Homeland’s Michael O’Keefe on His Roles From Caddyshack to Michael Clayton

Photo: Stephen Lovekin/2014 Getty Images

ALERT: Spoilers ahead! Twists abounded in this week’s episode of Homeland: Among other things, Carrie teamed up with onetime CIA adversary John Redmond (Michael O’Keefe). But the biggest surprise for O’Keefe is that he’s still acting 35 years after earning an Oscar nomination for 1979’s The Great Santini. “I’m still very grateful that I make my living as an actor — it’s all I set out to do when I was young,” he tells Vulture. O’Keefe shared some of his favorite showbiz memories, including stories about his roles in Caddyshack and opposite Jack Nicholson and George Clooney.

How would you characterize Redmond’s relationship with Carrie? They started out at loggerheads, but now that’s evolving.
When she showed up, he saw her as competition, which is understandable. He is from an entirely different generation, works differently, and was trained differently from her. They don’t have different goals, but they have a very different way of being. So initially there was conflict, which was a good obstacle for Carrie. Now it’s incumbent on my character to win her over. But there are lots of little wrinkles.

How was shooting Homeland in South Africa this season?

Cape Town is beautiful. It’s an extraordinary beach town, with mountain ranges on either side. It’s gorgeous, but at the same time, South Africa is still recovering from apartheid and coming into its own as a democracy. That’s very evident in the street life, even in the nicer parts of Cape Town. You’re constantly reminded of that income equality gap.

What was it like working opposite Robert Duvall in The Great Santini when you were such a young actor?
I was 23. At the time, Duvall was big into tennis. Working with him as an actor is a lot like playing tennis with a much better tennis player. All of a sudden, you see yourself making shots you never made before. He loves acting. He lives for it. He breathes acting. He has a capacity to grab you and take you with him. And I mean that literally and metaphorically. He was like a train barreling through everything, and I just grabbed on.

How was it to be nominated for a Oscar?
It was a life-changing event. It was mainly positive, but there’s also a dark side. When you don’t win the Oscar, you sort of disappear, in a sense. Tim [Hutton, who won for Ordinary People] and I were friends back then, but we were also competing for roles. So they all went his way, and I was like, “All righty!” Then, 15 minutes later, I’d made a few movies that weren’t necessarily the best movies ever made, and I had to reinvent myself as an actor and find my way back in. So while it’s quite a feather in your cap to have a nomination, I learned the hard way that it’s not a guarantee.

Was working with such a bunch of comedic powerhouses on Caddyshack intimidating in a different way?
Most people wouldn’t necessarily draw that parallel, but you’ve drawn it exactly right, because as serious and committed and formidable as Robert Duvall is, Billy Murray and Rodney Dangerfield and Chevy Chase were back then as well, not to mention Ted Knight. I was a huge Mary Tyler Moore Show fan, so I was amazed that I got a shot to work with him. I just tried to breathe deeply and suck it up.

Was the movie as much fun to make as it is to watch?
I would say it was probably too much fun. I was surprised that at one point or another, we weren’t arrested. It was pretty much an all-day party.

What about working with Jack Nicholson on 1987’s Ironweed?
While I’d always admired Duvall as an actor, Nicholson was the movie star I most wanted to be like when I was growing up. So to work with him was a thrill. To be able to see him on the street and say, “Hey, Jack, how are you doing?” and for him to go, “Hey, Michael, how ya been?” was a mind-blower.

Was it different working with him a second time on 2001’s The Pledge?

Absolutely, because I had less hair. That was traumatic for me. He had less hair, too, and he had gained a pound or two. They say that he likes to party a little bit. I’m not really sure about that.

Did you hit it off with George Clooney on Michael Clayton?

He was everything I wanted him to be and more. He was funny and charming, and he wanted everyone to have a good day. My only regret on Michael Clayton is I was playing, for lack of a better term, the dick. I tend to lay the groundwork for roles I do in between takes, so I was slightly dickish around him to make sure every time we were on camera and he looked at me, he’d be like, Oh, God, I hate this guy. But I think he got the joke. I don’t think he took it too seriously.

But you still didn’t get invited to the wedding, did you?
Nope. There was a thing on Facebook that said, “Describe George Clooney’s wedding in three words,” and my answer was, “Not invited again.”