Keith Carradine’s gravel-edged, instantly recognizable voice has served him well in a 40-year career on stage and screen. Depending on your age, you may know him best as the Oscar-winning composer of “I’m Easy,” from Robert Altman’s 1975 hit Nashville; as Wild Bill Hickok on TV’s Deadwood, FBI Agent Frank Lundy on Dexter or even as the villain on the video game Hitman. But this down-to-earth member of the colorful Carradine acting clan seems most at home on a Broadway stage. He launched his career in the original cast of Hair (and ended up with a daughter, Martha Plimpton, from his showmance), gave a Tony-nominated performance in the 1991 musical The Will Rogers Follies and is now a warm and winning presence as senior contestant JD Drew in Hands on a Hardbody. Happily married since 2006 to 39-year-old actress Hayley DuMond, the 63-year-old star shared his love of Hardbody and NYC theater with Broadway.com.
It’s great to have you back on Broadway. How is Hands on a Hardbody going?
The audience response has just been through the roof. The minute I heard these songs and read Doug Wright’s terrific book, I thought, ok—this is something special. This is new. This is fresh. This is not your typical Broadway fare. It breaks new ground, and I feel very excited and privileged to be a part of that.
This is not a glitzy musical. Did you feel right away that audiences would embrace it?
I absolutely knew that it would work on an emotional level, and I also knew that it would be a challenge to give audiences an idea of what they’re going to see. So much of what comes to Broadway these days is pre-branded, based on a popular movie or children’s book. People can say, “I know what that is.” In this case, the challenge has been to make people understand that they’re in for a joyful, affirmative, all-American ride that's full of life.
You’re a Oscar winning composer...
…so, tell us what you love about this music, particularly your wonderful Act Two song, “Used to Be.”
It’s one of those songs I wish I had written, because it addresses one of my pet peeves. When my wife and I drive around this great country, I am constantly frustrated by the homogeneity our society has become. I’m always looking for out-of-the-way places that are family owned, that aren’t chains, that have personality unique to the town they’re in. So when I heard this song by Amanda Green, I thought, “I get to sing that? Count me in.”
You’ve worked with two generations of the Green family. Was Amanda around when you and her dad [lyricist Adolph Green] did The Will Rogers Follies?
She was a kid, but she was around. When I came to the first workshop [of Hardbody] Amanda told me that when she was writing “Used to Be,” she heard my voice and thought I would be the ideal person to sing it.
What’s it like working in such close proximity to the rest of the cast as you hang on to the truck? Seems like it could be a good thing or a really bad thing.
You are absolutely right. It could have gone either way, but in this case, we are a really close and loving family of performers. There’s a communal aspect to the show because everyone has their moment where they get to tell their story. It’s like A Chorus Line with a truck.
How would you do in a real “hardbody” marathon competition?
I think I would do pretty well, just because of the experience factor. I am the oldest guy in the cast, and living a little bit longer, you learn a few things! I think that would work in my favor.
Hunter Foster agreed! You also look like one of the fittest people on that stage. How do you do it?
Over the last few years, I’ve changed the way I eat. I’m virtually a pescatarian. I’ve cut out red meat, I eat fish and a lot of grains, a lot of complex carbs and vegetables; it’s just a healthier diet. And in terms of the [hardbody] competition, my wife just shouted from the other room that in addition to the experience, I’m stubborn [laughs].
Were your castmates [and Hair revival alums] Allison Case and Jay Armstrong Johnson aware that you were in the original cast of Hair?
Yes, we all consider ourselves Hair alumni. Dale Soules [Janis] was in the original Broadway show, too, but she came in after I left. Hair was not actually my first Broadway show—my first was The Madwoman of Chaillot in 1949, when I appeared in utero [laughs]. My dad [John Carradine] played the Ragpicker and my mother [Sonia Sorel] was one of the sewer ladies.
Broadway was your destiny. What are your memories of starring in The Will Rogers Follies?
Every moment of that process was spectacular. I’ll never forget auditioning for [director] Tommy Tune, [composer] Cy Coleman and [lyricists] Betty Comden and Adolph Green. I did a couple of songs and swung a lasso, and then Tommy walked on the stage, all six foot six of him, smiled and said, “How do you feel about spending some time in New York?” [Will Rogers] was an extraordinary human being, and the show was a beautiful reflection of how he affected people. A friend who came see it said, “That cat was like a cowboy Buddha.” And I got to play it at the historic Palace Theatre!
Your daughter Martha [Plimpton] is also a wonderful stage actress.
I haven’t missed one of her openings in 15 or 20 years, unless I’m working and can’t get there.
Are your younger kids also in show business?
They are. My son, Cade [now 30], is a really good guitarist and writer. He’s also an actor, but he’s spending most of his time writing screenplays and ideas for internet shows. It’s just a matter of time before one of them pops. And my younger daughter, Sorel [now 27], is an actress. She’s got four or five movies in the can and is doing great.
Is it true you got married on the same day as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes?
Not only on the same day, but in the same country! Hayley and I had been saying that if we ever made it to Italy, wouldn’t it be a great to get married there? So when we found out we were going to the Torino Film Festival, we figured out a way to make it happen. It was inadvertent that we got married on the same day as TomKat. The funny thing is that the paparazzi found out and were waiting for us outside our hotel. They said, “Are you trying to do upstage Tom and Katie’s wedding?” I said, “If I could do that, great!” [Laughs.]
Well, you had a better result. Any chance of having more kids?
It’s always a possibility! We’ll take it as it comes.
Are you a New Yorker now?
We are. We moved here in January, and we have a very full domestic scene. My wife’s parents, her grandparents and my wife and I are all in a house together. Hayley’s dad has Alzheimers, so her mom needed help, and the grandparents really couldn’t be alone anymore. We pooled our resources, went three ways on a big house and moved in together.
You’re a saint!
I told a friend of about it, and she said, “Jesus, this sounds like Eugene O’Neill.” [Laughs.] Well, yeah, it has a little bit of that, but it’s really a joyful, full-circle thing. This is how people used to do things without really thinking about it. We as a society have kind of gotten away from looking after the people who looked after us.
Now all you need is an HBO series that films in New York.
That would be good! But my first order is Hands on a Hardbody, and with any luck we’ll be here for quite a while.
See Keith Carradine in Hands on a Hardbody at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.