While actor and model Taylor Kinney has been in the public eye for years, it would be easy for celebrity tabloid readers to know him solely for his 10-season (and counting) run as Lieutenant Kelly Severide on NBC’s popular "Chicago Fire" or his past relationship with Lady Gaga. Kinney is, after all, rather private compared to many celebs. But Kinney — who hails from Amish country, attended a Mennonite high school, and has a background in carpentry — is anything but your average Hollywood heartthrob. The actor did not start acting until his mid-20s, has an intense amount of hobbies, and is an adrenaline junkie. In between shooting his own scenes, surfing, and riding motorcycles, Kinney does crossword puzzles (in case you were trying to box him in).
Kinney’s acting career started with the nighttime soap opera "Fashion House" back in 2006, and he has been working consistently ever since. In addition to "Chicago Fire" and its various spin-offs, on which he has also appeared as Severide, Kinney’s other television credits include playing an EMT in the medical drama "Trauma," a werewolf on "The Vampire Diaries," and one of Fiona’s short-lived dalliances on "Shameless." In film, Kinney’s most notable credits are the war thriller "Zero Dark Thirty," where he played a DEVGRU operator in the Navy, and "The Other Woman," where he played the charming brother of one of the main characters. Here are some untold truths to help you learn a bit more about the charismatic, handsome, and outdoorsy Taylor Kinney.
Kinney was not an actor in high school
If you thought that Kinney’s muscular frame suggested he may have been an athlete at some point, then you were correct. The buff star reportedly grew up playing volleyball for his high school — Lancaster Mennonite School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania — and was so good that the Daily Mail once claimed he was a local "hero." "Taylor was one of our best volleyball players. He was in the team with me," former teammate Eric Kinnel told the Daily Mail. "I remember he took the team to district playoffs. He had a great senior year."
According to acting superintendent Miles Yoder in the same article, Kinney didn’t pursue drama as a high schooler, instead focusing on sports and religious studies. It was not until he was a sophomore in college that Kinney began to explore acting (per USA Today). In a 2012 interview, Kinney told the newspaper that the theater class he chose as an elective "held my interest outside of the classroom more so than any other subject I’d ever taken." Still, it would be a few years before Kinney would make it to Hollywood.
He was a boxer in college
Acting was not the only thing Kinney began to explore in college, as it turns out that he also took up a new sport — boxing. Kinney’s initial interest in boxing was at least partially developed years before, when he bonded with his grandfather over the sport as a child. "My grandfather was a big boxing fan," he told Assignment X in a 2013 interview. "… you would see a fighter in the sixth, seventh round start to get fatigued, and then you’d cheer for this fighter and you can get carried away without a firsthand experience of what that’s like in a ring in the seventh round."
In the interview, Kinney likens his time training as a boxer to his training to play a firefighter in "Chicago Fire," which makes sense, as both fighting and firefighting require a great deal of energy and endurance. "I started out doing three-minute rounds and by the end of that third round, you could barely put your hands up," Kinney said of his early memories in the ring. "It’s the same thing with a firefighter. I’d look at it and say, ‘I really want to do that. And I could do that.’ And then the first onslaught of an experience training, you realize how difficult it is and how much training they have."
He spent a year in Hawaii after dropping out of college
Kinney attended college at West Virginia University — which is a four-hour drive from where he grew up — but never graduated. According to USA Today, the actor left after his junior year, when he decided to head to Hawaii. "I wanted a life experience of my own," he told the newspaper. Kinney stayed in Hawaii for a year before heading on to Tinseltown to start his acting career.
While in Hawaii, the adventurous Kinney took up a number of new hobbies, including surfing and skydiving. He still surfs, as evidenced by photos on his Instagram account — though his last photo in a wetsuit was posted in May 2020. A YouTube fan account also posted a video of him walking shirtless with a surfboard back in September 2020. We know Chicago — where Kinney lives while filming his hit TV show — is cold half the year, but we hope he found some time to ride the waves on the beach in summer 2021. Or maybe he finally got the wave pool that he posted about wanting back in 2012 (via his Facebook).
Taylor Kinney has experience in roofing
Kinney had to make money in between all of the surfing and fun while in Hawaii, and so he decided to frame houses to earn cash (per USA Today). This was a logical job for him, as he already had a background in roofing from his youth. "I spent a lot of summers on roofs and framing and I like to see my work," Kinney told Assignment X. "I like to sweat, I like to use my hands."
Like boxing, Kinney feels that roofing helped prepare him to take on the physically demanding role of a firefighter. He told the blog Talking with Tami that he is used to dealing with heights from his previous construction work, and so shooting physical scenes that require him to be far off the ground don’t faze him. "I always enjoy it," he said. According to the interview, Kinney was at one point rigged as high as 20 stories up from ground level.
He does his own stunts on Chicago Fire
Kinney’s affinity for heights has come in especially handy, given his tendency to do his own stunts on "Chicago Fire." "I like doing it," he told Talking with Tami. "But I will do as much as NBC lets me. Until ‘Captain Insurance’ won’t let me." In a different interview – this one with Entertainment Tonight – Kinney confessed that filming outside during the frigid Chicago winters was far more difficult a dilemma than the stunts themselves.
But just because he likes doing the stunts does not mean that there was not an adjustment period for Kinney. When discussing the "Chicago Fire" pilot episode with Entertainment Weekly, he admitted that there was a learning curve in terms of doing the stunts while also delivering dialogue. "There was a scene that we shot where I was repelling into the lake," he told the magazine. "I remember not having a clue what the hell I was doing … I’m running my dialogue, and it just felt so bizarre and silly."
He trained with real firefighters for Chicago Fire
Perhaps the reason Kinney really feels so confident taking on a variety of stunts is that he has had a great deal of actual firefighter training. Along with the rest of the "Chicago Fire" cast, Kinney trained with the Chicago Fire Department. According to Entertainment Tonight, this included actual simulations that required the actors to "put on the gear, pry open doors, use the Jaws of Life to dismantle a car, and enter a zero-visibility room filled with smoke to gain a better grasp of what being a fire fighter entails." Kinney recalled to Assignment X wearing 65 pounds of gear and entering a smoke-filled, extremely hot room to search for victims while barely being able to see.
In addition to simulations, Kinney also went on ride-alongs with Chicago firefighters to see what a typical shift entailed. Kinney recalled spending 24 hours at a time with the firefighters and going out on a variety of emergency calls, though he was clear to add that the actors did not actually go inside any burning buildings or bust through any crime scenes. He also stated that he could imagine becoming a firefighter himself, telling the blog, "I could see myself in that profession. I have a high respect for these guys."
He has experienced a house fire himself
"Chicago Fire" is now in season 10, and it’s clear that Kinney has a deep-rooted respect for firefighters after playing one on TV for a full decade. He also likely feels fondly about the profession because of the high number of friends he has in the field. But one other reason Kinney has an appreciation for firefighters is because of his own experience as a victim of a house fire. In fact, he told a reporter for The Jam TV Show that the house fire he experienced when he lived in a "1940s beach bungalow" in San Diego is what prompted him to become an advocate for home and fire safety and a spokesperson for First Alert.
He explained to OK! magazine how someone came banging on the window in the kitchen because the entire top of the home was on fire. "We thought it was a homeless guy messing with us. He keeps saying, ‘No, your house is on fire!’ I go outside and sure enough the top of the house is full on engulfed in flames," Kinney recalled. The actor ran back in just long enough to get his three friends to exit the house, and for some reason, a phone charger and record player were the two things he grabbed when he left the flaming abode.
Taylor Kinney enjoyed playing supernatural in Vampire Diaries
There is no question that Kinney absolutely loves playing a first responder — he makes that clear in just about every interview about "Chicago Fire." He even played an EMT before, when he was a regular on NBC’s "Trauma" a couple of years before he rose to "Chicago" stardom. Then again, the actor may simply be the kind of guy who likes whatever is thrown at him, because he seemed similarly enthused to play a supernatural character in "The Vampire Diaries" back in the day.
Kinney played werewolf Mason Lockwood on "The Vampire Diaries" in 2010 and 2011. "To do something at the other end of the spectrum (from ‘Trauma’) is amazing. Being a supernatural character really brings out the kid in you," Kinney told Page Six in 2010. He especially seemed to appreciate the transformation scenes, wherein his character would convert into a werewolf. "As an actor, it’s all about showing that internal struggle and making it real. To let those demons out is such a huge cross to bear. And to do it once a month is excruciating," he said. All told, Kinney appeared in 10 episodes of "The Vampire Diaries," which went off the air in 2017.
He has varied interests and hobbies
With a thriving Hollywood career, one has to wonder where Kinney gets the time to practice all of his many hobbies and interests. In addition to surfing the waves in San Diego, Kinney has a love of the outdoors more generally, which includes spending time in the woods and boating. "You don’t need a boat. I don’t want to buy a boat. You just need a friend with a boat," he once told The Jam Show.
But it is not just the water Kinney likes — he is also a fan of walking and driving his motorcycle for hours at a time, according to USA Today. He has indoor hobbies as well, which is a good thing in a city as cold as Chicago. Kinney is a fan of painting (via Us magazine) and crossword puzzles (per The Jam Show). "My Google history is all crossword answers," he admitted to the host in a 2019 on-set interview.
He was once engaged to Lady Gaga
Kinney’s acting is his bread and butter, but the "Chicago Fire" actor was not exactly a tabloid phenom until he started dating one of the world’s biggest pop stars, Lady Gaga, back in 2011. The two met on the set of Gaga’s video for "You and I," and they were engaged in 2015 (per Us magazine). "I really can’t imagine being with anyone other than who I’m with right now," Lady Gaga told Howard Stern in an interview around the time of their engagement. While her instincts for music are great, it turns out that Gaga’s not the best at love. She and Kinney broke up in 2016, and she has since had another failed engagement (with Christian Carino).
At one point, it seemed as though there may be some bad blood between Kinney and Gaga. In February 2017, Kinney was criticized for "liking" a negative tweet about the singer, which patted him on the back for escaping her clutches (per Us magazine). Kinney quickly clarified that he liked the tweet by accident, though only after fans began to call him out for being shady. Just a year before, he spoke quite highly about his former flame. "I’ll tell you that I’m really proud. I don’t know. It’s watching someone live their dream, so, continued success and I hope it keeps climbing," he told Entertainment Weekly in response to Lady Gaga’s "A Star is Born" accomplishments.
He has participated in the Chicago polar plunge
While he has complained about filming outdoor scenes in the height of Chicago winters, Kinney has no problem getting cold and wet for a good cause — the polar plunge, a Chicago tradition where people go for a swim in Lake Michigan in the middle of winter in order to benefit the Special Olympics.
There is photographic evidence of Kinney taking the plunge in 2015, when he was engaged to Lady Gaga. The photos show a shirtless Kinney fully immersed in the icy water, which he did alongside Gaga, actor Vince Vaughan, and 4,500 others. In a March 2021 interview on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," Kinney and Fallon discussed having previously met at one of the plunges, though neither was sure of what year that had occurred (Kinney said he has taken the plunge four times thus far). "I remember you had a suit on and you went all just, like, full suit," Kinney told the host. "And I go, well, ‘how’s he going to get out? That’s got to be, like, triple as cold."
He’s not into deep dish Chicago pizza
As one of four sons of a working single mother, Kinney grew up eating easy meals — "I grew up on fish sticks and meatloaf and leftover fish sticks," he recalled on Jimmy Fallon’s show – and it was not until he was older that he started to make more active choices in his food consumption. He started grilling in high school and eventually even started having grilling competitions with his three brothers.
Though he may cook for himself now, Kinney does mention eating out in many interviews — like one in Chicago magazine, where he namechecked the clams at his favorite restaurant, Viaggio. But because he lives in one of the big pizza cities, Kinney also fields many questions about deep dish — of which he is not a fan. "Overrated," he told the New York Daily News in 2017. "Sorry Chicago, it’s the only thing I don’t like." He discussed pizza again with daytime talk show host Kelly Clarkson in January 2021, telling the talk show host he preferred thin crust, adding, "Which doesn’t really bode well for the locals in Chicago. They like the deep-dish stuff." Honestly, we are surprised they have let him work and live in the Windy City talking like that.
He co-owns an entertainment venue in his hometown
Kinney has retained deep roots in his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is the heart of Amish country. Back when he was dating Lady Gaga, the Daily Mail reported that the couple purchased a mountain home near Lancaster, and that the duo was seen all over town — including at church. Nice guy that he is, there are even reports of Kinney helping a driver left stranded by a blown tire (via The Philly Voice).
Family, friends, and church aside, Kinney now has even more reason to visit Lancaster, as he invested in a business there in 2019 (per Penn Live). Kinney is part-owner of Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse, a restaurant, distillery, and theatre in his hometown. According to its website, Zoetropolis’ original location was a small art house theatre that opened up in the 1990s. Kinney’s investment helped the business expand to include a restaurant and distillery. "It’s a small theatre. We do independent film, documentaries, live music," he told Jimmy Fallon. "It’s not a big venue, maybe 90-person capacity, pre-COVID." Speaking of COVID, Kinney was seen helping his staff out with takeout orders in March 2020 (per Lancaster Online).