Be Imperfect. — In acting you grow not by hearing the word “no!” but by being guided by directors with things like “What if?” or “Try it this way” or “Show a little more love for him.” Those are not black and white, right or wrong situations. The magic happens in the moments that may not work.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Keith Allen West.
Keith Allen West is a “Best Actor Award” winner on the festival circuit that portrays dynamic, complex and authentic characters in feature films and tv shows. Throughout his career, he has worked with actors and directors from multiple Academy Award winning films. He stars in a new, award winning, sitcom pilot Deeply Superficial which won “Best Pilot” and “Best Screenplay” at the Queen Palm International Film Festival. He booked a lead role in the comedy film Third Act.
His career includes CBS All-Access’ Interrogation, Netflix’s Half Brothers, BRAVO’s Untying the Knot, HGTV’s You Live In What, Hell or High Water, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Better Call Saul, Longmire and many more. He’s featured in People Magazine, USA Today, VOGUE, Huffington Post, The Guardian, LA Times, NY Times, FOX, CNN, NPR and many more media outlets. His small business online reality series THE STARTUP reached 24 million subscribers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Oh yes! That tells the tale of how I went from Beauty Brand Mogul to powerful Actor. I have been a dreamer since childhood. An only child until my sister came around when I was six, I spent most my time with Matchbox cars and my imagination. Growing up in a small trailer park in Ohio, I specifically dreamed about living a better life. I remember hearing Elvis died and thinking he must live in the southern part of Trade Winds Trailer Park since I did not remember meeting him.
My childhood was great. By second grade I knew I was gay, but I did not have a word for the feelings I had. I knew it was different and to keep it to myself.
I had a loving family, but I knew what I wanted the life. I saw what others had when I watched tv shows. In fourth grade I thought I wanted to be a teacher. I got a mentor and worked toward that goal until the day I asked “what does a teacher make?” I can’t remember the answer, but my response caused a stir “I can’t live the life I want on that.”
From there I decided to be happy I needed good grades, a college degree and to become a “businessperson.” I was drawn to Hollywood, but any thoughts of that being a way to make a living never got past my internal desire to be “a success businessperson.” Even my best high school experience of being in West Side Story never made me stop and think “Can this be a career?”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I don’t care what you think of me, I don’t think of you at all,” Coco Chanel.
I spent 45 years worried about what others thought of me, would they accept my sexuality, would I live the life others approved of, could I not be a failure and hold together a bad marriage. Coco’s quote gave me freedom.
How would your best friend describe you?
She says I am fun, generous, caring and willing to just jump in the deep end.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much?
Curiosity, fearlessness, drive.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
For thirty years I was a branding and skincare expert. I created products for 450 skincare brands all over the world. I was a sought-after motivational speaker on lifestyle enhancement and healthy-aging across the globe. A skincare expert since 1989, I focused has been on blending 5,000-year-old Native America, African and Auyervedic beliefs into a system that enhances modern wellness practices. My studies in world wellness rituals earned me a Doctor of Divinity degree. I was appointed Esthetics Director at several of the industry’s leading resort and wellness facilities. As a respected ‘Celebrity Esthetician’, my expertise in products and ingredients lead me to work with top celebrities like Giancarlo Esposito, Carmen Diaz, Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Lopez.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
Acting! I took the joy I remember from my sophomore year in West Side Story and realized people do make a career in the arts. And yes, I was a Shark in West Side Story. My high school didn’t have diversity in Ohio, so we were white guys in purple jackets against white guys in yellow jackets.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
It was not a midlife crisis, but a midlife enlightenment. I got divorced and free from a 24-year abusive relationship. That divorce became part of a BRAVO reality show called “Untying the Knot.” That week filming made me realize that acting was the life I wanted, and I dove headfirst into acting classes in 2018.
Having made the Inc. 500 list, growing a successful skincare company and gaining my freedom an emotionally abusive relationship, I knew the teenager I was longed for more. I’d never more to Hollywood to launch a career, but New Mexico is known as Tamale-wood since we film so many great shows here. I knew I could be a Big Fish in this Small Pond.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
For the first time in my life, I stopped and asked myself “What do I want?” Just that was life changing. From the thought of what I wanted I could plan how to get there.
How are things going with this new initiative?
AMAZING! I went from no acting experience to being a SAG-AFTRA union member in 14 months. I have built a creative career from an entrepreneurial formula. People don’t teach the business of being an actor, so I applied what I knew sold a bottle of lotion and built the product I was selling. I became a “Best Actor Award” winner on the festival circuit known for Interrogation (2019), Deeply Superficial (2020), Third Act (2021) and Half Brothers (2021). I have worked with actors and directors from multiple Academy Award winning films including Kody Smit-McPee (Interrogation, X-Men), Forrest Goodluck (The Revenant), Basil Hoffman (Ordinary People) and Ernest Dickerson (Do the Right Thing).
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would not have the second story of my life with out Carissa Mitchell. Not only is she my agent in New Mexico and California, we bonded instantly during my first acting class. The final night of the Foundations of Acting they bring in special guests to review and direct our performances. Carissa Mitchell of Mitchell and Associates Talent was that guest. She gave great feedback and direction. I knew of her in the industry but spending that time with her was life changing. Of course, I followed up a few days later to talk about representation and the rest is a close friendship that has grown even during a pandemic when we can’t spend a week a month in Los Angeles.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
“You’re funny. You are going paces.” I love those kinds of compliments, but it’s even better when you hear it from George Lopez at a film festival. That gave me the belief in myself that I needed to go ahead and write a tv show pilot called Deeply Superficial. www.DeeplySuperficial.tv
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Everyday. As an entrepreneur I had complete control. I could launch a new product if I wanted. Change the logo of the company. Hire a marketing firm.
As an actor you have no control. Every step is outside your comfort zone and up to others to take a chance on you. We call that ‘insecure actor moments” and we all have them. Now if I go a week without an audition, I remind myself how I felt the day before I got hired on my last job. You realize that even back then you felt defeated, overwhelmed and powerless and life changed when my agent called.
Since I am so new to acting my go-to fear is “I don’t have enough experience” and I have learned to answer that voice in my head with “You are working every day to get that experience.”
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
Support is super important, but for me it was really about removing the negative people and influences from my life. I was surrounded by people that liked my life more than I did. They wanted me to stay the same and do the same things because it was beneficial for them. I launched my acting career alone and built the support system I needed in the first year. Those people are still the core of my life.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
“That was great, but we want more Keith” was a direction many Casting Directors gave me. It also led me to think who is Keith? I had to break down all those walls and falsehoods I had created to show people the Keith I though they wanted. Once those layers of fake were gone, I am know able to give them “more Keith” which comes across as authenticity in my acting.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I tried to please everyone” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
Out of all the years I went to school and college, all the self-help books and all the hours of therapy nobody teaches you how to “be” and how to “be’ the things that matter that matter to you. Here are my 5 ways to Be that never get taught:
- Be Memorable.
Life is fast and every year with technology we get shorter and shorter attention spans. If you are not memorable the people don’t think of you when opportunities show up. They don’t think of you when they ask themselves “who do I know that would be perfect for…?” I got my biggest role in a feature film Third Act because when there were putting together the table read the director though of me for a role from all the times I’d been memorable in a variety of interactions.
Also, I gave a talk for the New Mexico American Marketing Association and when they needed a board member and then President of the AMA they thought of me.
- Be Fearless.
I grew up in a world of right and wrong. How you answered, what you did, who you spent time with was either right or wrong. In acting (and life) there really is no right or wrong. There is no wrong way to do a scene and build a character. In life you need to be bold and jump out there. It really is a way of trusting your gut. I read an acting book by prolific Hollywood Legend Basil Hoffman, and I was so moved by it I reached out to him on Facebook. Three years later he is one of my closest friends all because I was fearless in making contact.
- Be Imperfect.
In acting you grow not by hearing the word “no!” but by being guided by directors with things like “What if?” or “Try it this way” or “Show a little more love for him.” Those are not black and white, right or wrong situations. The magic happens in the moments that may not work.
For my role on the CBS show Interrogation, I was playing a man paying for sex in an alley in Hollywood in the 1990’s. I took what they wrote and added to it. It wasn’t the excitement of the sex I portrayed; it was the excitement of getting caught. It came though on camera even better than I expected. But I had to chance it not being perfect.
- Be Bold.
This may be my overarching and most important “be” on my list, but I think you have to know the others before you can appreciate the power of bold. People would always ask me “what type of actor do you want to be? What type of show do you want to be in?” Easy! I love comedy. Put me in a situation comedy. The follow up was always “Great. Show me your comedy reel.”
Dude, I just started this acting thing 2 years ago. I don’t have a comedy reel was not going to help me. I was bold and took tv show writing workshops. From there I wrote the pilot for Deeply Superficial so I could hire myself, film a show and get great footage for a comedy reel. Being bold is not always taking the most direct route, but it is being willing to jump on the “what’s next” step of moving your career along.
- Be Grateful.
From my start as a little white boy growing up in a rural trailer park in Ohio to becoming the CEO of one of the 500 fastest growing companies in the world, I have shown gratitude. Every step and misstep has led me to be the person I love and I am happy to be every day. It’s not just me, it’s the village I surround myself with and the power of facing a new day. I am what I am because of what I’ve done and who influenced me.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I specifically support Care.org because I believe women and girls have all the answers. It is my job as a forty-something white guy to get people to listen to them.
What do you want to be remembered for the most?
The most important thing is that people like to be around me, to work with me and to collaborate with me.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!