What is striking about Harvey Keitel, is that he's a man of passion. After six weeks of
shooting nights in simulated rain, Keitel is willing to do what he does so rarely: a press
interview. "It's because Tony [Bui, director of Three Seasons) is a special young new
talent on the scene, and I feel it's an obligation of us that have come before, to put
these young talents forward."
"it's the personal story that is the ship that I sail
on as I'm trying to understand a life"
Despite his prominence as one of America's most exciting talents, Keitel remains happy
to divide himself between the independent and mainstream movie scenes, though there's no
doubt that the 59-year old feels more committed to the former. "I've thought about
this for a while and came to a very simple conclusion: in the independent arena, more
personal stories are permitted to be told, because the budgets are lower. And it's the
personal stories that attract me; it's the personal story that is the ship that I sail on
as I'm trying to understand a life."
For Keitel, film is art, and in searching for new and exciting stories, the actor
explains the rationale behind his choices. "I look for the same thing as when I read
something, some poetry that will touch me, some painting that moves me from here to there,
some musical sound that touches me some place I didn't know myself the moment
While Keitel seems a relaxed figure these days, the native New Yorker overcame a
childhood stuttering problem and adolescent rebellion, and began taking acting classes,
eventually joining the Actor's Studio. One wonders whether Keitel looks back on his
troubled youth, which he finds in these personal stories, the ones that fuel his passion.
"It's true that I'm always looking for something that leads me into an experience
that tells me: I need this. I know that sounds a bit abstract, but that's the way it
is." One wonders whether the actor, who had been a marine and seen war first hand,
viewed acting as something of an escape from a tough past, or perhaps he merely stumbled
onto this unique form of artistic expression.
"a logical step to take on this journey to knowing
myself and knowing what life was about"
"I think [acting] was something I was led to, rather than an escape. I think it
was an entrance and a logical step to take on this journey to knowing myself and knowing
what life was about." And that journey is still being traversed. "People of the
theatre are inner-space travellers. It's one thing to go into a rocket ship, push a button
and be propelled into outer space. But what is the fuel that propels one into inner space
– that’s what I look for in poetry, literature, theatre, cinema, friends and
Perhaps the closest character yet to Keitel is that of the middle-aged man in Vietnam,
searching for his lost daughter or his own lost soul, in Tony Bui's award winning Three
Seasons, possibly Keitel's most personal film journey to date. The film weaves three
separate stories about four characters in contemporary Saigon and how their paths cross.
In the first, a young Vietnamese woman is working for a reclusive writer who has lost his
fingers to leprosy. As she sings, her master becomes infatuated with her and finds
inspiration in her music, just as she finds inspiration in his words. Second is Hai, a
cyclo driver who falls for a young prostitute with high ambitions. Finally, a young boy
named Woody sells gum, watches and lighters to passers-by in the streets. In a bar he
meets an American soldier (played by Keitel) who is searching for his missing daughter.
When Woody suspects the G.I. of stealing his suitcase, he goes looking. What he finds is
best left unanswered. "All those people in this film are on a journey to reconcile
themselves with themselves, to find a lover, an identity and their self-esteem."
It's the first time an American film has been shot in Vietnam, and for Keitel, this was
a moment to savour in this postwar nation. "One cannot help but feel the resonance of
the war and this wonderful achievement we've come to since that horrific war. It's a very
hopeful sign to me, that we were brought there by a young Vietnamese boy, who immigrated
to America when he was 2 or 3 years old, grew up in California's Silicon Valley, highly
educated, then returns to his country of birth to write this beautiful story about
"a demand on us to recognise that we are all of one
Three Seasons can also be viewed as a film about cultural divisions, about outsiders,
and perhaps Keitel felt like an outsider, being the only Western cast member in Bui's
film. "I vividly recall being aware of the differences in our cultures; you could see
it economically, the means of transportation, in their market place, and so on. With all
that, I was aware of, we must travel to understand there is no difference, in terms of
humankind and humankindness. Our only differences are these superficial differences and
our political stupidities. Tony's work is, for me, a demand on us to recognise that we are
all of one place. We want the best for our children, as every culture wants the best for
their children; we need to search for our self-esteem when it has been damaged, as every
other culture needs to regain its self-esteem when it has been damaged."