Phillip Keene Shares his Backstory and Exemplary Career Savvy


Los Angeles native Phillip Keene knew what he wanted to do from a young age, but never knew quite how to get started.

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Phillip Keene. Photographed by Isaac Alvarez. Groomer Justin Tyme.

He always wanted to be an actor, yet couldn’t find an opportunity until his thirties. And unlike celebrities who start show business at infancy because they were born into Hollywood, Keene took no shortcuts; he worked full time since the age of 12.

With acting always in the back of his mind, Keene successfully completed odd jobs as he figured out what he wanted to do in life. As time progressed and other friends attended college, he decided to work for Pan American World Airways, the largest air transportation system at the time. He traveled as a flight attendant for four years, starting in 1987 and continuing until the company collapsed in 1991. These four years were very valuable to Keene, and he wouldn’t trade the life experience for anything. Dealing with sporadic hours, fatigue and irritable coworkers lead Keene and his fellow employees to work as a family, much like the cast of a production. “These are subtle things that they don’t teach you in acting class,” said Keene, referring to the real world experience that honed his professional and social skills.

After his career with Pan Am came to an end, a friend suggested that Keene try out acting classes. While earning his degree in History and Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles, Keene was a self-described “annoying student” because of his enthusiasm for learning.” Going to college well into my 30′s, I was always asking questions and making sure I understood. I was asking questions because I wanted to be there.” UCLA is popular for talented entertainers with a knack for learning, because fellow alumni include Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins, James Franco, Sara Bareilles, The Doors and Maroon 5.

While getting his education, Keene landed some roles in student films and assorted commercials, eventually leading to his breakout spot in Role of a Lifetime in 2004. As a result, Keene discussed his ambitions with some friends. So as luck would have it, a producer friend needed someone to fill a small part in The Closer.

With no audition necessary, his talent was enough to bring him into the show, promising a long-term spot if he “didn’t suck”. Since Keene shared his dream with those closest to him, his friends recognized his talent and truly provided a chance for success.

After nailing his opportunity with TNT’s The Closer, Keene’s role as Buzz Watson, the surveillance expert, was expanded and even brought into the spinoff Major Crimes. Although regularly playing Buzz Watson was very fortunate, he described it as a “double-edged sword,” sometimes limiting him from other shows because of scheduling conflicts. Additionally, playing one type of character made it hard to land other roles, because many view him only as Buzz Watson. Noting how he wants to break out of that box, Keene explained how he would love to grow into other areas. More specifically, he wants to move to the opposite end of the spectrum, away from the “waspy” character that he’s so familiar with. Explaining why he wants to branch out into other roles, “Whatever art form you choose to involve yourself in, you should always be learning. You can’t know everything”. Therefore, it would be his thrill to play a villain or serial killer, as it would provide a new set of challenges. Complex, challenging work gets him excited to do his job, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

Coming from someone who worked his whole life and truly respects and admires his field, it’s evident that Keene has serious life experience to draw from. For that reason, he left me with wisdom for anyone looking to get his or her start in life. I inquired of any advice that he could provide to aspiring entertainers, and his advice seemed to not only nail my question, but to also inspire anyone in virtually any field. Keene has “three little words” that an acting teacher bestowed upon him years ago, “Dare to suck. We’re all going to make mistakes! We should be willing to ask the questions, no matter how dumb it may seem.” So in many industries where networking, lineage and looks can be proverbial trump cards, actually asking questions and learning from your mistakes are pretty refreshing notions.

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This article was written by lnotoran

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