A Man of Character: Talking With Irwin Keyes by Owen Keehnen

If you don’t know the name you’ll recognize the face. Character actor Irwin Keyes has been working steadily in the business since the late 70s. He’s been thugs and gangsters, busboys and pimps, and even The Frankenstein Monster. Some of his many films include ‘Zapped!’, ‘Chained Heat’, ‘Dream Lover’, ‘Intolerable Cruelty’, ‘Guilty as Charged’, ‘The Warriors’, ‘Exterminator’ 1 & 2, ‘Frankenstein General Hospital’, ‘Death Wish 4’, ‘The Private Eyes’, ‘Nocturna’, ‘The Godson’, ‘The Power Within’, ‘Kandyland’, ‘Timemaster’ and ‘Timegate’. He was Joe Rockhead in the two Flintstones movies, Bork in the two ‘Oblivion’ movies, a busboy in ‘Friday the 13th’, and had a recurring role as Hugo Mojelewski on ‘The Jeffersons’.

Horror fans might remember him from any one of these projects or from one of his many others or from his 1992 episode of ‘Tales from the Crypt’. However, he branded himself indelibly into our memories when he accepted the role of Ravelli in the amazing Rob Zombie epic ‘House of 1000 Corpses’.

Recently Irwin gave us a few minutes of his time for an interview.


Owen: I've gotta know.  What is it like to be so closely associated with a catchphrase - yours was "Hi! Remember Me?" in the late 70s.  After a bit did it make you crazy when people said it to you?

Irwin: "Hi remember me?" That was a catch phrase from the show "THE JEFFERSONS." It was #1 on TV when I did all six episodes. Hugo Mojelewski was the name of the character I played. The part always got gut-wrenching laughs. The catch phrase never stopped for years and years. Black people all over America stop me and ask, "Hi Remember me!"

Owen: You've had so many parts in movies and on TV.  Do people frequently recognize you? 

Irwin: People recognize me from a host of different parts. People to this day are always stopping me and saying, "You were great in THE PRIVATE EYES, or THE WARRIORS all made in the 1970's. Wow! What a rush.

Owen: Which of your many roles do you consider the quintessential Irwin Keyes role?

Irwin: No doubt my part as Ravelli in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES will always endear me with horror fans. Just as my part as Wheezy Joe in INTOLERABLE CRUELTY will endear me with Coen Brothers fans. I guess just the chance to act in what is next is my quintessential role. Let the critics figure that one out when I am dead.

Owen: How would you describe the experience of working with Rob Zombie in 'House of 1000 Corpses'? 

Irwin: What was it like to work with Rob Zombie? A blast! A party! A game! Art! What Corpses has done is open a door to fans that I never knew before. Who knew when we were first making the film? It's what makes Hollywood special from the ordinary films and the great films.

Owen: Did he seek you out for the role of Ravelli or was it an audition?

Irwin: It was a one time meeting with Rob and Casting. Not a lot of Hollywood yadda callback stuff. Rob met me and on the spot wanted to hire me!  Casting knew who I was and called me in.

Owen: I love your work as Bork in the Full Moon flicks 'Oblivion' (1994) and 'Oblivion 2: Backlash' (1996).  The cast includes Julie Newmar, George Takei, Isaac Hayes, Meg Foster, etc.  With a cast like that it seems there should be some cool on set story...is there?

Irwin: The OBLIVION films were shot entirely on location in Romania in 1993. We were promised food and all the amenities. Romania gave us 3 months on road kill and canned tuna. Probably what the original Hollywood pioneers had to deal with. It was rough locations. The crew was tough; professional actors. We gave them 2 films. It was an experience that all actors should go through. Life is tough far from tinsel town.

Owen: One of your very early roles was a small part as a busboy in the original 'Friday the 13th' (1980).  Did the success of that movie heighten your determination to become an actor and convince you of how close success could be in smaller budgeted films?

Irwin: I had actually done bigger parts in films by the time Friday the 13th came around. I was already an actor and just weeks away from my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card to prove it. Back in those days you actually needed an acting job to get a SAG Card.  It was a small stepping-stone to better acting roles.

Owen: You also played The Monster in 'Frankenstein General Hospital' (1988), what was the key to filling in Karloff's big shoes?

Irwin: That movie Frankenstein General Hospital was done with little tribute to Boris Karloff. The tribute was that I actually did my actors homework and watched Karloff in films. I did the film with Karloff in MY actor’s subtext. 

Owen: I've got to have an on set story from one of the classic exploitation flicks of all time Paul Nicholas' 'Chained Heat' (1983) with Linda Blair. 

Irwin: I don't remember "CHAINED HEAT."

Owen: What's the craziest thing you were ever asked to do on the set of a motion picture?

Irwin: No doubt the craziest was in a Diesel Jean Commercial. I played a gunslinger. I start in bed with ugliest whore in the world. They couldn't find an ugly enough woman in casting. So they hired the ugliest guy they could find to play my whore. It was a great laugh. The spot won a Palm  D'or Award.

Owen: How do you see Hollywood or casting or the industry in general as changing in the 25 years since you first began acting in films and on TV?

Irwin: Has Casting changed in 25 years? You bet. TV and film is so white-breaded and most of the material sucks. Effects don't help boring casting. These stars today are mice! Not real men like actors in the past. We are at a bottom now in Hollywood filmmaking. Safe casting is not great casting. It will strangle the movie business. Films were once an ensemble of different actors, all needing each other and their contribution to the project. Look at CASABLANCA for example. Today it is big star making all the money and you don't remember anyone else in the film. Character acting is a dying art. Shame on Hollywood.

Owen: Any projects pending in the near future?

Irwin: Just played a seer type character fucking with stupid kids in Mexico making a porn film. It is a horror film called WRESTLE MANIAC.  Wait till they get their asses kicked all over the insane asylum! [He also recently did a horror film called Neighborhood Watch.]

Owen: Great Irwin, all the best and thanks again for the interview.