TV News & Reviews

From Ruskin to ‘Restless:’ KC actor lands role on television’s biggest soap

“Kansas City gave me the foundation that I needed to have to find success,” says Darnell Kirkwood, a Kansas City-born actor now living in Los Angeles. Kirkwood was just awarded his breakthrough role as Jordan Wilde on the No. 1 daytime soap opera “The Young and the Restless.”
“Kansas City gave me the foundation that I needed to have to find success,” says Darnell Kirkwood, a Kansas City-born actor now living in Los Angeles. Kirkwood was just awarded his breakthrough role as Jordan Wilde on the No. 1 daytime soap opera “The Young and the Restless.”

The No. 1 daytime soap opera on television just added a new face — a Kansas City face.

Darnell Kirkwood, 32, a Kansas City-born actor and model, has joined CBS’ “The Young and the Restless” as recurring character Jordan Wilde, a “sexy photographer with swagger,” as the network describes him. The casting is Kirkwood’s first major recurring role after small stints on shows like Amazon’s “Bosch,” CBS’ “Scorpion,” “Magic City” on Starz and “Burn Notice” on the USA Network.

Kirkwood, a 2003 graduate of Ruskin High School, started out on an athletic career track. He played basketball on scholarship for Otero Junior College in Colorado and Lynn University in Florida before moving to Europe in 2007, where he played professional basketball and was introduced to modeling.

After a career-ending basketball injury in 2009, however, he returned to the States and juggled jobs as a server, emcee, athletic coach and trainer before signing with talent agencies for modeling and acting.

He moved to L.A. three years ago and began landing minor roles on major network shows. Then last December his agent pointed him to the casting call for “The Young and the Restless,” one of the few remaining daytime soaps. That would lead to the biggest role of Kirkwood’s career.

After debuting as Jordan last month, Kirkwood talked to The Star about how he went from south Kansas City to one of TV’s greatest franchises, how he found good barbecue in L.A. and what he’d do if someone accidentally gave him an Academy Award that wasn’t his.

Q: What do you consider your “big break”?

A: In television, I would say “Scorpion.” Getting that credit and having it be on a great network like CBS, I think that gave me a little bit of leverage. But I do believe this role on “The Young and the Restless” will be my breakout role.

Q: Most of your early work has been for prime-time TV. Has there been a learning curve transitioning to daytime television?

A: Ah, man. Daytime is 100 percent its own type of beast! We have to shoot an episode a day, so the turnover time between takes is a lot quicker. You can’t really make anything precious with daytime. You’re constantly moving to the next scene, then the next scene.

So you really have to do your homework and come in prepared and be ready to move on to the next story. In prime-time TV you do multiple shots from different angles, the same scene. There’s just no time in daytime.

Q: Did you ever imagine yourself working on a soap opera?

A: Yeah, for sure, actually. There’s a lot of great actors who come from soap operas. Soaps are really their own world.

For one, you get a chance to work a lot. As an actor you know if you’re working on a soap opera, shooting an episode a day, there’s a lot of opportunity to be seen throughout the year, whereas if you’re working a prime-time show you’re shooting a couple months out of the year and then you’re off.

Q: How would you describe your character, Jordan Wilde?

A: He comes from humble beginnings and through that fought his way to where he’s at. I think that influences his photography on that show. He’s the best at what he does.

He also has a charm about him and a swagger. There’s a lot of me in Jordan.

Q: What family back home do you think was the most excited to hear you got this job?

A: I have to say it’s a two-way tie between my mother and uncle.

My mother’s the type that every little thing I do she wants to know about it and know the details. I think it makes her proud to know that I was able to leave home and pursue my dreams and have them come true. It’s like we did it together. Because that’s my best friend, that’s my life, we did it together.

My uncle, it’s a crazy story (laughter). I got the news I’d be on “The Young and the Restless” the week before Christmas. So I came home for the holidays, and I hadn’t told anyone but my mother.

So the whole family, we’re getting together for New Year’s Eve and my uncle walks in the house and greets me and tells me, “Oh man, I just saw you on ‘Scorpion.’ It was amazing. When I saw your scene I just looked over to your aunty and said, ‘Man, my dream is for Darnell to be on “The Young and the Restless.” That’s my favorite show.’ 

And he’s telling me this story and it’s so hard to hold back, and I’m wondering if this is a setup because I didn’t even know he watched soap operas (laughter)! My uncle’s this really super masculine man. He just doesn’t seem like the type, you wouldn’t even think it.

So when the ball dropped on the New Year, I gathered everybody and I made the announcement and he ran up the steps screaming going up and down the steps. I had to tell him, “Hold on, I got the role not you!” (laughter). I thought maybe he thought he got the role.

But he grew up watching the show with his mother, and to this day he and his mother still watch the show every single day, for over 30 years. No one can call them when “The Young and the Restless” is on. And I had no idea about that until recently.

Q: Would you say growing up in Kansas City has had an influence on your career?

A: No question. Kansas City gave me the foundation that I needed to have to find success. The street smarts, perseverance, the discipline.

Growing up where I grew up, if you didn’t have discipline you could get lost. I wouldn’t be where I am if I wasn’t surrounded by people who encouraged me to pursue my dreams and go to school and see the world.

Q: When you come home what’s on your must-do list?

A: Of course I have to have some kind of barbecue, Gates or Arthur Bryant’s.

And if I can, I love going skating. I grew up skating with my aunts at the roller rink, so if I get a chance to go to the skating rink down at Winnwood while I’m here, it’s heaven for me.

Q: Can you two step?

A: Aw, man! Yes sir! That’s what we do, hello! (laughter). You got to two step in Kansas City!

Q: I hear there aren’t any good barbecue spots in L.A. Is that true?

A: (Laughter). You’ve got to find them! I’ve found two since I’ve been here. One is really, really good. It’s called Bludso’s. The other one is right here in Studio City called Barrel & Ashes. I think Bludso’s even has a Kansas City-flavored sauce.

Q: As an actor, what kind of projects inspire and excite you the most?

A: True stories. I love films based on true stories because it educates you in such a creative way.

Q: Did you have any favorite movies from last year?

A: “Hidden Figures” I really liked. I love the risk they took with the story and I think the actresses did such a good job telling those women’s stories.

I loved “Lion,” also. The little kid actor (Sunny Pawar), he was the best actor I had seen in all those films. I was blown away by him.

And “Fences.” “Fences” took a risk just making a production out of a play. The risk there is how do you translate this and not make it boring?

Q: Did you catch the best picture snafu at the end of the Oscars?

A: I missed it, but I heard about it. The first thing I said is, “Well, Steve Harvey, at least he’s cleared now?” (laughter).

Q: How do you think you would’ve handled that situation, if someone gave you an Oscar and then had to take it back?

A: Geez. It’s going to sound super cliche and politically correct, but in that moment you have to handle yourself as a professional and recognize people make mistakes. I really don’t believe in making a scene or anything in a moment like that.

Q: If you could be given a role right now, what TV show right now and in the past would you be on?

A: Growing up, “The Cosby Show.” Bill Cosby was like a father figure to me. Whatever has happened on his personal life, that is what it is, but I would’ve loved to be his nephew or something on the show.

The other would probably be “Martin.” That would’ve been an amazing script to be on. He’s just so free with his exploration of different scenes and topics. He does a great job adding relief but also keeping it realistic.

A lot of times people try to send a message but they hammer too hard and it’s like, “OK, OK, I get it” rather than having fun and surprising your audience like, “Oh wow, he stuck that in there.”

Today it would have to be “This Is Us” on NBC or “The Night Of” on HBO.

I love how “This Is Us” addresses the intricacies of a family. I’m also appreciative of the honest way that family took in a child outside of their race and loved him as if he was their own. I’ve had amazing people take me in and help me along the way, beyond the differences.

“The Night Of” showed an amazing portrayal of how circumstances can change everything around you and about you while still wanting to root for the guy. I also loved the honesty they strived for as a whole cast and crew.

Q: Was there anyone early on who steered you toward considering acting as a profession?

A: My mother. My brother and I, we’ve always liked to entertain since we were young. People always said they could picture us being actors. They used to call us Shawn and Marlon Wayans.

So that was always an aspiration of mine, but in Kansas City when you look around, where do you go to learn acting? We didn’t have YouTube then where we could create our own content and put our stuff out there to be discovered.

My first time ever actually being on TV, my mom had seen a casting call for extras for the movie “The Fighting Temptations” in Georgia. She spent her hard-earned money to take us to Georgia to be extras on that movie, and that was my first time being on set and working with actors. Just sitting there and getting onscreen, that was a big moment for us.

So my mom was the first to allow me to leave home and my family to pursue something like that.

Q: Did you meet Beyoncé on set?

A: No. She was the only one that didn’t come out of her trailer (laughter). But everyone was cool. Steve Harvey was cool, Cuba Gooding Jr., Keith Sweat, Mike Epps. Everyone was cool. But Beyoncé, we never got to see her.

Q: Why should viewers make sure to see you as Jordan Wilde on “The Young and the Restless”?

A: To see what it’s like to see a little kid’s dreams come true.

Aaron Randle: 816-234-4060, @aaronronel

Where to watch

“The Young and the Restless” airs at 11 a.m. weekdays on CBS.