Savannah – Born Superstars

Anyone living in the South knows there’s no shortage of characters, especially in Savannah. These are just a few that turned their larger-than-life personalities into paychecks. Stacy Keach is a performer of epic proportions. Over the years, the Savannah-born actor has perfected the art of playing dramatic Shakespearean roles such as King Lear. He’s dominated the silver screen as the iconic Mike Hammer. And he’s honed the comic genius of playing a villainous patriarch with the character of Papa Titus. He’s had a career that has spanned decades, but the actor, now 70 years old, continues to push himself and his talent. Continuing to hone his craft, these days he’s co-authoring Mary’s Magic Microscope, a trilogy of children’s books, is preparing to star in the Broadway play Other Desert Cities with Stockard Channing this fall and is filming The Bourne Legacy. He also recently lent his voice to the Disney animated movie Planes that will be released in 2013. And somehow he still found time to compose and write a little music. During a rare break, Keach talked with South all the way from Poland about his Southern roots.   

South magazine: What are your connections to Savannah?

Stacy Keach: I was born in Savannah in 1941, and my dad and mom used to tell me the story about how the day I was born, there was a lightning storm. I was born on June 2, and that evening—I was born at 7:00 apparently—lightning hit the roof of our chimney. And my dad was at the hospital and had to rush home to let the firemen in the house. It’s one of those stories that has followed me around all my life. They used to love telling that story. It was one of their favorite stories. … They thought it was an auspicious beginning.

SM: Your career is very inclusive and has spanned a great amount of time. At the highest level, you have succeeded in radio, theater, TV and film. Which is your favorite medium?

SK: If someone were to put a gun to my head and say, “You have to make a choice,” I would choose live theater because of the audience. Being able to perform in front of a live audience is very important to me. I started in live theater; it’s where I began. But I love movies and television as well, and I feel very fortunate and blessed to be able to continue to do both.

SM: So theater it is.

SK: Yes, I love classical theater as well, but … it pays your soul, but it doesn’t pay the rent.

SM: You have a long history with Shakespearean roles. What is it about them that appeal to you?

SK: In order to be a great actor, a professor once told me, you have to play great parts. And the greatest parts are the great Shakespearean roles—the challenges that are set forth by Shakespeare, and the demands he makes of actors in terms of not only being able to speak well but also to be able to be clear and to convey the proper emotions and expressions of the characters. It’s a wonderful experience, and it’s a great challenge. And it’s the challenge that I’m drawn to.

SM: In contrast, you have also played some truly hysterical characters like Papa Titus on the show Titus.

SK: (Laughs) I love that character, Papa Titus. That had everything to do with Christopher Titus because it was his father that he was depicting. I had the great pleasure and privilege of meeting his dad during the taping of that show. I asked him, “How can you allow yourself to be so maligned by your son?” Christopher had spent 16 years doing stand-up and characterized his dad as a terrible human being. He said, “As long as it’s funny, I don’t mind.”

SM: Sounds like a good experience.

SK: I would have loved for that show to have gone on. He was one of my favorite characters. He was just outrageously funny. I loved playing him.

SM: And then of course there’s Mike Hammer.

SK: People know me as Mike Hammer; at least people of a certain generation know me as that. I still love that character.

SM: You must still often get recognized for that role in particular.

SK: It’s funny, because it depends on the generation. People recognize me for Mike Hammer, but other people recognize me for Papa Titus, and some other people recognize me for being the warden in Prison Break. I’ll be walking in an airport and people used to say to me, “Didn’t you used to be Mike Hammer?” And then years later people used to say, “Didn’t you used to be Papa Titus? or the warden?” Last week I was walking in the airport and someone came up to me and said, “Didn’t you used to be Stacy Keach?”

 

DIANNA AGRON

Born in Savannah, Dianna Agron is best known for the character Quinn Fabray on Glee, the role that landed her a Screen Actors Guild Award in 2010. Agron began her career at age 3 when she started taking dance and performing classes in local theater productions. She has also appeared on the television series Heroes and Veronica Mars, and alongside Cher in the film Burlesque.

OMARI HARDWICK

A graduate of The University of Georgia, Omari Hardwick began writing poetry at the age of 14. Since his breakout role in Spike Lee’s Sucker Free City, Hardwick has landed roles in such films as Kick-Ass and The A-Team. Hardwick has also gained fame on the small screen for his role as Ty Curtis on Dark Blue, for which he was nominated for a NAMIC Vision Award. He was also nominated for his role in the 2010 film For Colored Girls.