Pete Koch talks NFL to Hollywood transition, working with Clint Eastwood

It's not often an NFL player makes a transition to Hollywood and works with a legend like Clint Eastwood, but Pete Koch managed to pull that off.

By Matt Fitzgerald

Former NFL defensive lineman Pete Koch sat down with Rich Salgado on Big Daddy & Friends to discuss making his move from the gridiron to the silver screen during the 1980s and what it was like to collaborate with Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood on the film Heartbreak Ridge.

Pete Koch made the most of his NFL offseasons

Even as a first-round pick in the 1984 NFL Draft, Koch had his sights set on the movies fairly early on in his pro football career. After one season with the Cincinnati Bengals, he found a home with the Kansas City Chiefs for three of the remaining four years he’d play in the NFL. Upon landing there, he almost immediately connected with a friend and mentor who helped Koch get into the business when football wasn’t in season.

“I found an agent, and found an acting school, I found a commercial acting workshop, and I began to learn what I was doing…and have some success,” Koch said. “That began [with] me making episodic television, booking roles in feature films and shooting commercials in the offseason. And off I went.”

Pete Koch on working with Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge

One of the highlights of Koch’s career in Hollywood was collaborating with Clint Eastwood. After booking apart as the character Private “Swede” Johanson in the 1986 war film Heartbreak Ridge, Koch recalled arriving on set and taking in a unique atmosphere, as Eastwood produced, starred in, and directed the picture.

“He’s in his wardrobe, hair and makeup and he’s directing — there’s very few people in Hollywood that have ever done this,” Koch said of Eastwood. “I’m watching, a few minutes go by, there’s a break, and Clint wheels around…comes right at me…he says, ‘Hey Pete, Clint. Good to meet you. I’m so glad you made it. I’m glad you’re working with us on this film. It’s gonna be a blast.'”

Koch admired Eastwood’s leadership in that moment, because with all his high-end responsibilities on the movie, the actor-director took the time to welcome him to the set and put a young actor at ease in preparing to make a big-time studio movie at Warner Bros.

Heartbreak Ridge went on to gross $121.7 million at the box office against only a $15 million budget, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Sound.