One of Bradley Stryker’s first jobs was selling The Seattle Times door to door, which he called his first chance to conduct “character studies.” Long before performing was his profession, though, Stryker took up acting by accident.

An unconventional path has yielded a fruitful career for Stryker, who appears most recently as Sheriff Wilkins in the new Netflix cult thriller “Devil in Ohio,” streaming now.

Born in Eugene, Oregon, Stryker moved to Seattle when he was 2. His family eventually settled in Bothell, and he first found drama off the stage.

“I actually grew up playing sports. I played all over Seattle,” he said. “Then I traveled all over the country playing for the AAU basketball team.”

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Stryker couldn’t help but bring a theatrical element to his athletic efforts.

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“The only reason I got onto the teams was that I was essentially entertaining,” he said. “I was the fun little guy. But whenever any sort of any conflict broke out, I’d be the first one off the bench.”

During the heat of competition, Stryker’s natural acting abilities paid off.

“I developed this skill set that showcased a certain temperament that I knew would scare people,” he said. “Which is something that I then proceeded to use a lot when professional acting, in a very weird way.”

Stryker has since amassed a long list of impressive credits, including turns on “Family Law,” “Angel,” “The O.C.,” “CSI: NY,” “Smallville” and more. In recent years, the 45-year-old’s tough, ruggedly handsome presence has helped land recurring parts in “Chesapeake Shores,” “Damnation” and “Devil In Ohio.”

But while a cutthroat edge was key to Stryker’s success in sports, he has never “bought in to” competitiveness in acting. Instead, Stryker said he’s always learning to become a better performer, no matter how many roles he’s played.

“I’m always looking into my growth and gaining forward momentum as an actor. Otherwise I’m stagnating,” he said. “It’s a tricky thing to do, because, in order to do this job, you have to be living in the moment. But you have to constantly be thinking about growing and getting better, too.”

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After being cast as Sheriff Wilkins in “Devil In Ohio,” Stryker sought to build and enhance the character by plunging into the source material books written by Daria Polatin, who also serves as the showrunner for Netflix’s adaptation.

Loosely based on a true story, “Devil In Ohio” revolves around Dr. Suzanne Mathis (Emily Deschanel), a psychiatrist who shelters a mysterious teenage cult escapee. Soon after the arrival, Mathis’ personal life starts to unravel.

Wilkins acts as the link between the cult and the outside world. He is perhaps not as trustworthy as his title suggests.

“I did all this research. I looked at pictures of the actual people that could have inspired [Sheriff Wilkins]. There’s no one smiling. I knew I had to have just enough charm to be able to get away with what he does,” Stryker said about his latest character.

“But he couldn’t just go around being stern and angry. He had to go around in a way that wouldn’t always raise alarms,” the actor said of Wilkins. “That was a high-wire walk that I had to balance. It was really fun to do.”

Stryker hopes audiences get as much entertainment from “Devil In Ohio” as he did bringing the character to life.

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“I want people to be entertained, maybe get a little scared, have a really good time,” he said.

But he insists, also, that there are deeper lessons to take from the show.

“Our main character sacrifices so much for another human being. We’re always encountering different human beings. It’s really easy to ignore them and just walk right past,” Stryker said. “It’d be nice if people can come out of this with a little more perspective and a lot more empathy.”

Stryker’s serious foray into acting began during a summer visit to New York City for fashion week years ago. Stryker realized he “didn’t like that particular world” but “stumbled into a couple of acting classes” and a lightbulb went off.

When he returned to San Diego State University to finish his senior year, a missing credit cemented Stryker’s direction on his life path.

“I saw the drama department and I still needed a freshman elective. I walked across the quad, went in there, and I ended up taking that class,” he said. “After that, it was a done deal.”

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Stryker saw acting as a chance to explore his own psyche. That inclination led to a career playing all sorts of different characters.

“To do this job, you have to know yourself and be willing to access yourself in all these ways more than any other human being will ever be asked to,” the actor said. “I had to be able to access all the good, the bad and the ugly in myself at a very young age. I quickly learned that I loved that challenge.”

To see Stryker’s latest work, check out “Devil in Ohio” on Netflix now.

“Devil In Ohio”

The entire first season of “Devil In Ohio” is available to stream on Netflix.

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