Nationality: American. Born: Brooklyn, New York, 13 May 1939. Education: Attended Actor's Studio under Frank Corsaro, Lee Strasberg, and Stella Adler. Military Service: U.S. Marine Corps. Family: Married the actress Lorraine Bracco (divorced 1993), daughter: Stella. Career: 1965—off-Broadway debut in Edward Albee's The American Dream; 1965—on stage in Up to Thursday; 1968—film debut in Who's that Knocking at My Door?, first of several appearances in Martin Scorsese's early films; 1975—on stage played Happy Loman in Death of a Salesman, with George C. Scott; 1983–84—on stage in David Rabe's Hurly Burly, directed by Mike Nichols; 1986—on stage in A Lie of the Mind; 1992—co-produced Reservoir Dogs.Awards: National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor, in Thelma & Louise, 1991; Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead, and Fantasporto International Fantasy Film Award for Best Actor, for Bad Lieutenant, 1993; Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actor in a Lead Role, for The Piano, 1993; David Di Donatello Prize for Best Foreign Actor, for Smoke, 1996. Agent: William Morris, 151 El Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
Who's that Knocking at My Door? (I Call First) (Scorsese) (as J. R.)
Street Scenes (Scorsese—doc)
Mean Streets (Scorsese) (as Charlie)
The Virginia Hill Story (Schumacher—for TV) (as Bugsy Siegel)
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (Scorsese) (as Ben Everhart); That's the Way of the World (Shining Star) (Shore) (as Coleman Buckmaster)
Taxi Driver (Scorsese) (as Sport); Mother, Jugs & Speed (Yates) (as Speed); Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (Altman) (as Ed Goodman); Welcome to L.A. (Rudolph) (as Ken Hood)
The Duellists (Ridley Scott) (as Gabriel Ferand)
Fingers (Toback) (as Jimmy Angelelli); Blue Collar (Schrader) (as Jerry Bartkowski)
Health (Altman); Eagle's Wing (Harvey) (as Henry); La Mort en Direct (Deathwatch) (Tavernier) (as Roddy)
Bad Timing: . . . A Sensual Obsession (Roeg) (as Inspector Netusil); Saturn 3 (Donen) (as Benson)
La Nuit de Varennes (That Night in Varennes; The New World) (Scola) (as Thomas Paine)
The Border (Richardson) (as Cat)
Exposed (Toback) (as Rivas); Une pierre dans la bouche (A Stone in the Mouth) (Leconte) (as the Fugitive); Corrupt (Order of Death; Cop Killer) (Faenza) (as Lt. Fred O'Connor)
Falling in Love (Grosbard) (as Ed Lasky); Dream One (Nemo) (Selignac) (as Mr. Legend)
El Caballero del Dragon (The Knight of the Dragon; Star Knight) (Colomo)
Camorra (Vicoli e delitti; Un complicato intrigo di donne, vicoli e delitti; The Naples Connection) (Wertmüller) (as Frankie Acquasanta); La Sposa Americana (The American Wife) (Soldati); Wise Guys (De Palma) (as Bobby Dilea); Off Beat (Dinner) (as Mickey); The Men's Club (Medak) (as Solly Berliner)
Corsa in Discesa; L'inchiesta (The Inquiry; The Investigation) (Damiani) (as Pontius Pilate); The Pick-Up Artist (Toback) (as Alonzo); Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (Couturie—doc) (as narrator); Blindside (Lynch) (as Penfield Gruber)
The Last Temptation of Christ (Scorsese) (as Judas Iscariot); Caro Gorbaciov (Dear Gorbachev; Cordial Gorbatschev) (Lizzani); Down Where the Buffalo Go (Knox—for TV)
The January Man (O'Connor) (as Frank Starkey); La bataille des trois rois (The Battle of Three Kings; Tambores de fuego; Drums of Fire) (Barka); Imagining America (for TV)
The Two Jakes (Nicholson) (as Jake Berman); Due occhi diabolici (Two Evil Eyes) (Romero and Argento) (as Rod Usher); Grandi Cacciatori (The Great Hunter) (Camino); Martin Scorsese Directs (doc for TV)
Mortal Thoughts (Rudolph) (as Det. John Woods); Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott) (as Hal Slocumb); Bugsy (Levinson) (as Mickey Cohen); Miracle on 44th Street: A Portrait of the Actor's Studio (doc for TV)
Sister Act (Ardolino) (as Vince LaRocca); Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino) (as Mr. White, + co-pr); Bad Lieutenant (Ferrara) (title role); The Specialist (Badham)
Dangerous Game (Snake Eyes) (Ferrara) (as Eddie Israel); Point of No Return (The Assassin) (Badham) (as Victor the Cleaner); The Young Americans (Cannon) (as John Harris); Rising Sun (Kaufman) (as Tom Graham); The Piano (Campion) (as George Baines)
Pulp Fiction (Tarantino) (as Winston Wolf); Monkey Trouble (Pet) (Amurri) (as Shorty); Imaginary Crimes (Drazan) (as Ray Weiler); Somebody to Love (Rockwell) (as Harry Harrelson)
Smoke (Wang) (as Auggie Wren); Clockers (Spike Lee) (as Rocco Klein); Blue in the Face (Wang and Auster) (as Auggie Wren, + ex pr); Get Shorty (Sonnenfeld) (cameo); To Vlemma tou Odyssea (Ulysses' Gaze; The Gaze of Odysseus; Le Regarde d'Ulysse) (Angelopoulos) (as A.); American Cinema (doc for TV)
From Dusk Till Dawn (Rodríguez) (as Jacob Fuller); Head above Water (Jim Wilson) (as George)
Full Tilt Boogie (Kelly) (as himself); City of Industry (John Irvin) (as Roy Egan); Cop Land (Mangold) (as Ray Donlan); Fairy Tale: A True Story (Sturridge) (as Harry Houdini)
Shadrach (Styron) (as Vernon Dabney); Finding Graceland (Winkler) (as Elvis); Lulu on the Bridge (Auster) (as Izzy Maurer); Il Mio West (My West) (Veronesi) (as Johnny Lowen)
Three Seasons (Bui) (as James Hager + ex pr); Holy Smoke (Campion) (as PJ Waters); An Interesting State (Wertmüller); Prince of Central Park (Leekley) (as Guardian); Presence of Mind (Aloy)
U-571 (Mostow) (as Chief Klough); Little Nicky (Brill) (as Satan); Fail Safe (Frears—for TV) (as General Warren Black)
By KEITEL: articles—
"Jake Jake: Jack Nicholson and Harvey Keitel," interview with Julian Schnabel, in Interview (New York), August 1990.
"Harvey Keitel, Zoe Lund, and Abel Ferrara: The Unholy Trinity That Makes Bad Lieutenant a Religious Experience," interview with Julian Schnabel, in Interview (New York), December 1992.
"Dark Star/Dog Days," interview with Brian Case and Nigel Floyd, in Time Out (London), 30 December 1992.
"Staying Power," interview with David Thompson, in Sight & Sound (London), January 1993.
"The Gospel According to Harvey," interview with Georgina Howell, in Vogue (New York), December 1993.
Interview with Lawrence Grobel, in Playboy (Chicago), November 1995.
Moverman, Oren, "To-Hell-and-Back Harvey," in Interview, May 1999.
On KEITEL: books—
Fine, Marshall, Harvey Keitel: The Art of Darkness, New York, 1998.
Hunter, Jack, Harvey Keitel: Movie Top Ten, Berkeley, 1999.
On KEITEL: articles—
Clark, John, filmography in Premiere (New York), September 1990.
Lyons, Donald, "Scumbags," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1992.
Thompson, David, "Harvey Keitel: Staying Power," in Sight and Sound (London), January 1993.
Tosches, Nick, "Heaven, Hell, Harvey Keitel," in Esquire (New York), September 1993.
Schoemer, Karen, "Harvey Keitel Tries a Little Tenderness," in New York Times, 7 November 1993.
Current Biography 1994, New York, 1994.
Roberts, Chris, "It's the Way Keitel 'em," in Melody Maker (London), 8 January 1994.
Stars (Mariembourg), Summer 1995.
Fleming, M., "Keitel Gets His Goat," in Variety (New York), 25–31 August 1997.
* * *
Praised since his first screen appearances for his versatility and intensity, Harvey Keitel has steadily constructed one of the cinema's most prolific and adventurous acting careers. He first emerged, a fully formed talent out of the legendary Actor's Studio, as the central and most compassionate figure in Martin Scorsese's semi-autobiographical early films. In spite of Keitel's later, frequent divergence from those early roles, his performances for Scorsese—especially as the anguished Charlie in Mean Streets, torn between the Catholic Church and the Mob—have continued to shadow his ongoing identification with gritty, streetwise urban characters whose greatest conflicts are nevertheless internal or even metaphysical. (It thus seemed impossible to imagine Scorsese casting any other actor, even Robert DeNiro, as Judas in his controversial Last Temptation of Christ.) Although Keitel can be explosive on screen, his skills as an actor are most powerfully conveyed through small expressive gestures, often the result of his early training in improvisational techniques—reportedly his character's quiet, intimate dance with Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver was Keitel's idea, and it's the single scene in the film that clarifies the young prostitute's otherwise inexplicable devotion to her pimp.
In the two decades following his indelible early performances, Keitel worked constantly in interesting but often little-seen films, increasingly in Europe (especially Italy, perhaps since his association with Scorsese perpetuated the illusion that Keitel, a Jew of Polish-Romanian descent, was himself Italian-American). Along with a number of impressive performances—with his French officer in The Duellists and auto worker in Blue Collar standouts—a retrospective glance at Keitel's credits demonstrates his prescient knack for attaching himself to first-time directors who would soon thereafter become prominent filmmakers: after Scorsese, Keitel appeared in the debut feature films of Ridley Scott (The Duellists), Alan Rudolph (Welcome to L.A.), Paul Schrader (Blue Collar), and Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, which Keitel co-produced); he has also worked with such independently-minded and funded figures as Robert Altman, Ettore Scola, Bertrand Tavernier, James Toback (in three films), Nicolas Roeg, Tony Richardson, Dario Argento, Lina Wertmüller, Abel Ferrara (twice), Jane Campion (twice), Spike Lee, and Wayne Wang (in a pair of films shot simultaneously from Paul Auster scripts). In his diverse work for such a range of distinctive filmmakers, Keitel seemed to risk the pursuit of a career that was more personally rewarding than aimed at pleasing a large audience.
After working steadily in rarely successful films, the early 1990s signaled a renaissance for Keitel, who continued to appear in diverse roles but finally again in popular and widely discussed films; he plays the sympathetic cops in Mortal Thoughts, Thelma and Louise, and Clockers (a delicate performance in Spike Lee's most focused narrative), and their nightmarish double as the (frequently naked, even crucified) Bad Lieutenant; that the same actor could appear almost simultaneously in the light comedy Sister Act, the ultraviolent neonoir Reservior Dogs, and the art-house hit The Piano (as a half-primitive Maori) demonstrated the astonishing range of his skills to a wider audience. Although Keitel's willingness, in his early fifties, to appear nude in both Bad Lieutenant and The Piano was taken as evidence of his risk-taking as an actor, his real risks in those complex roles are far more substantial than just dropping his pants.
Most recently, Keitel has reunited with director Campion as a seductive and then seduced cult deprogrammer for Holy Smoke! and paid tribute to his own military career in the patriotic submarine film U-571, again demonstrating his graceful movement between offbeat and more conventional roles. Keitel's introductory line in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction—"I'm Winston Wolf, I solve problems"—may be a subtle comment on the actor's own assurance at this point in his career: his presence, in both commercial entertainments and more challenging works, now virtually guarantees at least one riveting and thoroughly committed performance in those films.
—Corey K. Creekmur