Keith David is one of many in the all-star cast of Cloud Atlas, which includes Oscar winners Halle Berry and Tom Hanks. The epic film, based on the best-selling book by David Mitchell, tells a fascinating story of love, time and revolution with the actors crossing the boundaries of race and gender. David tackles three characters, each an integral part of the various storylines.
Here, Keith David talks Cloud Atlas, offers some biting commentary on Mitt Romney, chops up Zoe Saldana haters and reflects on being one of the first Black actors to survive a horror flick.
How did it feel to be part of a film with so much diversity, which is usually a rarity in Hollywood?
Fantastic. I’m at a point in my life where every opportunity to work is a blessing because I always have a choice of whether I am going to take the project or not. I don’t take it just because it is offered. If it's an offer I think I can jive with — then I am there. I’ve been blessed in my life to mostly get wonderful things. Cloud Atlas ranks as one of the better blessings I've had in my life.
You play three different characters in Cloud Atlas. Tell us about your three characters and what they represent.
The movie takes place over about six eras, six time periods. I play a slave in the 1800s. In the '70s, I play an older Shaft-type character who gets an opportunity to turn his life around and save someone else's life. In the 24th century, I get to be a leader of a rebellion. It is a very wonderful soul journey as you see the different incarnations. It is about the evolution of souls, the interconnectedness of souls. How we are all connected, six degrees of separation — and sometimes not even that much.
What was your most memorable moment working with Halle Berry?
The middle of our journey in the movie took place on the first day of shooting. [Laughs] That was a jump in the deep end right away. The first day of shooting was probably one of the more amazing days.
You are part of cinematic history as one of the first Black actors to survive a horror movie in The Thing. In 1982, was that a shocker for a Black man to survive a horror film?
It was innovative, it was something you didn't see everyday. At the time, I was busy having a great time. Yes, consequently — I'm the brother that survived. That's something we did not see everyday. That was quite wonderful. As far as the history-making element, now that we are talking about it — perhaps that is true. I hadn’t seen any brothers who had survived; maybe I was among the first, if not the first. That's a wonderful thing, but it ain't why I took the movie. Movie endings can change. Movies are like babies; they change and evolve as you're making them.
It's an election year — are you supporting a particular candidate?
Yes, I'm an Obama guy. Who else would I be supporting? Unless I was going independent or something.
I didn't want to assume anything. [Laughs]
One shouldn't assume, but I would feel like an idiot to myself supporting Romney. I don't feel like it's a lesser evil supporting Obama. I believe under the circumstances he's had to face, and that is being unsupported by far too many people, he's made some wonderful headway and done a stellar job. If people would be more supportive and get out of the way, he'd do a fabulous job. As you've seen in the past few weeks, Jim Crow is alive and well and breathing deeply in this country. For anyone who doesn't understand that, they are walking around with blinders on. If you want to really feel how deeply racism is breathing in this country, elect Mitt Romney and then you'll see we'll step back in time.
I thought the way Cloud Atlas dealt with racism was very interesting. Do you see the handling of racism evolving in Hollywood or staying the same?
I can't say overall it's being handled differently. As I've said, Jim Crow is alive and well in this country. It manifests in the movies, in casting circumstances, storytelling circumstances — lots of things have changed and lots of things have stayed absolutely the same. In some instances, it almost seems retroactive. Without speaking about anything specifically, it's difficult to continue this conversation — but you know exactly what I am talking about.
What do you think of Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic?
Good for her. I hear some people are objecting to it. But who are they to object to it? Are they putting up the money for it? I've loved Nina Simone for years — this is not the first time I've ever heard of anyone wanting to do a story about her, but this is the first time somebody is doing a story about her. For everybody talking about, "She shouldn't be the one doing it." Where is your money and where is your support of doing another story? Who would you pick and where is your money to pay for that person to do it? It's easy to sit around on the sidelines and hate and naysay. But what are you doing, besides mouthing off? Everybody can talk and everybody’s got an opinion and you know about that.
Inevitably, there will be people who will say, "Cloud Atlas is just too confusing!" What's your reaction to that?
That's their business. Go see it again — unconfuse yourself.
Cloud Atlas is in theaters Friday, October 26.
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(Photo: Cloud Atlas Productions)