Stacy Keach ('Unshackled')
’It's Hammer Time!'
Born Walter Stacy Keach Jr. on June 2, 1941, Stacy made his film debut in 'The Heart is A Lonely Hunter' (1968), before co-starring in Robert Altman's 'Brewster McCloud' (1970), George Roy Hill's 'The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean' (1972) and John Huston's excellent 'Fat City' (1972). He also co-wrote, as well as starred (with brother James) in 'The Long Riders' (1980). Other film credits include 'That Championship Season,' 'Sunset Grill,' 'Gray Lady Down,' as well as both 'Up In Smoke' and 'Nice Dreams' with Cheech and Chong.
Following his television debut in 1965 on the comedy series 'Get Smart,' Keach became a familiar face to television viewers in 1983 when he began his role as 'Mike Hammer' in a series of television movies based on the best-selling Mickey Spillane novels. He starred in the mini-series 'The Blue and the Gray,' 'Mistral's Daughter' and the title role in 'Hemingway' (1988), which earned him a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy nomination. He also received a Cable Ace nomination in John Carpenter's 'Body Bags'(1993) and starred as the 'anti-dad' in the hilarious 'Titus' (2000).
On stage, he received a Tony nomination for his Broadway debut in 1969 in 'Indians' and received three Obie Awards for his work in 'Long Day's Journey Into Night,' 'Hamlet' and 'MacBeth' at the New York Shakespeare festival.
Now Stacy brings us his latest cinematic achievement in the shape of the powerful 'Unshackled' on MTI Video. 'Unshackled' is the unforgettabe story of two men. One, Harold Morris, was white - a sharecropper's son from South Carolina. The other, marcys 'Doc' Odomes, was black - and raised by his mother in inner city New York. Both were doing life sentences in Georgia State Penitentiary when the prison was forced to integrate under federal mandate. They were thrown into an eight-foot by ten-foot cell and the door was slammed shut. This is their story.
Chatting with the man himself on a chilly March morning here in Michigan, we discussed all things Stacy, but I first wondered if in playing the role of Warden Kelso in his new movie 'Unshackled' [www.mtivideo.com] if he did any background research on the actual figure or just character-acted? ”Well, a little bit of both. I talked to Harold Morris on whom the project is based and he was very forthcoming about Warden Kelso. He said that this guy was out there, a very eccentric and vain guy who grew plants in his outer office and was very determined not to lose his job. Because one of the things that Harold told me that was not reflected so much in the movie was that the Government had put tremendous pressure on this prison to get it integrated and to bring blacks and white together. And I think the idea of doing it through basketball was completely his [the Warden] idea.”
Why was the Government so hell bent on integrating the prison systems back then? ”Well, this was the late ‘70s and so by this time most every Southern prison had been integrated. Interestingly enough, as a little side bar, inmates in various other prisons have been going on the books as demanding that they go back to segregated populations. They don’t like integration now. But, I think people have to get along in prison just like they should in the world. Anyway, this prison was the very last prison to go there and that’s why there was that added pressure to get it done.”
How long was your personal shoot time? ”It was about a month. It was just great and I loved working with Morgan Fairchild. She’s just a delight and aside from being beautiful she’s very bright and wonderful to hang out with.”
Any behind-the-scenes secrets from the set of ’Unshackled’? ”Er, no I don’t think so. I wish I could say yes, but it was pretty straight-forward. I loved Bart Patton’s direction and I thought he did a wonderful job with the actors. But the weather was very hot and humid. We shot the movie in an air-conditioned (thank God) warehouse.”
What are your memories from when you filmed these starring roles:
1971: ‘Doc’ (‘Doc Holliday’) - ”I loved being in Spain, but the funny thing is it was meant to take place in Arizona! Doc Holliday is tubercular and so Frank Perry [Director] told me that there was to be a scene were I was going to have to take all my clothes off! So, I said 'I’m gonna have to lose some weight then'! But, because it was so hot and being that part of the world I didn’t have any trouble doing it. But, that was a long time ago.”
1978: ‘Up In Smoke’ (Sgt. Stedenko) - ”I remember that the 216 freeway was just being built and that was where we filmed all the stuff with the ‘smoking van’ and the chase scene. Both these films are evoking memories of hot, because I remember it was blazing hot when we were shooting at the border. It was easily 125 degrees.”
1981: ‘Road Games’ (Pat Quid) - ”Yeah, lot of good memories on this. I loved being in Australia. We traveled across the plains and went from Adelaide to Perth and we’d live in these gas stations and have saltwater showers. I remember Grant Page, who was the stunt co-ordinator and there was this scene where this truck was supposed to go up in the air and come down on the top of a vehicle. And I remember sitting down with Grant Page and going over all the physics and all he kept saying was that it was a really difficult stunt and that it would never work! And it didn’t, but the series of shots and the magic of movies made sure that it finally did work!”
1998: ‘American History X’ (Cameron Alexander) - ”I was very uncomfortable. When we shot the very first day I remember this house that had been decorated with all this Nazi paraphernalia. It was out in the North Valley and nobody knew that this house existed. I mean, if anybody saw that place the way we’d arranged it they’d have flipped out!”
'Mike Hammer' – You were the 8th in line to portray him so what made you think you could keep the role alive by that time? ”Yeah, there were a lot of actors who played him prior to my coming to him. There was a slight amount of trepidation because I’d followed Darren McGavin and my favorite Hammer movie was ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ with Ralph Meeker who was another great character actor of his day. So I told myself that these were two great actors that each brought something very individual, very specific to the role and that I also could do just that. And so that trepidation factor goes away.”
Will there be another 'Hammer' story after last year’s ‘Songbird’? ”Well, that was the most recent incarnation of Hammer, but I don’t think they’ll be another one, no. I never say never, but when Sean Connery came back to do James Bond after being away for twelve years he didn’t think that the role was right for him. So maybe you just can’t go home again. James Bond needs to always be James Bond and I just think Mike Hammer’s the same way. I think there needs to be a new, young Mike Hammer in there, that’s what I think. I’ll play his daddy or his muse,” he gently laughs.
On the hit TV show ’Titus’ you played a drunken anti-dad, Ken Titus… and it looked like you were having a ball with the role! ”I loved playing Ken. He was just so out there. Personally, it was a good thing for my career because it reminded people in the business that I can play comedy."
What kind of roles do you find the most fulfilling these days? ”I love doing comedy, I really do. I’m always looking for ways to make serious people funny because we like to laugh … and I love to laugh at myself also,” he gently laughs. ”But I don’t get that opportunity all the time. Because early on in my career I established myself as a hard-ass guy. But, I would love to do another comedy, I really would.”
Tell me more about these upcoming projects:
‘Caught In The Headlights’ - ”It’s a sort of a caper movie, a spy-thriller set in Canada and I play a silly CIA guy.”
‘The Hollow’ - ”This is my favorite of the two. It’s a Halloween movie that is a revisiting of the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ legend. It’s a comedy horror movie about that night when a group of High School kids suddenly are overthrown by the legend of this Horseman. I play the caretaker of the cemetery.”
What movie role that you’ve undertaken has since turned out to be your personal favorite? ”Well, I guess ‘Hemingway’ is certainly the one that I enjoyed playing the most. It was very memorable to me.”
What film of yours would you rather erase from your resume and which ones has been your most role to date? ”If there is I’ve already forgotten about it,” he laughs. ”But no, when I make a choice to do something you never know if it’s gonna turn out. But, generally speaking I’m not one of those guy’s that says ‘I wish I hadn’t done that.’ Until I see it and then sometimes I say that. Which is exactly the reason that I don’t go and see any of my movies anymore. I’m not interested in the result necessarily from me. For me the result is all about the process and being able to express yourself during the time it takes to shoot the performance. And I think that’s true for most artists. The result is always going to be interpreted in many different ways by many different people.”
Do you still get butterflies when you begin a new acting role? ”Oh sure,” he answers very matter-of-factly. ”I think butterflies are part of the process, but I can deal with the butterflies.”
Why is it that you don’t look any different now than you did 20 years or so ago? What’s the secret?! ”Good make-up,” he laughs.
Finally, describe Stacy Keach in three words! ”Loves you all.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
To win your own brand new 'Unshackled' DVD PERSONALLY AUTOGRAPHED to YOU by Stacy Keach himself, just answer this easy question: Whilst filming a 'Mike Hammer' movie in 1983, Stacy (in real life) fell in love with a lady playing the part of a nurse. What was the name of the 'Hammer' story and what was the name of the lucky lady who went on to become his wife? Just send us an e:mail here with your answers and the subject title 'STACY KEACH' to:
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