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Heart and Soul

Phillip P. Keene gives his all.

Melissa Byers
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When Phillip P. Keene gets involved in a job, he puts his heart and soul into it.

From being a flight attendant at Pan Am in the company’s last few years to playing Buzz Watson for over a decade, first in The Closer and now in Major Crimes, Keene has always given his all to do the best possible job.

The most recent season of Major Crimes saw his character given a huge story arc, leading him to solving the cold case of his father’s and his uncles murders.

He says, “I was actually a little terrified and thrilled at the same time and ready to take up what was, for me, a huge challenge to carry this story arc. I didn’t truly realize the scope of it until afterwards. In looking back on it, they’re handing me this nice little chunk of story here. I hope I can serve it well.

"I basically served what I call a journeyman’s apprenticeship for the last 11 years of the show, coming in pretty green and being thrown in the fire at the beginning  and making a few mistakes along the way. But, ultimately, I was so happy and pleased that the writers and producers had enough confidence in my ability to be able to carry this story.

"In getting to work so closely with G.W. and our guest starts, that was a first for me, having a scene with just two other actors in the show and having a guest star like that. During the first confession scene, my interview, Patrick Duffy was directing, and that just made things just so much easier, because I have such confidence in him, and I respect him so much as a director and as an actor. “

The final result, under a variety of directors, also lived up to his hopes. “It was so much fun, and the writers and the directors who worked with me on this were just fantastic. I think it goes to show that I was doing OK. I did a good job and was proud of the results, and I got a lot of good feedback, so I’m anxious to do more. “

Keene’s character has been the “tech guy” throughout both The Closer and Major Crimes, but in recent seasons has branched out into becoming a reserve officer, and Keene is hoping to do more in that realm.

Keene says, “Now that he’s solved this cold case of his father’s and his uncle’s murder, I think we’re going to see a lot more of him doing more police work, which I’m really looking forward to.

"It’s been fantastic playing Buzz in the capacity that he’s been in, but I really like the growth that has happened and I love the added responsibility and getting a little peek into the world of being a reserve officer and maybe getting to be a reserve detective, as well, because I know he’s been training for that and studying.”

The reserve officer program is one that Keene has learned a great deal about in his time on the two shows. As he explains it, “A reserve police officer is an officer who is a police officer in everything but pay. They earn a dollar a year. They have to go through the same sorts of training for weapons and all of the laws. Everything that a regular police officer has to go through, the reserves have to go through as well.

"It’s a volunteer position. The chief of police right now, Charlie Beck, started off as a reserve officer. So, you can see where there’s potential for advancement and anything you want to pursue within that. If you show the ability, apparently they will let you do it. I think it’s around 20% of the officers in Los Angeles are reserve.

"So, when we have foreign dignitaries come into town, they help with traffic or just having more boots on the ground, if you will, Any sort of riot, or whenever they need more bodies on the ground, they will pull in the reserves.

"Some of them have been selected because of their language abilities. I’ve met a few of the reserve officers who speak Arabic as well as English, so that comes in handy. A couple of them are on the anti-terrorism squad. Some of them are on the mounted patrol.

"Some learn helicopter. We have the largest non-military air support in the United States, the LAPD does. So, as I get to work on this show more and more and I get to talk to our producers and the officers who come and visit, I get to learn a lot more about the whole process. And I think that’s really, really cool.”

The shows pride themselves on authenticity and rely on their advisors to help them to make the police scenes as real as possible.

“I know I get a lot of feedback from officers and my cousin, who is not a detective in Orange County, who says, yeah, you guys do it really well. This is what we would do. In a couple of things it’s a little different, but I think it’s by region and neighborhood area and those kinds of things where individuals have a little more autonomy, within the rules, of course, to deal with the situation as they see fit.

"I’m really proud of that, too, that we keep everything so authentic. We have a couple of really great consulting producers, one being Gil Garcetti, who was the District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles forever, and then we have former detective Mike Bertram, who was in robbery/homicide for 20 years, so he has a lot of real stories to tell us.

"Some of them you wouldn’t believe, You think there’s no way that could have happened. Just seeing some of these incidents onscreen that happened 10-15 years ago are being repeated nowadays. Criminals are not that original. They’re not that smart. “

Another aspect of his character that he enjoys is the emotional growth he has seen. “He has seen so much nastiness and people behaving badly, murder, mayhem, horrible kinds of things, but he still thinks that people are good at heart. He still has a lot of faith in that.

"Although it’s interesting that he would remain that way, considering his childhood. Maybe he was still shielded from that in a way by his mother, whom we have yet to meet and who I would love to meet. I’ve thrown out a few names to the writers and the producers as to who I think might be a good mom for Buzz. “

Keene is also grateful for the fans who have followed both shows through changes in schedule and cast changes and even a completely new show born of the older one. Part of that loyalty he also ascribes to the work ethic of his producers and castmates.

“I would just like very sincerely to thank all of our fans. We were on Monday nights at 9:00 for ever, for 11+ years, and then we were moved to 10:00 Monday nights, and people still found us and they were a little shaken up by it, and then we were moved to Wednesday nights at 9:00, and our audience still managed to find us.

"There wasn’t a lot of notice or a lot of advertising because I think they were focusing on their new shows. We’re established, we have a loyal following. We are a brand that is well known. We have a loyal audience. I think we strive to do better every year. I know the writers have really challenged themselves this year and they’re very proud of that.

"I think that’s one of the things about the cast and the crew. We don’t rest on our laurels. We have x-amount of viewers, we don’t have to impress anybody, we don’t have to better our work, we are always striving to do better. We’re always trying to keep it fresh and keep it new.

"That’s one of the things that makes it so much fun to go into work. I mean, we’re killing somebody every week, and that can get old, but somehow, we make it interesting. “

Before he went into acting, Keene had another wonderful working experience with Pan Am in the final years of the company’s existence. That experience led to his becoming one of the “top five,” by his reckoning, collectors of Pan Am memorabilia.

“My collection right now comprises about 3,500 different pieces, everything from uniforms to small parts of the inside of the aircraft to matchbooks, advertisements going back to the 1930s until the day we closed business, December 4, 1991.

"And the whole reason that came about was because, a lot of people when they graduate high school they go on to a four year university, and that is probably the highlight for a lot of people’s lives. The most memories are made, the strongest friendships. Mine was a little different in that I didn’t go to college right after high school. But I did start flying for a living.

"And I worked for Pan Am for the last four years of the company’s existence. But we were indoctrinated in the beginning. I drank the Kool-Aid. And I loved it. I love the history of the company and the amazing people that I got to work with."

He sees definite parallels in the two jobs. “I always draw a comparison to Major Crimes and The Closer to my days at Pan Am, in that we really are a family that looks out for one another. Supporting each other and wanting the best for each other, creating different relationships, whether it’s like an aunt and uncle or someone respected, like a grandfather or a mentor or something like that.

"So, it’s similar in that we have crazy hours. When I was flying, I got to go to Amsterdam and Paris, to Seattle and New York. Here we get to go to Santa Clarita and downtown Los Angeles. So the destinations may not be quite as exotic, but we’re still traveling. We’re trying to maintain a sense of class and decorum. That’s what we do.”

The two careers dovetail at this point in Keene’s life. “I’m a board member of the Pan Am Museum Foundation and we opened our first exhibit in December of last year to a crowd of about 600 people, including executives from Boeing and Northrup-Grummond who were kind enough to donate to the museum so that we could continue working on our exhibits and helping with the STEM program that we’re involved with through the museum there on Long Island in Garden City.

"Pan Am did a lot of things education-wise and charity-wise, and through the show I’ve gotten to do a lot of things for the Sunshine Kids, the Covenant House, just all kinds of interesting things that I wouldn’t have really known about or been able to participate in, but because of the show, and because of people wanting to watch us and things like that, it helps bring a little more attention to these causes. “