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In the Spirit of This Movie

January 22nd, 2009 · No Comments

David Patrick Kelly

David Patrick Kelly was born January 23, 1951 in Detroit, Michigan. His father was an accountant, his mother a homemaker. Kelly grew up with four sisters and two brothers and recalled his path to the performing arts by stating, “I was an altar boy in the ’50s, and saw all that ritual, and the costumes, and – it wasn’t costumes, you know – all the vestments and everything else. There was something about it that was mysterious and great. But I think, you know, my father was a painter and so we always had painting going on in our basement. There were big scenes. He painted the furnace to look like a tree, and the walls were always covered with paintings. So I think it was just an environment. And then, my mother taught me music. And it was a combination of these twin things in my family, were art and music. So I think that combination made it obvious.”

Moving on from Bishop Gallagher High School in Harper Woods, Kelly enrolled at the University of Detroit and made his Michigan stage debut in 1970 as the lead in Hair. He took a detour through Paris to study at the International School of Mime with Marcel Marceau, and after completing his scholarship at the University of Detroit, headed to New York. “I played guitar, and played all the cabarets in rock. It was a wonderful scene, actors and songwriters in the ’70s in New York, and that new music, or punk, if you wanna call it that, that thing was going on. And it was very creative. It was a wonderful time, in theater too. There were a lot more theaters then.”

David Patrick Kelly The Warriors 1979

After serving as an understudy for the 1975 production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Kelly made his Broadway debut in 1978 in the musical Working. He found time to audition for a movie scheduled to shoot in New York that summer titled The Warriors. “I went in for one meeting with Walter Hill and Larry Gordon and I think they were first considering me for one of the Warriors. Then they both came to see me on Broadway in Working that I and Lynne Thigpen were in. My part in that was Charlie Blossom, a funny, scary homicidal maniac, so I think they began thinking about me as Luther. When I went for my second meeting I remember Walter saying, ‘I think you are in the spirit of this movie.'” With miniature beer bottles and kooky verve, Kelly would immortalize Luther as one of the great bad guys in movie history.

While Kelly was back on Broadway for The Suicide (1980) and Is There Life After High School (1982), director Walter Hill and producer Lawrence Gordon did not cast the net far looking for someone to play “Luther”, a sniveling bad guy chased by Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 HRS. Kelly soon became a go-to character actor for creeps and psychos in action movies: Dreamscape, Commando and The Crow would follow. After hiring him as a hitman in Wild At Heart, David Lynch came back to Kelly to play one of the wack jobs populating the 1992 mini-series Twin Peaks. A bit part as a schoolteacher in Malcolm X prompted Spike Lee to give Kelly a bigger role in his next picture, as an electric organ playing, bifocal wearing neighbor from hell in Crooklyn.

David Patrick Kelly Flags of Our Fathers 2006

In addition to gracing the Broadway stage in 1994 for the comedy The Inspector General, and as the jester Feste in a 1998 Lincoln Center revival of Twelfth Night, Kelly has appeared Off Broadway throughout his career. In 1998, he received an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance for his work in classic, avant garde and new plays. Back in psycho land menacing Adam Sandler for the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard, Kelly was by now showing his range in movies like Flirting With Disaster (as a Michigan truck driver Ben Stiller thinks is his father), K-Pax (a psych patient opposite Kevin Spacey) and Flags of Our Fathers (President Harry S. Truman). In the last year, he’s popped up in episodes of Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Gossip Girl.

In 2008, five folk/rock tunes Kelly recorded in 1975 during gigs at Reno Sweeney’s and CBGB’s were packaged with four new songs and released on CD as Rip Van Boy Man. Writing a review on CD Baby, Max Cheney commented, “Had he not gone into theater and film, I believe DPK would have had a successful career in commercial music.” When Cheney sat down to interview Kelly, the performer had this to say about his iconic turn in The Warriors: “That was really a blast, y’ know. Nobody got paid much; we all got dressed in one big trailer. I’d walk home every day, from that big thing where Cyrus is speaking. We’d shoot that all night, then I’d walk from Riverside Park down to my little apartment in SoHo, at the time, in the ’70s. Yeah, it wasn’t fancy. But it came out good.”

© Joe Valdez

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Tags: United Federation of Character Actors

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