Harvey Keitel sets the record straight on his ‘Apocalypse Now’ recasting; talks Tarantino, and wishing he was in ‘Sister Act 2’

Harvey Keitel with sunglasses on
Harvey Keitel. Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic
  • Keitel told Insider he wants to work with Tarantino again: “It just can’t be over.”
  • He’s still shocked he was never asked to come back for “Sister Act 2.”
  • Keitel is upset by a “blurring of the truth” as to why Martin Sheen took his role in “Apocalypse Now.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Harvey Keitel has spent his career going down the path less traveled.

As his contemporaries like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino got sucked into franchises and big-budget thrillers, Keitel has only shown up in one sequel over his illustrious career – though he doesn’t even remember making it (more on that later). Instead, he’s focused more on helping young directors get their start. The standouts being old friend Martin Scorsese (Keitel starred in “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver”), Paul Schrader (“Blue Collar”), and Quentin Tarantino (“Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction”).

His latest movie “Lansky” (availabe now in theaters and On Demand), in which he plays legendary gangster Meyer Lansky, continues that trend as it marks the second feature by Eytan Rockaway. In the movie, Keitel plays the mob kingpin in his later years as he opens up to a journalist (Sam Worthington) about the criminal empire he created.

The 82-year-old Oscar-nominated actor told Insider that, along with the talents of Rockaway, what drew him to the project was Lansky’s “authenticity and his journey,” which Keitel can relate to after close to 160 roles.

Insider spoke to Keitel over Zoom about whether we’ll ever see him in a Tarantino movie again, why “Sister Act” is the only movie of his that he wishes he was in the sequel of, and he clears up the myth that Francis Ford Coppola recast him in “Apocalypse Now” because he couldn’t hack it in the jungle.

Harvey Keitel in a suit and glasses
Harvey Keitel in ‘Lansky.’ Vertical Entertainment

Jason Guerrasio: “Lansky” director Eytan Rockaway is the latest in a long list of on-the-rise filmmakers you have worked with. Why do you enjoy working with young directors?

Harvey Keitel: Remember that time you went to a party and you saw that girl standing there and you said, “Oh my god, I’ve got to meet her?” That’s your answer.

Is there a director out there you really want to work with and haven’t had the chance to yet?

There are so many –

Give me one. Who’s top of the list?

Are you trying to get me killed?

No. No. I’m trying to get you work.

[Laughs.] The truth is I have been lucky, you know the people I have worked with. I’ve been more than lucky to work with some of the greats. I can’t name just one.

Well, let me bring up one of the directors you’ve most famously worked with. Why have we never seen you in a Quentin Tarantino movie since “Pulp Fiction?” We hear your voice in “Inglourious Basterds” but have not seen your face in one of his movies since “Pulp.” Why?

[Long silence.] I’m answering you.

Oh! Does this silence mean it’s due to your doing or his?

Not on my part.

Reservoir Dogs
(L-R) Steve Buscemi and Harvey Keitel in ‘Reservoir Dogs.’ Miramax Films

Okay. Is this you telling me to move on to another topic?

I’m telling you this story is not over. I’m silent right now but the story is not over.

So something is on the horizon?

The story is not over because what we did when we met can’t be over. It just can’t be over in my mind and in my heart. Even if we never work together again we’ll always be working together in my own mind and heart.

And I want to add that what Quentin did in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” with the story of Sharon Tate. That part of the story was one of the most powerful love stories I have ever witnessed in my life. That’s the guy I know.

Margot robbie once upon a time in hollywood
Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.’ Sony Pictures

Are you jealous you didn’t get a call from him to be in that movie?

Well, he cast it the way he wanted to cast it. I don’t even think about that because what he did telling that story of Sharon Tate was so moving.

In your storied career, you have only done one sequel. It was to “National Treasure.”

I did?

You were in the sequel to that movie, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.”

I didn’t even know I did two. I don’t remember that.

Yeah, you’re in the second one.

Well, I hope it did okay. [Laughs.]

Nicolas Cage stanging next to Harvey Keitel
(L-R) Nicolas Cage and Harvey Keitel in ‘National Treasure: Book of Secrets.’ Disney

I’m sure the check cleared. But how in this franchise-crazed business have you stayed away from doing movies that have countless sequels?

I’m not very big on sequels. Now, I like to make money like anyone else does, but sometimes there’s an unwillingness on my part to simply cash in. I’m not beyond it, because of what I’m about to say: The one sequel I wanted to do, I thought I was going to do, I was waiting for that call, was “Sister Act.”

Wow.

I never got that call and I said, “WHAT!?” It was so perfect. The guy’s in prison, he gets out of prison and he chases her down. My agent said, “Harvey, you’re not in the movie.” I said, “No!” So there you go.

Harvey Keitel looking down on a sitting Whoopi Goldberg
Harvey Keitel and Whoopi Goldberg in ‘Sister Act.’ Buena Vista Pictures

Now, Harvey, they are currently making a third movie for Disney+.

They are?

Yeah. Let’s get you in that!

Okay, let’s give them that plot. Finally, her ex-boyfriend gets out of jail and chases her down.

I’m going to end this with something I have to know because I have never really ever heard your side of this story. Have you ever or do you still have resentment towards Francis Ford Coppola for him recasting you in “Apocalypse Now” with Martin Sheen?

Life happens as it happens. I’m not sad about anything or resent anything except there has been a blurring of the truth. And it’s that blurring of the truth that I still find upsetting. I’m not upset with Francis, he did what he felt he had to do. But there’s a blurring of the truth and I don’t feel good about that.

Harvey Keitel on the set of Apocalypse Now
Harvey Keitel (left) on the set of ‘Apocalypse Now.’ American Zoetrope

So what’s the truth? Let’s set it straight.

Well, I’ll give you one little piece of it. I believe in the book on the making of the movie they said Harvey Keitel didn’t like the jungle. Didn’t want to stay in the jungle. Well, Harvey Keitel spent three years in the United States Marines Corps in the jungle. So, that’s a taste.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.