Perseverance for the Payoff: An Interview with Keith Gallucci

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Keith Gallucci, an LA-based actor, improviser, and self-proclaimed “moderately-fed artist” was kind enough to talk with ActorParlor about Moscow Art Theatre, improv, and the eternal battle between disappointment and perseverance.

For our readers who don’t know you, where would you say you are in your career at the moment? 

I think I would say that I’m one step above “starving artist,” so maybe “moderately fed-artist?” Meaning that I learned my lesson from when I first moved out here to LA and focused solely on acting instead of getting a survival job and getting into a routine. I now have a survival job and am comfortably supporting myself while I pursue acting. I’m a trained actor, and I’ve been in LA for three years, but I still have only done one professional gig. I have commercial representation, and that’s all so far. It’s slow. But this is the fun part I think. This is the moment before. This is that time in my life where the phone could ring and everything changes. You just never know in Hollywood, and that’s half the fun. You show up, do the work, and the payoff will come. It’s just a matter of time.  

You mentioned that you studied in Russia at the Moscow Art Theatre School. What was the duration of the program, and was that experience like? 

We were in Moscow for a month, and it was absolutely life-changing and very intense. Six days a week we were in class all day and watched shows at night. On our one day off each week, we explored the city. We had a rotation of classes that included Swordplay, Theatre History, Stage Combat, Suzuki, and Movement. Our last class every day was a two-hour acting class. The way they teach acting in Moscow is with etudes. Actors don’t get their hands on text for their entire first term; they are assigned these structured improvisational scenes called etudes that sometimes have a prompt, but other times it is your responsibility to think of something with your group without a prompt. The only requirements are that the audience and everyone in the scene must be changed by the end. We would perform these scenes and then discuss them as a class. Sure, it made us talk about character and story and all that, but mostly, and more importantly, it made us talk about humans, including the way we behave, react, and live. It was amazing. 

I must tell a quick story about our Suzuki class. The Suzuki Acting Method tests the actor’s endurance, balance, and stillness. I wasn’t expecting to learn a ton from a movement class like Suzuki, but it ended up being one of the classes that I learned the most from. I learned the power of stillness and the concept of feeling an emotion so deeply that the feeling is conveyed through the eyes only, without making a face, furrowing the brow, or any other facial movements. That someone could look at you and feel what you feel just by making eye contact. Our Master Teacher was a tall and skinny woman named Maria (pronounced Masha). She was one of the most elegant yet fierce women I have ever met. She challenged us more than any other teacher. One day we were all exhausted, and she was pushing us to the limit with these stances and balancing positions that you have to hold and be completely still. She could sense our fatigue and stopped the class. She told us to relax and have a seat. We all sat as she began to tell us a story of her training. She had gone to Japan to study Suzuki under the man who created the method. It was her and 20 other students who were all men. She told us that her teacher was much harsher than she was, and along with the fact that she was the only female in the class, it was one of her biggest challenges in life. But she had worked so hard that when she graduated from the class, her teacher presented her with a kimono that had belonged to his mother. We sat in awe as we tried to fathom such a high honor. My time at The Moscow Art Theatre School was such a full, spiritual, and unforgettable experience. It is definitely a goal of mine to go back someday. 

What led you to pursue a career in acting? Are there any actors who inspire you? 

I originally was going to study music. Music is another passion of mine, and I still would like to be a successful musician, but my desire to act was building in me from childhood. I loved to quote movies and do voices, and when my older brother was doing plays in high school, I was too young. Thus, I was jealous that he got to entertain people and I didn’t. I loved to make people laugh and wanted a platform. When I was old enough, I performed in the school plays, but my brother was in college performing in more serious roles, and I found myself jealous again. I watched him play Martin in The Goat by Edward Albee, and was struck with this desire to do what he had done. And then, finally, in my junior year of high school, I read Hamlet and we watched Kenneth Branagh’s film. The rest of the class was sleeping at their desks as I tried not to cry because I didn’t know that an actor could make you feel so much. When Branagh is at Ophelia’s grave and sobs as he yells, “I loved Ophelia! Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum,” I was floored. And it was then that I knew I would do what he was doing. I was going to be an actor. Since then, I have admired actors who have this magnetism where it doesn’t matter who or what is on screen with them; your eyes are always drawn to them. My favorite actor is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who had such an honesty and vulnerability with his acting. He was not afraid to take risks and show the audience the full weakness of a character. Robin Williams is another who I strive to be like. He had this amazing ability to make you laugh until you can’t breathe, and then sob, both within one feature film. I have many favorites, but these two are at the top. 

What has been the most difficult part of being an actor thus far? Have there been any periods or experiences that were particularly challenging? 

The most difficult thing for me right now is that I’m not a working actor. I’m working 40 hours or more a week to pay the bills (like most actors starting out), and I’m doing whatever I can on my days off to build my career. I’ve had letdowns here and there. Some bigger than others. When I first came out here, I met with an acting coach who I had seen on YouTube and was inspired by. I paid $50 to meet with him for 30 minutes because I just had to know if he was anything like he was on YouTube. He was not. He came to the door of his Beverly Hills penthouse with a bottle of white wine in his hand and invited me in. He proceeded to make me feel worthless for the next 30 minutes. On top of that, it was raining in LA that day.

My most recent disappointmentthough I can’t really call it that because it was still a really cool experience and I’m so fortunate that it happened (it just didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to) happened a couple weeks ago when I got a meeting at Innovative Artists. I got the meeting by being in the right place at the right time and helping someone out who helped me in return. I had high hopes that this was the beginning. “I’m going to get signed by Innovative and then my career will really start,” I thought. But it wasn’t to be. I got some great advice and a fantastic story, but it’s back to the drawing board, which is absolutely okay. No matter what happens, I always pick myself back up and keep going because I need to act. To do something else would be wrong. 

Are there any projects you’ve worked on that have stood out to you as particularly influential, enlightening, or exciting? 

This is a tough one because I try to get something out of every project. They all stand out in some way. In college, we made this film called As Ever. It’s a WWII film from the perspective of a few friends who are afraid of being drafted. Nine of us students, all of our luggage, all of our camera equipment, and a Schwinn bicycle from the 1950s, crammed into a twelve-passenger van and traveled from our college (SUNY Oswego) to South Carolina to film half of the movie. It was the first time that I really felt like I truly understood and embodied a character. I also just loved that experience of traveling with my friends and making something. That was most of college for me. Making movies. We made a lot of movies.

I also did some plays in college, and the one that stands out is when I got to play Montag in Fahrenheit 451. It was my first dramatic play. I had been taking acting classes with the directormy Yodafor two years and finally, in my junior year, he talked me into auditioning for the role. Theatre made me so nervous (it still does), but I went out for the role. I remember checking the cast list and being excited and terrified at the same time becauseawesome, I got the rolebut now I have to deliver. I learned so much from the experience and had a blast doing the play. It was the last play my teacher directed before retiring, and the last straight play performed in that theatre before it was taken down for renovations. So, it has a special place in my heart.  

You’ve been a part of over 40 improv shows. What role would you say improv has played in your career and development as an actor? 

Improv is sacred to me. It’s an art all on its own. You are writing a story in real time, and utilizing all of your knowledge…about everything. Improvisation informs my acting much of the time. Having done a lot of improv, I find that exercising that muscle contributes to my ability to let go, let the moment take over, and react more truthfully. I strongly recommend anyone interested in improv to watch Trust Us This Is All Made Up and then read the book Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book. I learned so much about improvising through reading that book and watching their shows online. Improvisation is a part of me and the way I approach acting, and it always will be.  

What are the next steps for you in your career? And what are your long-term goals? 

The next steps for me are to get a voice over agent and a theatrical agent and start booking! Short-term, I want to eliminate the need for a survival job and have acting be my career. I want to be fully immersed in it and not have to worry about things that I’m not passionate about. Long-term, I want to be an Oscar-winning actor. In an interview about Philip Seymour Hoffman, James Lipton spoke about how in every generation of actors, there are those who stand out as the best. There was Brando, then Nicholson, then Pacino and De Niro, and then he said that Philip Seymour Hoffman was truly the finest actor of his generation. I want people to look at my body of work and say, “Keith Gallucci is one of the greats.” I must succeed in this business because I don’t have a choice. Nothing else would make me as happy, so this is it.

I also want younger actors to be able to look at me and know that it can be done: that you can be from a small town of less than a thousand people, 3,000 miles away from the movie-making capital of the world, and still make it. I want to encourage and educate aspiring actors throughout my future career. It would be the least I could do to give back and sort of indirectly thank my teachers who were so generous and inspirational to me.  

Is there something you wish you had known when first starting out your acting career? 

I definitely knew going into it that it was going to take time, I just wish I would have realized sooner how real that was. I came to Hollywood thinking, “I got this, I studied in Russia, I have an acting reel, and I’m gonna get a theatrical agent right off the bat.” I then learned that: (1) I never “got this” because it’s always changing and you’re always going to have to adapt, evolve, and learn, and that work never stops, (2) Hollywood doesn’t care if you studied at the Moscow Art Theatre three years ago; they care if you’re studying with someone here, right now, (3) No one is going to look at my acting reel if I don’t have something to say with my headshot, and (4) …I’m not going to get a theatrical agent right off the bat.

I’ve learned a lot, I’m still learning, and I will never stop learning. The work of the actor is never over.   

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you?

I love this craft of ours, and I believe it to be a gift that our work is to tell stories and show the world how we view it. That we get to take people away from this world for a little while and into another, where, hopefully, they will discover something about themselves.

I wish all of you the best in your careers.