Harvey Keitel: What I've Learned

What life has taught the legendary actor

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I'm not a good dancer but my wife thinks I am sometimes. I went to a dance class when I began acting. I laughed so hard I could hardly stand up because I felt like such an idiot.

Once you've weathered the storm you can do it again. That doesn't mean it doesn't come with fear and doubt and all the phenomenal emotions we have, but you must maintain that effort. You have to be prepared to suffer.

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I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I had a little pigeon coop when I was young and I'd steal pigeons from other people's coops. My father made hats. My mother worked in a luncheonette. I got myself thrown out of high school at 16 and they were upset about that.

True friendship, where you can rely on the person and they can rely on you, is a powerful force. I place the highest value on that.

The discipline of therapy helped me to get along with myself. That was a long time ago. As Rihanna sings so beautifully, I get along with the voices inside of my head.

Do I still feel physically strong? Yes. You want me to knock your teeth out to prove it? I eat properly, I exercise and I don't abuse anything. I take care of myself.

If someone hadn't seen one of my films where should they start? I never thought of that. I can't even think about it now. I'm not being coy with you. I might say read a good book instead. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent by Elaine Pagels is a favourite of mine.

What pisses me off is talking behind my back, which covers a lot of ground.

There's always room for improvement. Everywhere. I mean, not in terms of my being an honest person or a loyal person or being compassionate and tolerant. There's no place I need to go there; that has not changed in years and it will not change. I could be more patient.

When I was a little boy, I had a stutter. I still stutter, but much less. Back then it was a real champion stutter. In time it faded away, for the most part. Now it seems to be returning a little bit. Maybe because I'm so fatigued. I don't mean just now, but in these years.

Getting old is a pleasure. You're not dead. What do I think happens after we die? No problem. If you understand that answer then you explain it to me.

Fatherhood let me know I was ready for it. I didn't know until that moment. I tell everyone they should have children. It's never too late.

Was cocaine ever my cup of tea? I won't discuss that. I won't discuss it because it's not something to be asked in a question-and-answer period like we're having now. That's a serious subject and should be discussed in a serious way with serious-minded people in a serious environment. Whether it's cocaine, marijuana, alcohol or whatever other drugs are out today, it's serious. Very serious.

The characters that I play have a terrible habit of following me around.

If I say that I'm an optimist, I might seem like a fool. If I say I'm not, then I'll seem like a cynic. Perhaps I'm both.

I joined the Marines when I turned 17. They created an identity in me. I felt like I could meet a challenge and could endure until I completed the action. It gave me a sense of helping other people and camaraderie. A sense of pride. I spent three years in the Marines. I left because I missed my mother. Really. I was homesick.

Of course, it's ridiculous to have regrets. My only regret would be if I was not aware of the regret itself. That would be a real regret.

"Movie star" is a nice term because it's poetic and fairy tale-ish but it has no truth about it.

The human race can be ridiculous about religion. That idea that my religion has the connection to God and your religion does not seems absurd. I remember feeling that way growing up, that my religion was special and every other religion was not. Having grown up, I know what I know and I pursue a path of wanting to be aware, wanting to know what I don't know but sense is there. I can say that there is only one divine and that is the divine. I grew up Jewish. Now my religion is to do what is right.

It could be that I'm glorifying it because it's past, but the Seventies seemed to be a great time. Now things seem more degraded to me than they were back then. I mean, there was debauchery and degradation, if you will, back then, but there was also the spirit of Woodstock and of not finding the right girl but becoming the right person.

An actor doesn't make himself cry or laugh. An actor is never nude in a scene. Never any of those things. An actor plays a scene in the best way he knows how, in the most profound way he can summon up the meaning of that event. Whatever comes out is in the service of bringing a moment of truth to the stage.

No one else can review me as severely as I review myself.

I had sort of a dislike for money because it was such a hardship growing up. We always had bills, this or that. So, when everybody became so concerned about money while I was concerned about survival and relationships, I said, "Oh, fuck money". If a friend of mine got a new car, I had this habit of spitting on it. They would get so mad at me.

If you want to make a good first impression with women, don't bite your nails.

During night combat training in the Marine Corps, we were out in a field. It was very dark. You could not see your hand before your face. There were a couple of hundred of us, just finished boot camp on Parris Island [South Carolina]. I was frightened. Suddenly this voice boomed: "You're all afraid of the dark." I was stunned. In the distance there was a Marine instructor standing on a platform, silhouetted by the moon. I thought to myself, "How the hell does he know I'm scared? He can't even see me!" I was embarrassed that he saw my fear. Then he said, "We're going to teach you how to live in the darkness so you're no longer afraid of it."

I don't think about retiring. I will be retired at the proper time. 

Youth is in cinemas on January 29


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