Throughout an over fifty-year career in Hollywood, Harvey Keitel has built the kind of resume any actor would dream of. He’s worked with some of the best directors in the business, like Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Jane Campion, Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott, Paolo Sorrentino, and with them, delivered some of the most confident, reliable work that anyone of his generation has ever produced. At the heart of his career are movies in the crime genre, where he gets to explore complex men who are dealing with internal emotions as well as the challenges of his environments. His performances in movies like Mean Streets, Reservoir Dogs, Bad Lieutenant, The Piano, Pulp Fiction, Youth, and more showcase the range and pure talent that only this legend possesses.
In his latest project, Lansky, Keitel portrays the titular Meyer Lansky, who was known as the “Mob’s Accountant” and worked closely with gangsters Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and was the inspirations for the Hyman Roth character played by Lee Strasberg in The Godfather Part II. In Lansky, Meyer Lansky is retired and looking to tell his side of the story before his time is up, or before the Feds final investigation is able to finally lock him behind bars. He meets daily in a small coffee shop with author David Stone (Sam Worthington) to explain his detailed accounts of his life, revealing every detail with reflective, engaging passion. As the film plays out, and the more secrets are uncovered about Lansky, the more we learn just how complex this man’s life really was.
It’s a stellar performance by Keitel, as well as John Magaro playing the younger version of Lansky. Together, they are able to bring this man’s full life to the big screen and provide empathy to this historical figure. This isn’t the first time Mr. Keitel has dabbled in the world of Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, as he was part of the ensemble of Bugsy, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
I spoke with Mr. Keitel below about why he took on the role of Meyer Lansky, what the role means to him, and how he prepared to play this part. Within this conversation, I also asked him about his role in shaping the gangster/crime genre, what he looks for in picking future work within this genre, and what he takes with him from his past experiences into his next projects. We also even talked about some of his favorite movies he’s ever made, though there are too many to talk about in just one sitting. And though he may play a lot of hard exterior characters, as we spoke, we laughed and smiled a lot through a conversation about everything you would want to know about this screen legend. It was an absolute honor to speak to him and listen to his elegant, insightful answers into his thought process as an actor and his passionate desire for change in an industry he holds near and dear to his heart.
Lansky is currently available to stream or rent on Amazon Prime Video.