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A Slice of Keach: Stage, Screen and Sparring

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In 1972, Stacy Keach received acclaim with his breakthrough role as a boxer in John Huston's Fat City. Some four decades later, the actor's career seems to have come full circle. The actor stars as "Pops" Leary, a far-from-retired boxing trainer and father of two boxers, on the new acclaimed F/X show Lights Out.

Ring return aside, Keach's career always seems to be in déjà vu mode. The roles are always different, but the actor has enjoyed six decades of doing what he does best: performing no matter what medium it is. In 1964, he began his stage career with the New York Shakespeare Festival and he's been a staple in the theatre world ever since. He's currently starring alongside Stockard Channing, Linda Lavin and Elizabeth Marvel in Other Desert Cities at Lincoln Center. Similarly, "Lights Out" marks a return to the small screen for Keach, who has made guest appearances on Two And A Half Men, Prison Break, and is arguably best known as 1980s private dick Mike Hammer.

When not in front of the screen or stage, Keach's voice can be heard on countless documentaries and television shows. The Pixar Story and CNBC's American Greed are just two projects you can hear Keach's voice resonate. I spoke with the versatile actor last week, and went down memory road with him. I also asked him if Lights Out, a knockout of a show, can survive somewhat low ratings. Let's hope so.

Q. Was it appealing to join the cast of Lights Out, because of your work on Fat City?
A. To a certain degree, yeah. It was great to get back to that world. I had a great time doing Fat City. I loved training with Jose Torres. It was a real eye opener for me. I had no real perception on the world of boxing, and it really opened my eyes. Boxers are very gentle people. They get all their aggression out in the ring and work very, very hard. I remember the first time I was shadow boxing, it was for three minutes and I thought I was going to die. Having had that experience, it helps getting back into that world.

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Q. You have consistently dabbled in television, film and theatre. Do you have a preference?
A. It really doesn't matter. I mean if you had a gun to my mouth and I had to make a choice, I'd say theatre. With live theatre, it's more immediate and you tell a story beginning, middle and end. But, I love all mediums. This particular show has a vary special cache. First of all, FX is giving us higher material that the networks are not. By virtue of higher standards, they're able to attract better actors and writers. FX is a great place to be right not in spite of our ratings.

Q. That's very frustrating for me as a viewer. I love the show, and hope it finds an audience.
A. There was some talk before the show came on that the movie The Fighter would help us, but it may actually have hurt us. I'm not sure. I'm very optimistic. I think we'll find an audience as the season goes on. I'm very proud of it and am [hopeful] FX will give us a shot at a second season to prove ourselves.

Q. Getting back to stage work, what's the experience been like working on Other Desert Cities? You have a solid cast around you with Stockard Channing, Linda Lavin and Elizabeth Marvel...
A. It's just so great. It's a great coincidence too that Elizabeth is playing my daughter on the series and on stage as well. I worked with Linda Lavin some years ago -- I love working with her. Stockard, I've known for years, but we've never worked together. Thomas Sadoski is an extraordinary young actor. It's my second play with Jon Robin Baitz. He's a wonderful writer and he's really matured as a playwright.

Q. Screen and stage work aside, you also do a lot of voice over work. Do you get the same reward with that as you do in other mediums?
A. Yes and no. It always comes down to the story. It's that old adage "if it ain't on the page, it won't make it to stage." It's relative to that. Many documentaries I've done it was like a paid education.

Q. What are you currently working on?
A. I'm still in the midst of King Lear. I've done it in Chicago in 2006 and in DC in 2009. I'd love to continue to do it and make it to New York. Derek Jacobi is bringing it to BAM this season so it won't happen this year. I'd love to continue with that. I've always wanted to play Teddy Roosevelt. Doug McIntyre, a great writer, has written a script about a trip he took with his son on the Amazon toward the end of his life. We're trying to get it financed. I'm also working on putting a book together finally. And, my daughter and I are also working on comedies. I'm also working with Jon Cryer again on a new Pixar incarnation called Planes.

Q. I'm amazed at how often you work. Do you ever take time off?
A. Oh, I do but I've got two kids in college so I have to keep punching the clock. Even if I didn't have that financial obligation, I'd continue to work. I love theatre specifically but it pays the soul... it doesn't pay the rent. So I have to move around and maintain a balance.

Photo courtesy of FX.

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