Local actor R. Keith Harris will be the first to admit he is a fortunate man when it comes to career and family. For the husband and father of two kids, the way he sees it, he’s got the best of both worlds.
After all, for more than two decades, Harris has been living his version of the American dream on both stage and screen.
Although he might not necessarily be a household name to the mainstream TV and film audience in the United States, Harris is a guy many a passersby might think to themselves — “Hmm, I know that guy from somewhere.”
In one of his more recent high-profile roles, Harris played the popular character Dr. Harland Carson on the hit television show The Walking Dead.
If that doesn’t ring a bell, you may recall he has shared screen time with Hollywood legends Robert Redford, Emma Thompson, Burt Reynolds and Mickey Rooney just to name a few.
But despite having over 70 film and television credits to his name, the success has never gone to his head. When all is said and done, he takes it all in stride and considers himself a blue collar, working-man’s actor.
Small-town beginnings, big-time ambition
Nowadays, the 1987 Reidsville Senior High School graduate, and current Greensboro resident, chooses to base his career close to home in North Carolina, although his profession often sends him to various world-wide locations.
After receiving degrees from Western Carolina University, then UNC-Greensboro, a period where he cut his acting chops on stage in the theatre world, Harris moved to Los Angeles to make a name for himself as an entertainer.
But after five years, he knew it wasn’t his scene, and Harris said leaving the entertainment capital of the world turned out to be one of the best moves of his career.
“I actually had more work within four months of moving back to North Carolina than I did the last year and a half in L.A. At the time, North Carolina was No. 3 in the country in terms of production, so you had Charlotte, Wilmington and some stuff in Asheville as well, but then the incentive went to Atlanta, but what I learned is that if you have the talent and ambition, you can do it anywhere,” he said.
Although he’s been to his fair share of black-tie events over the course of his career, Harris said the public perception of all of the glitz and glamour commonly associated with the entertainment business isn’t always all it’s all cracked up to be.
One of the things many people outside of Hollywood may not quite fully grasp is that once a project ends, everyone in the business is once again unemployed.
“That is always the pressure. What the public sees with the Entertainment Tonight’s and the TMZ’s and all these things, all you see is the red carpets and all of that type of stuff. Let’s put it this way, in my 25-plus years in this business, all of the red carpets that I’ve been on, and watching all of the movies and going to the after-parties, it may add up to two days — a full two days of my life. So it is not the norm for most working actors,” he said.
Harris has continued to evolve as an artist, in part, out of drive, and in other ways, out of necessity. Over the course of his life, he has progressed from an actor to writer, later adding to his impressive list of credits, as a director to producer.
In addition, Harris also shares his craft through teaching acting classes through his company Magnified Productions in Greensboro.
All of these things are in place for a purpose — to make sure there is a future.
“For most working actors, you come in and pull a day or a week, whatever the project calls for. But when it’s over, you are unemployed and have to figure out what’s next. That is one of the reasons I started writing because it really hit me when I moved out to L.A. — that’s show business, with the emphasis being on business. At the end of the day, for lack of a better word, actors are parasites on other people’s visions. If one project doesn’t work, then better luck next time. I wanted a little more control, and if nothing else, you can’t make a movie without a script,” said Harris.
Through trial, error, and experience, Harris has learned to adjust to the twists and turns, as well as the occasional flame-outs throughout the course of his career.
Most recently, working as a writer, producer and actor on the 2018 race-themed feature Shifting Gears, he was reminded that an unexpected bump in the road can send a driver into the wall.
“With Shifting Gears, we were four weeks away from principal photography, but the funding fell through and we had to shut production down. I went from expecting $40,000 walking through the door, to zero overnight. I was doing everything. I have done my fair share of crap jobs before just to survive, let me tell you. I was cleaning gutters. I gave plasma . . . I was delivering take out,” Harris said with an exasperated laugh.
“I was doing everything I could do to provide for my family because that is first and foremost. But when things go south, you’ve just got to step back and reassess the damage and clean up after the hurricane so-to-speak,” he said.
Harris has several upcoming projects he’s excited about which come out later this year. He has a role in an upcoming NBC show Bluff City Law, in addition to a pair of feature films including Seven Days till Midnight and Bygone Billy.
He hopes that young people with ambition to become an entertainer knows that no matter where you grow up, it is possible.
“You know, as a kid, I had dreams and I think I have hit a lot of marks that early on were goals, but what I learned is that it doesn’t matter where you are. As far as being from and living in a small town, don’t let that hold you back. Just do it. Don’t let fear stop you. The resources available now as opposed to when I was coming up when it comes to learning something, with all of the stuff that you can pull up on YouTube and tutorials, there is just and endless amounts out there and there is just no excuse.”