TFF: Keegan-Michael Key on “Keanu” and the Upcoming “Don’t Think Twice”

Keegan Michael Key rose to fame on Comedy Central with Jordan Peele on their hit sketch show “Key & Peele”. The television duo rode off into the sunset of that series this past September but they’ve already reteamed on the big screen in the action comedy Keanu which opens today. The film finds the pair fighting drug gangs to recover Peele’s character’s stolen kitten. Keegan was in attendance at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival to premiere Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice which he stars in alongside Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs and Chris Gethard. On the red carpet, the hilarious Key was glad to joke about working with the many felines of Keanu as well as his role in the touching improv-centric Don’t Think Twice.

Lauren Damon: So how was it working with that cat?

Keegan-Michael Key: The cat was super difficult. The cat—lemme explain to you—this cat, you wouldn’t believe how fast this thing became a prima donna like ‘Nah, I’m not gonna eat cat food anymore. I’m only going to eat caviar. The salmon has to be from Alaska.’ I mean, it’s like what are we doing?? It took like—I can’t believe we got the movie finished to be quite honest with you. [laughing] In real life, it was seven cats. So the thing is it was each cat was given the job of doing a particular thing. So some cats run from point A to point B. Some cats really relax and chill out in your arms and some cats put their paws up and go ‘meeeeow!’ All this kind of stuff. So they were actually not as hard as you would think. Especially for kittens. Like they’re trained. They always say it’s hard enough to ‘herd cats’ well, imagine herding kittens! But we had amazing trainers. Really amazing trainers. And a lot of kibble. [Laughs] Like a lot of cat food and catnip to keep ‘em in line. 

LD: Was it a relief for you coming off “Key & Peele” to get to work with Jordon so soon again?

KMK: Oh yeah! And also it’s easier even though a movie’s longer, it’s easier to play one character. You know, it’s easier because there’d be times you’d be in wardrobe and looking in a mirror but learning lines for a different sketch as you’re like ‘I’m dressed like an Egyptian pharaoh but these are the lines for the gangster!’ You know, and so just to play one character and have there be an arc was really helpful.

In Don’t Think Twice, Key plays a member of an improv troupe who snags a job on an SNL-like comedy show, seriously affecting the dynamic of the whole group.

LD: Did the theme of Mike’s film–that idea of “going above” your peers [in having your own comedy show]–resonate with you? Had you experienced it from either side?

KMK: Yeah, it resonates with me. I think that because you have to remember at the end of the day, do everything in your power to just to make it be about the work. Because the success will trip you up. If you start thinking things like you’re better than somebody it’s of no use to anyone. It’s not helpful, it’s not kind. And so I think that what I’ve been trying to discover or negotiate is just working. Work as hard as you can. If somebody else is at the same level or different level works—does work that inspires you, let that continue to inspire you, even if you’re ‘higher than’…you know? That doesn’t mean anything. That’s not real. Those are just labels. Good art is good art no matter what level it’s being made at.

The cast of Don’t Think Twice

Keanu opens in theaters April 29th (read our review here). The fantastic Don’t Think Twice is scheduled for release this July.

Film Review “Keanu”

Starring: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele and Tiffany Haddish
Directed by: Peter Atencio
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 38 mins
New Line Cinema

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Abbott and Costello. Laurel and Hardy. Martin and Lewis. Cheech and Chong. Just four of some of the most popular comedy teams that went on to success on the big screen. Time to add a new team to the list: Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who take over your local multiplex this weekend in the new film “Keanu.”

Rell Williams (Peele) is feeling down. His woman has just left him and he’s hit rock bottom. At least until he finds a cute little kitten outside his door. Taking him in and giving him milk, he names the cat Keanu, which he believes means “cool breeze.” Artistic at heart, he begins taking photos of the cat recreating various movie scenes for a calendar. This strikes his friend Clarence Goobril (Key) just a little bit odd. When Rell’s house is broken into by drug dealers, who mistake it for his pot-selling neighbors’ home, Keanu turns up missing. Obsessed with finding his new friend, Rell convinces Clarence to pose as rival drug dealers in an attempt to retrieve their feline friend.

I’ve been a huge fan of Key and Peele from the time I caught their skit, “I Said Bitch” on Comedy Central. Like their popular show, the jokes in the film fly fast and furious, as the two take on the persona of the “Allentown brothers,” a pair well known for their bloody battles with rivals, in order to do business with the “Blips,” the gang that defeated both the Bloods and the Crips! Rell also meets a lady member of the Blips, the tough but tender Hi-C (Haddish). As Rell and Clarence go deeper to find Keanu, the action picks up to a tornadic level.

Teaming with their former television show’s director, and relying on a script co-written by Peele, the two leads are comfortable on the big screen. Each has their own individual moments to shine, but it’s when they are together that they work best. Whether they’re staring down a rival gang leader or instructing others on the impact of the music of George Michael, Key and Peele are a welcome addition to the big screen. If you aren’t familiar with their work, I urge you to head to YouTube. If you are, I urge you to head to the theatre. You won’t be disappointed.

Make sure to check out our interview with Keegan-Michael Key


Related Content

Keanu Reeves and Mark Mann talk about working together on “Generation Um…”

Keanu Reeves is known for his films in franchises like “The Matrix” and “Bill & Ted”. In this film “Generation Um…”, he plays a much different role within this character piece. Mark Mann is the writer and director on the film, which is his feature film debut. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Keanu and Mark on the film and what we can expect.

Click here for our interview with Adelaide Clemens & Bojana Novakovic

Mike Gencarelli: Mark, tell us how did “Generation Um…” come about for you?
Mark Mann: Alison Palmer (Bourke), the producer on the project, gave Keanu the script to look at as a friend at first. He liked it and said he wanted to meet with me. We had a coffee and it was sort of monumental coffee. We riffed creatively for a bit and found out that we got along well. We shared visions for the characters and the story. So after that he decided to do the film, which was great. He was perfect for the role. So we went out and made a movie [laughs].

MG: Keanu, what was it that really drew you to the role of John?
Keanu Reeves: I liked so many things about the character. What stuck out for me was the writing, the structure, the humor, the humanity and the way the story was told. With John, in particular, I had a great sympathy for him. He felt like a character that was hyper-aware. He was trapped in his past, maybe with his confidence or trapped in his life.  He was seeking a connection, a friendship or something that we might think of as simple but is fundamental to life. I felt like a lot of people could relate to him. I also felt that since this took place in New York and it was more personal and I liked that.

MG: Any challenges with shooting in New York?
KR: [laughs]
MM: I had no issues whatsoever [laughs]. New York is a great place to shoot. Just because you are shooting there doesn’t mean that it is going to behave any different than New York does. It seems to add attention to the frame. We were using New York in a somewhat unorthodox fashion, with shooting in the park, running down streets, driving over bridges and staring at trains. In general, I think that New York tolerates you if you shine at the end of it all.

MG: Keanu, this is a real change from some of your past action driven films; was it a challenge taking on this character piece?
KR: I wouldn’t really say a challenge but more of an opportunity. What struck me was getting a chance to actually shoot the footage that John does in the film. That was a very unique situation for me and it was something that I really appreciated and enjoyed. The trust that Mark put into me was great. He was like “Ok Keanu…go shoot!” We shot on Super 16 with a lot of wide angle lenses and fixed perspectives. So we get to learn about John through the camera but also get to learn about the other characters from John’s perspective. For me that was very unique, fulfilling and a fun opportunity.
MM: What was interesting about that, as well, you will notice in the film that he bundles that into the character. You watch the character developing his own feelings through the camera itself.

MG: Mark, what was your biggest challenge taking on your first feature film?
MM: I would have to say just making a film. It is an impossible pursuit. Once you start getting into it there are so many things going on at the same time. It is like you are one with the inside of your head with little tentacles extending out sort of taking of the form of all these different people all handling various tasks. It is impossible…
KR: No it’s not [laughs].
MM: Yeah it was easy. It was like butter [laughs].

MG: Keanu, I loved the chemistry between you and your leading ladies, Adelaide Clemens and Bojana Novakovic. What did you do to form that bond between the three of you for this film?
KR: We started with the audition process. Mark went on search for Violet and Mia. Luckily, I was a part of that process. He asked me to videotape the actresses that came in to meet on the project. It happened with both Bojana and Addy that there was a nice simpatico between us and we got along right away. They were interesting and loved the material. As me moved forward in rehearsal and just hanging out, everyone seemed to be on the same page. We just got along really great, so that was really cool. Mark really let me in and be a part of the creative process and I really appreciated that as well.
MM: That was part of the fun though. The film ultimately is what happens between the people making the film. It was just great. Having Keanu, Adelaide and Bojana together work through it all in rehearsals and then turning on the camera and watching them do it was amazing.

MG: Mark, you also wrote the screenplay. How much did it change throughout the production?
MM: The script was god. It was bible. It didn’t change.
KR: Urgh…writers and directors, they say that the script is god. [laughs]
MM: [laughs] If you asked me the question as a director, I might have a different answer but in terms of writing you have to have a moment when you can be a writer. That is what writers do.
KR: It was just really a great script. One could think that it was improvised since the words are just so great.
MM: There are also a lot of moments of silence in the movie and I had to try to push it into direction. But there were these long moments with Keanu, Bojana and Adelaide where they are just there and they are doing what they are doing. That is not something you can write. It was very exciting to see them take the implications that I wrote and then completely bring it to this magically level where they were and just embodied these characters.
KR: Human animal footage [laughs].

Adelaide Clemens & Bojana Novakovic talk about roles in “Generation Um…”

Adelaide Clemens & Bojana Novakovic are co-starring in “Generation Um…” along with Keanu Reeves. You may know Adelaide from the film “Silent Hill: Revelation” and upcoming film “The Great Gatsby”. Bojana Novakovic has been in films like Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “Devil”. Media Mikes had a chat with these two beautiful Australian actresses about their role in the film and also working with Keanu Reeves.

Click here for our interview with Keanu Reeves and Mark Mann

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about what drew you each to your roles in “Generation Um…”?
Adelaide Clemens: I think right off the bat for me, it was when I read the script. I thought it was a very dense piece and the characters were really well written. Mia to me was very intriguing. She has this sort of dark past and I liked exploring that.
Bojana Novakovic: I was also drawn by the script. Like Adelaide said, the density of what happens. Also I liked the richness of the characters lives and how much is actually going on without there being plot points. I find that fascinating. I love character pieces. I found it also scary to work on something that was this intimate. It required a lot of authenticity, honesty and commitment…and I really enjoyed that. I think it is an actor’s wet dream actually. Then of course there was the fact that Keanu (Reeves) was attached to the film, which just interested me a little bit [laughs].

MG: I loved the chemistry between the three of you in the film. What did you do to form that bond for this film?
BN: I think that is thanks to the way that Mark (Mann), the director, wanted to work. We just hung out for two weeks, rehearsed and talked about the roles. When Adelaide and I got to meet Keanu, we were both at first a little bit intimidating about meeting a superstar. We tried to play it very cool, but we realized that he was also incredible excited about the film like us. We were able to engage with him on a really intimate, visceral and committed level. So it was really great. The way we worked together was really reflected in the film.
AC: It is interesting how the dynamics between characters came together. I remember during the rehearsals, we were all very passionate about this piece. There were some challenging aspects of the film and we did all the preparation necessary to make sure we weren’t losing our shit when we went on set [laughs].
BN: I think we also surprised ourselves with the terrain we covered ourselves. Like how intimate we were willing to be with each other. I am not just talking about physical, which of course exists in the film but also emotional, honesty and work ethics between the three of us. Actually the four of us, Mark was like a fourth character since he was very present when we were shooting.

MG: When I spoke with Keanu, he told me he has a blast shooting with the camcorder himself. Did you enjoy working with that handheld aspect of the film?
AC: It was very interesting to break down the barrier of the typical shoot. When you are on a film you hear “Action” and you hear “Cut”. It was a new territory there with him since he was always filming. It allowed us to be vulnerable. Then it allowed that vulnerability on the camcorder to transfer to the screen. I thought it was very interesting.
BN: I also felt like the camera exposed us more, like what Adelaide was saying. It was really fun getting to perform to the camera, that way you don’t have to worry about actually performing. You don’t have to about ignoring the camera. So it actually takes the acting out of it. It was awesome.

MG: With Mark Mann writing the script, as well as directing. Do you feel you had much freedom with your characters?
BN: Oh, we had a lot of freedom. I think the whole thing came together with the four of us together in a room and collaborating on these people’s backgrounds. Who they are? Where did they come from? The actual characters formed once we came together. They can’t exist without this story. It was a collaborative process on every level. My decisions were absolutely based on who Adelaide and Keanu were and what they offered to their own characters.
AC: Yeah, we were encouraged by Mark to find our own rhythm and to inject it into these characters, which I think was fantastic. It went against the typical nature since we were able to shape our own characters. Mark also wrote the script in a way that mimics the way that we all speak, which made it even easier.

MG: Adelaide, going from films like “Silent Hill: Revelation” to “The Great Gatsby”, where does this film lie for you in terms of a challenge?
AC: I shot this film long before I shot “Silent Hill”. We did this film two and half years ago. It was an incredible different kind of experience. Like I said we were all very passionate about the material. I had room to work with the script and  of course working with Bojana and Keanu also helped. We all did the work together and really invested in this project. I am very fortunate and happy to see the way that things turned out the way they did.

MG: Being from New York, I know that sometimes the city can have a life of its own. Any cool stories from filming in New York City?
BN: I actually ended up with a bunch of bruises. We don’t know where they came from but they appeared all over my body. I remember I went out doing what I call research one night; Mark told me check out what a party girl would do in New York to get into character. We also did go to a strip club. But one night I was out just observing people and I saw a guy riding a bicycle in a tuxedo. I yelled at him and said “You look fantastic!” Later that night around 2 am, I was waiting for a taxi and wasn’t able to get one. It was that kind of Saturday night in New York. So I started talking with the guy who I yelled to in the tuxedo and he ended up giving me a ride on his bicycle from all the way across town. Then he tried to get my number and I gave him a fake number [laughs]. If he is out there somewhere…maybe I do want you number. I felt bad because he was a cool guy.
AC: I remember we had a crazy thunderstorm one night. The entire sound tent was lifted up and then smashed down. We just had an amazing experience. It was a very intimate crew. I remember one night we needed to get some photos taken and instead of just taking them, Keanu said that there was a photo booth on 2nd and A Street and that we should do there. Mia, Violet and John together are not particularly well behaved together.
BN: [laughs] Yeah, so we were in this booth with Keanu Reeves and we were slamming him against the wall.
AC: Yeah, the public was just around, watching us and seeing it happen. But you know it was New York so no one really cared. But it was really fun.
BN: It was really fun and we had a great time.