Though his name has never become a household word, distinguished English character actor David De Keyser boasts one impressive resumé. Adventurous filmgoers will doubtless recall De Keyser as one of the three contributors (alongside Miranda Richardson and Mike Nichols) to David Hare's riveting "filmed theater" piece The Designated Mourner (1997), but even the most diligent cinephiles may be surprised to discover that De Keyser's work stretches back several decades prior to this. The thespian actually racked up an overwhelming litany of roles in well-respected, A-list features during the late '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s, typically playing colorful British or Jewish eccentrics. Throughout, De Keyser imbued his characterizations with multifaceted emotional and tonal nuances that more than rivaled the contributions of his onscreen contemporaries.
Born in London, England, in 1927, De Keyser first attained recognition when he paired up twice with controversial filmmaker John Boorman, first as Zissell in that director's eccentric 1965 cinematic debut, Having a Wild Weekend (the Hard Day's Night-like screen venture of the Dave Clark Five), then as David in Boorman's failed, seriocomic social allegory Leo the Last (1970), alongside Marcello Mastroianni. De Keyser then contributed supporting roles to three key (albeit wildly different) British films of the '70s: he played physicians in Sean Connery's penultimate James Bond vehicle, Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and Melvin Frank's sleeper romance A Touch of Class (1973), and essayed the role of Joseph Schenck in Ken Russell's opulent, erotic period piece Valentino (1977), alongside Rudolf Nureyev and Leslie Caron.
The '80s marked a less active but equally relevant time for De Keyser -- relevant because while his roles grew more infrequent, they were typically parts of greater critical estimation -- such as Rabbi Zalman in Barbra Streisand's underrated musical Yentl (1983) and Janet Suzman's father in Euzhan Palcy's apartheid drama A Dry White Season (1993). As indicated, however, De Keyser didn't really receive full audience recognition until Mourner in 1997. In that film -- a series of enigmatic, elliptical theater monologues written by Wallace Shawn and delivered straight into the camera -- the actor portrays Howard, a dissident poet at odds with the oppressive political regime that holds power, and the father-in-law of Mike Nichols' loveless egoist Jack.
De Keyser's next major role arrived when he signed on to portray Emmanuel, the patriarch of the Sonnenschein clan of Hungarian Jews, in István Szabó's three-hour historical epic Sunshine (1999). De Keyser then lent a supporting role (as Dom André) to Norman Jewison's fine, overlooked political thriller The Statement (2003).
David De Keyser is the father of the late actor Alexei de Keyser, who died in 2004. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi