"American Sniper" Actor: PA Grad and Former Navy SEAL
Kevin Lacz is a military veteran and physician assistant
(PA) whose career path has come full circle. Before graduation from the PA
program at Wake Forest School of Medicine in August 2014, he was a U.S. Navy
SEAL serving as a platoon sniper, combat medic and breacher (getting himself
and his team into closed spaces).
While a PA student here, his career took a fascinating turn
when he was approached to become an advisor and later an actor in the Clint
Eastwood-directed movie “American Sniper” starring Bradley Cooper.
PA Profession and Military Connections
During his time in the Navy, Lacz served as a Special
Operations Combat Medic, so the medical field seemed like a natural next step
for him as he entered civilian life. Many military veterans are drawn to the PA
field in particular and have been since the profession’s start in 1965.
“The PA profession was, in fact, modeled on the fast-track
training of physicians during World War II, so the profession’s connection to
the military is longstanding, said Reamer Bushardt, PharmD, PA-C, professor and
chair, Department of PA Studies.
“Military medics have a lot to offer due to the experiences
they’ve had, the patients they’ve seen and the overall stress they have
endured,” said Lacz. “I think that enriches any PA program and also helps the
profession in general.”
Lacz said the structure of our PA program capitalized on his
military background. “There is a focus on hands-on, problem-based learning,” he
said. “I knew I could excel in school and bring a lot of life experience, while
also learning a lot from the people around me.”
Our PA program is committed to offering opportunities for
veterans, said Bushardt. “With two veterans on the faculty, we can closely
examine the applications of our military applicants—many of whom have taken a
nontraditional route through college, prerequisites and patient care
experiences. We often have multiple veterans from different branches of the
military enrolled in our program.”
In 2013, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and our School
of Medicine developed a partnership with Appalachian State University to expand
PA education and workforce development. The partnership targets students from
the Appalachian region as well as U.S. military veterans with health-related
From Winston-Salem to Hollywood
While enrolled in our PA program, Lacz became involved with
“American Sniper.” Chris Kyle, one of his good friends while serving on SEAL
Team Three, wrote the book on which the movie is based.
“He was like a brother to me,” said Lacz.
After hearing that Warner Brothers had purchased the rights
to Kyle’s book, Lacz’ wife, Lindsey, contacted the script writer on Facebook
and encouraged him to stay true to the story. The writer, Jason Hall, asked for
her advice, and Lacz got involved.
“I stayed in contact with Jason while I was going through
school,” said Lacz. “I answered his technical questions, helped him paint the
picture of what it was like in Iraq, and talked about Chris Kyle.”
Lacz was eventually promoted to a technical advisor on the
film and helped train Bradley Cooper, the film’s star, on how to accurately
portray a sniper. It was Cooper who suggested that Lacz consider playing
himself in the movie. His character, “Dauber,” was already written into the
script because Lacz was mentioned in Kyle’s book.
To audition, Lacz filmed a short video on his iPhone and
sent it to the casting director. Clint Eastwood loved it, and Lacz got the job.
He took a two-month leave of absence from school to participate in the movie on
location in Morocco.
Life after “American Sniper”
Since his graduation from Wake Forest in August 2014 with a
Master’s of Medical Sciences, Lacz has been busy starting a new job as a PA at
the Andrews Institute in Pensacola, Fla., while promoting “American Sniper.”
The Andrews Institute focuses on physical medicine and rehabilitation, and it
has many patients who are veterans.
Lacz also works with veterans’ organizations—something that
acting in a well-known movie has given him more opportunities to do. “I’m
fortunate to help bring a focus on veterans and the issues they’re dealing
with, including physical injuries, the stress of combat and transitioning into
the workforce,” he said.
In addition, Lacz has mentored other SEAL medics who are
considering careers as PAs. “I help walk them through the process,” he said.
“It also gives me a chance to tell them about Wake Forest. I can honestly tell
them that Wake has a program that understands the unconventional career path
they’ve taken and can use that to set them up for success in this field.”
As for a future career in Hollywood, Lacz said it was a very
positive experience. “I don’t want to shut that door—especially if I can be an
advocate for honest portrayals of veterans in future films.”
Bushardt also shared, “While our faculty and staff are
excited about Kevin’s role in a Hollywood blockbuster, we are most proud of the
man and PA he is—a true character-driven leader rich in courage, integrity,
selflessness, empathy and a collaborative spirit.”