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Harvey Keitel: The Most Important Sin is Selfishness
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Harvey Keitel: The Most Important Sin is Selfishness

An all-time icon, legendary Hollywood actor Harvey Keitel opens up about being an icon, making few mistakes, and the meaning of true happiness.

Critics say your latest movie ‘Youth’ is a perfect bromance story between you and Michael Caine.

– That’s a funny word…

Do you like that idea?

– Bromance sounds a little weird. I guess they mean it in a good way, like sort of a romantic between two men. I think you can call it that. I mean deeply romantic one in the sense of friendship.

It seems like you are not getting older, just getting wiser. Is that how you feel?

– I think both are true. I hope so. Well, I am always questioning about life: Where I am going, how I am doing it… I have a lot of confusions and questions.

What do you ask most about?

– How can I feel better in this moment? What do I feel like in this moment? Why do I feel like I can’t express myself in this moment?

At the age of 76, are you still considering these questions?

– Yes and that works. It’s a constant changing of attitudes as the day is long and the night is long. I was expressing myself fully in this moment.


From the set of "Youth": Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel.

From the set of “Youth”: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel. Photo credit: Gianni Fiorito

Do you see yourself as an icon? 

– No, but I can understand why people call me that way. It’s a tribute to all iconic movies I have made with iconic people, not me. When the word icon is used if it serves people in a healthy way then I don’t mind. I myself don’t use it, though.

Back then, were you ‘the wise kid’?

– Younger, I remember myself as a closed boy; a boy closed of himself. As I got older, the desire for awareness grove in me. Back then, I could see a young adolescent desiring for openness, desiring for awareness. I was seeking awareness from the discomfort that I felt and I am still seeking it.

Are there any certain age in your life when you just you realize that life is maybe too simple and there is nothing to worry about?

– I see my life as a beautiful journey. It is a beautiful struggle and if one can accept that it is a struggle, that leads the reality. Being uncomfortable is a reality, losing things is a reality and joy is a reality and fear is a reality. All those things mix together and make a snowball that represent the true life. That’s probably the most beautiful, real and precious thing you can hold. And eventually it is going to melt away. You’ll feel the warmness when it’s melting away. That’s the true happiness,  my friend…

Robert De Niro, Al Pacino… You’re all a part of the same generation. Do you guys hang out a lot?

– For our sake, Robert is a very dear friend of mine. His children are like our son is to him. So we share a life together. Al [Pacino] is also a friend. We come from the same school in New York. Al and I are co-artistic directors of the Actors Studio along with Ellen Burstyn. Robert has worked at the Actors Studio. I’ve been very lucky, I was grown up in the streets of Brooklyn. My friends were from the streets of Brooklyn. Some went off to college and universities and became doctors, lawyers, Indian Chiefs other became professors, and others became artists. One thing that I remember from those days is everyone were reading the Red Book. And I remember one line that was quoted: “Never loose contact with people.”

The key is never disconnecting from reality, right?

– That is what I would advise to young people. Find a line like that and make it your mantra. To remind you that you are no different than anybody else and to always respect that.


Keitel poses for Prada Uomo Menswear SS13 Campaign Photo credit: David Sims

People assume you have your whiskey and throw some wise speeches all the time…

– So foolish of them, they should know I drink tequila!

With your tequila, then!

– Well, I think we all need to talk. We have to talk. That’s the only way we can help each other.

So many talents like Robin Williams and Heath Ledger, have passed away just because they couldn’t handle anymore. Have you ever felt like that?

– They had those lonely moments when they thought ‘fuck this I can’t take it anymore.’ I have had them.

How did you survive? 

– I managed it the way you manage it. I wake up in the morning, wash up my face, open the door and walk away. There is no choice. Accept or leave it. But those who do it, do suicide, like you just described, it is such a sad state that they must be in. I have to think the ultimate moment they didn’t mean to do it. They didn’t want to do it. Because life wants to live. Life wants to be lived and it is not even up to me or you. You can take it away by putting a bullet in your head, but that’s the most selfish thing anyone could make. The most important sin we have to deal with in life is selfishness.

How can we deal with that?

– There are different degrees of selfish. It can be very destructive or not so bad, like you want to be comfortable in the bus. That is ok. But if you are throwing other people off the boat then it is not okay. You have to offer anybody a ride that needs one.

Do you remember what made you think that way?

– Yes. I think there is this urge for happiness all the time: “I must be happy! I must have what I want! I I must have this beautiful home, this beautiful wife and this beautiful car this beautiful suit…” Asking for more and more… When the life began humans wanted to live in the most beautiful cave there was. That grooving some kind of a crocked way we got crocked. And we only learned about the white picked fence around my cave and find the right cave girl to drag it to. And no one emphasised not having.

I feel enlightened!

– No one emphasised you might not have the cave you want. You might not have the whited picked fence. You might not have the girl you want. Can you take it?

What was the biggest mistake you have made in your life? I am sure you have few…

– I am not sure I could say it. But one day I will say it and I will think of you. If I get a chance to do it somewhere in the cinema perhaps I am going to say ‘The biggest mistake I have ever made in my life…’ and you will know that I am answering your question.

What have you learnt from that mistake you made?

– Not to do it again.



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