When you think of an actor that takes absurd risks to perfect a character or make the representation as real as possible, Tom Cruise is probably the first name that comes to mind. He personifies putting oneself in danger for a position. This list contains several names of actors who have placed themselves in danger to perfect performance. However, Harvey Keitel’s name is seldom used in these chats.
Keitel, a regular collaborator of Martin Scorsese, has a great narrative about how he placed himself in perilous circumstances to improve his depiction in 1976’s Taxi Driver. It is also one of the greatest instances of unwavering devotion to a job. Of course, his co-star in the film, Robert DeNiro, took his own possibly destructive choices in order to comprehend his character. However, Keitel may have gone too far.
Harvey Keitel’s Preparation for ‘Taxi Driver
In Taxi Driver, Keitel plays pimp Matthew “Sport” Higgins. Before the film started, the actor knew nothing about being a pimp or what it required. He has always been noted for his meticulous preparation and study for each job. This part fit his reputation for portraying “tough guy” roles in films. However, not knowing anything about his character left him in a tough situation. Both DeNiro’s Travis Bickle and Keitel’s Higgins were challenging parts to prepare for and perfect.
As a part of the preparation for the film, they both took up method acting. DeNiro, who plays a night-shift taxi driver, spent two weeks driving through New York’s most perilous streets in a yellow cab before production started. He wanted to know what life was like behind the wheel of a taxi. Keitel, for his part, delved headfirst into his drug-fueled role as a pimp. His technique of preparation? Learning from a real-life pimp.
Keitel traveled to Times Square and spoke to sex workers in an attempt to meet with their managers. When it didn’t work, he went via someone to get a true pimp. He spent two weeks working with this individual. They took turns portraying a girl and a pimp, inventing and rehearsing sequences, and becoming acquainted with the lifestyle. Something about that way of life intrigued him, or at least what that guy told him did. He said that pimps loved their females and never lied to them, regardless of their vocation. “It took me a bit to realize, to absorb that,” Keitel remarked in a December 2015 interview with Collider. “I’m not sure I have.”
Harvey Keitel Wasn’t Supposed to Play a Taxi Driver
Keitel’s depiction of Higgins has become one of the most prominent roles of the New Hollywood period. But if it hadn’t been for a tweak in the screenplay, he may not have won the part, or it might not have existed at all. The Taxi Driver screenplay was written by Paul Schrader, who first saw Higgins as a Black character. He created the screenplay in this manner, and casting was originally planned with this in mind.
However, given how the film was to conclude, the studio intervened and asked Schrader to adjust a few elements in his original screenplay. At the conclusion of the film, Bickle enters the facility where Higgins performs most of his job and shoots it up, killing Higgins and others. Columbia Pictures predicted that this scene, in which a white man shoots a black guy, would spark rioting. As a result, Schrader rewrote the screenplay to make Higgins a white man. Only after this did Keitel get the role and provide an incredible performance opposite DeNiro. As they say in Hollywood, the rest is history.