Set Yourself On Fire With Kate Rogal

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Kate Rogal leaned forward and put her elbows on her knees, her forearms dangled between her legs. She wore a sapphire blue Betsey Johnson dress and combat boots. Swearing like a sailor and modeling like a siren, her black curls all fell to the side when she cocked her head as if to say “Get a load of this…” before she launched into some of the most embarrassing stories I’ve ever heard.

Rogal, 25, is easy to talk to, disarmingly funny, and about as go-with-the-flow as they come. She tells personal escapades as though they’re subject to the Freedom of Information Act—ironically, through videotape and court reports, some of them actually are—but it’s clearly more out of an openly conversational personality than any tell-all compulsion you encounter with some who take the stage. A story that began with her affinity for cheap thrills ended up explaining the uncomplicated decision of breast reduction before leaving high school.

Kate and her family are in Las Vegas. Being seventeen, and therefore too young to skydive, her dad asks if she’d like to go bungee jumping. She’s wearing a tank top with a built in bra that supports from underneath. You can imagine what’s coming.

But like so many things, the art is in the telling.

“As soon as the cord went taut, my enormous breasts flew out and started slapping me in the face,” she laughed. “I can’t believe I didn’t lose a tooth. I could hear my dad as I was bouncing up and down trying to get them back in my shirt and he’s going ‘Jesuuus Chriiist’ and my mom’s crying hysterically and all the people down at the bottom are like, ‘This is the best day ever!’”

And perhaps this follow-up is indicative of where Rogal gets her sense of humor, “We still have the tape and my dad plays it on Thanksgiving.”

By the grace of divine intervention, you can’t see much from the camera’s angle—even if by all accounts there was a lot to see. Hilarious as it is, this story also reveals a small sliver of the enormous reserve of wild ass within Kate Rogal.

Graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in 2006 with a BFA from the Drama Department, she also apprenticed with the United Stuntman’s Association. (When I joked that it sounded like an organization that should require a tattoo or branding at initiation, she instantly replied, “No tattoo, but I did get a thong.”)

In a story that only she could tell, Kate and her friends were pulled over for speeding near Lake Powell on their road trip to “fake fight camp.” Now because Sunday is a holy day in Utah, if the 4th of July should fall on one, they move all festivities up a day. This is how Kate came to be sitting outside of Kane County Prison in a bikini watching fireworks explode above her as a highway patrolman pulled innumerous, enormous fake swords and knives out of a car that they had just been asked to vacate and had then inadvertently locked themselves out of on the 3rd of July. Let’s not even get into the fake I.D.s.

Stunt camp, which she eventually arrived at and graduated from, consists of learning how to do nearly everything you’ve seen on television and in the movies. Activities include breaking lots of glass, driving recklessly (the guy that taught this had all of his teeth fused together in a metal plate), jumping off of buildings, and launching yourself off of Air Rams (one guy in her class shattered his ankle when the people chasing him with the airbag missed). And of course, the flames.

When I told her she was the first MANIAC Undercover to practice self-ignition Kate replied, “That’s awesome! Maybe we can set you on fire?!” and her jade eyes flickered as she said it.

Attending these trainings however, has allowed her to differentiate herself in a sea of actors with the following qualification: “recognized by the Society of American Fight Directors as an actor combatant in rapier and dagger, broadsword, hand-to-hand combat and single sword.”

How many people can claim that on their resumé?

She laughed, “I’m really only a pretend badass,” but something about the familiarity with which she handled a knife in demonstration gave me pause.

Kate Rogal has done plenty of fire-free acting, as well. Interestingly, her first job out of college had her appear as Paulie’s lady-of-the-evening in an episode of The Sopranos. (“Yeah, I took a lot of guff for that one.”) Since then, she’s appeared in The Kill Point, The Narrows, and Cashmere Mafia. Starting this February, Kate will be teaming up with the acclaimed Pittsburgh playwright, James McManus, in an off-Broadway production of Cherry Smoke. And you should also keep an eye out for her in an upcoming episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent. “It’s about a T.V. chef who, well, I don’t want to ruin it for you,” she said.

Of the industry that has built and broken the dreams of inestimable people, Rogal had this sobering thought:

“There are times you don’t get the part because your hair’s not the right color, you’re an inch too tall or too short. It’s heartbreaking but you have to roll with the punches. I’m not looking to be famous or anything, I’m not looking to be the next superstar. I just want to have a career that lasts, doing what I love to do, which happens to be acting. I just want to be able to support myself and the people I love. It is such a great gift to be able to do that. If you like your job, then you’re a step ahead.”

And if you like your job and carry yourself with an easy loveliness that’s only enhanced by a huge set of… dirty jokes (of which that lame attempt at innuendo would rank quite tame), then you’ve got a lot going for you. And of course there’s the loving boyfriend, loyal dog and hilarious family.

A note on that family aside from the already-mentioned, traumatized father of bungee-jumping fame. You may recognize Kate’s mother, Lori, as the machinegun-toting heroine from George A. Romero’s 1985 zombie classic, Day of the Dead. What’s more, Lori’s father (Kate’s grandfather) is local legend Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille, host of Chiller Theatre.

So maybe it’s influences like these that have created the girl before me who, while mumbling through a bite of strawberry shortcake, remarked that when she had bad days as a bartender she’d tell herself, “At least I’m not cutting off heads at the morgue for a living,” and who once went as Tom Selleck for Halloween, and who loves Stephen King, and who has no problem with habitually getting cast as a prostitute or a lesbian.

“At least I’m not cast as the Nazi.”

And as she moved like mercury from pose to pose for the shoot, dolled up in a couple hours worth of makeup and hair mastery, she moved fluidly too through various details about herself. A Steelers tattoo, an unapologetic love for studio wrestling and a hopeless crush on Gina Carano… Her knack for doing all the nude scenes in college, her penchant for “the Yinzer” as a dialect and the process by which she recently had two feet of intestines removed…

There exists in her not a trifle of taboo nor an ounce of oy vey. She presents herself as an open book of spells, as alluring in incantation as she is potentially dangerous in use.

Careful though that you aren’t the one who ends up in flames.

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