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
What initially drew you to
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?
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?
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?
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
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.