How Paul Walter Hauser shined a powerful light on mental illness with his work on ‘Kingdom’

If there is one thing that the world still hasn’t figured out how to deal with or properly help, it’s mental illness.

A tragic and multi-faceted condition that can affect even the most innocent of minds, mental illness doesn’t care who you are or how you’re built: it is there to take you down. But the issue lies in the mess that it can create around a life, and who is gutsy enough to look deeper.

Now, The movies have illustrated many shapes and forms of mental illness in their stories, but few actors tackled it better and more effectively than Paul Walter Hauser on Byron Balasco’s “Kingdom.” The MMA-centered series found renewed life on Netflix this past summer, digging its way out of cult classic status and into the living rooms, phones, and tablets of people all across the world.

Only one or two people have written more about this show than I have, which is only slightly embarrassing. When you love something, the words come easier. I simply have a place where I can release that valve whenever the need occurs, which is right here at the Dose. But after all the spotlight pieces on Frank Grillo (Alvey), Jonathan Tucker (Jay), Nick Jonas (Nate), Kiele Sanchez (Lisa), and Matt Lauria (Ryan), it was time to dig into Hauser’s Keith.

When we first meet this lovable yet self-destructive loner, Keith is out on parole living in a house full of ex-cons, one of them being Lauria’s ex-fighter. If you ever imagined a damaged former championship fighter finding some solace in a man thrown into jail for sexually abusing an avocado, you can stop scratching those lotto tickets. Balasco beat you there.

But Hauser breathed so much vibrant life and humor into his portrayal of Keith, all the while showing flashes of the doom that troubled him. If you’ve seen the actor front and center in “Richard Jewell” or supporting in other Netflix gems such as “Cobra Kai,” you’ll know he is a highly versatile performer-and he always shows the ability to cut the silence in a juicy dramatic sequence with just the right joke or one liner.

For example, Alvey, a former MMA legend who now coaches, comes over to Ryan’s house to discuss their next fight. Before he can get out of the car, a man on a bicycle runs over Alvey’s front door of his car, breaking his clavicle. Keith comes out to the street, with a robe and some undergarments on, and tries to help the injured man. After a rude remark from the bicyclist, Keith responds with, “well, with an attitude like that sir, it’s going to be a very long day.” Most actors would just put too much into it or overcook it, but Hauser dishes it just right.

But as the series escalated, aging into its two-part second season and then the third and final season, Hauser’s role evolved into something much more dire. The laughter drained away to tears, and worse, possible physical violence. Without spoiling anything for the newcomers to the show, a gruesome murder from his childhood set Keith back decades in proper development. That’s where the pain started, and the relationship between this outcast and a fighter who really doesn’t want to fight turned into something truly memorable.

Lauria and Hauser played the shit out of it too. No shortcuts. All heart and honesty. In a way, both of these men were souls placed in the wrong body. Keith has an earnest and charismatic side that was broken beyond repair, while Ryan fights other men for a living so he can cover up the ugly side of himself that can’t be figured out. You could say they were two outcasts who stood against the wind and found a way to look at each other as real people. Other people saw projects; they just saw a friend in each other.

It’s not easy to stand out in a large ensemble, especially with scene-stealers like Tucker, Joanna Going, and Grillo. It’s like a dinner table that won’t stop moving. You grab a piece of fatty steak off the corner, and chew on it for a while in fear that nothing else is coming. Hauser took a small piece of the show-a battered mentally young man-and turned it into gold. It’s a part that hits differently every single time I watch the series.

How many times have I gone ALL THE WAY through? Six. Each trip shows me another trick up Hauser’s sleeve, in a role that must have been difficult and complex to climb into. If an actor can bring the pain and the humor inside five minutes, you got something.

The world now knows that Paul Walter Hauser’s got something: big talent. He’s also an insightful voice on Twitter. Go check him out. Scroll around.

And then watch “Kingdom,” because Balasco’s scripts are unbeatable. And then tell Netflix to greenlight another season. And then go watch other Hauser gems such as “I, Tonya,” “BlacKkKlansman,” and this year’s “Da 5 Bloods.”

And then you are allowed to sleep.

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