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'Kingdom' post-mortem: Paul Walter Hauser on Keith's shocking decision

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Kingdom
DirecTV

Kingdom is full of damaged and very dangerous characters. It’s a show about mixed martial artists, after all. But when one of those fighters is also recently released from prison and living at a halfway house, things only get more complicated.

For weeks now, fans have gotten to know Keith. The guy who started out simply as Ryan’s roommate has blossomed into his own, very complex character. And in this week’s episode, Keith did something that probably he didn’t even expect. In the hour’s final moments, Michael, the halfway house bully, crossed a line when he asked Ryan about his dad. And that’s when Keith, the seemingly harmless guy who doesn’t even know how to throw a punch, snapped. Keith grabbed a butcher’s knife and began stabbing Michael repeatedly before Ryan stopped him and attempted to make it look like self defense.

It was arguably the show’s most jaw-dropping moment to date, so we got Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Keith, on the phone to talk about his reaction and what comes next:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your reaction when you read that final scene?

PAUL WALTER HAUSER: Obviously as an actor, you just get excited. You’re excited to work period, and then you get a really good character and you’re even more excited, and then you’re surprised. It’s like reading a novel before the movie comes out—you’re anticipating, you have no idea what’s going to happen, and then when I read that part I was like, “Good lord, this is insane. Like where is this going?” Every time I picked up that script it was something else shocking me or surprising me.

This is a show about a group of pretty dangerous people, but of all the people, Keith is not the one you expect to do the murdering.

No and that’s the crazy thing. Psychologically and emotionally, he is a sweet guy. I don’t think he means to hurt anyone other than himself probably, but people, when they get pushed to the brink, they snap and the eery thing was the way we played it. He’s snapping but it’s not snapping the way Ryan Wheeler snaps. It’s snapping the way Keith snaps and that’s pretty evident in how they played it out.

I loved that Keith has been bullied this entire season by Michael, but it was Michael going after Ryan that really got to him.

Yeah, that was some smart writing by [creator] Byron [Balasco] and the team as far as, we already care about Keith, we’re starting to like Keith, and then he hurts this man in the name of his only real friend, which ugh, it’s like Peter cutting off the ear when they’re trying to take away Jesus in the New Testament. It’s like you’re rooting for it but you’re also like, “This is terrible.”

How intense was filming that scene for you guys?

Maybe the most intense scene I’ve ever done. It was incredibly stressful, choreographing everything, because it had to be done a certain way. Gary Fleder, the director of that episode, he has like 20 years of studio films under his belt with amazing sequences so I knew he was going to make it great, but at the same time, it was all about the timing and playing the emotions amidst the physicality. I don’t think we got a good take until like the sixth or seventh take. I kept screwing it up and was getting frustrated, and then we finally hit something good and then just kept doing it over and over again. It was weird. You could see the crew even kind of visibly turn a little quiet and nauseated watching it because it’s a lot going on when you’re watching it over and over again.

I was so worried when Ryan picked up the meat cleaver. I thought he was going to chop off a limb.

And you don’t know with Ryan because we talked about Keith having stuff built up and then snapping, [but] Ryan’s the same way, just in a different sense. He’s been through some shit and then, in the midst of some crazy moment, what is he going to do? Is he going to finish off Michael? Is he going to finish off Keith? It’s such a crazy scenario. There’s three very troubled men put in the same room and then a bomb goes off.

What can you say about how this will affect Keith and his relationship with Ryan moving forward?

I think this moment is detrimental to the relationship because it’s just changed the dynamic. They’re indebted to each other in odd ways that most people aren’t. And then I think moving forward, their friendship was one of a shared pain and now it’s going to be one layered with a shared secret, and that’s great writing. It’s going to make great television. I can’t wait to see what else myself and Mr. Lauria get to do together.

Will we get to see Keith outside of the halfway house at any point?

I can’t say too much about it, but I know that Keith is such a specific, interesting character, to see him in any environment other than this own is going to be interesting.

Is there anything else you want to say in relation to Keith? He’s quickly becoming one of my favorite characters.

The only thing to say about Keith is there are a lot of Keiths, I think, in the real world, and there’s a lot of people that, on the surface, look troubled and anti-social and people probably don’t reach out. Ryan has to reach out to Keith because he’s laying seven feet from him every night, but I think there are a lot of real Keiths out there who just have post-traumatic stress and problems and all they want is for somebody to treat them like a normal person, and I think that’s why I really love Keith and am excited to see where he goes. Because I think the more people who open their arms to him in the show, the more we’ll get to see some really cool stuff out of him.

I would love to see him at the gym with Alvey.

Right? I would love to see Keith, one or two seasons away, like cleaning up, like a water boy of the MMA world. He’s just a guy on the outskirts cheering them on and becomes a part of the family or something. That’s also sort of the Hallmark version of Keith, and Kingdom does not live in a Hallmark world. [Laughs] Kingdom lives in a very dark real world, so who knows where Keith is going to end up.

Kingdom airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on DirecTV.

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