Harvey Keitel

The yoga- and martini-loving actor gets set to take on his oddest role yet-as Jerry Springer.

Illustration: Rob Kelly

Harvey Keitel rolls into Bubby's in Tribeca, offers a familiar hello to the staff and slinks into a booth in the back, ready to get down to business. He's in the midst of rehearsals for the audacious British musical Jerry Springer: The Opera—he plays the title role—and he doesn't have much time.

The Brooklyn-born actor, known for gritty turns in too many movies to mention (Bad Lieutenant, Reservoir Dogs and Mean Streets are a few), requested that we meet in person but says he doesn't want to discuss his latest project in-depth—choices that set him apart from roughly 98 percent of his fellow celebs. Instead, the married man (he wed his second wife, actor-writer Daphna Kastner, in 2001) and father of three would rather shoot the shit—and talk about yoga.

So why don't you want to talk about the show?
I want people to see it without any influence from me, to come to the opera fresh. Their first impression should be the incredible script, the extraordinary music. After we all see it, I'll be happy to talk to anybody over a martini about anything they want concerning the play.

Gin or vodka martini ?
Vodka. [Laughs] What about you?

Gin. I can do vodka but I prefer gin.

Dirty or dry?

Noted. In England, Christian groups called it blasphemous. Are you expecting that to happen here?
Yes. You know, I did a movie once called The Last Temptation of Christ: I wasn't expecting protests at that time, and that educated me. When one goes into a subject area like religion, you're going to have some protests, and rightfully so. When have you ever had a discussion—an in-depth discussion—with a religiously oriented person and not had it become a heated one?

So my answer to that is yes, I'm expecting it.

Why is it only a two-night run?
It's strictly to do with economics. The producers and the investors want to get an idea of how this controversial show might fare in New York City before putting in 6 or 7 million dollars.

You don't sing in it, do you?
You have to come to find out.

Do you sing in the shower?
I can't discuss my showering habits with you! [Laughs] Now you're going too far.

Do you sing in the car?
Everybody sings.

So aside from singing, what do you like to do in NYC?
I have a three-year-old son, I'm married, I do a lot of reading and yoga, which I find to be quite a good discipline. I also do Buddhist meditation.

Do you wear yoga clothes?
No, but I've been thinking of going to see about a shirt, because when you wear a T-shirt and you do yoga, you find that in certain poses—because of the high neckline of your T-shirt or undershirt—it will ride up and start to get tight on your neck. So you might want a shirt that's deeper than your normal BVD.

You and I have almost the same birthday. Do you find you're classically Taurean?
I've heard people say that I was, and I did at one point in my life declare myself Taurean. It was in the '70s, and I came across a postcard in a store that was selling these huge cards of these signs of the zodiac. It was a beautiful card. It showed Taurus in the forest with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, reclining on his back. The card said that Aphrodite was often seen roaming through the forest riding on the back of Taurus. So I declared myself Taurus, because if the goddess of love trusted Taurus to carry her roaming through the forest, then I'm proud to be a Taurus.

Well, if you're proud to be a Taurus, then I'm proud to be a Taurus.
I'd say, "Hop on," but I only have two feet and not four. [Laughs]

Jerry Springer: The Opera is at Carnegie Hall Tue 29 and Wed 30.See previous Hot Seat