|Famous For: Carradine family legacy, as Tom Frank in Nashville, Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, Frank Lundy in Dexter, and US President Conrad Dalton in Madam Secretary||Currently Known For: Actor, Singer, Songwriter|
Currently Known For Actor, Singer, Songwriter
“When you get all this stuff on and you put on the guns and the hair, it has an effect on the actor. It tends to lend a certain something to the way you feel as you’re just walking around looking that way.” As a member of one of the best-known acting dynasties in Hollywood, Keith Carradine had some large shoes to fill as he made his way into the acting business in the early 1970s. Although he followed his father into the business, he did his best to pave his own way and, after four decades, has done exactly that as an award-winning actor, singer, and songwriter known for his work as Tom Frank in Nashville, as Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, as Frank Lundy in Dexter, and as US President Conrad Dalton in Madam Secretary. So, how did he get his start in Hollywood and end up in the sitcom world on Complete Savages and The Big Bang Theory? Let’s take a look!
Keith Ian Carradine was born on August 8, 1949 in San Mateo, California to actress and artist Sonia Sorel and actor John Carradine, a man known for his work in horror films, Westerns, and Shakespearean theater. Admitting that his childhood was difficult with his mother suffering from paranoia, schizophrenia, and manic depression and his father turning to alcohol to cope, Carradine and his brothers were involved in a bitter custody battle and spent three months in a home for abused children as their parents fought through the divorce. “It was like being in jail,” Carradine recalled. “There were bars on the windows and we were only allowed to see our parents through glass doors. It was very sad. We would stand there on either side of the glass door crying.”
Although his father was granted sole custody, Carradine and his brothers rarely saw him and were raised by their grandmother who encouraged Carradine’s love of the outdoors. “I was born and raised in California… but for some reason I grew up with this Western patina on me. I’ve always felt more comfortable in nature,” he said. After high school, Carradine briefly considered becoming a forest ranger but ultimately decided to study drama at Colorado State University; however, college life wasn’t for him and he dropped out after his first semester. He returned to California and moved in with his brother, David, who encouraged him to pursue acting by helping him sign with an agent and paying for his acting and vocal lessons. Even then, Carradine vowed to make his own path in the industry. “I learned that there was no way I could compete with my father… so I made my own way,” he admitted. “Mostly what I learned from my dad was to be prepared, and temperament is bad manners.”
Having performed alongside his father as a youngster, Carradine easily found work and made his debut in the original Broadway production of Hair in 1969 after tagging along with David for the audition. “I didn’t really plan to audition,” he admitted. “I was simply going to play the piano for them while they sang, but I’m the one the staff wound up getting interested in.” Carradine started out in the chorus and worked his way up to the lead roles. Before long, he caught the attention of Robert Altman who cast him in McCabe & Mrs. Miller in 1971. He then starred in Emperor of the North in 1973 and in Altman’s Thieves Like Us in 1974 and Nashville in 1975, the latter of which showcased his talents as a singer-songwriter when his single, “I’m Easy,” became a popular hit and earned him a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar for Best Original Song. This ignited Carradine’s music career as he signed with Asylum Records and released albums I’m Easy in 1976 and Lost & Found in 1978.
Amid his musical success, Carradine’s acting career blossomed with credits in The Duelists, Pretty Baby, Choose Me, Trouble in Mind, and The Moderns throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s, he starred in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle and The Tie That Binds before returning to theater with his Tony-nominated performance in Will Rogers Follies. He found similar success in productions of Foxfire and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and starred in a string of made-for-television movies like The Revenge of Al Capone, The Forgotten, Judgment, and Lincoln before starring as Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, a series that earned him a Satellite Award nomination for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film.Making His Way to Television—Complete Savages to The Big Bang Theory
In 2004, he starred in his first sitcom, Complete Savages, and made guest appearances on Criminal Minds, Numbers, Crash, Law & Order, Dollhouse, and Damages while starring as Special Agent Frank Lundy on Dexter from 2007 to 2009. Then, in 2010, he was invited to audition for the part of Wyatt, Penny’s father, on the popular series, The Big Bang Theory. “Some of the guys in the writers’ room on that show had worked on Complete Savages, so I suspect that there was a suggestion made when they were discussing various actors who might play that part,” Carradine said. “I believe that’s how that came about, because it came to me as, ‘Would he be interested?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely!’ And that was that. Off we went!”
Carradine was the perfect fit as Penny’s father and appeared in three episodes of The Big Bang Theory between 2010 and 2016. During his stint on the series, he also appeared in seven episodes of Missing and had cameos in The Following and NCIS. Then, in 2014, he received two offers he simply couldn’t refuse—a chance to star as Lou Solverson in Fargo and as President Conrad Dalton in Madam Secretary. “When Fargo came along, I jumped at the chance,” Carradine said. “It was a chance to work with Billy Bob Thornton and I’d never worked with him before. The whole experience was great. And Allison Tolman, she was just an amazing discovery. I look forward to seeing anything she’s going to be doing next.”
Wrapping up Fargo in 2015, Carradine continues to star as President Dalton on Madam Secretary in what he refers to as a golfer’s part. “You know, you can do two or three days work, and the rest of the time you can just go play golf,” he says. Ironically, the 68-year-old doesn’t enjoy golf and, instead, likes to spend time with his third wife, actress Hayley DuMond, whom he met in 1997 on the set of The Hunter’s Moon. At the time, he was still legally married to actress Sandra Will who, after their divorce in 1999, admitted to illegally hiring Anthony Pellicano to wiretap Carradine’s phone and record calls between him and DuMond. Once Carradine discovered the scandal, he filed a lawsuit against Will and Pellicano, which was settled out of court in 2013.
Beyond spending time with his wife and working on recent projects like The Old Man and the Gun, which is set to release in 2018, Carradine pushes the envelope of what it means to age in Hollywood and admits that he’s landed some of the best roles of his entire career in recent years. That’s why he’s thrilled with what the future holds for him personally. So, what’s his secret? “These two words were given to me by a wise person and I’ve hung onto them,” Carradine says. “Accept and allow. It speaks to a notion of tolerance and the necessity to see one another. Take off the blinders, get out of the echo chamber, listen. You’re going to learn a hell of a lot more listening than you will by talking.” We can’t help but think that Carradine has embodied exactly that throughout his entire career!