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Gasparilla honoree Keith David enjoys acting career away from brightest spotlights

The caller identifies himself as Keith David but that really isn't necessary. Only two other movie voices — Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones — sound as godly; a honeyed rumble as recognizable as his face.

The name, perhaps not as much for some moviegoers mistaking him for David Keith, from An Officer and a Gentleman. So it goes in the life of a character actor, and Keith David has lived quite a life — one earning a career award from the Gasparilla Film Festival on Sunday.

This year alone David has seven movies being released, including Cloud Atlas from the creators of The Matrix, starring Tom Hanks. That movie will push David past the 200 mark in acting and voiceover roles, a milestone few achieve. Roles have ranged from hiking through jungles in Platoon, to helping Ben Stiller out of the world's worst zipper accident in There's Something About Mary.

David's first major role, in 1982's version of The Thing, is part of this weekend's Gasparilla tribute, showing Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in a drive-in theater constructed atop a Hyde Park Village parking garage.

"I've had friends refer to me as the most famous obscure actor in the world," he says, laughing as he often does in a telephone interview. Here are excerpts:

Who has it better: Character actors or leading men?

One of the beauties of being a character actor is that we get great movie roles but not the responsibility of carrying the films. I have friends who don't want to be leads; they don't want to be judged so harshly. I'm ever grateful to be a steadily working actor. That's all I was ever promised.

What did you learn about acting from your first job, in The Thing?

My training is in the theater, so when I first got to the movie set and when the (actors) were talking to each other I could hardly hear them. And a few of my initial lines — just one or two word interjections like "Hell, no!" — I was really projecting, on a soundstage with 30-foot ceilings. At the break the guys took me to lunch and said: "Man, you're doing really well but, you know, you don't have to project so much. Just take it easy."

Who wins a vocal throwdown between you, Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones?

I feel privileged to be mentioned in such company. Those guys are both heroes of mine, whom I look to and learn from. You can hear an honesty, an earnestness, a sincerity. You believe them.

Honesty could have gotten you hurt in that five-minute fight scene with Roddy Piper in They Live.

I have never felt safer in my life. And Roddy pound-for-pound was the strongest guy I've ever come across. He lifted me up like a sack of potatoes ... and he was literally holding me like a baby. And he's going: "What should I do with him?" And I was, like: "Put me down!" (laughing)

How often do people confuse you with David Keith?

If you see me it's never confusing (laughs). But the name gets confused all the time. People will come up to me, saying: "Keith David? David Keith? I know you're one of them."

Gasparilla honoree Keith David enjoys acting career away from brightest spotlights 03/27/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 6:27pm]
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