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Beloved Latter-day Saint actor Kirby Heyborne reflects on acting career and how he became an award-winning audiobook narrator

by | Apr. 10, 2021

Kirby Heyborne is best known for his starring roles in The R.M. and The Best Two Years. You may also remember his supporting role in The Singles Ward where he famously opened his mission call to discover he was going to Boise, Idaho. And while Heyborne has had subsequent acting roles, including a dream role in The Three Stooges, his career has taken him places he never imagined. He describes his discovery of a talent in audiobook narrating as God opening a window—a way for him to continue to entertain while also providing stability for his family. Heyborne has since narrated over 1,000 books and has been the recipient of the highest honor given by the American Library Association for young adult narration—The Odyssey Award. He is now the host of BYUtv’s Making Good. On this week’s episode of All In, Heyborne recounted how he has seen God open doors and windows in his life. 

Listen to the full episode here or in the player below. You can also read a transcript of the entire interview here.

Morgan Jones: Those movies made such an impression on a generation of Latter-day Saints; I think a good portion of us can probably quote something from one of those movies, and it comes up in just everyday conversation. How did you see the movies making an impact [on people], and did that make an impression on you?

Kirby Heyborne: So, in the beginning, I had no clue that people would like them. I just was happy to be on set with these guys. And be part of, like I said, this family and this brotherhood. It wasn't until after a couple of years, after Best Two Years came out. It's so amazing to have people say, "Because of the character Elder Calhoun, I decided to go on a mission." Or "Because of the movie Best Two Years, I converted to the Church." I've had a number of people say that they didn't understand what the Church was until they saw Best Two Years, and when they saw that they're just these young, beautiful, earnest, young men and young women serving these missions, that's when they realized, oh, they're not some mysterious cult or weird people doing weird things. They're just kids really doing their best. And that made them want to open up the doors to the missionaries. And I love that. I love that that movie is so important to some people. 

I was in line with somebody at  . . . what are the shaved ice places? You know, all over Utah?

Morgan Jones: Yeah, the little like huts?

Kirby Heyborne: Yeah, the little hut things. And there's a man who is really large, like, I think at least eight feet tall, I'm not exaggerating . . . nah, a little bit. And he saw me in line and he turned around, and he started crying, saying, because of Best Two Years, he came back to the Church. And I love that. And I know it wasn't me. I just was playing a character, but I was a part of something that helped bring people back to the fold or even initially into the fold or encourage them to go on a mission. That's a beautiful thing to be a part of that. And. . . that's what Heavenly Father has wanted me to do, and this was just one small treasure that I've been able to see some of the fruit, seeing these people happy.

Morgan Jones: I want to talk a little bit about what you've been doing since those movies because I think you've had a fascinating career. What a lot of people don't know is that you are an award-winning audiobook narrator. So tell me how one gets into audiobook narrating. I listened to a podcast where you talked about this, and I was so impressed by your perspective and recognizing that this was something . . . an opportunity that God had given you. So I'd love to hear a little bit more about that.

Kirby Heyborne: Oh, that's absolutely the case. I firmly believe that we think we know who we are and what our path is supposed to be, and so we ignore times when God opens up a window of opportunity. We think, "No, this is the way that I'm supposed to go. I want to be the titular character in a sitcom. That's why we moved to Los Angeles, was so that I could be, you know, the main guy on a sitcom." But along the way, Heavenly Father was opening these windows of opportunity saying, "This is what you can do. This is how you can bring more joy and more happiness to people," and it was the audiobook world.

I was in a play in Los Angeles about a year after we moved there. Struggling, you know, we moved with nothing, and we're in LA and I'm taking jobs, shredding legal documents, and auditioning for commercials. I had booked a couple of commercials but still, I needed to support my family. We had two kids at the time, babies like two, and then six months. They were babies. Anyway, I did a play in Los Angeles, and I hate plays. I love watching them, I hate being in them because I do improv and I like to just make up stuff off-the-cuff. Or when you're filming a movie or a TV show, you only need to know like two pages of the script a day, and then you forget it. And even then, I'm an improv guy so I don't even know all the lines then. I make them up.

And so to have to know the whole play every night . . . I don't know if I'm lazy, or I just don't have that much brain capacity. So I counseled with my wife, and she said, "This is an opportunity, you should take it. We came to LA so that you can be an actor. And this is another opportunity, another iron that you can put in your fire, another way for us to make money, you're moving forward in your career"—so I did it. 

And I didn't know that the sound designer of the play—that's the person that makes the sound effects. If there's raindrops or music, they're the person that designed it. And then they push play in the appropriate parts during the performance, so that the audience gets that aural experience—he happened to be the executive producer for Random House books on tape, which 20 years ago was the biggest, and still is, the world's biggest audiobook and regular publisher, Penguin Random House. He was doing a favor for the author of the play, and he came up to me and said, "Are you interested in doing an audiobook?" And I thought, "What's an audiobook?" And then he explained what they do and I said I would love to. 

And I was so thankful that . . . I like to think that it was me, but it was my wife really, hearing the windows that Heavenly Father was opening. Hearing the little creeks. You know, "Here's a window," that we took that opportunity and because of that, I was able to provide for my family.

Lead Image: Courtesy of BYUtv.
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