Ballad of a Gentleman

Perhaps the most beautiful, but also most surprising scene in Robert Altman’s »Nashville« comes towards the end. Tom Frank, an up-and-coming musician, sits onstage in a smoky bar, announcing a new song for »someone kind of special who just might be here tonight.« Well, he’s got options. In the audience are two women he has already bedded, one he is currently seducing and another one who has made it clear that she’s more than willing. We also know how he treats women: with a callousness that not even his advanced superficiality can excuse. Then he starts playing. The song is called »I’m Easy« and it’s a vulnerable ballad written and performed by a beautiful, sensitive soul. A person he so clearly demonstrated he is not, but is apparently very good at impersonating. The ladies in his audience that night tend to agree: even the one he has already hurt or the one who knows that he ultimately will. The tears in their eyes betray them.

The actor portraying Tom Frank is Keith Carradine and the gets under your skin because Carradine has mastered this balance between measured acting and deep vulnerability like no other. One is even tempted to say that one does not notice his acting. That’s what makes it so intense and nuanced.

His career is impressive, the list of the films he made unforgettable with his presence is long. He had starring roles in films like Ridley Scott’s »The Duellists«, Alan Rudolph’s »Welcome to LA« and Louis Malle’s »Pretty Baby« before he even turned 30. Keith has stage-blood in his veins, his family is Hollywood royalty. He does not lack the right pedigree. His father was John Carradine, one of John Ford’s favorite actors. His half-brother David had a meteoric rise to fame as Caine in the legendary television series »Kung Fu«, while his younger brother Robert and half-brother Michael Bowen also have put in decades on screen and television. His oldest daughter Martha Plimpton is an accomplished actress, other two children, Cade and Sorel, are not far behind.

Besides his five starring roles for Alan Rudolph throughout the 80s, he starred in Walter Hill’s »Long Riders« and »Southern Comfort«, Samuel Fuller’s »Street of No Return« and Simon Callow’s »The Ballad of the Sad Café« and has over 70 films to his credit. He started in theatre in the original cast of »Hair« and became a Broadway star of the first magnitude. On television, he has played parts in some of the best series in recent memory, including a full season as Special Agent Frank Lundy on »Dexter«, as Lou Solverson on »Fargo« and the president of the United States in »Madam Secretary«.

In each of these roles Keith Carradine has delivered bravura performances. He stays true to being a performer. He’s as nimble as ever when it comes to not showing the cards he has up his sleeve. He eschews cheap theatrics, his voice is smooth, confident and reassuring, making us trust his characters from the get-go. There‘s an openness, a pretense of being uncomplicated in a complicated world. You feel like you already know him, but he never lets you in on what he’s thinking.

In an interview with the New York Times he once said: »People think I‘m really a cad’, jokingly alluding to the difficulty of differentiating between his roles and the real Keith Carradine. The duality, which is a blessing and a curse in his profession. It’s the biggest compliment an actor can receive, even though many don’t realize it. It’s one of the typical Hollywood ironies that he calls an Academy Award his own, but wasn’t honored for his haunting, subtle presence on the screen. He won it as the songwriter of »I’m Easy«, the song his character Tom Frank performs in Robert Altman’s »Nashville« - the film in which his seemingly effortless performance was so authentic that it contributed to people’s belief that like Tom Frank, he might really be a sensitive cad.