Kansas City native Alex Neustaedter may only be 26 years old, but his acting resume is already longer than most performers twice his age. He has starred in a movie directed by Meg Ryan, played a key role in the popular sci-fi series “Colony,” and recently completed the second season of Prime Video’s “American Rust alongside legendary actor Jeff Daniels.

In addition to his acting, Neustaedter is an avid outdoorsman who loves to hit the trails, boulders, ski slopes, and waves whenever he can. Terrain spoke with Neustaedter about his passion for outdoor recreation, the similarities between acting and surfing, and working with Daniels.

You’re a huge outdoors guy. You hike, climb, fish, ride dirt bikes, snowboard, and surf. Did this start at an early age?
Yes. I grew up camping with my school (Community School #1 in Mission Hills, Kansas). That was my first foray into the outdoors. Then my parents and I would often go to the Ozarks and lakes around Kansas City. My dad got a Jet Ski, and we would always take it out with friends. The first time I got the exploring bug was on a school trip in the fifth grade to Peru. We went to the Amazon rainforest, and then we went to Cusco and Machu Picchu. That trip fueled the fire for exploration and travel. It’s something I’ve been seeking and doing ever since.

Alex enjoys riding dirt bikes, among many other adrenaline-pumping pursuits. (Courtesy of Alex Neustaedter)

What’s your favorite outdoor activity these days?
Honestly, whatever I can get my hands on. I’ve been climbing a lot lately. That’s a new thing that I’ve been gravitating towards because the community is so awesome and supportive. It’s been fun to learn from people way better than me and to challenge myself. But if it’s snowboarding season, then that will become my focus. And same with surfing and all these other sports. Whichever one I’m doing, it’s keeping me present and excited and feeling alive, and I’m super grateful for that.

In “American Rust,” you play a former high school football star who uses his muscle to both protect and harm others. Did you have to bulk up for the role?
I did. In the book (American Rust by Philipp Meyer), the character is something like 6’2” and 220 pounds — this Goliath linebacker. When I first auditioned, I was probably 157 pounds, and I was like, there’s no chance I’m getting this. [The casting people] were really into my tape and my read, but they definitely mentioned they would love for me to pack on weight. So that became my full-time job, eating as much as I could every day. I was up to almost 5,000 calories a day and lifting heavy weights. Then two days before we were supposed to start shooting, Covid happened, and I essentially had a whole additional year to prepare. I put on 35 pounds. It was a fun challenge.

In “American Rust,” Alex plays Billy Poe, the troubled son of Maura Tierney’s Grace Poe. (Prime Video)

By the way, where do you climb?
Recently I’ve been climbing at bouldering gyms in LA. Like Cliffs of Id and the Post. My friends and I have been talking about going to Joshua Tree to do some outdoor climbing. My buddy and I have a day planned where we want to wake up early, fish the LA River for carp, and then climb in the old zoo. These areas that had the polar bears have these cool rock formations that you can kind of sneak into and climb. The main outdoor areas I’ve climbed are in Pennsylvania. But I want to get way more into outdoor climbing.

What’s the biggest difference between LA hiking and Midwest hiking?
Well, the elevation is the biggest difference. In LA and the surrounding areas, you can get some serious elevation, whereas near Kansas City, it’s not crazy elevation. Also, LA doesn’t have as many ticks. I can’t stand ticks. That’s my number one beef and my number one rival in the outdoors.

Alex riding a wave somewhere far from Kansas City. (Courtesy of Alex Neustaedter)

You’re a skilled surfer. Got any tips for others?
Surfing is the hardest sport I’ve ever done. By comparison, when you’re learning how to snowboard, the whole time you’re going down the mountain, you’re learning. Surfing is 90 percent paddling and waiting. The actual time spent surfing, especially when you’re beginning, is maybe 5 to 10 percent of your time in the water. So the learning curve is much greater because you have to spend so much more time failing. That discourages a lot of people, and it’s something you just have to stick with. But once you get it, it’s very addicting.

With all the waiting around to perform, surfing must be a lot like acting, right?
That’s a good analogy. I think that’s spot-on because when you’re trying to book a job or you’re kind of waiting for a set (of waves), sometimes you’re not in the right position for it or you miss it. One thing I love about surfing is it makes you completely okay with failure. There’s a stigma sometimes that you’re not supposed to fail, that failing is bad. But I’ve changed my perspective on that and tried to embrace failure because failure is how you learn. It relates well to acting. Also, the patience is similar. Sometimes you just have to sit there and be present and calm your mind. That’s something that’s hard to do in this day and age.

Alex likes to fish. And rep the Chiefs. (Courtesy of Alex Neustaedter)

How often do you get back to the Midwest?
I go back a couple times a year now. For the past couple years, when I worked in Pittsburgh, I drove across the country. Every time I go through the middle of the country, I make sure I go through Kansas City and see all my family and friends and go get barbecue from Joe’s. Then I try and catch a Chiefs game if I can with friends. It always feels like home to me. I cherish the people and the memories I had growing up there.

Will there be a season three of “American Rust”?
I don’t know. We hope so, but I don’t know how that’s shaping up. The writers and everyone would love it, but I think it’s ultimately up to what Amazon wants to do, and we shall see.

That’s Jeff Daniels in the background — trust us. (Dennis Mong/SHOWTIME)

Finally, what’s it like working with Jeff Daniels?
He’s a legend in my eyes, and it’s been eye-opening to work with him and see how he carries himself and see how hungry he is, even as accomplished as he is. I remember we had just finished season one and I was in New York, and he invited us to watch him on Broadway in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And he essentially went straight from working nonstop for about six months on the show to doing a full-time run of this play. And he was so excited and so ecstatic after. I saw the light in his eyes and how passionate he was about it. For me, seeing him like that after he’s had this storied career, it’s super inspiring. It got me fired up. I was like, I have no excuse to not ever be fully stoked to do something that I love so much.

“American Rust” is now streaming on Prime Video and Freevee.

Author: Shawn Donnelly is the managing editor of Terrain Magazine.

Top photo: Courtesy of Alex Neustaedter.