Exclusive Interview: 30 Rock’s Keith Powell Talks Playing Toofer, Season 7 & More

 30 Rock Keith Powell Toofer

All good things come to an end.

No one knows this better than Keith Powell who plays Toofer, the sophisticated and sarcastic writer on the critically acclaimed NBC series “30 Rock” which is in its seventh and final season. In an exclusive interview with TV Equals, the very gracious Mr Powell spoke about what is coming up for Toofer, the series and more.

Check out what he had to say below and don’t miss him in tonight’s episode of 30 Rock “Unwindulax” which airs at 8 pm on NBC

How far along are you this season?

Keith Powell: We are shooting the fifth episode this week. We’re going to do thirteen. So, we’re a little close to halfway through. We’re not entirely there yet, but we’re a little close to halfway through.

What’s coming up for the series and particularly for Toofer?

Keith Powell: I think that the series will really delve into the political conversation that’s happening, and I cannot wait for people to see that. There are some really funny episodes about politics coming up. It’s really exciting. And then for Toofer, there’s going to be a pranksmen episode coming up soon. I always love doing those pranksmen episodes where we try to get one over on, normally, Jenna, and it always backfires in our face somehow.

If you could step back in time, when you were about to start this journey, what advice would have for yourself as you took on this role?

Keith Powell: If I were to look back at the very first me? That’s a really good question. I honestly think that I would say, ‘Shut up and learn as much as you can,’ and I would like to hope that I did that. When I started on ’30 Rock’ I was about 25 years old and not very far out of college and I was green and I made a lot of missteps, just about what it’s like to work in television. I feel like I’ve grown from that and I’ve gotten much better from it, and I honestly wouldn’t give myself any advice because I needed to learn that, and I needed to have those growing pains. I’m actually really grateful to the show for it. It’s made me a better actor.

How do you approach Toofer now compared to how you approached him on day one?

Keith Powell: I actually don’t feel like it’s changed dramatically. As an actor, I have changed, and how I deliver lines and I how I relate to the camera, but my approach to the character I don’t think has changed. What I really love about Toofer, and I really think that this was something, this approach for the character that a lot of other people who were auditioning weren’t doing, is that Toofer doesn’t realize that he’s a joke. I think that Toofer doesn’t see a joke.

I think that being black and articulate is just a natural and a given for Toofer. He thinks that the rest of the world is that way, and so there really is no sense of inequality in Toofer’s mind. I think that’s what makes him interesting. He doesn’t think it’s funny that he’s articulate and black. He thinks that’s what black people are and the joke I think in the storytelling is that he looks at Tracy and he doesn’t understand him. He just does not get that man, because it’s not Toofer’s experience of black people.

Thinking back over the seven seasons, what was the toughest moment for you as an actor?

Keith Powell: I have to say the moments when when we have so many people in a scene and there has to be a lot of coverage for it. I remember, for instance, when we shot Jenna Maroney had a birthday party and we all celebrated her birthday and there must’ve been fourteen or fifteen people on set and there were so many set ups.

It took the entire day, or Grizz’s wedding at the end of season 4, I believe. It took the entire day and it was hard to just kind of keep your energy up and keep the momentum going on the set when there’s just a scene that maybe lasts two pages takes eight hours to shoot.

You never think about that as a fan. We like those big scenes with everyone in them, and you’re thinking about how it took 7 hours to do

Keith Powell: Yeah. I don’t think that people realize just how much work goes into thirty seconds of television, period. My girlfriend at the time, my now fiancé came to visit me on set one day. We were shooting a scene and she waited around for the scene for the three hours, and when she saw it on television her face dropped. I said, ‘Well, what’s going on? What’s wrong?’ She looked at it and said, ‘That took three hours. It took fifteen seconds of screen time.’ I’m like, ‘Well, they don’t call it work for nothing.’

What’s been the funniest moment on the show, on-screen or off?

Keith Powell: Oh, man, there are so many. There are so many times where people are doing outrageous things and I just couldn’t keep a straight face. One of the most memorable moments, the episode was called ‘Believe In The Stars,’ where Jenna and Tracy were having a fight over who had it harder, women or black people. When Jenna came out in blackface and Tracy came out as a white girl, I had to be in the scene and get offended, and I couldn’t do the scene with a straight face. I had to have them look at me to say my lines, because it was just so absurd. I think that’s one of my favorite moments.

What constitutes for you a ’30 Rock’ moment, something that you feel is the show’s signature?

Keith Powell:

I think that a quintessential ’30 Rock’ episode is ‘Apollo Apollo’ is one of those episodes where everything about ’30 Rock’ was contained in that episode. It had so much heart to it. It was so absurd. It had Tracy thinking he was going to the moon. It had Muppets singing. It had Jack Donaghy vomiting. It was so absurd, but also so sophisticated and had so much heart to it. I think what makes a ’30 Rock’ show a ’30 Rock’ show is that it’s absurd, it’s grounded and it’s biting all at the same time. I really love that about our show.

Also what I want people to remember about ’30 Rock’ as the years ago by is how innovative the jokes were when it first aired. Jokes often had three layers to them. In one sentence, there were three jokes to it, and nobody had ever kind of done that on television before, and as the years go by, it becomes less topical, the pop culture references in the show aren’t as immediate anymore. I really hope that people see that beyond even the pop culture references, there are so many jokes just layered into the show.

Are there any upcoming projects that you have outside of ’30 Rock’?

Keith Powell: I was in Los Angeles shooting an episode of ‘NCIS: Los Angeles’. It was just fun to do drama for a little bit, and just fun to do. I’m thinking I’m going to do an indie project, an indie film after I wrap up on ’30 Rock’ and then I’m looking for my next job.

If you could guest star on any TV series, your pick of the litter, which one would it be?

Keith Powell: Breaking Bad.’ Can I do two? For dramas, because I’m such a big fan of television…no, no. ‘Mad Men.’ Oh, God, there are so many.

Okay, how about one drama and one comedy?

Keith Powell: Honestly, I think I’ll pick ‘Mad Men’ over ‘Breaking Bad’ and the reason why is because it would be so great to introduce a character on ‘Mad Men’ that spoke to the civil rights movement that was happening in the ’60’s. They have a character now who’s Don’s secretary and she’s great on it, but I think it would be really great to be a copywriter on ‘Mad Men.’ That would be awesome, and then in comedies, I have some friends on ‘Modern Family’ and I’d love to just kind of work with them for a day.

I’d love a ’30 Rock’ and ‘Modern Family’ –

Keith Powell: A crossover. Wouldn’t that be great, man?

I don’t see it happening, but I would love it.

Keith Powell: I have a feeling that ABC and NBC won’t make that show.