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Keith Harris is on the scene

by Mark Burger

R. Keith Harris is one of the busiest and most visible actors in the Piedmont Triad, and he can now be seen in a supporting role in the big-screen adaptation of Robert Whitlow’s novel The List, now playing exclusively at the Consolidated Grande 16 (3205 Northline Ave., Greensboro).

Co-starring with the likes of Malcolm McDowell, Pat Hingle, Will Patton, Hilarie Burton and Nicholas Pryor, Harris plays Bart Maxwell, one of the members of a secret, affluent cabal that has existed since the Civil War.

Chuck Carrington (of TV’s “JAG”) plays the newest member of the group, who finds himself seduced by the promise of wealth and power – unaware of the spiritual and physical perils that being a member could potentially entail.

Harris’ major scene is the first big scene in the film, in which the young hero is introduced to the members of “the List.”

“It was sitting in a room, with Malcolm McDowell at one end of the table and Pat Hingle at the other,” Harris says. “Pat Hingle’s first movie was On the Waterfront and Malcolm has been a legend since A Clockwork Orange. You’ve got to bring your A-game with those boys!”

McDowell has played his fair share of mysterious and shady characters – like the one in The List, actually – but Harris found him to be a delightful raconteur.

“He loves banter and he loves to chat,” Harris says. “At one point I came over and joined in a conversation in which he was talking about someone named ‘Larry.’ I asked who ‘Larry’ was …”

Harris smiles. “It was Laurence Olivier, of course. ‘Larry Olivier.’ I kept quiet after that and just listened.”

You’ve seen Harris in the Oscar-nominated Junebug (2005), playing the friendly young minister, or as part of the all-star ensemble (Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor, Jessica Lange, Danny DeVito) in Tim Burton’s 2003 adaptation of Big Fish (he played McGregor’s father).

The same year, Harris donned the hat of producer and collaborated with writer/director Lovinder S. Gill on the production of the independent romantic comedy Chicks 101, which was filmed throughout the Piedmont Triad and is now available on DVD (chicks101movie.com).

And, like seemingly every North Carolina actor or actress, he’s done his stints on “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill.”

Harris has also been a fixture at the School of Filmmaking at the NC School of the Arts, appearing in such award-winning student films as Roadside Convenience, Kilroy Was Here and Booth, in which he played presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Not to be outdone, Harris has himself written, produced, directed and appeared in some short films of his own – the latest of which, Harvest, recently won the Audience Choice Award at the Charlotte Film Festival.

In the last year alone, Harris has played roles in the feature films The Dogs Days of Summer (the final film of my great pal, the late George Lee), Wesley (produced by Chicks 101 director Gill) with Kevin McCarthy and June Lockhart, and Lost Stallions: The Journey Home, which was written by Gill and which co-stars Mickey Rooney.

Harris will appear in Paramount’s remake of the 1986 slasher comedy April Fool’s Day; he’s in a new TV spot for Subway alongside superstar NASCAR driver Tony Stewart; and he’s in the midst of playing a role in the feature film Red Dirt Rising, now shooting in Archdale.

All of these projects, incidentally, were filmed in North Carolina. So was The List, which brought Harris back to his familiar stomping (and filming) grounds of Wilmington.

Harris also scored the role of the base chaplain in the pilot for “Army Wives,” which was also shot in Wilmington, but although Lifetime picked up the series, they dropped the character. (Their loss.)

Harris is happy to see the state’s filmmaking incentives program paying off. Not only is it bringing in projects from elsewhere – like Fall Down Dead, a horror-thriller shot in Winston-Salem last year, in which Harris co-stars with Dominique Swain and David Carradine – but it’s also encouraging area filmmakers to take the plunge.

Harris himself is currently in the early stages of pre-production on Damascus Road, a racially-charged period piece that he’s written, intends to star in and is tentatively planning to direct. Yes, he’s got the experience and the credits, but the current state of the economy makes investors wary.

“The infrastructure for film production is here, I’m happy to say, but venture capital is hurting,” he says. “I want to help bolster indigenous filmmaking in any way I can, and the incentives are a good thing. We’re seeing more productions coming in from out of state, which is great, but I wish they’d sometimes cast here instead of out of Los Angeles.”

As for the independent productions that continue to spring up throughout the state, Harris couldn’t be more pleased. “It’s great to see local filmmakers creating their own opportunities.”

Although he has spent some time living in Los Angeles, and occasionally mulls extended visits there (especially during the TV pilot season), he and his wife Emily have families here and would like nothing more than to stick around. With so many projects in the pipeline, their wish might just come true.

To comment on this story, e-mail Mark Burger at marksburger@yahoo.com.

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