Keppy finds his true calling as a creature actor

Kevin Keppy is having a good year. He’s been on shows you can stream on Netflix and Disney+. Even bigger, he appears in “Smile,” a low-budget horror flick that became the biggest surprise hit of the fall.

Don’t worry, he won’t be offended if you don’t know what he looks like.

See, Keppy is what the industry calls a “creature actor.” Her face is covered in makeup and masks. The rest of him is outfitted to look like a beast or an alien. A creature actor’s main job is to bring a human touch to non-human rights on screen. It takes a lot of flexibility and contortion – and patience for the job.

He is also from Springfield. I met him a few years ago when he was performing as part of a local troupe attending a charity trivia party. He and his fellow comedians recreated scenes from famous movies. As Keppy played Jack Nicholson’s Joker, I saw his smile stretch out and his face twist in all sorts of directions.

Who is this guy, I thought, and what is he doing in Springfield? It was one of those moments when you see an artist who stands out in a unique way, with the thought that there might be something bigger and better waiting for him in the stars.

Keppy was born around the Quad Cities, moved to Springfield when he was in high school, and was never formally trained to play.

“It was mid-19s and I was walking the First Friday Art Walk in downtown Springfield,” Keppy recalled. “I just thought I should try acting to be more fully artistic.”

In fact, Keppy never saw a live performance until 2006, when he caught a local production of “Macbeth.”

From there, he takes lessons. I went to the auditions. Given the expressiveness of his face, playing villains and supernatural beings was a natural fit. While doing stage versions of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Batman,” he kept his day jobs doing graphic work for local businesses.

“Otherwise I was on stage or playing,” he said.

Keppy received encouragement from his peers to head west, but it wasn’t until he was 40 that he made the decision.

“I knew that if I stayed, I would have to settle down. Buy a house, etc. It was then or never,” Keppy said.

As a creature actor, Keppy said the process of finding work was not the same as a “regular” actor.

“You find FX stores and write to them hoping they’ll get you in. There’s a lot of networking rather than auditioning,” he said.

Keppy was able to build a good relationship, but COVID hit and the whole industry came to a standstill.

“It’s tough, but the industry figured out how to get back to business after a few months and we just adapted,” he said.

Keppy’s big leap of faith seems to be paying off. This summer, he appeared in “The Quest” on Disney+. It’s a reality TV/science fiction hybrid where the candidates are dropped into a “fantasy world” and compete in challenges.

He also appears in several iterations of “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” which dropped on Netflix last month.

“Smile” is getting a lot of attention right now. Shot on an $18 million budget and intended for streaming, positive test ratings convinced the studio to put it in theaters where it made more than five times its cost in the United States.

It’s the story of a young doctor (Sosie Bacon) trying to track down a curse that drives people to commit suicide with a big smile on his face. “Smile” has plenty of scares, but never resorts to exploitation. It’s a tense and fun watch.

Keppy appears at the end in a part that seems far more pivotal than the credit “Nightmare Mom” ​​gives it. The ending gives way to a sequel, and whatever Keppy is playing here, it wouldn’t be surprising if it happened again.

Although some visual effects were used, most of the work was practically filmed with what can only be described as “movie magic”, he said.

“I shot for two days in New Jersey,” Keppy said. “I was there with the lead and we had to do a lot of confidence exercises because it’s such an intense scene.”

That’s an understatement.

After shooting it, Keppy saw some of the scene in post-production, but the experience didn’t really hit him until the premiere. “I sat there and I’m still amazed at how lucky I am,” he said.

But, for a working actor, he’s back in search of new projects and opportunities.

It’s a pretty amazing story. You work at a local theater in a small market, then decide to go to the movies when you hit the big 4-0. Plus, it has a happy ending. Don’t expect Keppy to start appearing in rom-coms anytime soon.

James Owen is the film columnist for the Tribune. In real life, he is an attorney and executive director of the energy policy group Renew Missouri. A graduate of Drury University and the University of Kansas, he founded Filmsnobs.com, where he co-hosts a podcast. He had a long stint as an on-air film critic for NBC’s Springfield affiliate KY3, and now a regular guest on Columbia radio station KFRU.

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