Films

Harvey Keitel chats mud baths, death and why his manhood has never won an Oscar

If we plug your new film, can you help our readers sort out a better deal on their home insurance price?
You know, I don’t hand out advice freely as The Wolf.

Oh. Well, at least could you give us the actual number to reach Winston Wolfe, because when we phone we just get a bloke in a call centre?
No, you just open up your window, lean out and holler, “Help. Get me The Wolf.”

Great. We’ll try that. According to stuff on the internet, you died last Saturday.
There was an internet hoax that I died last weekend? Well, I did. I’m speaking to you from the beyond.

Did you realise you’d died?
No. But I appreciate a good hoax now and then.

Here are some other Harvey Keitel rumours we want to check. 1) You’re going to be the next James Bond. 
Um. Let’s see. Yes. You’re right. Now that’s I’ve passed to the beyond, anything is possible.

What would you bring to the role of Bond?
Well, I’d bring a pistol.

2) You practise the moves to Gangnam Style for up to five hours a day. 
‘Gangland Style?’ What’s that? Oh, it’s a dance? I don’t know that dance. Wait. Now my wife is telling me our son does it. That’s why he’s been shooting at me lately.

Anyway, your new film, Youth, is directed by Italian director Paolo Sorrentino. Did you mishear that it was directed by Quentin Tarantino?
No. I’ve never confused them both.

What’s the difference between a Sorrentino and a Tarantino?
When you work with talents like that, there’s not much difference. There’s the Italian culture and the US culture. But as far as the talent goes, it’s the same.

The theme of Youth is approaching death. At 76, can you identify with the aches, pains and bladder problems of your on-screen character?
I can identify very well in terms of the issues of loyalty, betrayal, devotion, failure and aspirations. These for me are Youth’s themes.

If you were to die in the style of any of your characters, how would you do it? Shot by the cops, like in Reservoir Dogs?
Ha. No. I’d like to get away and die of old age.

Some of Youth is set in a health spa in the Swiss Alps. Did you ever think you’d share a mud bath with Sir Michael Caine? 
All this pampering is a fiction. There was a lot of preparation and hard work to make sure that one is in mental and physical condition for the long haul.

Is it hard acting opposite Michael Caine without breaking into an impression of him? 
Well, I’m not very good at impressions, but Michael Caine is one of those actors who’s set a standard, and it was a delight to work with him.

You both have strong accents, long careers and served in the forces. Could you have led each other’s lives?
He’s the most out-of-Brooklyn person I’ve ever met who seems to be from Brooklyn, and he said the same of me. He said I’m the most cockney-like person he’s ever met that exists outside of Cockney Land. We have that inter-service rivalry that exists between military people, and we had fun with that.

You play a film director prepping for his last masterpiece. If you were only going to make one more film, what would it be?
The only answer I can give you to that is that every movie, you hope. You’re always trying to make movies that raise your awareness, that mean something to you. And so every movie is the last one, in a manner of speaking.

Yeah, but surely you’d want to make one with dinosaurs, aliens and robots from the future?
Well, it is a business world, too. You have to make a living. And the world is what it is.

You’ve got your kit off in lots of films but never won an Oscar. Is there some correlation between your lack of recognition and the size of your parts?
I’ve never done a naked scene in my life.

Er, whose penis is that in Bad Lieutenant then?
I think you’re maybe misinterpreting the picture. 

But you definitely get it out in The Piano.
Actors don’t do naked scenes. They tell a story. They play events. And they play those events to the most profound degree they can in order to tell the story.

But Google image search “Harvey Keitel naked” and there it is in all its glory.
Actors can be dressed or undressed. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the talent they use to tell the story.

But you’ve never won an Oscar. What are you doing wrong?
Maybe the Oscars are doing something wrong!

Youth is in cinemas now