Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An EXCLUSIVE interview with PHIL KEOGHAN!




By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     Turning 40 years old is a milestone in many people’s lives. Some see it as a time to say their final goodbyes to any scrap of youth they’ve managed to hang onto sine they turned 20 two decades earlier. Others see it as a time to actually loosen up and start enjoying their lives at a more relaxed pace. Many folks don’t even give it a second thought and let their 40th birthdays pass uneventfully by.
      Phil Keoghan, best known as the host of the Emmy-winning TV series The Amazing Race, did none of the above. With his adventurous spirit at full throttle, Keoghan decided to take a trip across the U.S., from Los Angeles to New York, with his dad and his friends. But instead of traveling by car, bus, train or plane, Keoghan wanted to put his 40 year old body and mind to the ultimate test: he was going to make the cross-country trek on a bicycle. As an added bonus, he was going use this opportunity to raise money for MS research... and he was going to do it all in 30 days!
     The Ride is a fantastic look at Keoghan and this amazing emotional and physical journey across the U.S. With his best friend/cameraman Scott Shelley filming every move, his wingman Ben Cornell riding along, his dad John driving the equipment and former CHP officer Greg Peart driving Scott and his camera around, Keoghan is at the center of this riveting documentary. The Ride is not just about a 3,500 mile bike ride: it is about passion, strength, friendship, endurance, dedication and the human spirit.
     Keoghan is no stranger to adventure. Since a near death experience at the age of 19, he has made it his goal to live his life to the fullest and inspire others to do the same. Apart from 25 years of hosting TV shows, he wrote a book, No Opportunity Wasted, set up the NOW organization (http://www.noopportunitywasted.com/) and is a popular motivational speaker. Phil Keoghan is the real deal. He’s not a salesman trying to peddle goods with his name and likeness on the wrapper: he is a man who has mastered the art of living and encourages you to do the same.
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to speak with Phil about The Ride, The Amazing Race and his inspiring look at life…


SPAZ: The Ride is now available on DVD. How are you feeling about the film and the reaction to it so far?
PHIL KEOGHAN: I think what’s really rewarding is when you work on something, you put your heart and soul into it, and then you get feedback from people who were touched by it, affected by it, inspired by it. When you get that kind of feedback, you realize that all the hard work was well worth it. There are so many great things that are made in the world… books that are written, films that are made… sometimes, they just never get marketed or people don’t ever hear about it. I think one of the big challenges we faced with this film was that people immediately thought that this was just about a bike ride across America, but that’s certainly not what the whole film is about. We had a little hurdle to get over in terms of letting people know that even if you don’t like bike riding, you can still get something out of the film.

SPAZ: I felt like a guy like me, standing in a garage, staring at his beach cruiser, could actually get his act together and join you on your next ride.
PHIL: That’s the philosophy of the whole thing: it’s not about what you do, its just the fact that you do it. It’s about the personal journey. Its about each person pushing themselves beyond what they think they are capable of. For somebody who doesn’t walk or who hasn’t done anything remotely physical in their life, you can’t say that their attempt to walk six miles around Central Park is any less than somebody else’s attempt to run a marathon. For me, this was the biggest physical and mental challenge of my life, but I wanted to make sure that it was more than just something for myself: that it was something for others.

SPAZ: Since the journey was both emotional and physical, do you think you came out of it a different person?
PHIL: Yeah, I think that anytime you push yourself to extremes, you come out a different person. That’s just an inherent part of life’s journey. One of the things I didn’t realize going into it was that I was really riding myself into the physical state of somebody living with MS. When I was lying in the hospital halfway through the film, it occurred to me that you could draw a parallel between my physical condition and somebody living with MS. I had no idea that one of the things that I was going to learn was that I was going to ride myself into that physical condition but have to keep on going. This is what someone with MS has to live with every day. Actually, what drove me to keep going was that my condition was going to change: I’m going to finish this ride and I’m going to recover, I’m going to get better, But for somebody living with MS, they’re not. It was quite humbling to feel that and to understand just how tough it is for some people: not just for those living with MS but people who struggle every day. No matter how bad you think you got it, there’s always somebody who has to cope with more.

SPAZ: You surrounded yourself with some great people (Ben, Scotty, Greg, your dad), but were surprised by their commitment and belief in what you were doing?
PHIL: I wasn’t surprised by any of them just because I know them so well. My dad is really the one who instilled a lot of these things in me that I really aspire to just because I saw how much strength he had and the challenges he faced in life. But, I think one of the most rewarding parts of it was to watch Greg’s transformation. We didn’t know Greg before we came into this. I remember when I first called him and got on the phone with him, he was like “You want me to do what?” In the beginning I was really worried that he just wasn’t going to fit in because I thought he wasn’t going to be as loose and goofy as the rest of us and that he’d be a little more rigid and strict… but he ended up being the goofiest out of all of us! (laughs) He really got a lot out of the experience.

SPAZ: What is it that you want the viewer to take with them after watching The Ride?
PHIL: First off, we wanted to make sure that at no point in the film was anybody who didn’t know anything about bike riding going to feel alienated. We left all the geek stuff out of it. It was all about the journey, about relationships, about doing something for somebody else, about meeting extraordinary people, about the spirit of America. To me, one of the most rewarding aspects of it all was going at 19-20 miles an hour across the country, through small towns, stopping and being invited into people’s homes. We were so well looked after. That’s the part that gave me renewed hope that the American Spirit is still alive.

SPAZ: Were you happy with the fund-raising aspect of the project?
PHIL: We set a goal of raising a quarter of a million dollars for the whole trip and we thought that was pretty ambitious… but we hit a half a million mark halfway through. We’ve been giving away the profits from the film and all the licensing fees and we actually ended up hitting the million dollar mark. When you think about it, this is like the little film that could. But it was never meant to be a film! We shot video to generate funds, but it was never meant to be a film necessarily. But when we arrived home, we thought we should really do something with this: we should really turn this into something that will last forever. In an ideal world, I’d like it to become the Endless Summer of cycling films!

SPAZ: I’m not really into reality TV, so I didn’t really watch Amazing Race, but The Ride has made me a definite Phil Keoghan fan…
PHIL: Most of what I do for Amazing Race is off camera: preparing for the interviews, I produce myself so I set up the shots on the road…but it’s a very one dimensional representation of who I am. Most of the programming that I did before I did Amazing Race was more in the vein of what The Ride is all about: it was experiencing or setting out to achieve something. I did a show called Adventure Crazy for the Discovery Network. It was based on my list of things to do before I die. I have a very eclectic list of things I want to do before I die and I turned that into a television show. So Amazing Race was kind of a departure: from me doing the challenges to giving the voice over and background information on other people doing the challenges. I still get people who have only known me from Amazing Race who are discovering that this kind of television for me goes back 25 years. For me, The Ride was also a way for people to discover more about who I was and the message I have to share which is really about trying to motivate people to take on their own life challenges.

SPAZ: You seem to be using your ‘celebrity’ in the best possible way.
PHIL: There’s a saying in the film, which comes from my book, my philosophy: focus on what you do have and what you can do and not in what you don’t have and what you can’t do. If you practice being an optimist, and always looking on the bright side of life, like the Monty Python song (laughs), you become very good at that. If you become a pessimist and you practice always looking at what’s wrong, you become very good at that as well. You go back to these clichés like ‘you can do anything you want to do’…. It’s less about that to me and more about identifying what you should be doing, identifying what you are best at, identifying what you are most passionate about and identifying how you can have an impact on the world. We all have this gift. We have a gift of being here. What do we do with that gift? What do we do with opportunity? What do we do with skills that we have? We all have something to offer: what do we do with what we have to offer? I think as you get older, you feel more of a responsibility to use resources that you have to affect some change.

SPAZ: What’s next for Phil Keoghan?
PHIL: I am full on into our professional women’s cycling team that just won the Redlands event here in California. Our cycling team is a women’s professional team called NOW & Novartis For MS and our mission is to win the biggest races across the country with our riders and also team our professional riders with people who are living with MS at Bike MS events across the country. If you just go to the NOW website, http://www.noopportunitywasted.com/, you’ll see a whole bit about our team. I have the NOW luggage, which has sold very well on HSN. The NOW energy bar, which is what I ate when I went across America, we’ve just come out with two new flavors. It’s really about growing the NOW brand to be able to fund the things that we really want to do like the cycling team. I’m working on a fictional film with a writer, which is something that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s an adventure script. Then there’s another film which is kind of like The Ride Pt. II with some of the same characters. We’ve got a really cool story we’d like to come back and do. Then, of course, I’m constantly on the move with Amazing Race, so we’re gearing up now for Season 21 as we finish Season 20.

SPAZ: What do you have currently spinning on your CD and DVD players?
PHIL: My brother, Andrew Keoghan, is a musician and he sent me this really cool video he did for his song “Bright Idea”. He released his album (Arctic Tales Divide) and it was nominated for Best Album in New Zealand. That song was literally the last thing I listened to. He’s great. I’m actually very excited for him. Movie-wise, I’m big on documentaries and I loved Senna, which was one of the ones I last watched. The other one I quite liked was Buck.

Thanks to Phil Keoghan
Special thanks to Richard Skillman and Lauren Watt

 

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