I’m proud to present my recent interview with accomplished actor Keith Szarabajka, who has many wonderful appearance in films including The Dark Knight as Detective Stephens, Argo, Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World, We Were Soldiers, Staying Together, Billy Galvin, Missing and many more. He’s shown in up in television shows including Sons Of Anarchy, Prison Break, Charmed, 24, CSI, Archer, and more. A huge portion of his prolific career consists of an absolutely staggering amount of voice work, including video games and animated shows such as Halo 4, Bioshock, Fallout, Call Of Duty: Black Ops, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, L.A. Noire, Dead Space, Mass Effect, Darksiders, Metal Gear Solid, Batman: Arkham Knight, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Spider Man, Batman Beyond, and so many more. He is currently directing a play entitled Watching OJ the Ensemble Studio Theatre in Los Angeles. He’s a great guy with a storied career. Enjoy!
Nate: How did you get into acting, did you always know it was something you wanted to do, or did you stumble into it?
Keith: I was an altar boy for six years in grade school and high school, plus I was an officer in military school so I became accustomed to performing ritual in public. Then when I was 14, I discovered that being small left you out of a lot of school varsity sports, sports in which I participated vigorously prior to high school. I drifted into acting, as I had a knack for reading things well aloud. My first performance in public was at four when my mother made my cousin, Joyce, and I sing a duet of “I’ve Been Working on The Railroad “ in a talent night at the Bedford Park Community center near Chicago, Illinois. I’ve been hooked on applause and laughter ever since.
Nate: A Perfect World: Your character was extremely intense, and leaves a vivid impression despite only appearing in the first half. How was experience creating that character, and working with Clint Eastwood?
Keith: Terry was very intense. I just reached into my inner self and pulled out my rage demons. It was fun, but as I said, very intense. I loved working with Clint. He’s one of my favorite directors ever. No B.S. with Clint. Two, maybe three takes at most. He knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it (and when he got it). I hope that I someday get the chance to work with him again. Though probably not, because he’s not big on working with people with whom he worked previously, especially villains (and who aren’t stars like Morgan Freeman or Gene Hackman.)
Nate: At a certain point in your career, voice over work became a huge component of your work. How did you get into VO work? Do you enjoy it as much as in front of th camera in live action? How are they comparable?
Keith: It was a natural segue while I lived and worked in New York. People in New York come to the theater, including ad execs and other creatives, so it just happened naturally. Of course I had a wonderful agent in New York for VO, Carole Ingber, who still represents me there. I have a long time VO agent in L.A. too, Tom Lawless @ VOX, Inc. , through whom I do most of my video game work.The great thing about VO work is you don’t have to learn lines or wear makeup. But don’t get me wrong, I like doing both acting and VO work. I like movies because you get to go on location and travel. I often confused my theatrical agent and my travel agent.
Nate: You mentioned that you have a play in the works that you are directing, when we spoke online. Care to speak about that? And any projects coming up that you are excited for.
Keith: I just directed a new play at Ensemble Studio Theatre- L.A. Project, called WATCHING O.J. by David Mc Millan (where I am also interim co-artistic director). It’s a wonderful worms’ eye view of the O.J. verdict set in a small white-owned dry cleaners and its environs in a mixed urban neighborhood in L.A. on the day O.J. Simpson murder verdict came out, October 3, 1995. It was avery polarizing subject both in L.A. and the while US. It still is. We opened on the 20th anniversary of the verdict. (At this writing, last Saturday night. Still waiting on the reviews.)
Nate: You have a very distinct voice that stands out in the best possible way. It sure lends itself to voice over, and I can see why that has been a major factor in your work. Have you done voice work, as in theatre classes or training? Or did the video game/animation work just kind of happen?
Keith: As I said previously, it just kind of happened. I haven’t taken many VO classes. The one time I did, a promo and trailer class, I ceased working in that sector of the VO world. I guess it’s bad luck. I had the good fortune to live in the same building as the man, Isaiah Sheffer, who ran the Selected Shorts program at Symphony Space in NYC which aired on NPR here(our BBC Radio). We read short stories before live audiences at Symphony Space in NYC and at the Getty Center in L.A. That was in 1987, and I did Selected Shorts for as long as it ran until Isaiah died two years ago. The first time I did it, it was a cold February evening. I lived two blocks from Symphony Space, so after I did a sound check at 6pm there, I went back home and ate dinner. I expected very little from the show. When I returned for half hour at 730pm, people were lined up around the block to see it! I swear they were hanging from the rafters when we did the show! The atmosphere was electric. A lot of people in the industry in NYC came to see it and/or listened to Selected Shorts on the radio, so that’s a lot of the reason I made it into VO work.
Nate: The Dark Knight: you have an iconic exchange of dialogue with The Joker; how was your experience filming that with Heath Ledger, working with Chris Nolan, and portraying a Detective in the Gotham universe? Nolan has a reputation for seeking out actors. Did he come to you/your agent or were you submitted?
Keith: I was submitted by my agent and auditioned. I didn’t hear from them right away, as initially they were trying for another actor, but ended up not making a deal with him. I received a call on Tuesday six weeks or so later, asking if I had a valid passport. I said yes, and by that Friday i was on a plane to London for a month. Heath was a complete pleasure to work with. Very friendly , very hard-working, very creative. It’s a loss for the industry and the world that he’s gone. Chris Nolan is … a very intelligent, very creative man as well. I would love to work with him again.
Nate: Some of your work is in some iconic games and franchises. Have you ever been asked to attend any conventions, or comic con type things? Would you if asked?
Keith: Sean Harry of Star Fury brought me to various UK venues twelve different times between 2003 and 2013, mainly for my work as Holtz in Angel. I loved meeting the fans and doing talks, and I got to see a lot of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland on those trips. I have never been invited to a com for video games. I would go if invited, but I don’t attend these things on my own dime. I once went to Dusseldorf, Germany on a Star Trek convention invitation in 2013.
Nate: from film work, what else do you like to do in life? Hobbies, interests?
Keith: I love to cook. I used to parachute and rock climb, but have given those hobbies up for tamer interests, like mountain biking and scuba diving (Advanced Open Water certification). I also coached baseball and soccer for 16 years, but my sons are now aged out of my league.
Nate: Thanks so much for chatting, Keith!