SXSW 2016 Interview | Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele on ‘Keanu’

The stars of Key and Peele have a new comedy, and I can tell you from personal experience that it is hilariousKeanu stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as normal guys who have to impersonate hardened killers in order to rescue a kidnapped cat in the upcoming feature, which just debuted at SXSW 2016, and is heading to a theater near you on April 29, 2016.

I didn’t want to wait that long to talk to Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele so I got them on the phone at SXSW to talk about their side-splitting new film, the dramatic significance of a catnapping and why George Michael is funny. Take a gander, and be sure to check out Keanu when it comes out later this year. You’ll be glad you did.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

Also: SXSW 2016 Review | ‘Keanu’ is the Cat’s Pajamas

Crave: Is Keanu a movie that stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, or is it a Key and Peele movie?

Keegan-Michael Key: Oh, that’s the best question we’ve gotten ever!

Jordan Peele: Really the star of the movie, let’s be real, is Keanu.

Keegan-Michael Key: Right, correct.

Jordan Peele: And if you saw the size of his trailer you would agree. But I think it’s a little bit of both. We created this movie in the style that we built for our show. As you noticed, I’m sure, in watching it… a lot of people that have seen it, and few have, but the comment we get a lot is “Oh, this kind of like a long version of one of your sketches, or something we might see in a sketch show.”

Keegan-Michael Key: But also the other thing that’s interesting, William, is that I think there are pockets of the movie where you see me and Jordan play off of each other in ways that we’ve done in our sketches, and in other places you see little highlights from him and little highlights from me. So yeah, I agree with you a hundred percent that it’s a little bit of both.

“We realized that no matter who you are, if you have a pet, you would do anything in the world for your pet.”

Did this start off as a movie about guys who have to impersonate criminals, or did it start off as, “We’ve gotta make a movie with a cat?”

Jordan Peele: It was the former. It started with the premise of… it was kind of influenced by Raising Arizona and True Romance and Three Amigos, movies where a couple of regular guys get thrust into a high stakes situation. There was actually a draft or two of this script before the cat even came into the picture, but then when we added that element the whole thing fell together and made sense, because Keanu really is the heart of the movie.

What was the motivation before there was a kidnapped cat?

Jordan Peele: The motivation was more fear than anything. Just the idea that we got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so we had to clothes-switch to survive. Eventually it sort of felt like… You know what? Just to give you a sort of behind the scenes of how a script is made, eventually it felt like, “Alright, come on brothers! If you’re in danger just get out of there! Just leave!” So Keanu gives us a reason that we would stay. We realized that no matter who you are, if you have a pet, you would do anything in the world for your pet. It’s not too absurd to think you would put yourself in mortal danger if it meant saving your animal.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

George Michael plays an important role in the movie – and as well he should – but I have to wonder, was George Michael the original idea or was that an element where you could drop in anyone? Like, “George said no, so we have to do Boy George instead?”

Jordan Peele: Let’s just say George was there from the beginning.

Keegan-Michael Key: Yeah, let’s say that. 

Jordan Peele: The original script had a different group in it, but when we arrived at George Michael it was clear to everybody that that’s what it should have been the whole time.

Keegan-Michael Key: The whole time, right, yeah. It made so much more sense with all of the attributes of him and who he was and we went, “Oh, yeah? Yup, this is the thing. This is the fit.”

“We really set out to make our favorite comedy.”

There is a preponderance of jokes in a lot of comedies lately, and many of them even begin with a scene in which a guy is singing along to a not particularly masculine song. It feels like that’s the whole joke. What do you think that’s about? Why is it such a popular gag right now?

Jordan Peele: I think it’s an interesting clash of context gag that has existed for a very long time, but I think right now what it is, is part of it is that we’re in another kind of nostalgia area. I think right now the ‘90s is where we’re at and so people like to hear this ‘90s music and quite a few of the popular things that we remember are songs that might have been heart-wrenching or might have been songs that we listened to when we were in an emotional state at the time. So these are the songs that we listened to. I think those are the ones that keep coming to mind, and we keep inserting those kinds of songs into this really classic gag that has worked for quite some time. We just wanted to make sure in Keanu that we were doing it in such a way that it was always at a time when a person had to survive. For survival he had to do X, Y and Z with that gag, to try to make a classic, classic gag fresh.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

There are familiar ideas for jokes in Keanu, and yet they seem to play out in different ways. Even just the basic concept, guys who have to pretend to be criminals, we’ve seen that in films like Get Hard for example. Is it just what makes you laugh, or are you going in with a mission statement, that you need to try these things to keep it funny?

Jordan Peele: We really set out to make our favorite comedy.

Keegan-Michael Key: Yeah. 

Jordan Peele: I think this was the premise that best interwove a lot of comedic games that we found and discovered on our show. But it’s not done in as calculated a way as that. It’s really, we’re always trying to make each other laugh and to do what we think is going to be funniest.

Keegan-Michael Key: Yeah, I sometimes what we do is we’ll just be observing a person on the street, or an idea will come to one of us, and we’ll start riffing on a comedic game or a gag first, and then sometimes we reverse engineer and then you can later say, boy, that’s a great fun gag, or a really great fun observation. What would be a scenario that we could put that in so that it works the opposite way? As opposed to trying to lay out the field first and then fill it with gags. But that’s just an opposite response. Like Jordan said, it’s just trying to make each other giggle. Just trying to make each other giggle, you know?

“I think if the response is what we think it is, I can see some [more] Keanu in the future.”

You talk about “comedic games.” Are you talking about improv exercises, or are you talking about something more specific?

Keegan-Michael Key: What we mean when we say “the comedic game” is, what is it that’s funny? What is the comedic engine that blends through the scene? So in the movie Keanu the comedic engine is that we have to act harder and more street than we really are, and that’s pervasive through the entire film. Then there’s little tiny sub-games inside of that, you know what I mean? Having a discussion about the “n-word,” and how I’m never going to say it, and then saying it seven times in a row in the next three minutes. [Laughs.] That’s the comedic game in that particular moment of the movie.

Does Keanu have a sequel, or do you think it’s important to leave Keanu where it is and just make another movie together at some point?

Jordan Peele: We’ll see. We definitely have a lot of projects we want to collaborate on, and I think if the response is what we think it is, I can see some Keanu in the future.

Keegan-Michael Key: Oh yeah, yeah.

Jordan Peele: We certainly have left ourselves open for it. At the end of the movie you’re definitely left open for it. And the supporting cast is so funny and good, and really grounds the world of this movie. 

Keegan-Michael Key: Yeah, definitely.

Jordan Peele: I’d love to see all those characters again.

Keegan-Michael Key: And from a personal point of view, a joy to play with.


William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.

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Top Photo: Tommaso Boddi / Getty Images North America