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Michael O'Keefe offstage

The actor talks about film, the stage and an actor's life.

February 05, 2012|By Steve Appleford, steve.appleford@latimes.com
  • Actor Michael O'Keefe is performing at the Pasadena Playhouse in "Art," a three character show, which will be at the theatre until February 19. O'Keefe is an Oscar-nominated actor and starred in "The Great Santini" and "Caddyshack." (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer)
Actor Michael O'Keefe is performing at the Pasadena…

Actor Michael O’Keefe is between performances as he sits down for a quick bite in his dressing room. He’s just come offstage at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he appears as Serge, a would-be art collector in the three-person play “Art.” In the comedy, O’Keefe’s character happily spends 200,000 Euros, or about $263,000, on a gleaming post-modern abstraction: a canvas painted entirely white.

One of his friends, Marc (played by Bradley Whitford), is horrified. Another, Yvan (Roger Bart), is ambivalent and in a panic about his wedding. In real life, O’Keefe has some minimalist art in a downtown Los Angeles loft he describes as “slightly Zen, slightly mid-century modern.” But while Serge’s crisp blazer hangs nearby, O’Keefe, 56, is now back in a comfortable denim jacket, winding down from a matinee and preparing for the night’s next performance.

“Art,” a Tony-winning play by Yasmina Reza, is O’Keefe’s first live theater production in four years. But he’s been a working actor for more than three decades in film, television and on stage, and has shared screen time with the likes of Bette Davis, Jack Nicholson and George Clooney. An Academy Award nomination came early, for 1979’s “The Great Santini,” but O’Keefe might be most recognized as the young caddy in the insane 1980 golf comedy “Caddyshack.”

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How has this play been for you?

It's really been fun, and these guys, especially, are hilarious. When they asked me to do it, I jumped all over it.

What brings you back to live theater?

The cool thing about doing a play is that the final interpretation of a piece is turned over to the actors. It's a leap of faith with the writer and producers and directors to say, “OK, guys, we're going to let you have it.” A lot of us go back into theater because you learn so much on the journey.

Did seeing another actor in your role during the 1998 Broadway production of “Art” inform your own performance?

T.S. Eliot used to talk about this: If you see somebody do something you like, steal it and make it your own. Just poach it. Having seen Victor Garber do the part, I was taking notes for sure. Victor is an incredibly elegant actor and he has this kind of sophistication and aplomb to whatever he does. That probably did influence me a lot because I'm not that kind of guy. I'm a little more steak and potatoes.

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