STACY KEACH is one of those great actors who, although he may not be as high profile or top of mind when discussing actors, when you see him you recall how much you like his work. He is also one of the most accomplished actors out there. He is considered one of the pre-eminent American interpreter’s of Shakespeare on stage, he is known the world over as the definitive incarnation of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer from the television show in the late 80s, he is known to sitcom lovers as Ken Titus from the Fox sitcom Titus, known to action fans as Warden Henry Pope in the hit series Prison Break, and known to film fans for the long and varied list of roles he has performed on the big screen in films such as Road Games, William Peter Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration, his chilling take on a white supremacist leader in American History X, and for his voice work in television in shows like Rugrats, The SImpsons, and Batman Beyond.
Now Keach is lending his voice to the character of Skipper in the Disney Pixar film Planes. I spoke to Stacy about this role and his career, past, present and future.
Stacy Keach: Hello.
Bill Howard: Hi Stacy, how are you?
SK: I’m well and you?
BH: I’m excellent, thank you very much. I wanted to start off by saying one of my favorite memories of my Dad was watching you as Mike Hammer on TV each week, we never missed an episode.
SK: Aw, you must have been a baby! I’m glad you guys enjoyed it.
BH: So my first question is you;ve done quite a bit of voice work for TV in shows like Rugrats and The Simpsons, was the experience of working with Pixar on Planes any different?
SK: It was. Because it was a fuller, richer, deeper, more exciting experience. And working finally for Disney was fulfilling a dream of mine. I tried in the past to be in Disney films but to no avail. I was up for Scar in The Lion King but it went to Mr. Irons who is absolutely brilliant. I wanted to be in a Disney film for years and this is my first Disney film and I’m thrilled to be a part of it, I just love it. It was fun playing Skipper, I really had a ball.
BH: So do you find the same sort of connection with a character when you do voice work as opposed to a traditional acting role?
SK: Absolutely. You still have to develop a backstory. The great thing about Skipper is he has his own backstory so it forces the actor to find his backstory in terms of where he is coming from and the vocal quality of his character. I love that part, taht’s much different than the Rugrats or Simpsons in that respect, it was a better part, what can I tell you?
BH: It was a very fleshed out character, which a lot of Pixar characters are, but I think Skipper really stood out in that movie.
SK: I think you’re right and I think it has a lot to do with both John Lassater and Klay Hall because both of their families were involved in aviation.
BH: I didn’t know that!
SK: I didn’t either, I just discovered that at the premiere.
BH: So it was a passion project for them.
SK: Yeah, I knew that Klay had it in his family to be involved in aviation and he’s a flyer, but I never knew John’s family was involved with it as well. That was a great, great moment of enlightenment for me. I came to understand a lot and to appreciate more what I was doing in a way.
BH: So the perception of age seems to be changing, a person is their 60s or 70s isn’t looked at the same way as they were 30 or even 20 years ago. You have as vibrant and active a career as you ever have, do you think the general perception of age has changed and do you find your career as satisfying now as in the past?
SK: Well thanks for saying that, I appreciate that. That’s a question that’s difficult for me to answer. I’m not sure. I know this, that as I have gotten older, I’ve gotten better. Except maybe physically, the body just gets that it can’t do the things a 20 year old body can do. But in terms of creativity and understanding and successful collaborations, self expressions, behaviour, music. I’m in Vancouver making a movie, I just got here and I’m about to start shooting, it’s called If I Stay with Chloe Moretz, she’s a great young actress, and I;m playing her Grand Dad, I’m her Grandfather. I’m very excited, she plays a cello prodigy who gets in an automobile accident with her Mom and Dad and they die. She end up in the hospital and has to be resusitated by her boyfriend and her grandparents. She comes back and has to realize her dream.
BH: In the late 70s, early 80s, you directed a few things, have you had any desire to return to that or is that why you haven’t directed in so long, you didn’t care for it?
SK: You know, I loved directing but as it is I prefer producing. I prefer working with a director as a producer and an actor. I love directing but it has certain responsibilities that don’t fascinate me the way producing and acting and musical direction, composing do. That’s where I’m headed. I’ve played piano since I was 12, I compose music and that to me is where it all really happens.
BH: Have you done music for any projects you have acted in?
SK: Yes I have. I did a movie called Imbued, a Rob Nilsson movie that has not had a large release at all, it’s an independant film I did 5 or 6 years ago and I wrote the music for it. And I’ve written the music for American Greed, a show I narrate on CNBC, I did a song called Anything for Money.
BH: After the breadth of work you have done over your career, is there still anything that you haven’t done that you would like to or someone you have always dreamed of working with?
SK: Oh my God, there are so many people I couldn’t even begin to make a list. I’m just so privleged to have worked with the people I have worked with. I just want to keep working in all the media, I just want to keep working, keep creating, keep doing as much as I can and that includes theater. I’m getting ready to do Falstaff in the two Henry’s at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C. next year. It’s a part I played 45 years ago.
BH: Revisiting old ground there.
SK: I certainly will be. I’m very excited.
BH: Do you want to continue in voice work as well?
SK: I love doing voice work, I hope I get to do more Disney films. I feel like I’m part of a family now and I want to stay in that family.
BH: One of your more well known TV roles was the warden on Prison Break.
SK: I loved playing that character.
BH: I read that you had drawn on real life experiences for that role.
SK: True, I did indeed. When I was in Redding Jail the warden there was a man of great compassion. He had lost a son to drugs I think when he was 25 and he had great compassion for anyone who was involved with drugs. He was a man who believed in rehabilitation and not punishment and that, I think, was the guy in Prison Break.
BH: That character could have been so one dimensional, I loved the way you brought those layers to him and the way he treated Michael, he was a great character.
SK: The writing on that show and my fellow actors on that show were of the highest caliber. It was terrific, I just wished they stayed in jail another year! (laughs)
BH: Thank you so much, it has been a genuine pleasure. All the best in your future work!
SK: Thank you Bill.
Planes is available on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD, November 19th, 2013.