Juror in the spotlight: an interview with Kelly Karavites
Most people wouldn't give up a promising career in order to pursue their dreams. It's risky, challenging, some would even say crazy to throw away an opportunity like Kelly Karavites had. Kelly, an award-winning producer, actor and a jury member at the Los Angeles Film Awards, believed in himself and proved that if you go for it, you can conquer the industry.
Kelly kindly agreed to share some of his experiences and valuable insights about working in the entertainment industry.
Before you got into acting, you've had a promising career in the U.S. Army - you were appointed by the congressman and the Secretary of the Army to cadet at the U.S Military Academy. Why did you decide to opt for an honorable discharge and pursue acting?
I consider my appointment to the United States Military Academy as one of my highest honors, as you know I am sure, West Point is hard to get into, there are literally over 100,000 applicants and you have to go through a rigorous series of hurdles to get nominated by your congressman and I did. Only about 1400 get in. This is the school of former Presidents, Grant, Eisenhower, great men graduated here. Now great women are adding their names to the distinguished Alumni list there. I was already in the US Army as an enlisted man when I got appointed from the ranks. As a first year cadet one winter day as I was leaving Eisenhower Hall a recreation building at the Academy I saw a plaque on the wall outside a building. It was the names of cadets from my regiment during World War 1 who died in the great war. I had a sudden epiphany, I thought one day I too may be a name on a wall.
Private Kelly Karavites, United States Army Infantry School, Summer 1978
Although I applaud my classmates who stayed and served our country I detected my essence was about a creative path, I wanted to leave a creative energy it was not clear yet, the acting was just in the shadows at this point, so I took my honorable discharge which was available and I resigned my cadetship. I went to California for a good vacation and two weeks later I was working as an accounts payable clerk for an advertising agency on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan, suit and tie and glasses and all. This part of the story is essential in your interview. Just four years later I attempted to break into acting. The year was 1985. I got cheap $75 black and white headshots, I bought Show Business Magazine, I didn't even know what a breakdown was, what sides were, I was reading old monologue books, my first memorized monologue was the great scene in "It's a Wonderful Life" where George Bailey confronts Mr. Potter in the boardroom. I added Father Barry's monologue from "On the Waterfront" later on. I used to take taxis on my lunch break over the 59th Street bridge to Kaufman and Silvercup studios across the East River to Queens. My boss was very upset when I arrived back late to the office and he asked me where are you going on your lunch breaks? I confessed it was auditions. He didn't fire me but he said 'make up your mind, are you an actor or an accounts payable clerk.' Shortly thereafter I shelved my dream until 21 years later when I realized life was about pursuing your passion and I was in a better place. I never looked back.
Did you ever perform the role of an Army soldier in a project, and if so, what was this experience like?
Amazingly I have yet to play a military man but as an actor I ache for it. A German director in Berlin I worked with and I respect and admire and who directed me in two of his films told me I would make a perfect Nazi officer as I am tall slim have a teutonic face and green eyes reminiscent of Christoph Waltz from "Inglorious Basterds". I am certain the opportunity will eventually present itself. Right now I am heavily branded in professional roles, doctor, lawyer, politician. I shall probably never play a plumber, wrong type.
You studied at New York's Herbert Berghoff Studio in Manhattan, while studying at CUNY as well. What were the best parts of taking classes in both institutions?
When I was nocturnally studying both for my Bachelors Degree at City University of New York and also taking acting lessons at night at Herbert Berghoff Studio in Greenwich Village while working a full time job I received the greatest training an actor can ever receive. I learned time management.
I was once criticized by a potential agent for not having an MFA, but I discreetly and respectfully responded that as someone who had to juggle so much namely studying for a BA, studying acting exercises and balancing real job responsibilities I am an actor worth taking a chance on, by going to school at night for both my BA and acting I was becoming a good time manager. All acting is nothing else than the truthful dispensing of time, the total use of all sensory feelings and reactions that can sway an audience. I would never trade my journey juggling all that, I learned more about acting by doing than by reading books. Time management and sensory awareness is a potent arsenal for an actor. I study actors I admire and I notice they have a sense of timing, Ironically this same sense of timing has helped me in my stand up comedy work which I do from time to time for fun. Performing stand up comedy is cheaper than therapy and solves more problems. It's all about respecting the clock. John Wooden (famous UCLA basketball coach) once said: "Be quick but don't hurry", and I think it's true not only for basketball players, but also for actors.
A wonderful stage director I had the honor to be directed by, Mr. Le Wilhelm, once told me he could ask a civilian to do something and they do it normally. If he asked an actor especially a new one they rush it because they are consciously trying to impress, so acting really is not about acting, it is being. That is a quote listed on my IMDb.
Kelly Karavites & the Mommy's Box team at the 2016 Garden State Film Festival
Tell us about the first time you've been on stage/on set. What was it like? How did you get the role?
In 2007 at the tender age of 48 I started my acting work on the stage with a series of play readings at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House a superb Community Theater 2 blocks from my apartment. I felt God's endorsement when I realized this generous geography happenstance. Later at that same Community Theater I was cast as a major character in Tim Kelly's comedy play, "The Butler Did it" a classic and it was a fun role. The director was a fantastic person and I got a chance to really enjoy a production at the Community Theater level which is both fun and not intimidating, I consider this first theater job as the foundation of my work when I later moved up to Off Off Broadway and then Off Broadway. I plan on taking the words Off off soon and be on Broadway someday.
Was there a special moment when you realized you only want to focus on acting? Was there a certain production that lead you to that conclusion?
I always wanted to be an actor. I know this sounds trite, but when I was a child I performed impersonations in the kitchen for my extended family. I imitated the stars of the day, Carol Channing, Jerry Lewis, Ed Sullivan, even the awkward Richard Nixon to name a few. Rich Little the great comedian was my hero. I even dabbled in dance, there was a Mexican girl down the block and we used to do free style ballet on my parents large lawn. We pretended to be Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, thankfully she was light and I could actually pick her up and not drop her. I recall the boys in the neighborhood making fun of me because they thought it was effeminate, my dancing but I paid no mind, they wanted me to play football but I told them I don't like getting mud on me, lol
The short answer however when I had my aha moment that I HAD to be an actor sometime in the early 1990s. I was so fortunate my dear beloved and recently departed spouse Francis King was a big theater fanatic and he took me to many plays. We were at an Off Broadway play and we had front row center seats and the marvelous actor Sam Shepard was on the stage in front of me. He was sitting in a chair and his voice filled the room, I was completely smitten. His voice was spectacular, he was nailing it, and I remember thinking, this is what I want to do, I can do this. I have a lot of work to do but I want to be an actor. This is the era I was finishing my college degree and studying late at HB I recall cold nights and snow and fatigue but I knew I was lucky I had a vision, a flame was re-lit his blessing.
With Steve Buscemi on HBO Boardwalk Empire
At first, were you interested in performing for stage, or mainly in on-screen productions?
I specifically wanted to start via stage acting because I consider the stage the high altar of acting. Not to be disrespectful to film acting but stage acting fulfils my spirit as an actor, when I am on the stage I feel connected to eternity. There are no takes, your spirit is in command of the story and you feel more alive and real than at any time. As stated in my IMDb listing I like the permanence of film. I can put on "Now Voyager" and see a great Bette Davis tussle with her curmudgeon mother anytime, that is eternal art.
Coming from a Greek background, have you ever been booked for a Greek/Balkan part? Was this easier, or actually, more tricky to perform?
Perfect timing this question, I just completed last year my first ever role as a Greek, I played a Greek funeral director in Johnny Greenlaw's award winning film (Best Picture Manhattan Film Festival and Best Picture Audience Award at Long Island International Film Expo) "Mommy's Box". While premiering this film in Hollywood at the Ricardo Montalban Theater off Hollywood and Vine I received the my first ever Hollywood write up from a critic and I wasn't even supporting or a star in this film I had a day player role but I guess I stole the scene.
Read 'Mommy's Box' review on the Digital Journal
It was relatively easy for me to do the Greek as they needed me to speak English with a Greek accent and I have been surrounded by that accent my whole life with my Uncles and Aunts. I also had to speak Greek in the film and I am fluent so that was easy. My great challenge is this coming July, I have a major role in a feature film. I can't say much about the film yet, only that my accent skills will be tested a lot.
As Stavros Papadopoulos in Mommy's Box
At what point of your career did you get a talent agent, and why did you choose to work with them?
I was lucky to be picked up by a couple of agents about three years into my journey. To be honest I did not realize how having an agent is like dating. You learn a lot as the business relationship grows. I voluntarily left a couple agents because they did not serve my brand right. Many actors are desperate for an agent and would work with anyone, I am not being disrespectful but I am selling and I want a buyer who is eager and understands what I am offering. Right now I am in search for an agent and manager and I believe I am close. I am recovering from the loss of my spouse in March 2016 so I am coming down to earth after a huge loss, I am literally rebooting. I am very optimistic.
Describe the ultimate director to work with, based on your past experience. What qualities does she/he has? How does she/he communicates their vision?
I love directors who have a vision of what they want and collaborate with the actor and allow the actor to bring their special choices. Ironically General George Patton of World War 2 fame probably put it best when stated his directing qualities. He stated it is important for the general to tell the men what he wants and then let them do it. An actor is not a trained monkey, he/she is an artist, we are like empty containers that fill the container with choices we bring form life experience. The best actors don't act, they do. Micro-managing is death to the directorial process. I mean it is ok to give notes to the actor and sometimes the discussions take time but a healthy relationship is when the actor and director do justice to a script in unison. But bottom line I view the director with great respect and am willing to be malleable and adjust to suggestions, my ego is small, the objective is to create a character the writer and audience can believe and enjoy and is truthful. Truth always wins.
When I started my move from stage to film around 2009 I was lucky to work with amazing young directors at the New York Film Academy, names like Yong Pil Choi, Martin Menzel, and Kazy Tauginas. All three have a keen sense of communication skills to partner with the actor. Their respect that the actor is an artist who can bring a certain character to life only fosters and grows when it is a shared communication process and artistic freedom is allowed on set. Again, the director is the boss, I am aware of that and respect that. But when I feel my character needs to be a certain way I will lobby for it.
Mommy's Box - Best Picture Audience Award at Long Island International Film Expo
How did you get into producing / exec. producing?
The last couple of years I noticed friends of mine who had scripts and needed support for their projects. I was happy to be in a position to help them along with other producers to get the project off the paper and onto a screen. This has been most gratifying. Right now I am focusing on my scripts and vehicles and have a couple in pre-production. Because I was supportive of these young film makers I have forged strong friendships and now they are helping me! But I always aspire to be an actor first and foremost. The order of my work is represented by my business card, Kelly Karavites /Actor/Producer/Comedian
What was one of the funniest moments in your career?
It was during the filming of my role as the mendacious dark funeral director Stavros Papadopoulos in Johnny Greenlaw's film "Mommy's Box". I subconsciously did a very funny double take reminiscent (I flatter myself) of Jim Carrey in one of his many crazy roles like "The Mask". I am a physical comedian and i have a rubbery face and am not afraid to use my body to imitate, provoke or amuse. The director loved it and one of our actors to this day laughs his head off when the scene plays. You should know I am a huge Jim Carrey fan and I share with him and George Carlin a Gemini Moon placement in my zodiac, the Gemini moon is the "comedian's placement" according to Astrologers.
Kelly Karavites at the 2016 SoHo International Film Festival
What do you do in order to prepare for a role? Are there any specific things do you that help you get into the character?
I research a lot. When I was cast by Grant Wifley Casting to be Steve Buscemi's butler in the HBO Emmy Award Winning TV drama "Boardwalk Empire" I watched the entire series "Brideshead Revisited" to learn about how butlers are. I even watched "Arthur" with Dudley Moore and Liza Minelli to study how Sir John Gielgud did the butler, his affectations. I read books, I googled the profession, I studied their gait, their role as chief of staff of the household. While on the set in Brooklyn for my role as Steve Buscemi's butler the AD asked me if I was really a butler. She stated I had such an energy reminiscent of the old days. I told her no I am not a butler I am an actor who plays one on television. :)
On your free time you also write plays and screenplays. Have you ever considered pursuing this as a career goal?
I am not one to say no about being a writer I love acting so much but I must confess the idea of being in front of a blank piece of paper on the computer with a hot chocolate in front of me is very appealing. As an actor I love words. They have to be massaged, they have to be made alive, it's funny but even a pause has to be truthful. More realism has been shown in pauses than in speaking. I believe in the totality of words and action
As Dr. Greg Lester in Kovar
What are your tips for upcoming actors?
I suggest they enjoy the work, and don't fret too much about fame.
Fame is like the icing on the cake, build a good cake, be yourself, relax, trust your instincts and surround yourself with people you respect and admire, don't fall into the fame game or success game. The quiet actor is the loudest. Let your work speak for itself and always remember, being an actor is like being a musician, if you don't play your instrument daily and work at it, your music will suffer.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
That to act is not to become someone else, to act is to find more of who you are.
If i weren't enjoying growing as an actor I would love to teach it. Who knows, maybe one day I will.
Kelly Karavites on IMDb