THE NOBLE SAVAGE
KEITH CARRADINE TALKS TO RETROCRUSH
ABOUT HIS CAREER, BROTHERS, and FINALLY SETS THE RECORD
STRAIGHT ON MADONNA
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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) 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
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
Hey thanks for supporting
Oh yeah, weíll continue
to do so.
Thank you, man. And we
love your website, itís great.
Oh well thank you so
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
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