Keith David gained attention in 1986 for his role as King in the Oscar winning movie Platoon, going on to do such eclectic movies as The Thing, They Live, Bird, Barbershop, Crash, There’s Something About Mary, Armageddon and Pitch Black.
His booming, lyrical voice has graced many documentaries and animated TV and motion pictures including The Princess and the Frog, Justice League, Aladdin, Coraline, winning Emmy Awards for his narration of two Ken Burns documentaries, The War and Unforgivable Blackness.
In his new NBC series The Cape, David plays Max Malini, the ringleader of a circus gang of bank robbers, who becomes an unexpected mentor to Vince Faraday (David Lyons), a cop on the run who becomes his son’s favorite superhero, The Cape.
After doing the voice of the evil Dr Facilier in The Princess and the Frog were you looking forward to being onscreen again?
Yes, and I look forward to my next opportunity to be on stage, because I haven’t done that for awhile.
But I knew that if I wanted to attach myself to a television series, I wanted it to be a project that I felt like I could do for awhile, that would be exciting for me to do, that would give me something to do and something to look forward to, and this gives me all of that.
When you read the script for The Cape were you worried when you saw a death scene?
No, because I read the rest of it! There’s a sort of Obi-Wan Kenobi element to Max, so even if I did die I would have come back in spirit.
Your character really projects a ‘ringmaster’ persona.
In the first episode, I say I’m using my stage voice. When I read the script, that was one of the funniest moments for me, because when I’m auditioning for things many times I’m told, ‘Can you tone that down a little bit?’ So this is one of the few times I’m not told that. That’s kind of nice.
Max has different levels of how he interacts with people. Sometimes he’s sincere, sometimes he’s playful, do you discuss with the show runners how to deliver the line, or do you just decide for yourself how he’s going to be?
If I have a choice that it could be a little bit more theatrical or over-the-top delivery, we do talk about it. Any performance is a matter of collaboration, both with the producers and the director. Usually what happens is, they will give me a take to be as outrageous as I want and then we’ll do another one that’s slightly toned down from that, and we’ll come up with the best one.
Will we find out your back story, where you came from and how you know how to work with the cape?
That will come down the line. Max has got quite a checkered past, because the cape has a past. We’ll come to find out that either you wear the cape or the cape wears you.
Did Max use the cape before Vince Faraday and now you’re handing it over to him?
Yes, that is part of the mix.
How much did you have to train before the series started?
I lost 30 pounds between the pilot and the start of the series. I did it mostly eating raw food, doing [exercise] and yoga, which I continue to do on daily basis.
Will we see you doing any circus stunts?
Yes. When I was a college student, I studied the circus, and I was a trampoline guy. I was really skinny in those days. So I would put my little white wristbands on, and I had a white gymnast costume and would do the trampoline. When we got on the set and the circus performers were around there, I was really wonderfully taken aback and it made me want to revisit some of those steps. My fellow carnie Izabella Miko does aerial silks and it looks beautiful, and it made me want to be reminiscent. So I’m stepping back into that. You might see me do some of that stuff one of these days.
Was there any apprehension to do a weekly series?
Absolutely not. I’m frequently asked, ‘What genre do you like to work in, stage, film or TV?’ I like to work, and a good job is a good job. Upon my first reading of the script, this was a good job. And if I was going to be in a show, I wanted it to be something that I felt like I could play for a long time and that was going to be exciting, and this is all of that.
What are the difficulties of doing a TV series?
I could say a con would be the long hours, but I’m working and there’s no downside to working, especially when you’re working on a show that you like. It’s my pleasure and honor to go to work every day. I could be digging ditches in San Bernardino. There are any number of things that I could be doing to make money and not like it.
Does doing this show allow you to do pursue your singing career?
Because of the intensity of this first foray into the forest, I’ve had to put some of my music a little bit to the side, but every down moment I get I’m honing my act. I was hoping to do a Valentine’s Day show, but my next show is going to be called When You’re in Love, Everyday is Valentine’s Day. I’m hoping to do that at a local club downtown. I’ll be doing it sometime in March.