Keith David talks about playing multiple roles in “Cloud Atlas”

Since our last chat with Keith David back in April of 2010, he has gone on to co-star in one of my favorite films of 2012, “Cloud Atlas”, in which he plays four different roles. Also as we speak, he currently has three films in theaters. Keith is known best for his roles in projects like “The Princess and the Frog”, “Platoon” and “They Live”. He has won two Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance on projects like “The War” and “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat about “Cloud Atlas”, as well as his other recent projects.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about your four very different roles in “Cloud Atlas”?
Keith David: I met the directors and they offered me a job and it was great. This project was one of the most thrilling experiences of my career actually. I got to work with and meet some really great actors. These are people that I have admired from afar for years. Before this, I had never met Halle (Berry) before. I had met Tom (Hanks). We actually did a stage reading for “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” many years ago. It was fun to be on a set and really get to watch these different characters evolve as they were doing make-up tests. It was just thrilling and I had a blast.

[Note: Here is a breakdown of his four roles. Kupaka – “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” set in 1849 and was directed by The Wachowski’s; Joe Napier – “Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery”, set in 1973, and directed by Tom Tykwer; General An-Kor Apis – “An Orison of Sonmi~451”, set in 2144 and directed by The Wachowski’s; and lastly, Prescient – “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” set in 2321, also directed by The Wachowski’s.]

MG: Speaking of make-up, what was your most challenge role? Was it An-Kor Apis?
KD: Yes, I think that An-Kor Apis was one of my favorites. He was the most drastic transformation for me. He was also the culmination of the previous two characters that I play. Kupaka starts out as a slave. Joe (Napier) also sort of works for ‘the man’, until he gets the opportunity to step up to the plate and become more of himself. Then in the next re-incarnation, An-Kor Apis becomes the leader of rebellion. In terms of soul, it was a nice journey for me.

MG: You got to work with both Tom Tykwer and The Wachowskis, how was it switching between the different aspects of the production?
KD: It was amazing. I have never been a part of something like this before. It was such a seamless collaboration. The Wachowski’s, Lana and Andy work together beautifully. Even when they asked for slightly different things, it still felt like one voice. The pre-production before we got there must have been tremendous. There is a lot of back stories and how each piece fits into the puzzle, but the three of them were so clear on it. Going back and forth between the two teams, there was nothing abruptive about it. It was very wonderfully seamless.

MG: How was it filming in Germany and Spain?
KD: I mean what is not to like [laughs]. It was extremely beautiful. When I wasn’t shooting, I got to wander around and explore. I went to the beach and got to swim in Spain. Berlin is such a wonderful city and there is just so much to do. I even have some friends from the States, who now live in Berlin, who I have done shows together with back in New York about three years ago. One of them even has her own Gospel group, so I got to sing in eight Gospel concerts while I was in Germany. That was very cool!

MG: Tell us about your role of Big Earl in “Christmas in Compton”?
KD: That was another fun piece. Big Earl is the nurturer of the neighborhood and runs this Christmas tree lot, which is how he makes a living. He is raising his son, who is really a grown man. After going to college for a few years, his son decides he wants to be a record producer. After Big Earl has a heart attack, he puts his sons name on the lot and tells him to take over. His son, in a bit of bad judgment, puts up the lot on a bad deal and dad has to come to the rescue. I personally love stories about fathers and sons. Sometimes when fathers want more for their children, they end up being harder on them than necessary. This ends up hurting them more than applying the growth that we want most for them. Overall, though I feel it has a nice message.

MG: You have another film “The Last Fall” out now as well, tell us about that?
KD: Again, I thought it was a really good story about what happens after your dream is disrupted. Sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for or you may get it or if you’re not careful you will lose it. I thought that [director] Matthew Cherry did a great job with it. It is in theaters now and hits DVD in January.

MG: You also got new TV series called “Belle’s” slated for next year, what can we expect?
KD: I play the head of a family. My wife is deceased but I still carry on the restaurant with her name on it. I have two daughters, who have trouble getting along and a sister-and-law that gets on my nerves [laughs]. I also have a lovely granddaughter that I am crazy over. The show focuses around what happens behind-the-scenes of the restaurant and also when it gets busy. It is really run and premieres also in January.

MG: Did I miss anything? What else you got planned for 2013?
KD: Right now, I am also narrating a documentary for the History Channel called “The Bible”. It will be airing right before Easter.

One Reply to “Keith David talks about playing multiple roles in “Cloud Atlas””

  1. Great interview. Love Keith David. Would love to see him do a movie with David Keith just to see the poster!

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