Actor Christian Keyes on fatherhood, fame and his future
Christian Keyes has a lot of heart and it shows. The actor, producer, author and single dad has invaded Hollywood with his telegenic face, charm and sheer talent. A native of Michigan, Keyes has been landing role after role, and today can be found on several TV series including the Bounce TV drama “Saints & Sinners”; The CW fantasy “Supernatural”; and the all-new BET drama “In Contempt,” which he described in an earlier interview as “necessary, witty and has a lot of heart.”
Keyes fields tough questions throughout this interview with our creative director DeWayne Rogers, and he doesn’t mince words describing his ideal attributes for his mate. While his tone is refreshing, some may consider it quaint. But one has to give him credit for going against the grain.
Knowing what you know now, what would you tell your younger self?
To forgive earlier. I carry too much anger and resentment toward people who have messed me over earlier in my life. I was bitter for a long time and wasn’t able to appreciate certain beautiful things, moments and people. I had very bad trust issues and nobody needs to carry that around. Mrs. Keyes had stopped beating us years ago, but I resented and hated her. Once I took my power back and forgave her, that situation held no more weight with me. If anything, it made me lighter, because now I can go talk to these foster kids and detention center kids and change their lives. I would tell 15-year-old me to try to forgive her, love her, pray for her even though she is flawed, we all are. I would go back and say it’s OK to forgive her.
If you could create a five-person cast of a superhero movie who would it be?
I would have Meryl Streep be the Charles Xavier kind of character. She would be the wiser, more seasoned character. I would have Denzel Washington in there, because I love his work and he’s honest, always brilliantly honest. I would have my son in there as the budding teenager just finding out he has powers, that would be fun and organic. I would have Sidney Poitier, I’ve always loved his stuff. I would have him play the villain because he was always a standup guy. I would love to see him as this pristine, likable bad guy. Clearly, I would like myself in there somewhere if I’m writing this I would like to be in the cast. I’d also like Whitney [Houston], she was very good. She was honest and I loved her work as an actress. I’d like to give her some superpowers like maybe a Storm kind of character or something. She and Mrs. Streep would be fun to watch.
What advice do you have for the young people of this generation who have so many talents to share?
I can’t even attempt to be good let alone great at what I want to do if I don’t study those who were great and honest first, and who made a career out of this. I study every great African American singer, but I’m also aware of the Meryl Streeps, Anthony Hopkinses and Paul Newmans. You can only tell so many stories about so many things in life and different cultures tell them differently. I think that’s beautiful and different. When we talk about a relationship falling apart in R&B and soul, we talk about it one of three ways. Country talks about it three more ways. Alternative rock talks about it three different ways. I like to listen to all of that because it makes me a better writer. This new generation is made up of creators, artists, believers and magicians; I feel like they would have deeper more genuine respect for their craft if they researched the people they standing on the shoulders of right now. I stand on the shoulders of every successful African American actor who has come before me. I am here because some successful African American has auditioned, fought for, booked, shot, executed, promoted a film and did well on it. I feel like if you’re serious about your craft, you’ll do the work.
Have you had any embarrassing moments on camera?
It is my goal in every film or TV show to make the blooper reel. If I don’t, it means I’m not having a good time … even if I have to create something. I’ve told the director I’m going to try this, but don’t tell the actresses. I feel like if you have that family bond and are there for the production, some of the most awkward and funny and weird stuff happens. I love it because I don’t embarrass easily.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
The biggest risk I’ve ever taken is packing up my whole life and moving to Los Angeles in 2006. That was 12 years ago and I was unsure of what was going to happen. I had never done any real TV or film. I was wildly successful in the theater world and there was no guarantee that I was going to have any luck out here or any success out here. It was just in my spirit. I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and had to tell myself no one is coming here to look for a younger Will Smith. You need to be out there where the work is. You need to get out there and fight where the risks are. That was the biggest risk I’ve ever taken and I thank God every day that it paid off. I’m on three shows this Spring. If that isn’t God I don’t know what is. Only he can line all that up and make it work.
What are your thoughts on this statement, “If Barack Obama had dark skin, he wouldn’t have been elected president.”
I disagree. I feel like he was the best candidate for the job. If he wasn’t, I wouldn’t have voted for him. He was the best, most prepared, most articulate, most intelligent man we’ve seen in the White House for a very long time. People would take jabs at him, but he does this thing where he receives it and in my mind, it’s like he’s running it through a few filters to make sure It comes out professional, intelligent, witty and respectful above all. If he was darker, I still feel like he was the best candidate and he would’ve won.
Mathew Knowles recently said Beyoncé would not have been as successful if her complexion were darker. What are your thoughts on his claim?
I feel like colorism is very real. I feel like it’s unnecessary and very out of pocket to say that she wouldn’t have been as successful. God put Beyoncé here to do great music and that’s all we’re ever going to get from her. When you have that kind of gift, and you can sing while showing all 32 of your teeth effortlessly, that’s God. No matter how many vocal drills, she was here to bless us with music that we can all relate to. Whitney had phenomenal success and you don’t even have to say her last name Whitney is Whitney. I disagree with Mr. Knowles. Yes, colorism is very real. Yes, our dark-skinned brothers and sisters had it hard back then, but I also love that now we are celebrating that magnificent melanin. With the whole Black Panther movie, there wasn’t one beige dude in it and that’s wonderful. It is a victory for all of us.
You were talking about Black Panther and all its success. At what point do you think that light skin is going to be back in?
I rock with anybody of any complexion of any shade. My mother was Native American and French, so she looked like a dark-skinned white woman. My dad was darker than you with an Afro, sunglasses and a little hole [in] the top cause his hair was leaving. I rock with anybody and I feel all shades and complexions are starting to be received for what they are, beautiful. I think modeling companies are starting to embrace people with alopecia, vitiligo, and beautiful differences and hopefully that continues. I can’t worry about it, because if someone doesn’t pick me ‘cause I’m too light then that’s their loss. I’m a hell of a teammate. I show up passionate about work. I’m dedicated. I’m loyal and I‘m going to kick ass every chance I get. When people say he’s a little too light, they don’t know me they don’t know my struggle. Those that will rule me out because I’m a certain shade of melanin, couldn’t walk out this room in my shoes let alone walk a mile. So, maybe it’s a blessing I’m not working with them. God will make sure that I will keep working on great projects and even bigger and that I create content. That’s why I write films and various TV shows and shop them out to various networks. I’m not going to always wait for people to put me in their amazing projects. I’m going to launch some of my own.
Many women find you to be an attractive man who is handling his responsibilities as a single father. Why haven’t you settled down yet?
I want a wife. And, I want a daughter and maybe a son. Whatever it is, I want them to be healthy … in Jesus’ name. That’s definitely a priority right now. You get to a place [in life] where you’re financially comfortable and blessed and it definitely makes you think about family more and settling down more. But, it’s got to be right. Nowadays we’re in a hookup culture. I’m not saying it’s wrong but I’m not going to build with that person or situation because that’s wrong for me. My woman isn’t going to be walking around half-naked all the time with [her] cheeks hanging out, camel toes and areolas on social media. I’m not judging or shaming anybody, but I know what I want as a grown man with chest hair. My woman isn’t going to carry herself like that because she’s going to be in prep mode for her husband. That’s where I’m at next. My son will be 16 in December. He’s amazing; he’s beautiful. But, I would like another and I would like to adopt one. I was adopted twice. I need a wife to do all of that, but it will happen when it’s supposed to happen. I’m looking but I’m not going to rush into anything. Some women want to broadcast that half-naked sexy appeal and bag a ballplayer; and he’s already got millions. I want the kind of woman who is going to be bad on her own and great by herself. I’m bringing the table to the table and I want the kind of woman that’s going to bring a table to sit next to my table.
Do you all discuss getting caught up in the #MeToo movement in Hollywood?
We definitely talk about getting caught up in the #MeToo movement. It’s not just women. When I first moved here, I kind of felt sorry ‘cause I kept hearing from my actor friends that were females that kept going through it and were harassed. Then, I got my first couple and it wasn’t even women that were harassing me. They will remain nameless, but it’s shameful that it happens it’s not cool that it happens. I’m grateful for two things. God made me strong enough to say no and to keep my integrity that way it’s no guilt or shame in the morning when I shave in the mirror. I’m grateful that he allowed me to be tested so that I know how strong I am. But, it’s real; it happens. You have to be strong enough to not want it that bad and decide to take the scenic route because it’s not worth taking the shortcut if it’ll cost you your peace.