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article imageA conversation with Phillip P. Keene from TNT's 'Major Crimes' Special

By Mindy Peterman     Apr 11, 2014 in Entertainment
A flight attendant during the last years of Pan Am’s existence, Phillip P. Keene did not let the demise of the airline stop him from starting over in a new career: acting.
Actor Phillip P. Keene is best known for playing Buzz Watson, electronics room technician and videographer for the LAPD on TNT’s The Closer and Major Crimes. He joined the cast of the Kyra Sedgwick’s The Closer in 2005 and in 2012 went on to play Watson in the spinoff series. Keene says he is happy to have had the opportunity to play the same character for nine seasons. Watson has “evolved”, he says, and has become a “more integral part of the show”. He is also now one of the main characters.
I spoke recently with Keene about his work in both series and his life prior to becoming an actor.
Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from Los Angeles. I’m one of the few remaining natives. I was born in Hollywood, California and at the age of three I moved to Central America, where I went to live with my aunt in Nicaragua. When I came back to the United States and I couldn’t speak English. So I couldn’t communicate with my mother for about three or four months because she didn’t speak Spanish. I learned to speak English and then stayed here until I was twelve. Then I moved back to Central America to my aunt, this time to Costa Rica. I came back to L.A. after a year and moved to Miami for a little bit then to London. Went to Amsterdam, moved back to London, back to Miami, and then back to Los Angeles.
You were a man of the world, literally.
I was bitten by the travel bug at a very young age.
So it's not a big surprise that you became a flight attendant for Pan Am.
Exactly! My first flight was actually on a Pan Am 707 from L.A. to Nicaragua, and it’s interesting to me that I ended up working for the airline.
You worked for the airline for the last four years of its existence. Did you enjoy being a flight attendant?
I loved the company that I worked [for]. I like to say we had the ragged end of the glory days. We were a little tattered; there wasn’t as much shine left on the silver. It was really devastating to me when the company went bankrupt and I lost my job because so many of those people were like my family. In fact, anywhere we would fly to in the world, we would have a place to stay. We always had someone somewhere in the world to show us the way. When that was taken away from me it was like I had lost my entire family.
How did you go from being a flight attendant to a career in acting?
I went back to Los Angeles and just continued doing service jobs. I met my good friend Kyle Fritz, who is now my manager. He suggested I take some acting classes and audition for commercials. This was at the same time I decided to go to college for the first time. When I graduated from college, I’d been doing some student films here and there, and got a gig on a short-lived series called The D.A. Then this job [on The Closer] came up. I didn’t have to audition. Basically it was just handed to me. Over the years, it grew, as I have. Everybody was very supportive on the show. They kind of let me make a few mistakes, which I’ve learned from.
You’ve played the same character on two television dramas The Closer and Major Crimes for the past nine years. Talk a bit about Buzz and the transition from one show to the other.
It was pretty fluid. The writers are so fantastic. Buzz Watson has become a much more integral part of the crew. They go to him for certain reasons. Whether its for making audio recordings or setting up cameras. Instead of being a yes ma’am, no ma’am sort of character, he’s actually doing things now. He’s active and helping them with investigations.
Do you still enjoy it as much as you always did?
Oh, my god, yes. I love it. We’ve maintained probably about ninety percent of our crew over the past nine and a half years. I think it’s pretty remarkable. A lot of these people could go to other places and earn more money on network shows. But because it’s such a great place to work, everybody keeps coming back.
What sort of challenges does it present playing the same character for so long?
It’s kind of a funny thing to say but I get tired of Buzz’s clothes. His lack of fashion sense, his very conservative nature is different than mine. So in that respect, especially with the hair and such. They’re all superficial kinds of things.
Since you know this guy so well, do you offer input to the stories and how he would react to certain situations?
Oh, absolutely. Our writers are really open to that sort of thing. They’re very collaborative. They do ask us sometimes what the character might do in certain situations. It doesn’t always make it onto the screen but they do like when we collaborate with them.
Your husband is James Duff, the creator of The Closer and Major Crimes.
Yes. We’ve been together 20 years and got married in October of last year.
Is he the showrunner as well?
He’s the creator, the showrunner and he’s also the man who has the final cut on the show.
How does that affect your working relationship?
I let him do his thing as much as possible and I do not interfere with him at all. When there’s talk about other actors or things going on politically on the show, I leave the room. Because If I don’t know anything about that, then I can’t talk about it. I don’t want to be that source of information. I try to separate the two. I don’t want to be seen as a mole or spy by my colleagues. I want them to free to talk about whatever they want to talk about, as I do. So there has to be this separation.
When will we see Major Crimes on the air again?
I believe it starts airing again in June.
More about Phillip P Keene, Major crimes, The Closer, TNT, Kyra sedgwick
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