YAH: All Grown Up…An Interview with Actor Keith Coogan

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This is the first interview in what we here at YAH hope will be a regular feature called YAH: All Grown Up which will consist of an interview with someone who was in the entertainment business as a child or teenager but is now grown up. Our first interview is with the talented and popular Keith Coogan who is most widely recognized for his portrayal of Brad Anderson in Adventures in Babysitting in addition to roles in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, Hiding Out or his work in dozens of tv shows including The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, The Love Boat, Knight Rider and pretty much any other show that appeared on your television in the 70’s and 80’s. We recently caught up with Keith  to see what he is up to now, learn about his experience as a child actor in Hollywood and see if he has any advice for current young adult actors in Hollywood.

Here is our interview with the very talented Keith Coogan!

Young Adult Hollywood: You started working at a young age (age 5) and have successfully made the transition to adult roles. A lot of people have issues with this transition. How do you think you have been successful in this transition when others haven’t?

KEITH COOGAN: Probably because it was a family thing. My Grandfather [Keith’s Grandfather was child actor Jackie Coogan most notably known for his role as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family] did it so he had already been through it and down that road since he started at age 4. There are a lot of transitions. There is the transition from being a child and having to jump and shout and be cute, behave yourself on the set to then trying comic timing, building a character if you get cast in a series and are the same character for months. You see different thresholds throughout your career. For example,  at age 8 you have your eye on features, at age 10 you may say no to something because you want something else or you want to start to build a brand or career. We didn’t use the word brand in the 70’s..it was just your career. You focused on getting your press up there, on being seen and the more you do the more work you get. Work begets work, producers ask you back, it snowballs and you just keep at it and it always goes up and down..always..for every actor. What’s really neat is that cool actors like Ben Affleck, he said that because of the whole “Benifur”, the press thing with JLo, that is when he started to focus on directing. Sometimes life changes can result in a career change and new direction. An actor like Robert De Niro can come back and start doing comedy like Meet the Parents. Then there is the teen threshold, which is the biggest, because you are changing. In the past there was no market for a teen..oh it’s a teen movie…an exploitative movie. A Rebel Without A Cause, the gangsters, those hoodlum kids, those were all adult movies which was the buying market. Madison Avenue changed that. In the 60’s and 70’s the youth started to get an economic vote and some purchasing power. All of sudden we started to see TV shows geared toward younger people, i.e. The Mod Squad. Now you have kids that are not playing the son on a show, now they are the lead on a show. That didn’t used to happen. You had A Dobie Gillis, even Andy Griffith wasn’t about Opie. He was in a few episodes here and there. Then as a teen when you are changing it’s all about are you going to be ugly or cute? Are you going to be a Winnie Cooper or not be? Mayim Balik is a great example of someone who was discovered when she was very young, had the chops from day one, had more talent in her first movie appearance than the industry will ever let her do again. Through being a hustler and staying at it, now she has a great role on Big Bang Theory and she’s amazing. She is so funny and is playing a great solid character.

We talked about Peter Facinelli earlier who has been working for years and for Twilight he gets recognized..is he bitter about that? Is it a bigger paycheck than he has ever had before? Sure. Is he bitter about it not being a great drama he did years ago? Probably not. So you take it, run with it, run all the way to the bank with it and do two more pictures right away.

YAH: It seems as though there is the perception that a lot of Young Hollywood today are train wrecks..ie Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes. Do you think this is a fair statement or do you think it is just more publicized?

KC: Now we are going to continue on from a teenager. Now you are a young adult. You are driving, you are drinking. You are hanging out with these 60 year old producers with money. It doesn’t seem like the Lindsay Lohans are hanging out with your Chris Columbuses. They are hanging with the outside Hollywood money.

It’s about control. They are becoming adults. Every young adult goes to college, has some freedom, gets away. This is the point when lots of people, i.e. managers, publicists, family who are depending on this person lock them down, tell them they can’t go out, they need to prepare. The young actor says don’t tell me what to do, it’s my career. So it’s a power struggle. To prove they are in control they get out of control, if that answers your question.

YAH: Is that something that you went through personally?

KC: No. I always struggled with eating too much sugar. I didn’t smoke until I was legal, I didn’t drink until I was 21, I never really clubbed it or did drugs and stuff. I had enough issues as it was with caffeine and sugar and even a little alcohol I was not going to amplify that with a lot of crazy stuff. As a manic depressive, as a totally borderline personality disorder–they say a lot of actors are borderline personality disorder–you are jumping in and out of characters. You are constantly creating these alternative personalities and then having to deal with thin-skinned ego. How come they were such a douche to me? They are so mean and nasty. They can’t deal with themselves and they have people coming up to them. Some people get stronger at that. Some people are really good at dealing with the press. Now we have an entire industry of the Kardashians that is based just on that. There is no substance or book or movie that their fame was based off of. This is just celebrity for the sake of celebrity which is fine. Everyone is buying it up right now, i.e. Real Housewives of (everything)… That’s a talent too. Could you do that? I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t keep that toned and fit, spend 3 hours per day on flawless makeup, building on brands. They learned from Bruce Jenner about branding. He probably said, “Hold out for this, try to sell this, try to get into this market.” Kris Jenner runs the books and the calendar. When not booked they are free to go. There is the predatory press now that make multi-figures off the right shot of Amanda Bynes in her heels on the side of the road getting arrested.

YAH: And they instigate it…They say hateful things.

KC: It gets the celebs to turn to the camera and they take their shot and they have a f’d up look on their face.

YAH: What do you think of social media..I know you are pretty active on facebook and twitter.

KC: I still have Friendster and MySpace accounts that are open, collecting friends.
If you want to hear any music go to Music.myspace.com. There is no sign in. Justin Timberlake fixed it. You can listen to playlists and entire songs for free. No commercials and you can listen to the entire song.

In the old days we used to pay 2-3 grand per month to an agent. All the big actors today currently do. Every movie has a PR budget which has someone you work with for that film only. They don’t stick with you from project to project typically. So you need your own PR agent regardless to help promote you to magazines, radio, tv, appearances etc. That person will focus on your future. For example, they tell you that you are big with female audiences so don’t bring your hot girlfriend to a premiere.

Closeted Hollywood is amazing because you used to not find out until after someone died (like Rock Hudson) that they were gay. Now with brave and bold people like Anthony Rapp and Neil Patrick Harris coming out during the height of their careers when they were relevant and using that to help LGBT kids there is no stigma. There is no stigma because they didn’t allow there to be one. I’m proud, here I am. It didn’t stop the work which is what I think closeted Hollywood is afraid of. And then there are the women. It’s fun as long as they are lipstick lesbians but they can’t be Michelle Rodriguez.. There is still that stigma. We don’t like a butch lesbian. Michael Fassbender did Shame which was the sex addict and first shot you see his penis and the entire film is very deep. Michael is one of the biggest actors right now. He is not big on press but everything he is in is freaking amazing. He snuck on my radar with Inglorious Bastards. I was like, “Who is that? He’s amazing.” Then I followed him to everything he has ever done. I watched him in X-Men: First Class. So good. AMAZING!

YAH: What do you think of the whole Twitter/Facebook platform? Do you think the exposure is more positive or negative?

KC: Well there are no rules. I got into it for personal use. Celebrities use them in different ways which speaks a little to who they are and a little to who they want to project that they are. Some people post pics, do sexy pics, pics of food, money marketing tool. Lindsay gets like $30,000 a tweet for talking about products.

I use it to answer fan questions, say what’s up and promote my own work. My radio show is linked into Facebook and Twitter. I typically post to promote the show 3 times per day the day it airs and I feel like I’m being obnoxious but only a few hundred people even see it.

YAH: Facebook didn’t used to be that way.

KC: That’s because now [Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg] is charging money for your posts to be seen. He’s killing Facebook. In his rush to monetize it people are going to run like mad from Facebook.

I try to hit five new sites and see what is going on in the world before I get into Facebook. I at least want to know what is going on in the world before I get into this Facebook universe. People use it in weird ways. I follow everyone back on Twitter. It’s great because if I didn’t, I’m never going to see posts from people. I get asked how can you listen to 3000 people anyway? You look at all tweets and it’s like a huge search engine. Look at trailers, events. I love to catch and listen to all the people talking in the last 10 minutes. Could you follow 1.4 million people..yeah you could. It’s only going to show the last 10 minutes of tweets anyhow.

YAH: There are a lot of celebrities who don’t even run their own Facebook or Twitter accounts. They have social media companies or agents who do this for them.

KC: Actors have a self-contro/impulse control problem and they will mess it up. They will talk about a screen test they have coming up. Actors should keep their mouths shut about that stuff. So it’s taken away from them and everything they say is filtered. Facebook and Twitter is really just a way for the layman to create web pages. Blogger was close but it’s a little too technical for most. I use Facebook and Twitter to promote what is on my blog. Facebook will censor things, it has blacklisted certain URLs, eaten direct messages that people have sent, etc. It’s all very political and I’m very anti-censoring.

YAH: Do you have advice for young actors just starting out?

KC: Yeah. School, study. Nothing prepares you to be a good actor like a good broad education. Liberal Arts is great for being an actor because you get a little bit of everything. Then, from there you can do further research when you play the scientist, etc. I think a really broad education is important but go to school and know how to make money. This business is a very hard way to make an easy living. Out of all the people who want to do it, only a handful of people do it and it is so much luck. If you are willing to be that out of control to be in such a position of control. It’s very narcissistic. “I did that, I thought of that,” when the director, writer, lighting, costumes, when in reality a lot of people are making it happen. Keep it all in perspective and do it. If you want to know then do it. Go do local theater, children’s theater, local plays. You will instantly know if it’s for you or not. Instantly from your first show and it will be in your blood and you don’t need the guidance or you will be like, “I don’t think it’s for me.”

YAH: Do you think it’s harder today for people to get into the industry?

KC: I think it’s easier. Rebecca Black, Carly Rae Jepsen, Justin Bieber, a lot of ways to get in. There are certain anonymous groups out there that pick YouTube videos and decide they are going to make them famous. They fudge the numbers, get lots of press, which then snowballs but the initial kernel is entirely manipulated. This has been done with the pictures of cats on the internet. This is all created. Any internet trend has been manipulated by Anonymous. People think it’s the luck of the internet but that’s not the case. It still has to be promoted past the 200 views, someone does the work and pays for it.

YAH: What is the greatest thing you took from your Grandfather’s career or learned from him?

KC: I was 14 when he died so I only had about 5 or 6 years there where I was aware of his career. He would stay with us during the summers so every year I had a few months with Grandpa in the house and it was great to get to know him. I was becoming a teenager, it was important to have a strong father figure and he was definitely the patriarch of the family. He was sitting in his chair asking for iced tea. He had done the work, he was retired. He had been through a rough road with many many years in the business and there was no love lost. He always said it was better to be a has-been then a never-was and he could deal with that. Oh you used to be funny, you used to be a beautiful child star, you used to be on TV and he learned to deal with that and cope with that but it took a lot of the fun out of it. It didn’t sit well with him so he was a bitter old man. But I could see whenever he would be coaxed to tell a story or go back there the great joy that was inside keeping him going. Heart failure ultimately took him out.

YAH: Seeing the bitter piece of it with your Grandfather..did you see that and have a fear of ending up that way?

KC: No. That’s where I learned good work ethic..prepare, know your shit, don’t be the one who doesn’t know your lines, be on time, don’t knock over the furniture. If you just focus on the work and doing a good job..don’t work about success or getting the job. Focus on giving it your all and entertaining people. My Grandfather learned that from Chaplin. Something about me likes that kind of perfectionism but for me it has always been first run-through, first take, good enough moving on. I still think it looks better than most people who do it over and over. I go in light and fluffy vs. being very committed and being devastated.

As an actor every time you finish a movie you are laid off. Imagine getting fired 4-5 times per year over and over and having to audition and find that next job. Now if you are okay to live like that without the security then sign up.

YAH: What do you look for in projects now? Scripts, directors…

KC: Paychecks!

YAH: (Laughing) Okay, assuming the paycheck will be there…

KC: You can’t assume that. Now they have low modified budget agreements where they can pay as low as $100 per day for union talent. There are other contracts where you can pay nothing. It’s deferred. If it makes money then you get paid. For most of the projects there is no compensation so you look for what you get out of it. I get to play something I have never done before. There is no major money at risk so they are willing to take more risk. They don’t have as much to lose. You get to do things you wouldn’t have gotten to do years and years ago.

YAH: It has to be very painful (with independent projects) to put a lot of time and energy  into the project and it doesn’t go anywhere because no one puts the money behind it to get it promoted.

KC: You can make a gem of a movie and I have been extremely proud of projects that no one has seen. Now they can go to Amazon.com and order it. They were running them off at the time they paid for them because they didn’t have money to do hundreds of thousands of DVDs. So you can pay more for these hard to find projects but there are great stories out there.

YAH: I think that is part of what I am most proud of after working on fan sites. For example, Michael Welch. Very few people knew of Michael Welch before Twilight despite him having done a huge body of work and being very well respected in the business.  Some of his work you can only get in the UK and we have been able to make his fans aware of his other projects.

KC: Right, one of my projects you can only get in Germany.

YAH: We do these sites for the talent, not because we make money but because we want to support the talent. Peter Facinelli is another Twilight actor with a huge fan base who has been working for years before Twilight. His fans will order things only available from the UK and bring to a convention for him to sign and he is blown away.

KC: People who made those films years ago are now seeing the orders come in and going what? Oh Twilight! LOL

YAH: A lot of the quality writing and projects today tend to be on TV, in particular on HBO and Showtime…

KC: That’s because they are all about characters and trying to hook you into a series and keep you watching for a few years. They have to be compelling, they have to be really deep, really connected. On all of these shows, it’s not just about House, it’s about all the characters in that show.

YAH: Is that something you would be interested in, doing some type of series drama?

KC: Oh yeah. That would be great.

YAH: Would you like to do the same character every week for years on end or the run of a quality series? Be like a Dexter for 7 seasons?

KC: Oh Yeah. Look at Lost. They kept it fresh and new and developed the characters more as the show went on and gave the actors a lot more to work with. The characters were given more backstories as the show continued.. I thought it kept getting more interesting. I think the writing today is so stellar on shows like The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, that the actors are always going to be challenged.

YAH: Which is why they can draw the caliber of the actors and keep them…

KC: Well, they are writing paychecks…

YAH: Well that too. [laughs]

KC: They only make so many studio movies. Paramount greenlights 12 maybe. TV shows film like 26 shows per year..a lot more TV production.

YAH:  What is your most memorable performance and why?

KC: From outside perspective I don’t know what is most memborable..You said for you it was Hiding Out [editors note: Hiding Out is my Number 1 favorite movie of all time! Everyone should go rent it now! lol] A number of people love it but a lot of time people will cite a babysitter movie (i.e. Adventures in Babysitting or Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead) over Hiding Out so that is subjective. For me it comes to Cousins. It was one of those shoots… I think it was the most family and memories from off the set. We would just role onto the set with that feeling of family intact. Joel Shoemacher set that tone and I have never been on a set that was like that. Everything else was fun, kids running around, blowing things up but Cousins had a heart to it that was very real.

YAH: Any specific directors your would like to work with in the future?

KC: Rian Johnson.  I have been following him since Brick, The Brothers Bloom, now Looper.
Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master, There Will Be Blood. The Coen Brothers. All of my favorite movies and film makers. I want to crawl into those universes with those people.

YAH: Current actors you look and think they are doing quality work right now:

KC: Very quickly answered: Michael Fassbender

Actress: Kate Beckinsale. I always had a thing for Kate Beckinsale but they never can find a middle ground for her. She is always a vampire hunter or doing silly comedy. They need to find a good middle ground for her.

I have always had a thing for Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate. They are both very funny.
Cameron Diaz does not do enough comedies. I find her very funny.

I also root for other child stars who are getting another chance at it. I love seeing them still work. I love that they [Hollywood] opened the door to let them back in because they never gave up on it and they continue doing good work.

YAH: What do you think of the latest wave of YA books being optioned, turned into movies?

KC: You said it. It’s a wave. Waves cress. We are probably on the down tide. When The Hunger Games finishes out, Twilight is done, Harry Potter is done. What is next? It has to be something kind of like The Hunger Games that is based on another huge book with a base audience for it and has to appeal to adults. The Hunger Games was better than Twilight at appealing to adults and men. Something like Harry Potter had a huge scope. In Hunger Games there are a lot of adult characters, broader range of actors with all the kids of different ages. Some of the kids are at the age of sexual awakening and then some are just kids. The children on children violence blew me away. Hollywood got away from violence on kids years ago but with Hunger Games they got away with it because it was kid on kid violence. The first fight scene in The Hunger Games when they blew the whistle and they started hacking into each other, my jaw hit the ground and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for the next 1.5 hours.

I feel like the next thing is going to be edgier. Like a kid version of Bonnie and Clyde or Natural Born Killers. More edgy, more adult. They are taking this crowd that they got through Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games. These kids are literate kids. They have read more pages than two generations before them.

YAH: You have done some directing recently with some shorts about going out to vote. Is that something you want to do or have done?

KC: Yes, I directed some shorts and some theater. I love doing the behind the camera work. I could direct a series. I’m a good producer. I move fast. I could probably go out and direct TV.

YAH: So what has kept you from going out and doing that?

KC: Myself. And I think something happens where you partner with good people who let the production happen and you challenge each other and make it happen and you are on the set the next day. I think as an artist you need to keep creating and making art even if you aren’t getting paid for it. You have to keep that channel open and you keep learning. And I do. Every time I learn something new.  For instance, we are shooting another short tomorrow. I love it. It’s great. It’s so exhausting on top of everything else but so worth it, and could pay off into something. Why wouldn’t I direct the next Twilight series?

YAH: Any writing?

KC: I have written some feature scripts. I have written a TV pilot. I am in the middle of writing a good thriller that is an indictment of cosmetic surgery and how younger and younger actresses are having plastic surgery, how we have morally and psychically invaded actors. This is a scathing indictment on Hollywood and how it will eat you up. The subtitle of my radio show The Call Sheet is Tales from the Bone Machine and this script is a bone machine and it grinds and grinds. You won’t like it at all. It’s very violent and graphic in a few scenes.

YAH: You do a Radio Talk Show. How long have you been doing that?

KC: About a year. I got into it after being a guest on one of the shows in the network. One of the producers approached me and said they liked what they heard and asked if I would be interested in doing an hour a week. We don’t have advertisers so we can curse like sailors. Be sure to listen Saturday nights 8pm The Call Sheet: Tales of the Bone Machine at Skidrow Studios.com

YAH: You appeared in a film Waking to be released January 18th.

KC: I have a friend who does Foley sound effects and said it looks beautiful. It was shot in digital. The plot is this guy meets a girl but only in his dreams. He has a relationship with her but only when he is sleeping. When they are awake they don’t know each other. The story counts on this lush romantic look and I’m told they pull it off. I only have one cameo bit in it. I’m in a marriage counseling scene. I got that job and the radio show through Twitter and networking. That is the true power of using Facebook and Twitter.

Here is where you can catch up with Keith!
@KeithCoogan
Facebook
Tune in every Saturday night to catch Keith’s live radio talk show The Call Sheet: Tales of the Bone Machine on Skidrow Studios. It’s always entertaining and he has some great guests!
Monologue 365 Project to see Keith do a monologue a day for 191 days..it’s entertaining AND impressive!
To learn more about Keith’s latest film Waking which is scheduled for release January 18 2013 head to IMDb

YAH  would like to give a huge thanks to Keith Coogan for being the inspiration behind our YAH: All Grown Up feature and for agreeing to sit down with us for this interview.

Interview conducted by Angela Veach, Hollywood, CA, October 2012

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