Keith David Dishes on Cloud Atlas

Written by  Jacinta Howard

Keith David has a career that most actors would envy. He’s been working for years in theater, television and film and has also enjoyed a solid career as a voice-over actor and singer, touring all over the nation with a number of bands. Now, he stars in the mind-trip epic Cloud Atlas alongside Halle Berry and Tom Hanks. We caught up with the veteran star to get his take on freedom, music and what keeps him motivated. —J.H.

There are a lot of themes explored in this film through six different, complex stories. What did you want audiences to take from Cloud Atlas?

When I read the film and re-read the film and finally got it, I took a sense of how souls evolved and how the choices that we make today influence our own lives and even the lives of our descendants, and how we’re all intertwined spiritually and even racially sometimes, in all kinds of ways.

What were your thoughts on how freedom was explored in the film?
I was just a talking to somebody about the realm of freedom. Black people in America are really the symbol of freedom. Freedom comes in many forms. I think the way the film explores the many different forms of freedom, physical freedom from your enemy in the post-apocalyptic world, and even in the 70s [espionage storyline] with [the characters played by me and Halle Berry] Joe and Louisa, and the struggle for personal freedom and the question of if you’re really free if you’re a corporate slave...like Malcolm X said, if you don’t stand for something you’ll put up with anything.

You've been acting for many years in diverse mediums. Has your motivation changed?
When I started out I didn't have three children and a mortgage payment [laughing], so that was definitely motivation. But I've been fortunate. I still am motivated by the story line and the character. I can’t say that I've never taken a job for money, because I have, but that’s always the most motivating factor—the story.

You've spoken at such places as Morehouse College. What advice do you give to young aspiring actors?
Study. They need to study, develop the craft.

Rumor has it that you’re going to be directing some films?
I certainly hope to. I had some things that fell apart, as happens—it’s Hollywood, money comes and money goes. But I’m still quite hopeful that something will be done. It’s just not going to be done in the time I thought it was.

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