Phillip Keene talks acting, Major Crimes & having more inclusivity in the film industry

Other | Thursday 4th May 2017 | Patience

Actor Phillip Keene reminds us that it is never too late to chase your dreams. Finding acting later on in his life after a previous career as a flight attendant at Pan Am. His on-going role as Buzz Watson in Major Crimes proves that Keene made the right choice in following his own path.

Major Crimes is a Closer spin-off series that follows a group of detectives in the 'Major Crimes Division'. Following a stellar season last year, the show returns for its 6th season, making it the longest running TV show on TNT!

With Major Crimes going from strength to strength Keene lets us know why this upcoming season is all about 'faith' this time round.

Where did your journey with acting begin?

It was always a dream I had, but it was never really a viable possibility for me because there was just no encouragement from my family.  Even going to college was a huge step for me, I started college when I was in my mid or early thirties.

I just never thought that I was smart enough, or good enough, to pursue any of my dreams. It wasn't until after I had finished my last year of UCLA that a friend of mine who was also a talent manager said: 'Why don't you take some commercial acting classes and some scene study and I will represent you.'

I said, 'Okay that's great, that's something that I have always wanted to try so I am going to do that', I booked my first commercial after doing the classes, and then friends of mine were producers on the Closer and I kept telling them what it was I was doing.

I was doing student films, working with student directors, scene study, cold reading classes and they seemed very encouraging, and then they offered a part to me.  So what was I to do but say yeah!

It must have been really scary starting a whole new career all over again.

Absolutely I was terrified and I thought what am I doing here with all these amazing actors!

I just tried to keep my head low and tried to watch as much as possible, ask a lot of questions, I felt like I needed to take the fast-track, so during the time when I wasn't filming I would still go to the studio and I would sit with the camera department, lighting or wardrobe. I would sit in as many meetings as I could, you know.

Wherever I was allowed to sit in and watch, whether it was certain location meetings or all the different departments, just to try and get a feel for what the business was like, you know to try and make up for lost time.

Major Crimes is going on to its 6th season, how does it feel?

I guess with any actor we are always looking towards the future and thinking am I ever going to work again, even though I have been on this series now, going on 12 years, I hope that what I have done so far is good enough that other people will want me if and when Major Crimes ends.

Each season of Major Crimes focuses around a central theme, what will season 6 focus on?

The last one was really all about connections, and with the new season coming up season 6 is about faith, and not necessarily religion, just faith in ourselves, in our family, and in any way that, that can be interpreted.

You have described your cast mates as 'one big family' so who would be who in this family dynamic?

I go back to the first episode of Major Crimes and it was as though our mother if you will, even though she is not old enough to be everyone's mother, when Brenda left and we were forced to, no fault of her own, to be given the evil stepmother, Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell).

She was the antagonist and Rusty says to her, 'I don't know you, I don't like you, and I want Brenda,' and I think those were really telling lines, he was speaking on the behalf of the audience, and in the very beginning, no one liked Sharon. 

She was a bit of a ball-buster, she came in, in what was essentially a man's world, and she was doing things her way and I think that was great.

So Provenza (G.W. Bailey) is probably like the dad or the granddad and then Andy (Tony Denison) is the ever smiling uncle, then I have got my brothers in Tao (Michael Paul Chan) and Sanchez (Raymond Cruz). My sister although we are really close, I think Buzz had a crush on her for a while is Sykes (Kearran Giovanni), and Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin) is like my little brother.

What has been your favourite episode to film so far?

There is a lot but the one that stands out a lot most recently is when Buzz goes to arrest the man who actually killed his father and uncle. That was a really, really tough one for me, for a lot of reasons, but it was one of my favourites.

There are so many possibilities for your character Buzz Watson in the next season, but what would you like for him to achieve in the next season?

I was talking to another interviewer recently, Tao is married, Flynn's had a number of marriages and Provenza is on his I think his sixth marriage and Sykes got a boyfriend, it's like why is Buzz all alone in the world, I think he needs someone to cuddle up with!

In the next season if Buzz does pursue a law enforcement job what kind of investigator do you think he will be like?

I think you will be surprised, I think in the beginning of this next season he will be tasked with a lot more responsibility. I mean his proven himself able, he opened up a cold case and solved it, you know with the help of everybody else, but he did all the work and he followed the rules. He's a real stickler for the rules.

So what does Buzz bring that's special?

It is quite funny because he is still so naive in a lot of ways, he's seen murder mayhem and death and all these kind of things but he still believes that people are good at heart.

You've had several jobs but what is the worst job you have ever done?

I mean I found myself cleaning out floor drains, with a can of compressed air and a scrub brush and scouring powder, I was younger  but I thought you know what, it doesn't matter what it is I am doing, I am going to do the best job possible, and that's one thing my mother said to me, whether you are digging a ditch or you're designing rockets, at the end of the day you should be proud enough to put your name to it.

As someone in the public eye do you feel like you have more of a responsibility to speak up about issues happening in America right now?

Without question, I think I am no way in the same league as Ryan Gosling, Johnny Depp or Susan Sarandon but at the same time those people who do admire the show and are followers, I do try and stand up for causes that I believe in, and I will more often than not ask questions about what is going on, rather than say this is horrible, this is not right, I will post information. 

Or I will ask questions on what is going on here, do you feel the same way about this, what can we do about this situation if you feel like it's bad, if you don't then let's have civilized discussion about this, let's talk about things because more often than not we will find some common ground some place. 

If you could change anything in the film industry what would it be?

There's been a great push recently for more inclusivity with having a lot more women in the workplace, in jobs that have been, primarily held by men in the past. Whether it's in camera or directing, writing, lighting and I think that's a valid issue, not just for diversity sake but for a different point of view, you know we all kinda do the same things as people but your perspective is going to be very different than mine, being a woman, versus being a man.

As you move forward in your acting career what would be your ideal role to play?

There was an actor by the name of George Sanders who had an incredible wit and he left you laughing after the fact, I think you would gasp in the beginning or be mollified by what it was that he said, but afterwards you would be laughing hysterically so something like that, a character like that, whose witty, and dry, that's who I would love to play. I think I could accomplish that.

What would you fill a swimming pool with if it could be anything?

I have always loved the idea of swimming in jello, I think if you found yourself too far in the deep end you might be able to eat your way to the top.

What would you do to make the world a better place?

I try to do it every day in that I try and be the best person that I can possibly be, I don't always succeed, but I try to make changes by being a good example. I do some volunteer work for different charities that I believe in, one of them is Covenant House, which is a place where teenagers find themselves after, either they have been abandoned, or thrown away by their families, for various reasons.

And this is what I tell my god children, just being a good person yourself and doing good deeds, and being kind to people I think it is contagious, just as being mean and nasty is contagious, but I think that its far easier to be nice than to be mean. So that's what I try to practice.

When will we see Major Crimes on the air again?                                                                                        

We start shooting again in May, so hopefully sometime in early fall which I am rooting for.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Well another thing that I am involved in is the Pan Am museum foundation and as you know I worked for Pan Am for a number of years, and I am now on the board of the museum and we had our opening gala in December of last year so not that long ago and our next  exhibit is going to be unveiled in June, and we have another gala on November 11th, so I will be in New York for that.