Interview: Will Keenan | THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X

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Interview with Will Keenan

With the excellent sci-fi indie hitting DVD and VOD in the States June 18th, we caught up with lead Will Keenan to discuss the film, his career, and more... 

Starburst: How did you get your start in the movie business and what influenced you to become an actor?

Will Keenan: My first starring role was Tromeo & Juliet after attending NYU. I'd actually just finished up a semester of Shakespearean acting. I knew the film might be my only chance to perform Shakespearean language in a feature (and so far, I was right). When I thought of pursuing an acting and entertainment career as a high school student, I auditioned for NYU during their "early decision" process. I told myself, if I can get an early decision to NYU, then I'll take this seriously as a career. I got the call and my fate was sealed. Earlier in my life as a child, I found creative solace in becoming characters. Maybe it was a form of escape. And as I devoted more time to it, then studied at NYU, I really began to embrace and enjoy the psychology behind the craft of acting. What acting has ultimately taught me is that every feeling I have is a choice I make. We always have a choice as to how to react to anyone or any situation, as long as we have command over ourselves and not the other way around. As the Bhagavad Gita says, "The mind acts like an enemy for those who don't control it." And if we can control it, we can become anyone or do anything.

Certainly, you have a wide spectrum of roles on your resume. By far, playing Casey Kauffman in Troma's Terror Firmer is one of the most memorable. Let's talk about how you got the role, your adventures on the set and working with fan favorite, director Lloyd Kauffman.

Here's what happened. It was a year or so after the release of Tromeo and I got the call from Lloyd about his new film. He wanted me to play the male lead, a character that was basically the biggest Tromite (Troma fan) there is. The other lead characters were the girl, and the lead villain (a girl pretending to be a boy during the day and killing people at night revealing her female form). I had just taken a women's studies class at NYU that had a whole section about hermaphrodites, the “middle sex,” very interesting stuff. In other parts of the world when a hermaphrodite is born (traits of both sexes), they are not "corrected" as they are in the U.S. Traditionally in the U.S., the parents of a hermaphrodite are asked at the birth whether they want a boy or a girl. So I really thought it would be interesting as an actor to play a character that was born a hermaphrodite with more male traits but was "corrected" to be a girl. Something like that gave the lead villain character great motivation in the story. So, I cast Trent Haaga in his first feature as the Tromite role, and the cinema's first hermaphrodite serial killer was born. As well, the first hermaphrodite PSA was realized at the end of the film with cameos by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

One of my other favorite TF memories (or as Lloyd would say, “mammaries”) was Lemmy Kilmeister trying to strangle me. Someday I’ll tell the whole story. TF was grueling. Besides playing the lead villain, I was also a producer and casting director who rehearsed all the actors and staged most of the scenes in rehearsal the month before shooting. I also coordinated many other things with other departments on the film. I did as much as I could on TF because I wanted to get as much experience behind the camera as I could, and it was quite a film with which to do that. I was also able to cast a lot of NYC's downtown darlings at the time, including Theo of the Lunachicks, Nick Zedd, Mario Diaz, World Famous BOB, Moe B. Dick and many others. The film became a timely snapshot of the whole downtown NYC cult scene at the turn of the millennium.

A Showdown in the Desert

You played Buster Keaton in one of the best films on the Black Dahlia murder mystery directed by Ramzi Abed, The Devil's Muse. Tell us about that.

The second film I starred in (Love God '96) is credited as the first-fully digital feature film, and it was also the first time I did a major stunt in a movie. Producer Anthony Bregman, (a man of vision and a brave soul) allowed me to climb a New York City light post in the middle of downtown rush-hour traffic. My contention was it all made perfect sense because in the scene my character was having a psychotic episode of his compulsive reading syndrome, so he climbs the pole to read and destroy the traffic sign. After the stunt, Bregman said I was like Buster Keaton. I'd heard the name but wasn't familiar with Keaton's work. And once I started doing stunts in films, I couldn't stop. I started doing them in all sorts of indie movies whether the scene called for them or not. I even co-directed for the first time a feature where I did a stunt in almost every scene (OMC 2000). At a few points some scripts were developed for a Keaton biopic, but it never took off. Probably for the best, I might have died doing all the stunts. So, when Ramzi Abed called me about doing a lil’ cameo as Buster Keaton in his film, I was happy to. Ramzi's actually the reason I star in Johnny X. He suggested director Paul Bunnell meet me.

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X, directed by Paul Bunnell, a hit at all the film festivals, is a creative, fun film homage to the ‘50s sci fi movies and beach movies that American International Pictures made. You sing, you dance, you play the cool anti-hero; let's talk about your role, the movie and the talented actors you worked with especially with Creed Braton who plays the mysterious, Mickey O'Flynn.

After doing a number of comedic characters and lots of stunts in films, Paul was the first director to offer me the "strong, silent type" leading role, and the film happens to be, by my guess, the very last black and white widescreen feature-length musical ever made. It was also the first time I sang songs in a film. I like to challenge myself, do things for the first time, I’m attracted to pioneering efforts and breaking new ground. My career now bookends an entire chapter in film history, as star of the first fully digital feature film (Love God ‘96), and star of the very last widescreen black and white widescreen musical. Audiences really seem to enjoy Johnny X, and it's no surprise. I think the same sentiment that The Artist evoked in people, transporting people to another time in cinematic history, is inherent in Johnny X. Creed and I had a good time working together. He’s a very good actor, a generous actor, and hysterically funny.

Will Keenan as Johnny X

You filmed at the famous Bronson Cave where a lot of ‘50s sci-fi/horror movies were made. Where else did you shoot?

The famed Occidental Studios in LA, the oldest working soundstage, from the silent era. It really felt special to film there. Standing on the shoulders of some cinema history giants. A lot of people shoot at the legendary "Bat Cave" (from the Batman TV show), but I don't know how many were able to drag race through the cave in hotrods like we did.

The musical numbers are a lot of fun. How long did you rehearse?

Just long enough, I'd say.

This was Kevin McCarthy's last film. What was it like to work with such a legendary actor?

I was excited to work with him, and he did not disappoint. A real pro and gentleman. When we filmed our scenes together, I just sat near him and soaked it in. He had the legend vibe going on. It was very special.

What do you have on the horizon?

You can see Chop now on Netflix, DVD and other outlets. I think it’s my best performance ever. I dare ya to check it out and then demand director Trent Haaga release my funniest stuff which he "left on the edit room floor.” I have a number of projects coming up, and I’ve been working a lot lately with arguably the hottest web video network in the world, Maker Studios. Combining the best practices of web video (and what works on YouTube) with quality filmmaking is something I’m very interested in. We have a partnership with Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal’s Tribeca Films to do just that with a new online channel launching soon called, “The Picture Show.” As a producer, I’ve also worked with some Bollywood filmmakers and stars and working internationally is something I’ll continue to do as well.

THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X hits DVD and VOD in the US June 18th.

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