Hurst was born in Santa Monica, California, the son of Candace Kaniecki, an acting coach, and Rick Hurst, an actor. Hurst attended Santa Monica High School.
Growing up in a Hollywood family, Hurst made a very early start in the show business, with a recurring role in the NBC comedy, Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Hurst also gained recognition as Allison's half-brother, Michael, in Medium. Additionally, he played the football player Lump Hudson in the film The Ladykillers (2004), appeared in We Were Soldiers as Sgt. Savage, and starred in the TNT show Wanted. In Saving Private Ryan, Hurst portrayed a paratrooper who, because of temporary hearing loss, could not understand Captain Miller's questions about sighting Private Ryan, which forces Miller (played by Tom Hanks) to ask the questions in writing.
Hurst's biggest break came in FX's show, Sons of Anarchy. Originally a recurring cast member in Season 1, he was promoted to main cast member in Season 2, since he became a fan favorite. His character, Opie Winston, newly released from a five-year prison stint and "living right", but not making ends meet, gets back into SAMCRO to provide for his family, despite his wife's objections and his knowing the risks. Hurst's portrayal of Opie earned him a Satellite Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Hurst also voiced Jedidiah in the box-office hit Rango (2011).
Hurst met his wife, Molly Cookson, in 1994; they wed in May 2005. Together they founded their own production company, Fast Shoes. In April, 2013, Hurst purchased a 3,400 square-foot home in Woodland Hills, California for $1.7 million.
- Bates Motel is the second TV show that he has worked on with Kenny Johnson, who portrayed Caleb Calhoun. The two actors had roles on FX's Sons of Anarchy.
- He was initially reluctant to be cast as he felt it was too similar to other roles he had done but told Kerry Ehrin that he would accept it if he could make it personal.
- He was not the only Bates Motel actor to feature in Steven Spielberg's miniseries Taken as both Terry Chen (Ethan Chang) and Ian Tracey (Remo Wallace) also had roles.