Phillip P. Keene [Interview]

Welcome to the first Friday of 2019 here at Trainwreck’d Society! I hope the year’s first week has served you well, and your resolutions are still moving forward. Today we have an absolutely incredible interview to share with you all, with a person I have found to have an even more fascinating story to tell that of the character he famously portrayed for close to 13 years on two different series. Fans of Phillip P. Keene (of which there are an abundance) will already know that I of course am talking about the acclaimed TNT crime dramas known as The Closer and Major Crimes.

Now, I am going to be perfectly frank with you all here: I have honestly never watched either of these shows. In fact, beyond say Twin Peaks and another TNT vehicle that we can’t quite discuss yet, I am not particularly fond of crime dramas. Now I know this may go against our standard “fan first” mentality here at TWS, but here me out. After watching just a few (okay, dozens) of clips and moments of Mr. Keene portraying the now infamous Buzz Watson, I was convinced that he is definitely a damn fine actor and it would be an honor to have him on the site. There was no question in that. But, what truly struck me was his story of how he came to be who he is today. Having moved as a youth between South America and several cities in California, I even related to the lack of permanence he felt growing up, as I did the same as a youth. Also, I’m sure I am wrong here, but Mr. Keene may be the first major airline flight attendant to turn into a network television star? Working for Pan Am prior to getting into acting is a story all in itself when you think about what the now debunked airline did to history.

Yes, while most people may be drawn to Phillip’s work on two deservingly successful television shows, I have found his on personal journey to be one that should be documented. He is a pioneer in the LGBTQ community, coming out at a time that was regretfully much harder to do. He is an inspiration and truly just seems like the kind of person I would enjoy spending a day with. And a person of that nature will always be welcome here on the digital pages of Trainwreck’d Society. So new fans and old fans unite, and please welcome the great Phillip P. Keene!

***

What made you decide to join the world of acting? When did you first realize it was your passion and the way you wanted to earn a living?

I always wanted to be an actor, but my parents actively discouraged it, and my high school academic career was something less than stellar, so I had very limited sense of my potential during my late teens and most of my twenties. But after I lost my job and went back to college, I began to hope a little. Never did I think I could graduate from college with two degrees! So as I began to consider the next phase of my life, I thought, “Why not go back to my original dream? And at least give it a try?” I was incredibly lucky, too, and very much at the right place at the right time. But I put myself out there. I gambled on my heart and I was fortunate.

Between The Closer and Major Crimes, you have spent over a dozen years portraying Buzz Watson to the admiration of your fans. Last January, it all came to an end. I am curious to know what it feels like to have ran through so many years with a character. And how does it feel to put Buzz to rest now?

A part of me will always be Buzz Watson. I am nothing like Buzz, really, but I like to think we share a common idea of decency. But Buzz lives a life of service to his community. Buzz is a hero and I am an actor. Is it weird to say that, to me, Buzz was like a real person? I can never put him to rest. I miss playing him. I hope another good role will come along, and I’ll get to tap into a different part of my heart. But I will always be proud of my 200+ episodes as Buzz.

I have learned that you are quite the fanatic for the world of Pan Am Airlines, with quite the expansive collection of memorabilia. What sort of things does such a collection contain? And where did the passion for Pan Am come from?

One day, while driving an iffy Volkswagen Bug to a restaurant where I was working as a waiter, my car broke down. I sweated my way through getting it running again, arrived at the restaurant on time, only to be sent home because they weren’t busy enough. I was broke and hungry (because I missed the staff meal) and on my way home, I bought a newspaper for the first time in my life. I skipped right over the events of the day to the want ads. And there, in the corner of the page (I still have it) was an announcement that Pan Am was looking for flight attendants. I thought about it and applied. And because I was fluent in Spanish, they hired me! And suddenly I was off to Florida for training and, before I knew it, based in London! I can’t tell you what a difference this made in my life. I had never travelled to Europe, I had never had a job that required life-saving training, and I had never worn a uniform: it was all incredibly exciting. Also, it was mind blowing. Living in and visiting different countries every week was the first part of my education, and my gratitude to Pan Am for hiring me, and to all the people with whom I worked while there, led me to preserve as much of the company as I could find. Pan Am employees are really like a very large extended family, and we have reunions and several organizations that keep us together, like the Pan Am Museum Foundation, on whose board I serve. In Pan Am, I made friends for life. And the considerable contributions Pan Am made to connect the modern world should be preserved.


If you were given the chance to portray any figure in American history of any sort of significance who would it be?

I love American history, and I study it in my spare time, so there are a lot of amazing figures from our country’s past that intrigue me. If I were to play anyone, though, I think I might choose Thomas Paine. He’s a vastly underrated person from the earliest days of our republic, and had an outside influence on the world. As a common man, largely self-educated, I relate to him in ways that I don’t to great men like Washington and Jefferson. And his writings – Common Sense, The Crisis Papers, The Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason – influenced the entire world. He had flaws. He suffered from depression. He was imprisoned by his enemies and ignored by his friends. But he never stopped trying to influence the future. I’m the right age to take him on! But I don’t know if it’s a story anyone is interested in telling.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

I did a television movie that aired in 2017. I’m trying to get a documentary off the ground. And I’ve auditioned for lots of new projects. I’ve gotten very close to a several jobs, but not close enough! But if you can tell anything from this interview, I am persistent! I’ve also spent a lot of time at the gym and getting back in touch with my marriage and my everyday life. Since I’m pretty sure I’ll be working again, I’m determined to make this abundance of time off (the first time in my whole life when I haven’t had a job!) as enjoyable as possible. I know actors are supposed to panic when they don’t have a job. It’s not happening to me!

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I actually smile a lot! So maybe I should say the last thing that made me smile a lot was a lunch with Jessica Meraz, dinner with Kearran Giovanni and G.W. Bailey and Graham Patrick Martin, and a phone conversation I had with Michael Paul Chan and a text message exchange I had with Kathe Mazur. The Major Crime alumni are pretty much staying together, and the ensemble of actors who worked together for thirteen years (which is like going from kindergarten through graduation from high school together) sticks together! You never know if that will happen until after the show stops. We miss each other, and we root for each other’s successes. I’m proud of my family, and I hope they are proud of me!

 

 

Check out this trailer for Deadly Shores starring Phillip Keene, which was released on Lifetime in August of 2018, and also features our dear friend Kristin Minter:

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

One Response to Phillip P. Keene [Interview]

  1. nblackburn says:

    Oh my goodness! You have NEVER watched either The Closer or Major Crimes (aka #BestShowEVER)? They are treats…highly recommend! And Buzzie just makes you smile! I have watched network execs do a whole lotta stupid things, but the cancellation of MC takes the prize.

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