Interview: Stacy Keach: Prison Pope
by Scott Juba
Published: April 6, 2006
Stacy Keach’s acting career has spanned over three decades, and this experienced actor doesn’t have plans of slowing down any time soon. Probably best known as popular 80s TV detective Mike Hammer, Keach is now being introduced to a new generation of TV viewers on Prison Break. On the hit Fox drama, Keach plays warden Henry Pope.
“The stories [on Prison Break] lend themselves to melodramatic cliffhangers,” Keach says as he explains the reasons behind the show’s success. “The metaphor of prison is something I think everybody identifies with. We’re all prisoners of life in a metaphorical sense. Prison is compelling. It creates tension automatically. It’s a life and death environment. The dramatic possibilities there are evident.”
He adds, “To me, Prison Break is a cross between The Great Escape and The Bold and the Beautiful. [Laughs]. In the best sense of the word, it’s a prison soap opera.”
Even though Keach is one of the veterans on the set, he tells me the younger actors on the show don’t solicit his advice. “Actors don’t really get advice from each other – even older actors to younger actors,” Keach says. “It’s more about the way in which you present yourself and the way you do your work.”
According to Keach, an actor’s attitude plays a significant role in whether or not he will be successful. “You always have to realize that this is a collaborative business,” he remarks. “That’s the great thing about it. You’re working with other wonderfully talented people all the time. You have to know how to do that. A lot of times people who are very talented don’t know how to make an emotional adjustment or they’re not diplomatic or polite. They don’t have the tolerance to deal with jerks…You have to deal with other people with respect and tolerance.”
Having experienced how the entertainment industry has changed over the past thirty years, Keach says today’s actors are forced to heighten the authenticity of their performances more than ever before. “One thing that reality shows have done for actors is that they’ve put us out of work,” he notes. “On the positive side, they compel us to be even more real. If you’re dealing with real people, you better be real. You need to be that much more believable.”
The reality of Keach’s performances has struck a cord not only with the general viewing audiences but also with voting members of awards bodies. Yet, this Golden Globe winner doesn’t measure the success of his career based on awards. “Awards in general are wonderful in terms of their being an indication of people’s approval,” he says. “But ultimately, I think they take on too much importance…Acting is not something where you ask, ‘Who’s better than…?’ That’s not a question we ask. Good actors don’t, anyway. Good actors want everyone to be great.”
In addition to his TV and film work, Keach is also an accomplished theatre actor. He will next be seen onstage in “King Lear” at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. “This is a milestone in an actor’s career, especially actors who do Shakespeare,” Keach says. “It’s a big mountain. An actor, generally speaking, waits until he gets to be about my age before he takes it on.”
With the large repertoire of acting tools Keach has amassed over the course of his career, it seems as if no role, even one written by Shakespeare, is too large for this seasoned actor to tackle.