Interview: Keith David on Acting and the Ending of The Thing


Keith David in Union Furnace

Actor Keith David talks about his latest horror film Union Furnace and his take on his role in The Thing

One of the most mesmerizing of screen presences, actor Keith David locked his horror and cult film credentials with his appearance as the tough as nails Childs in John Carpneter’s 1982 horror remake The Thing, where he — along with Kurt Russell — was one of the last men standing at the climax of the picture. And he’s never sat down since. Keith is a prolific actor of stage, screen and voice, with memorable performances in everything from Darren Aronofsky‘s brutal Requiem for a Dream, where he played the role of sickening pimp Big Tim, to providing the voice of Spawn for the R-rated animated series, the voice of the cat in Coraline, Roddy Piper’s pal in Carpenter’s They Live, a wealth of video games and more movies than you can imagine. He’s always working and his presence — in the flesh or via that deep, delicious voice — adds gravitas to whatever project he appears in.

Keith’s latest film is the surreal Union Furnace, directed by Nicholas Bushman (Stranger in the Dunes) and due out via Metropol Pictures on August 15th on Blu-ray and DVD. In it, small-town crook Cody, at the end of his rope, is offered the chance of his life via a mysterious stranger. There’s just one catch – in this game he has to wager everything, including his life. Cody finds himself trapped amongst a band of outsiders and misfits – all fighting for their lives and a slice of the American dream. Fueled by a horde of masked sadists, Cody and the others will win a fortune or die a brutal death.

We jumped at the chance to get some time with Keith to talk about the film and to get his take on the climax of Carpenter’s masterpiece. Big Tim! How are you?

Keith David: (after a long pause)…I’m well. How are you.

CS: Good. Now, I’m greeting you as Big Tim because that’s the character that stands out as my favorite Keith David performance. But you’ve left such an impact in cult cinema in so many diverse roles. What’s the character that follows you the most, in respect to the fans?

David: I don’t know…I have many, many Goliath fans. And a lot of Childs fans too.

CS: I’m sure. So based on that, at this stage in your career, do you even audition anymore? Or do filmmakers just create characters for you?

David: All of the above.

CS: So you have no problem with the audition process?

David: When I was a very young actor, there was an actress with whom I had great, deep respect. She’d been in the theater forever. She was the Grande Dame of the theater, her name was Irene Worth. And I saw her on the street one day and I said, “Oh, Irene, how are you?” and she said “I’m fine darling, I’m fine.” So we were walking down Broadway, around 57th street and I said, “Where are you coming from?” and she said, “Well, darling, I just had an audition.”. And I was shocked. I was flabbergasted. I said “YOU auditioned?” and she replied, “Yes, darling…that’s what we do.”  And I’ve taken my cue from that ever since. That’s what we do.

CS: I love to hear that lack of ego. You’re still a working actor, not resting on your laurels. Let’s talk Union Furnace. It was made in 2015 but is only coming out now. You’ve done so many movies since. Are your memories strong in respect to the making the film in lovely Ohio?

David: It was cold. I had been in Columbus performing with the Columbus jazz orchestra, so I was a little familiar with the terrain. So that was fun. But it was indeed cold. But I thougt there was an interesting feel to the film. You know, when I watched it, it has a David Lynchian vibe and is a cautionary tale about greed and people who become so desperate for money that they put themselves in the direst circumstances without reading the fine print. Beware of men bearing gifts. It goes back to that old cliche, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is…

CS: The film is satirical and stab into contemporary America. Was all that on-point satire in the script?

David: I think so. But I don’t remember having great conversations with Nicolas about that. I want to ask him. But I think it was. There was much shot before I arrived and lots after and the initial set up is very interesting.

CS: We can call this a horror film, but like all great horror films, it’s much more. I appreciate when filmmakers use the genre as a tool to delve a bit deeper.

David: Yes. I agree.

CS: You mentioned about performing with the jazz orchestra. I loved you as the witch doctor in The Princess and the Frog and it was great to hear you sing. How big a part of your life is music?

David: It’s a very big part of my life. I’m preparing to do three concerts and looking to do more.

CS: Forgive my ignorance, but have you released an album?

David: Not yet. But I’m continually working towards that. I hope to have something in the can by the end of the year.

CS: Appearing in Union Furnace serves the film by adding star power to the picture, but is appearing in edgier, indie films like this, do you consider it mentoring to some degree?

David: Yeah, I mean you gotta begin somewhere. Someone gave me a break. And Like to do that. And hopefully it leads somewhere, like this film has.

CS: And it was John Carpenter that gave you your big break, yes?

David: John Carpenter, yes.

CS: On that tip, at the end of The Thing; what’s your take? Is it a happy ending? Will Childs and MacReady die? Is one of you the thing?

David: A happy ending?!

CS: Well, they survive! They’re alive! That’s happy! What do you think happens post-credits?

David: I think they both freeze to death. I’m not sure whether or not, if anyone comes and wakes them up, if the thing will reveal itself. But I can say for sure that if one of them was the thing… it wasn’t me!

CS: Do you still do a lot of theater?

David: Absolutely.

CS: Both radically different ways to express your craft, but which brings you the most pleasure? Film or stage? Which do you prefer?

David: I prefer to work! I’ve had a great ride so far. And I’m still loving every minute of it.

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Weekend: Feb. 20, 2020, Feb. 23, 2020

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