Brian was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago in a house full of women who exposed him to sewing, cooking and soap operas. The kids at school often picked on Brian for hanging with the ladies, but that only pushed him to pursue a career in acting in the sixth grade where he landed his first role as the Scarecrow in the popular play The Wiz. Although Brian is in his early 20s, he has accomplished a lot in his career as an actor. Brian obtained the lead role in Real Men Don’t Cry, Purple Heart, The Look of Love and More Baby Mama Drama, to name a few. His most recent stage plays include Center Stage and Because He Loved Me. Brian talked to GlossMagazineOnline (GMO) about his journey to becoming a rising Chicago actor.
GlossMagazineOnline (GMO): What inspires or motivates you to become a successful actor?
Brian Keys: Life! What I have come to understand is most people think that when I’m on stage its acting, but to me it’s really living. I feel that when you’re in everyday life, you have to be a certain way; when you’re at work you have to but on that corporate face, you’re acting at work. When you’re around your mom or grandma you have to act a certain way. So you’re always acting in real life, whereas being on stage you can exploit different levels of your personality that you always wanted to let loose, but because it’s not necessarily socially acceptable, you get limited. But, on stage you can live out that part of your personality and it’s accepted because it’s artful.
GMO: If you became successful do you see yourself moving to New York or L.A.?
Brian: I would go there to work and visit, but I couldn’t see myself relocating. I love Chicago, I love what Chicago has given me and it has made me who I am. A lot of people have that reputation where once they get established or become big they leave. I feel that my roots are in Chicago and I don’t feel that it’s necessarily required that you uproot and move to New York or L.A., although some of the main castings are done in L.A. or New York.
GMO: Do you think Chicago has a lot of opportunities for upcoming actors?
Brian: Absolutely, Chicago is a great market especially for theatre. It’s what Chicago prides itself in. A lot of people would think New York, but Chicago has the most theatre companies I believe in the country and so there are ample opportunities. It’s just a matter of seeking them. You know they’re available; you just have to go out there, search for them and grab them.
GMO: If you were given the opportunity to collaborate with any actor or actress in Hollywood, who would it be?
Brian: Don Cheadle or Sean Penn.
GMO: Is there anyone in Chicago who you would like to collaborate with, or is there someone who you have worked with that is just great?
Brian: That’s a good question. It’s funny because everyone in Chicago that I wanted to work with I have worked with on an actor/actress level, but I would love to work with Jackie [Taylor]; she’s the founder of the Black Ensemble Theatre. To me, the Black Ensemble Theatre has done so much for black actors in black theater in Chicago and across the country in general.
GMO: What do you like most about your profession?
Brian: It pushes you, it really pushes you. You find out so many things about yourself when you grab these roles and you have to really dig deep and find where you’re attached to the character. So, you find things and discover things that you never really knew about yourself.
GMO: Out of everything that you have done, what was your most challenging role or project?
Brian: I would say during the summer run at the Gorilla Tango Theatre for Improv. One on one with friends, they would say ‘Oh you’re funny’, but learning how to purposefully be funny was a challenge for me so what I did was I studied stand-up comedy. I think I listened to on an average 60-70 hours of comedy a week. I also watched stand-up on Netflix, so that took a lot of studying and training for me to understand how to expose and exploit the comedy aspect of myself.
GMO: Besides acting, I see that you’re also into music. What other projects are you working on in the music scene?
Brian: With music, I’m more behind the scenes now. It was one point where I was doing dual duties like artistry and then doing acting. I play most instruments from piano to drums, organ, guitar, bass, flute, bassoon, oboe, clarinet and saxophone. I mostly gig when it comes to musicians and other artists locally and a few other sets that I held. I do songwriting, in studio vocal arrangements and vocal productions, so I like doing behind the scene stuff with music.
GMO: What can we expect from Brian Keys in 2013?
Brian: In 2013, I will be stepping more into writing when it comes to acting, so I’m going to be working on writing a mini web series. We will be opening A Soldier’s Play at the Raven Theatre in Chicago, which is going to be exciting for me because it’s one of the pillar theatre companies. It has a lot of history, so to be working at that theatre is going to be tons of fun. I will be working there from Feb 18 - March 30 and it will be my first time working a production that long.
GMO: What advice do you have for other young actors trying to make it?
Brian: Attach to the passion of the art because if you go into it looking for money and fame, it’s going to be a long journey, but if you attach to the passion of doing what you love, you will go much further. I would say that applies to acting in life in general because with fame and fortune that can be taken away, but no one can really take away your passion. That is something that you have control over, everything else can be taken away from you at the blink of an eye, but if you hold on to the passion and fun of it, then it’s a great ride.
For more information on Brian Keys and upcoming theatre and film projects, follow him on Twitter @iAmBrianKeys
*Photo Credit: Aimee Jeane Elizabeth Visual Stimulus Photography