Film: No Time to Look Back ; Harvey Keitel May Be 65, and Life-Achievement Awards May Beckon, but, as He Tells SHEILA JOHNSTON, He Has Still Got His Eye on the Doughnut
Johnston, Sheila, The Independent (London, England)
Always a deliberate man, Harvey Keitel had been brooding on what he would say when picking up his lifetime- achievement award at the Istanbul Film Festival. 'I've decided,' he told me, when we met on the morning of the ceremony, 'to say that I'm not going to accept the award. But...' He pauses for dramatic effect. 'I will take it with me.' Lifetime- achievement awards are for doddery oldsters and has-beens, and Keitel, who turns 66 in May, wouldn't wish to be regarded as one of those.
He has appeared in more than 100 films, and shows no sign of stopping. Some will go down in cinema history, such as his work with Martin Scorsese, in Mean Streets and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Or with Jane Campion " also in Istanbul, presiding over the jury " in The Piano and Holy Smoke. Or with Quentin Tarantino, in Reservoir Dogs, which Keitel co-produced, and Pulp Fiction. Others will not, such as Be Cool, the recent sequel to Get Shorty, in which Keitel has a comic cameo.
Keitel's arrival at his press conference the previous day was heralded by the sound of wheels " the actor was pushing a buggy bearing Roman, his eight-month-old son with the Israeli actress Daphna Kastner, his wife since 2001. Keitel Jr provided an excellent photo-opportunity, but became a major distraction in the course of the next hour, gurgling in the background, grabbing camera cables and crawling across the floor as his father beamed. 'C'mon, here, good boy. Up and at 'em, son.'
The journalists' patience was tested, but they rallied with some serious and respectful questions about Stanislavsky and the Actors Studio (Keitel is a president of this New York institution, home of the Method), and the future of theatre. Keitel loved this line of questioning and replied at length, if sometimes obscurely. 'I want to be actorly here,' he declared. 'I want your young actors and directors to be clear about what I'm saying, especially about the Work, with a capital 'W'.'
Despite his commanding presence on screen, Keitel is, like so many film actors, shorter than expected (5ft 7in), with a dusting of grey stubble, and thick, long, wavy hair. He still speaks with the accent of his native Brooklyn, embellished by the flowery, slightly formal phrasing of a self- taught man. He works the room like a pro, telling the journalist from Athens how much he enjoyed working with the Greek director Theo Angelopoulos (for Ulysses' Gaze); and the journalist from Lisbon how much he loves fado and how Portuguese is one of his favourite languages.
I meet him again over breakfast (sans Roman) in the Ottoman splendour of the Ciragan Palace on the banks of the Bosporus. Keitel is in a sunny mood and enthuses about his first visit to a hammam. He orders a double decaff espresso with milk on the side, which he slurps appreciatively throughout the interview, and a couple of simit, Istanbul's version of the bagel.
Keitel is a true New Yorker. His father ran a diner on Brighton Beach. Both parents were immigrants (Romanian mother, Italian father), although he now admits that, despite his love of Portuguese and his penchant for appearing in foreign-language films, he is strictly monolingual. 'We spoke English at home. My parents were trying to integrate.'
He joined the Marines at 17, serving in Lebanon and learning, he says, the values of 'sacrifice and friendship'. After that he was a shoe salesman and worked for eight years as a court stenographer. Then, in 1968, he replied to an ad for a role in a New York University student film. It was Who's That Knocking at My Door? by Scorsese.
Their partnership continued with Mean Streets (1973), Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) and Taxi Driver (1976). By the mid- Seventies, Keitel should have been the poster boy for the new generation of movie brats, but for two bad breaks. Cast as Willard, the burnt-out captain in Apocalypse Now, Keitel fell out with Francis Ford Coppola and was fired after only two weeks. …