THE NOBLE SAVAGE
KEITH CARRADINE TALKS TO RETROCRUSH ABOUT HIS CAREER, BROTHERS, and FINALLY SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON MADONNA

by Robert Berry
rberry@retrocrush.com

You gotta love Keith Carradine.  While his brothers David and Robert have made their marks in pop culture by playing a Kung-Fu Master and a Nerd hellbent on revenge, Keith has found success with an unusual blend of wholesome goodness mixed with complexity that's hard to pin down, but makes roles about "everyman" type characters much more entertaining to watch.  Playing historical icons like Wild Bill Hickok in HBO's Deadwood series, winning an Oscar for his song "I'm Easy" in Robert Altman's 1975 film Nashville, to a legendary role in Madonna's "Material Girl" video, Carradine has had a long and diverse career that currently finds him as Nick Savage, the father of 5 rowdy boys in the very funny Complete Savages show.  I got to meet Keith and the rest of the cast while attending (and appearing in) a recent episode of the series, and we set up some time for an interview a few weeks later.

So tell me how you got brought on board to be in Complete Savages?

Pretty typical, actually.  I got a phone call from the agent, they want to meet you, I went and met Mike and Julie and read the stuff, and they liked it, they liked what I did.  It was pretty funny.  I went in the office, never having done a comedy before, I mean I had done stuff that had humor in it, you know Will Rogers FolliesÖhe was a funny guy, but this was not the kind of stuff that I was known for.  And I told them when I walked in the office, I said, ďListen, Iím not sure what Iím doing here.Ē  And they laughedÖI appreciate sitcoms, and I appreciate what sitcom actors do but thatís really not what I doÖand they said, ďGreat, thatís not what we want.Ē  So I said, ďGreat, if I were to just deliver this stuff as if I were talking to my own kids, then thatís what youíre looking for?Ē  And they said, ďabsolutely!Ē

Itís definitely an unconventional sitcom.  You play a single dad raising five boys whoís mother disappeared after trying to kill them by putting broken glass in their meatloaf.  Do you think weíll ever find out what happened to her on the show?

You know what?  I donít know.  We havenít really talked much about that.  I know it was important to them that the content be one of a single dadÖand not because heís a widower.  They didnít want to do one of those schmaltzyÖthe only reason heís alone is because his wife died.  NoÖ they wanted it to be modern, up to date.  A lot of people are alone because they just couldnít get along with each other.  They wanted to show that a capable guy, whoís raising his kids in a very masculine way, thatís obviously not particularly warm and fuzzy, but itís kind of a tough love atmosphere.  Thereís room for a lot of comedy in that.

It sort of goes against what most television sitcoms are, where the guyís a dad and heís just an idiot.  And most of the humor comes out of the fact that he does really stupid things, and heís got this smart woman who points out how dumb he is all the time.  Thatís most of what the premises are, so they wanted to do something that was obviously the antithesis of that.

What sort of challenges does a sitcom provide that movies donít?

Well listen, itís quick!  You have a lot of work to do in a very short amount of time.  We get the material Sunday night, we read it around the table on Monday morning, we start blocking it on the stage Monday afternoon, and we do a complete run through by Tuesday afternoon of the entire show.  Itís a lot.  And we have the rest of the week to sort of refine things, and make the necessary changes, and get it to what itís going to be by the time we tape it on a Friday night.  Itís a very concentrated work process.  But by the same token, it doesnít take as much time as a conventional one camera show does, or a movie does.  I mean a movie, youíre gonna work 10, 12, 14 hour days, itís really not uncommon, and for us, an 8 hour day is the norm.  You can actually have a life when youíre doing this.

Itís amazing, when I saw a taping of the show, how finely tuned everything was.  I mean there was almost no line flubs, it was like a well oiled machine.

Yeah, by the time you get to tape night, everyone pretty much knows what theyíre doing.  And obviously you have a live audience that youíre taping in front of, so that adds to the fun.  Iíve done a lot of theater, so I feel pretty at home in that environment.  Itís a blast, man.  Itís like youíre doing a little 25 minute play once a week.


Keith's father, the late John Carradine, has starred in over 250 films including Billy The Kid vs. Dracula

Your father (John Carradine) was in so many classic films, heís considered one of the most prolific actors of all time.  At one point did that rub off on you, and make you decide that was something that you wanted to do?

You know, I kind of knew, Robert, that I was going to end up in some sort of artistic pursuit.  It was just a part of my makeup, from the time I was very young.  I could draw, I had musical inclinations, always playing musical instruments when I was very young.  I picked up the harmonica, then I started with the piano, then the guitar.  It was self-taught, Iím not accomplished on any of those instruments, but I can play them well enough to write songs. 


Keith's singing won him an Academy Award in 1975, however his foray into gangster rap
back in 1994 failed to earn him even a nomination at The Soul Train Music Awards

Sure, you got an Oscar for one of them, right? (Keith won an Academy Award for the song ďIím EasyĒ in the 1975 film Nashville)

Right (laughs), so I kind of knew.  And I enjoyed the reading out loud moments in elementary school.  It was always there.  So it was pretty much a slam dunk that I was going to do this.

 
The Fabulous Carradine Boys: David, Keith, and Robert.
Together, they can easily beat up The Baldwins and Quaids without even breaking a sweat.

Were you pretty close with your brothers (Robert and Keith) when you were growing up, working with that stuff, too?

Well, you know my family is pretty scattered.  Davidís 12 yearí older than me, we didnít actually grow up together. 

So you just kind of just got acquainted in your adult life more?

Yeah, exactly.  I actually went and found him when I was a senior in high school.   He was living in Hollywood, and I went there one weekend with a buddy, and I said, ďLetís go find David.Ē  So I went to his address a couple of times, we finally found him driving home at like 11:00 at night, and that was really the beginning of our adult relationship as brothers.

I think a lot of people have this image of you, Robert, and David just practicing Kung-Fu on each other when you were growing up.

No (laughs), no mostly what we practice on each other is music.  And when we get together the first thing that happens is we pull out the guitars and hang out, if itís not some party.  We havenít seen that much of each other in the last few years, weíre all so busy.  Bobby doesnít really live here anymore.  Heís up further North, in Santa Ynez.  And heís married to a Swiss woman, they have two kids, and they have a home in Switzerland, theyíre there at least half the year. 


Nashville and Pretty Baby, directed by Robert Altman and Louis Malle respectively,
are two of Keith Carradine's more legendary films.

Well youíve worked with some of the worldís great directors like Robert Altman and Louis Malle, what was it like working with them?

You know, the interesting thing about working with good directors is that they have a way of directing that isnít really directing.  And the best ones will tell you that 85% of making a good movie is casting properly.  The interesting thing is, whenever Iíve worked with the really good directors, I would be hired on a meeting.  The best directors have never asked for an audition from me.  It seems like the weaker the director, the more likely theyíre gonna want me to sit down and read something for them. 

The more hoops youíll have to jump through to get the job.

Yeah.

Like with Altman, especially, it seemed like he was very intuitive about the people he was casting.  Like in Nashville, just letting the actors write and perform their own songs for the movie.

Yeah, see thatís Altman, he encourages every actor to bring as much to the party as they want to bring.  And heíll tell you if itís a bad idea, and heíll tell you if itís a good one.  But bring the ideas.  Itís a very collaborative atmosphere, heís sort of a benevolent dictator, Bob.  He creates an atmosphere that actors love.  Thatís why actors love to work on Altman pictures.  And the same is true for Alan Rudolph, Bobís protťgť, and a director with whom Iíve worked with a number of times.  And I found that the same was true when I worked with Louis Malle.  The best directors have a sort of subtle, gentle touch with their actors.  Itís an odd thing that we actors do, and an actor can be easily dispirited (laughs) if he isnít approached in the right way.  We can be very sensitive. 

A lot of finesse is involved there.

Yes. 

Both you and David have played these great historical characters with him playing Woody Guthrie, and you doing Will Rogers and Wild Bill Hickok.  Whatís the appeal of playing these American legends like that?

Itís nice to be asked.  You know, to play an American icon like that.  Itís fun to do.  But theyíre legends for a reason.  Thereís a certain archetype that lends itself to being remembered.  And Hickok was certainly somebody like that.  Itís a challenge becauseÖwell Hickok was more fun than challenging, thereís a certain amount thatís known about him, but a lot of what has been written about him is speculative.  This was 150 years ago.  A lot of the records of his life are sketchy, at best. 

Yeah, he was very much larger than life with some of the stuff that was said about him.

Right, but the deeper I delved into who he was the more interesting he became to me.  This was a fascinating guy.  It was really great fun to play someone who was that much of a part of the ethos of that moment in our history. 

Is there any historical figures that youíd love to play that you havenít yet?

WellÖI donít have a listÖthere was a time when I was really interested in doing the story of Jimmie Rodgers but Iím too old now.  I did a one man show about him about 15 years ago, with all of this music.  He was a fascinating character.  Hereís a guy who died of tuberculosis at the age of 35.  But he was the father of country music.  He really synthesized the formÖa fascinating character.

As I age, I sort of catch myself in the mirror and go, ďWell now, Iím looking interesting now.Ē  Iím 5 and my face is changing, and I have less hair.   I wonder if there was a historical character thatíd be right for me to play now, I wonder who that would be?  I donít really have an answer for that. 

Well youíre certainly doing well for yourself.  Deadwood was so well received.  Itís too bad your character gets shot in the fourth episode (laughs).

(Laughs)  Yeah, that was a good one, but unfortunately, he was doomed. 

Thatís for sure.  Do you ever sit down and watch any of your movies? 

Oh, you know sometimes Iíll watch one, Iíll be flipping channels, and Iíll come across something and watch it for a little while.  And Iíll usually just get depressed and move on. 

Many people remember you as the guy that gets to make out with Madonna at the end of her ďMaterial GirlĒ video.

(Laughs) Oh yeah!  

What was the experience working on that video like?

It was quick!  I think I worked on it for 3 days.  Videos are fast.  But it was interesting, I meanÖhey, manÖI  got a phone call that Madonna was doing this video and they requested me to play that role, which was basically sort of a Howard Hughes type.  And I thought, well sure, thatíd be fun, and it was.  You know, that was a long time ago, my memories are sketchy, but I had a good time.

Itís funny when Iíve talked to people about you sometimes, I can just say, ďRemember that Madonna videoÖhe was also in that!Ē  And theyíll say, ďOh yeahhhhhh, that was him!Ē  Itís funny for just a small piece in that videoÖ

Whatís that music program where they do the little pop ups?

Pop Up Video?

Pop Up Video had that video running for a while with all of these stories about how Madonna and I were getting it on.  And listen, I just want to set the record straight, at the time, she was very deeply involved with Sean Penn, I donít remember him being on the set, but she was very tight with him.  And I was married, so nothing could be further from the truth. 

It was all just strictly professional there.

Totally and completely.  But people like to imagine.

Well, itís a great story.  She was attached with about every man in the country at one point in that era, so I guess you just joined the club thereÖas far as rumors go...Youíve got a film with Allison Janney coming out called Our Very Own

Yeah, itís Allison Janney and Jason Ritter, John Ritterís kid, plays Allison and my son I the movie.  Itís a terrific little independent film I did last summer, down in Tennessee. I havenít seen it yet, just bits and pieces of it, it looks pretty promising. 

I saw where it had a 2005 attached to it, so it should be coming out soon.

Yeah, I think itís got a release in the Spring. 

Well great.  Thanks for taking the time to talk with us and best of luck to you on your show.

Hey thanks for supporting our show. 

Oh yeah, weíll continue to do so.

Thank you, man.  And we love your website, itís great. 

Oh well thank you so much, Keith. 

Goodbye!  


NOTE: As of this writing, I have been informed that ABC has pulled Complete Savages off of their lineup so they can run a second episode of 8 Simple Rules (which hasn't been worth watching at all after John Ritter died).  Why ABC thinks running a back to back of a show that gets the same ratings as Savages is going to INCREASE their ratings makes me scratch my head in confusion. 

If you agree that this was a stupid idea, please contact the President of ABC, Steve McPherson and let him know what you think!

Steve McPherson, President
C/O  ABC, Inc.
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521-4551

 

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