether as an extra or a lead.
“I said to Jared to please keep me in mind — if there is anywhere I fit, if there is anything I can do, please let me know,” she recounted.
Cohn asked the film’s producers about casting Reiter in a role, but was told she “wasn’t a big enough name” to be cast in the film. The disappointed Reiter understood, but didn’t lose hope. She kept in contact with Cohn and in January, after learning he was in Georgia for Deadlock’s production, reached out to him once more.
“I messaged him that I was in North Carolina with my family in quarantine if he needed me for anything,” she said.
Cohn and one of the film’s producers called Reiter the next day while she was out for a walk with her mother, Patricia. An actor in the cast had just tested positive for COVID, so they were looking for a replacement — and fast.
“He asked how fast could I be on set,” Reiter said.
She was asked to play the role of Rakestraw, the female lead and a welder at the nuclear plant in which the film is set. Rakestraw is the love interest of actor Patrick Muldoon’s character, Mack, who portrays the hero in the story. Reiter, as Rakestraw, would be one of the key players in the story; she’d get several scenes with Willis, and in fact is shown with his character in Deadlock’s official trailer.
Reiter was expected to be on set — which was eight hours away — by the next morning.
She said she accepted the role over the phone, then dropped to her knees and started crying.
“I started hysterically sobbing,” Reiter recalled. “We got back to the house, I’m trying to pack, my mom is yelling at my dad (Michael) trying to explain what is going on, my dad is so confused — it was quite the scene.”
Reiter made the trek to Georgia, where she spent more than a month in filming. Primary shooting took place in the middle of the pandemic, in January and February of this year.
Deadlock’s set required daily temperature checks and regular COVID testing. Reiter said she was careful to safeguard her health while filming; she knew if she tested positive for COVID, she’d be sent home and might lose the role.
She also knew one way to stay in the production was to be on set long enough to film the scenes she had with Willis.
“I knew that until I got scenes with Bruce, I could still get cut out of the movie,” she said. “If I got there, shot some scenes and then tested positive for COVID, they could still send me home — so until I got my scenes with Bruce, I was not leaving my hotel room.”
Reiter avoided cast dinner parties and outings until it was time to film her scenes with Willis. When she walked onto the set on that day, she said others in the cast could sense how nervous she was.
“I had never sat across from anyone like Bruce Willis before, so I was stressed out,” she said.
Chatham County native Kelly Reiter is in the cast of the film 'Deadlock,' which stars Bruce Willis (pictured) and Patrick Muldoon. The film will be released Dec. 3. / Courtesy of Daniel Shippey Photo
But those nerves would soon calm: as she rehearsed and filmed scenes with Willis, she said he helped to make her feel comfortable.
“He definitely started small talk and helped me ease into it, and we got close enough that, in between takes, he would come over and joke with me and rest his head on my shoulder and just banter back and forth,” Reiter said. “He made me feel so much more comfortable. He could tell that I was super nervous and he was very kind.”
Since “Deadlock” wrapped, Reiter has been offered more major film opportunities, including costarring with country music star Trace Adkins in the upcoming film “Maneater” about friends on vacation who are stalked by a large shark. The film — in which Reiter portrays a character named “Brianna” — is in post-production. She’s also traveled around the world for other film roles, including one filmed in Serbia; her IMDB page lists more than 20 films in various forms of production.
“Deadlock,” though, has been her most memorable experience — and one she hopes will serve as a springboard for her acting career.
“I can always show this movie to my kids, and just to say ‘I did that’ — it makes everything worth it to me,” she said. “I know that if I never work again, I will always have this movie.”
Reiter also has a home to come to in Chatham County, and has recently spent time with family in northern Chatham, enjoying the run-up to the Thanksgiving holiday.
“This is the first time I have gotten to slow down,” she told the News + Record. “Being able to sit down, have a cup of tea and look at the fall leaves and spend time with my family is something I’ve wanted for so long and it’s so needed.”
While she loves acting, she doesn’t want to stay in Los Angeles for the rest of her career. The culture there is too different than the small, tight-knit community Chatham County offered her.
“It’s very materialistic, wherever you go,” she said. “Whenever I go to a lunch meeting or something like that, people will look at the brand of my purse or what I look like. I’ve lost roles for things that I cannot control, but people in Los Angeles are used to it ... I don’t want to stay in Los Angeles long enough to where I become used to it.”
When in L.A., Reiter says she counts down the days to when she can see her family and friends back home again.
“I’m homesick all the time in L.A.,” she said. “I love how people are warm and friendly here, and when I go into Harris Teeter to get a coffee in Starbucks, I see half of my high school — and I see the kids that they have now and their new wedding rings.
“Walking around Pittsboro and S&T’s Soda Shop, walking around a place with so many memories and so much character with genuinely warm, good hearted people who, if you had a problem, would actually step in and help you — that’s what I miss the most,” she said. “If I feel there is a point where I can come back to North Carolina, I will in a heartbeat.”
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at email@example.com.
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