Actor-writer Keegan-Michael Key gained fame as half of the duo behind sketch comedy series “Key & Peele,” alongside Jordan Peele, but he’s been in a wide range of projects since then, including musicals (“Schmigadoon!,” “The Prom”) and animation (“Bob’s Burgers,” “Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers”). These days, he can be seen on Hulu’s “Reboot,” which follows the cast of a former hit TV show, called “Step Right Up,” that reunites. He’s also the lead voice in Henry Selick’s stop-motion animated Netflix feature “Wendell & Wild,” co-written by Peele.
“I’ve always adhered to this sense of variety,” he says. “When I see an actor play something madcap and slapsticky, and later see them in a very brooding drama, that’s acting. That transformation is appealing to me, and that’s what I’m always looking for.”
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The fictional “Reboot” series “Step Right Up” has such a catchy theme song that features in the show. How did it come your way?
It’s pretty sticky. I love those ‘80s commercials and the people who ended up singing the jingles for those sitcoms.
[“Reboot” creator] Steve Levitan called me. We sat down and discussed this project. I remember when he finished pitching the initial idea, I thought to myself, “How has no one come up with this yet?” And that’s my barometer. I was so excited by the concept of it, and I said, “Whenever this happens, I would like to be involved.” And this was when it was a germ of an idea.
What was it like working with that cast, which includes Judy Greer, Rachel Bloom, Paul Reiser and Johnny Knoxville?
It’s funny, because we’re dealing with a few different actors from different disciplines and styles. Rachel and I have our different styles. [We’re] both actors who were trained in improvisation and who have created our material. Then you have someone like Judy Greer, who is so funny, but she’s not a comedian. She is a consummate actor. Then you have Johnny — he’s a whole other animal unto himself. But that variety of our experiences shines through the personalities of the characters that we’re playing in the show.
I love tuning in to the show weekly.
I like this stab that we’re taking at appointment watching again. There is something almost nostalgic about that disappointment when you have to wait for the next episode.
We are so spoiled that you can watch 10 episodes in one go, but growing up, we had to wait.
I remember my mother saying that. I would say, “I missed that episode of ‘Magnum P.I.’ or “Happy Days’ and she’d say that it would re-run in the summer, and you grin and bear that.
I think our next evolution might be that we find ourselves making six-hour movies. Could you imagine if somebody made a six-hour movie? People would be trained to watch it in the cinema, and maybe I would feel differently about spending $15-$20 on a movie ticket. It’s a bargain.
Give it a year or two and some filmmaker is going to dare make a six-hour movie and they’re going to come back to this.
Somebody owes me money.
How was the experience on “Wendell & Wild”?
I’m speechless. It is exquisite. What a privilege to be able to work with a true master in an art form. Working with Henry is like sitting for Michelangelo. It’s such a gorgeous art form and it’s so magical.
And there was the highly anticipated reunion with Jordan Peele. How did that conversation happen, and what was the vibe when you reunited?
It’s that wonderful best-friend thing. … You walk in and you say, ‘Remember when George did that thing?’ And then you both laugh about whatever George did in 1996. It’s like a dance and being back with your partner. What’s so interesting is that we came up through the same training system in improv. He was a puppeteer major in college. I was a classically trained actor. And we both fell in love with this art form. We shared language that we didn’t even know we shared before we met. Our relationship got deep,
quickly, so I enjoy having him as a dance partner.
What makes you say yes to a project and what are you looking for now in your roles?
As a performer, I’m really making an effort now to internalize things a little bit more and take more time with the roles that I’m playing.
Years ago, when I did this play that Steve Martin wrote, “Meteor Shower,” I remember lauding Steve about his early albums like, ‘A Wild and Crazy Guy.’ He said, ‘It’s all energy.’ But he felt that as he was moving forward as a performer, those things that he did were filled with lots of unbridled energy, and as he gets older, he’s controlling the energy more. I feel like I’m on a very similar path, where I’m trying to keep that childlike quality in the performances. I’m trying to pick where are the places where you harness that energy? Where are the places where you cover it? Where are the places where you let it explode? Something I’ve observed: Is the protagonist proactively making their life happen, or is everything happening to the protagonist and they’re reacting to it? So, I’ll say, I’ve done three roles where the protagonist is in reaction mode, and maybe it’s time to see if we can pick a project where he’s in proactive mode.
Who would you like to work with?
I would really like to work with Ryan Gosling. I find him very funny. I used to be transfixed by his work. I loved him in “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Drive,” but what was really revelatory for me was that I saw him in “The Nice Guys” with Russell Crowe. I read stuff about him wanting to do comedy and he was so naturally funny. I don’t know what the project would be, but I would love to work with him.
I would like to work with Michael Fassbender and Ryan Reynolds. So, both the Ryans and Michael Fassbender. A buddy-something with both the Ryans, and Michael can be the bad guy. That would be a lot of fun.
Are you allowed to talk about voicing Toad in “Super Mario”?
I’m not, but I will tell you this much: It was an absolute blast to do, anytime I get to make up songs. Even just from the trailer, they knock this thing out of the park. I had so much fun.
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