“Part of why I’ve always been a very good actor is I’m very good at taking direction. I don’t know what I want, but I’ll do whatever I can to give you what you want.” – Keegan-Michael Key
The hilarious sketch comedy series Key & Peele ran on Comedy Central for five seasons after the duo began working together on the Fox series Mad TV. Since the series ended in 2015, one of the series’ stars, Jordan Peele, won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for a film that was also his directorial debut, Get Out. On the other hand, the other star, Keegan-Michael Key, has been flexing his acting muscles beyond the comedy he became famous for. In 2017, he played Horatio in the Public Theater’s production of Hamlet starring Oscar Isaac. This year, Key is starring in the action film Predators. He spoke to the New York Times about growing as an actor and working without Peele.
When it comes to acting without his longtime partner, Key admits that he feels that he’s never quite at the top of his game. He confesses, “I felt like I was at my absolute best with the best possible partner. There was an alchemy there that will never happen again. I will admit that there is a certain amount of trepidation to moving forward and going: ‘How naked do I want to be in front of people? What will it cost me to show who I truly feel I am to audiences?'”
At the same time, Key admits that the sketch comedy that made him into a star isn’t where his heart as actor lied because so much of his craft was buried under caricature. He explains, “Part of it’s the genre, in that it’s going: ‘Well, you’re not asking for me to be me. You’re asking to see wigs and mustaches and hunchbacks and one eye and different accents.’ But also, I’m an adult male still trying to discover who I am. And sometimes it’s the little pedestrian questions like: ‘Do I like mint chocolate chip ice cream? Or do I eat it because somebody else liked it and I felt like I was supposed to like it or people weren’t going to like me?’ Part of why I’ve always been a very good actor is I’m very good at taking direction. I don’t know what I want, but I’ll do whatever I can to give you what you want.”
When the reporter asks him to explain why Key describes comedy as a “19-year detour,” Key responds, “I was on my way to doing dramatic and classical work in Detroit, and I met a bunch of real fun actors, and they were all performing at Second City. And I thought: ‘Well, I feel like I have a facility for comedy. I should go audition for this place.’ And I got in, and that was the beginning of this other path. So from June or July 1997 until October 2015, that was my life. I enjoyed it and I learned so much from it. But then you just start getting itchy.”