Keith David Interview

The deep-voice actor and narrator of World War II doc The War spoke to Maxim about everything from the combat experience to saving Charlie Sheen’s life.

What are some of the most significant things

you learned while narrating The War?

I learned that the world is still reeling from the

impact of World War II—how we went into the war, how we came out of it, and how

we’ve dealt with it since. It was very interesting to track the war’s effect

through the eyes of our elders. I was proud that these veterans could tell their


This documentary focused on four

specific small American towns and their soldiers. Do you think these particular

stories speak to a universal experience?

I think that

one of the main reasons for doing a project like The War is

that you get to see the universality of conflict. We had screenings with World

War II vets and Iraq vets; they shared combat stories and experiences, and it

was quite moving and interesting to see how they can tell some of the same


Why were the particular four towns


In a small town, when you have 10 guys that

everybody knows, if one guy gets killed or goes missing in action, then it

affects everyone. That was the case for the four towns we hit; each one had

several stories.

What initially drew you to

this project?

Well, I’m always interested in working

with Ken [Burns, documentary filmmaker], because he always chooses dynamic

subject matters with universal resonance. Everybody can listen to these stories

and get something out of them. I’m also a history buff, so I loved learning all

the little intricacies. The common problem with the World War II story is that

it’s always being bent by whoever is telling it. But Ken has a wonderful


You’ve done everything from

Broadway to film to voice acting. Is there a different approach to all three?

Approaches are always different, but good acting is

good acting—that’s the lowest common denominator. Under any circumstance, in any

genre, you want to act well. And you never want to be caught acting!

You’ve also played soldiers, a veteran, and

have narrated Navy commercials. Do you think there’s something about your acting

that lends itself to military roles?

Somebody must

think so! Fundamentally, I guess it goes back to when I used to love playing

cops and robbers, good guys vs. the bad guys.

Is there always a sense of play when acting?

How about when the subject matter gets deeper?

When it

ceases to be fun, that’s when I’m gonna get out of it. But you don’t walk away

from something like The War saying, “I enjoyed that.” It’s

not that kind of experience. However, you do walk away having been glad to be

there. You do walk away having been filled with a deeper sense of the reality. I

walked away with a deeper sense of appreciation for the young men and women who

actually participated in it.

We read on IMDB

that you saved Charlie Sheen from falling out of a chopper during the shooting

of Platoon. Is that true?
Uh, yeah.

I happened to be in a position to be able to keep him from losing his life. I

would like to think that anybody who was there in the moment would have done the

same thing. So yeah, that’s true, but it’s hard for me to say, “I saved his


You’ve got one of the coolest voices of

any actor out there right now. Was it something you cultivated or is it

something natural?

God is good. I work with my voice

all the time. I mean, I’m a singer. I do a Nat King Cole act. Nat is my

inspiration, and a big influence in my life. And I’m going to keep working on

it. Nat practiced singing for two hours every day, so even he didn’t get that

level of smooth without working on his voice.