Oscar Actors: Keitel, Harvey–Background, Career, Awards

Updated July 1, 2020
Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: NA

Social Class: middle

Race/Ethnicity: Polish Jews

Family: Polish Jews

Education: Abraham Lincoln High School; age 16

Training: Actors Studio (Lee Strasberg); HB

Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut: Who’s That Knocking at My Door, 1967; age 28

Breakthrough Role: “Mean Streets,” 1973; age 34

Oscar Role: Bugsy, 1991; age 52

Other Noms: No

Other Awards: Aussie Awards, The Piano, 1993

Frequent Collaborator: Scorsese; De Niro (early on)

Screen Image: character actor

Last Film: NA

Career Output:

Film Career Span: 1967-

Marriage: 1 actress

Politics:

Death: NA

Harvey Keitel has starred in films such as Mean Streets (1973), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Thelma & Louise (1991), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), and The Irishman (2019).

Keitel has been nominated for a number of accolades in his career, including Academy and Golden Globe awards for his work in Bugsy (1991), and won an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his role in The Piano (1993).

From 1995 to 2017, he was a co-president of the Actors Studio, along with actors Al Pacino and Ellen Burstyn.

Keitel was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 13, 1939, the son of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants; his mother, Miriam (née Klein), was from Romania, and his father, Harry Keitel, was from Poland. His parents owned and ran a luncheonette, while his father worked as a hat maker.

He grew up in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, with his sister, Renee, and brother, Jerry. He attended Abraham Lincoln High School. He enlisted in the Marines at the age of 16, a decision that took him to Lebanon during Operation Blue Bat. After his return, he worked as a court reporter for several years before beginning his acting career.

Keitel studied under both Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg and at the HB Studio, eventually landing roles in some Off-Broadway productions. During this time, Keitel auditioned for filmmaker Martin Scorsese and gained a starring role as “J.R.”, in Scorsese’s first feature film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967).

Since then, Scorsese and Keitel have worked together on several projects.[7] Keitel had the starring role in Scorsese’s Mean Streets, which also proved to be Robert De Niro’s breakthrough film. Keitel re-teamed with Scorsese for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), in which he had a villainous supporting role, and appeared with Robert De Niro again in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), playing the role of Jodie Foster’s character’s pimp.

In 1977 and 1978, Keitel starred in the directorial debuts of Paul Schrader (Blue Collar, co-starring Richard Pryor and Yaphet Kotto), Ridley Scott (The Duellists, co-starring Keith Carradine), and James Toback (Fingers, in which Keitel played a street hood with aspirations of being a pianist – a role Toback wrote for Robert De Niro to play).

Cast as Captain Willard in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), Keitel was involved with the first week of principal photography in the Philippines. Coppola was not happy with Keitel’s take on Willard, stating that the actor “found it difficult to play him as a passive onlooker”.[9] After viewing the first week’s footage, Coppola replaced Keitel with a casting session favorite, Martin Sheen.

Keitel drifted into obscurity through most of the 1980s. He continued to do work on both stage and screen, but usually in the stereotypical role of thug. Keitel played a corrupt police officer in the 1983 thriller Copkiller (co-starring musician John Lydon), before taking a supporting role in the romantic drama Falling in Love (1984), starring Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep.

Between 1985 and 1988, he was the busiest character actor around appearing in 16 films and telefilms, including Brian De Palma’s mobster comedy Wise Guys (1986), starring Danny DeVito and Joe Piscopo and as Judas in Martin Scorsese’s controversial The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

He co-starred with Jack Nicholson in the Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes (1990), directed by Jack Nicholson. Ridley Scott cast Keitel as the sympathetic policeman in Thelma & Louise in 1991; that same year, Keitel landed a role in Barry Levinson’s Bugsy, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The following year, Keitel played another mobster in the Whoopi Goldberg-starring comedy Sister Act.

Keitel starred in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (which he co-produced) in 1992, where his performance as “Mr. White” took his career to a different level. Since then, Keitel has chosen his roles with care, seeking to change his image and show a broader acting range. One of those roles was the title character in Bad Lieutenant, about a self-loathing, drug-addicted police lieutenant trying to redeem himself.

He co-starred in the movie The Piano in 1993, and played an efficient cleanup expert, Winston “The Wolf” Wolfe in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Keitel starred as a police detective in Spike Lee’s Clockers (an adaptation of Richard Price’s novel, co-produced by Martin Scorsese). In 1996, Keitel had a major role in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s film From Dusk till Dawn, and in 1997, he starred in the crime drama Cop Land, which also starred Sylvester Stallone, Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro.

His later roles include the fatherly Satan in Little Nicky, a wise Navy man in U-571, diligent FBI Special agent Sadusky in National Treasure and the latter’s sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets. In 1999, Keitel was replaced by Sydney Pollack on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, due to shooting conflicts, and appeared in Tony Bui’s award-winning directorial debut, Three Seasons (which Keitel also executive produced).

Keitel also re-teamed with Jane Campion for Holy Smoke! (co-starring Kate Winslet).

In 2001 Keitel played opposite roles: as a U.S. Army denazification investigator in the film Taking Sides and as SS-Oberscharführer Erich Muhsfeldt in the film The Grey Zone.

In 2002, at the 24th Moscow International Film Festival, Keitel was honored with the Stanislavsky Award for his outstanding achievement in the career of acting and devotion to the principles of Stanislavsky’s school.[11]

He also appeared in the Steinlager Pure commercials in New Zealand in 2007.

Keitel has appeared nude in several films, including full frontal nudity in “Bad Lieutenant” and “The Piano.”

In January 2008, Keitel played Jerry Springer in the New York City premiere of “Jerry Springer: The Opera at Carnegie Hall.”

In 2008, Keitel was cast in the role of Detective Gene Hunt in ABC’s short-lived US remake of the successful British time-travel police drama series Life on Mars.

In June 2009, he made a cameo appearance in the Jay-Z video for “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)”, a nod to his Brooklyn origins.

In 2013, he appeared in a music video for “Pretty Hurts” by Beyoncé.

In 2013, he starred in the independent film A Farewell to Fools.

Since 2014, he has reprised his role of Winston Wolfe from Pulp Fiction as part of a £40 million television advertising campaign for British insurance company Direct Line.

Keitel was in a long-term relationship with American actress Lorraine Bracco from 1982 to 1993, but the relationship ended acrimoniously and included prolonged custody battle over their daughter, Stella (born 1985).

He married Canadian actress Daphna Kastner in 2001, and had two more children after Stella: a son named Hudson (born 2001) from his relationship with Lisa Karmazin, and a son named Roman (born 2004) from his marriage to Kastner. He is the godfather of Michael Madsen’s son Max.