“Someone throws you a bone only after you’ve made the soup. When you can open your mouth and say the truth on screen, that’s when it will resonate so much. You won’t have to act at all.”
Keith Coogan has been in show business since he was 5. The year was 1976. According to Keith, “it’s a hard way to make an easy living.” Click on any TV in America and you’d find Keith on hit shows like Chips, Mork and Mindy, Silver Spoons, Knight Rider, and Growing Pains. This was before Apple TV, Amazon, or any streaming service. It’s safe to say Keith Coogan was pretty up there, along with his cult classics Adventures In Babysitting, Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead and Disney’s The Fox And Hound. One minor note, Keith Coogan is also the grandson of Jackie Coogan (top right)– the world’s first child star and ex-child star according to Keith. It would seem cult classics run in the family. In the 1920s, Jackie Coogan starred as The Kid in Charlie Chaplin’s black and white classic, The Kid. Then as Uncle Fester in the 1970s hit The Addam’s Family.
“Give it everything you’ve got but not everything you have,” says Keith. “It’s hard but it’s work.” Honestly, the man knows a thing or two. Keith’s early beginnings were studying under the artistic tutelage of his grandfather, Jackie Coogan. He flashes his classic, boy charmer smile, which I’m sure has helped him book a role or two. “To hear him talk, he was a man in love with cinema and with the art.”
On breaking into the industry, Keith says to zero in on confidence. “Give off the air, I don’t need it.” And don’t forget to look the other way, while he and his mother hop a gate to crash a studio audition. “I went to network with that move,” he says with a laugh. “Your goal is to work your audition material as best as you can. Not just get the job. Do it like the first day of work. It’s where you start.” In the audition room, Keith says he goes with a boyish charm.“It never hurts to throw in an I’m stealing this role.”
It’s safe to say Keith’s a jokester. Jokes and setups are his thing. “You jump in and you do it,” he says “It’s quick.” It’s clear he doesn’t play around. “I’m going to show you a few gifts from my grandfather. Spit take, double take, quadruple take.” To watch him, it’s like seeing a legend at work. “It’s old school vaudeville comedy! There’s a rule and a rhythm to set gags,” he says. “It’s like math.” The most important thing, see how it’s written, how it could be done, and how you can break from what other actors have done. “Chandler from Friends broke from convention. It’s why he got the job. He spoke differently,” he says as he pops into a wide-eyed smile.
“It’s about the new takes. New ways to throw away lines. I want you to laugh so I play identifiable. I’m relatable but not afraid to show I’m infallible– tripping, falling, stumbling.” His eyes light up. “It’s about understanding your niche. I play arrogant characters who fall flat on their face.” Which explains the prankish attitude he bolsters throughout our interview. “ Don’t think, just do. Get in there, bust another actor’s chops and get under their skin.”
It goes without saying but Keith’s one of those hard-working actors who has been up against some major names. “River Phoenix and Christian Slater come to mind,” he says. “It’s the oh, it’s you, part of the journey. But if you work at it long enough, you become that guy. Another actor’s oh, God, it’s you.”
Talking with Keith, it’s clear he’s full of Show Biz secrets like, “you can guide your career but can’t control your image. Unless you’re Zac Efron and a triple threat,” he laments. Other pieces of advice, “look within your own client base if you’re looking to grow.” That’s the first thing, he says. Once you’re there, then comes the work of staying after. The meet and greets, getting cards, and learning names. After years of taking photos and shaking hands, he’s learned what he calls Actor’s Ego, his performance. That’s different from the business, says Keith. “Get your engine going really well. Learn how to network.” It’s a lesson he learned early on. “Look at the producers who actors work with. Making connections is key.” In the 80s and 90s, it was about being in a studio camp or with a showrunner who has connections. The same lesson applies today. Find a management team that pre-packages everything. It could be your humble beginning. “Of course that’s after you have your package–a headshot, resume, and a monologue in your back pocket.”
For a man who quadrupled-took his way into a career, I ask, are you BoJack Horseman? “Game can spot game,” Keith says as the interview comes to a close. “BoJack is the biggest self-victimising piece of crap. What has BoJack Horseman done lately?”