To call Christian Keyes an over-achiever might be an understatement. With over 40 stage productions (totaling more than 1200 live performances) and several movie and television roles under his belt, you could consider Keyes a successful actor. But he doesn’t stop there. The Detroit native is also an accomplished singer and songwriter with two albums to his credit; as well as a model, known for showing off his fit 6’3″ frame on his own remarkable calendars.
Now residing in Los Angeles, Keyes has been building up his resumé at a frantic pace, although you’d never guess he had any pressure on him from his easy speaking tone. From his live performance success in Tyler Perry stage plays to TV roles in Zane’s Sex Chronicles and Brothers & Sisters, Keyes has earned praise for his work. Now he’s taking on more major roles, with a whopping six full-length productions on TV and DVD in 2011 alone, and is also working on yet another music album.
Keyes latest starring role is in Lord, All Men Can’t Be Dogs, a stage play which debuted originally on BET. It comes to DVD on June 14, 2011, and co-stars Vivica A. Fox, Elise Neal, Johnny Gill, Tony Grant (Why Did I Get Married), Laila Odom (Zane’s Sex Chronicles) and more.
UrbLife.com nabbed a few moments with this motivated man to find out what makes him tick. Read on as Christian Keyes discusses how he balances his career, why you can’t always label your critics haters, and the tough love advice he’d give anyone wanting to follow in his footsteps.
Tell us a little about Lord, All Men Can’t Be Dogs… if all men can’t be dogs, then how are they presenting it in this production?
Christian Keyes: This is a project with Vivica Fox, Johnny Gill, Elise Neal, John Gray, Tony Grant, Kareem Grimes, Laila Odom; I mean it’s a great cast and a really great story. Basically it’s about a married couple that is very dysfunctional, kind of at each other’s throats all of the time, and really on the ropes. God sends some angels down, and we can’t see the angels running around our house trying to make things better.
We also can’t see the two [demons]that are there, Erotica and Strife. Obviously Erotica is the temptation, and that leads to the possibility of infidelity. Strife is all of the bickering and chaos and anger. It’s really these four spirits interacting, competing, and battling right next to us, and only the audience will be able to see them. It’s a really cool concept.
The writer and director is T.J. Hemphill. This is a play I did back in 2003 and when I sat down, the image that they were looking for: a really great, intriguing, and conceptually different play, I told him I knew of several, but the first one I thought of was this one. They allowed me to help put it together.
You do a lot! How do you manage to be such a multi-faceted entertainer? How do you juggle your life?
CK: Just scheduling. And it keeps me out of trouble, so I try to stay as busy as possible. Out here in L.A., a single black man… I would rather be out here working, truthfully, than out at the clubs every night. It works for me. I get to write and be on the production side of some projects, and other projects I just show up and act.
I still do the music; I’m recording my third CD. I figure why not try these gifts. God gives them to you, I think He wants you to use them and make your life better.
Has anyone in entertainment told you that you should try to stay in one lane?
CK: Absolutely! Had I listened, I wouldn’t have been able to do half of the things that I have been able to do. Again, I’m certain that God smiles when you use your gifts to make your life better and to inspire and motivate other people, whatever your gift is. I’m certain He looks down and smiles because He knows that He did that.
I don’t listen to what folks say as far as being critical, saying you should only act or you should only sing. No, I’m going in whatever door that God decides to open for me.
Has there been any tough love advice that somebody gave you that helped you?
CK: Yeah actually. I will say this, all people aren’t being critical, all people aren’t hating. Some of them are actually right, and that’s where we have to be honest with ourselves and police ourselves. and figure out, “Am I prepared as I need to be? Doing the vocal lessons and getting the coaching, am I as ready as I need to be or is there more that I can do? Am I doing this the right way?” Advice about stuff like that was the tough love that I got. That was legitimate.
I had to sit back and be like, “This person may be right, let me jump back into my vocal lessons and tighten this and this up. Let me switch acting coaches and work on this and this.” You just want to keep going.
I’m never above advice, but what I won’t do anymore is look for people’s approval or validation. You know if you’re doing your best and you know if you’re not.
When people come to you and say that they want to do what you do, what’s the best tough love advice that you would give someone?
CK: Do the work. The hardest part of this isn’t thinking that the opportunity will present itself or that God will get it done for you. In my opinion, that is the easy part. The hard part is doing the work, taking those classes, setting money aside for the vocal lessons, or getting an annoying part time job to make extra money so that you can take the acting classes and become a better actor.
Going on those auditions that you may not get the first audition, but you have to keep going. Doing those things, we have to put in the work down here and pretty much have to do every single thing in our power if we really want it. Then it’s the point where God steps in and does all of the things that we can’t do. We have to be busy down here, knocking these doors down, being prepared, and sharpening those tools for when the time is right. He will open those other doors and do the rest.
That’s why I had to move to LA. The acting was good in Michigan, but I would keep getting auditions and directors would want to sit down and have lunch. I’m like, “Oooh I’m in Michigan.” So about five years ago, literally I had to pick up and move to L.A. so I could really get my hands into the industry and figure out where I fit in. Thankfully I took that gamble and I thank God that it paid off.
Tell us a little about what you have coming up in the next six months that people can look out for.
CK: I was just added to the second season of BET’s Let’s Stay Together, very excited about that because it’s a great cast, show, and network. To be added was just great. There’s also Dysfunctional Friends – that should be coming out later this year with myself, Meagan Good, Stacey Dash, Tatyana Ali, Hosea Chanchez, Terrell Owens, Essence Atkins, Reagan Gomez-Preston, almost everybody in young, Black Hollywood is in this thing. It’s a very funny, very good movie.
We have We Are Family, which is a Front Desk Studios film, with me, Monique Coleman, Omarosa, RonReaco Lee… another amazing cast. It’s a boatload of stuff that’s going on and some projects that I’m shooting this summer. I’m just excited – it’s a lot going on right now!
Watch Christian Keyes new video “I’m Alright”