By Lee Hurley
I’m not an expert on the McRae family but I am a fan, and have been for over 20 years. I got to know Barry McRae working together in a publishing company at the turn of the century. Barry graduated from Princeton (as did his wife Lesley) and then moved on to Wharton for a graduate degree in Finance. Fancy diplomas aside I took to Barry because he was charismatic, articulate, and curious both in the arts and in business. I remember a book he really enjoyed called Power Plays: Shakespeare’s Lessons in Leadership and Management. It reflected his interest and talent in creativity and commerce.
Unfortunately Barry passed away far too young from brain cancer in 2012. He was only 52, and his absence was and is keenly felt by his family and many friends. But this is not a sad story. This is about Barry and Lesley’s three children, Keene, Malcolm, and Charlotte who despite losing their father at an early age, showed the resilience, determination and character needed to take their own rewarding journey in life which of course would have made their father proud. It certainly has made their mother feel that way.
In order to talk with them I set up a Zoom call which at times turned farcical in the technical challenges we faced, proving at least to me that Zoom is absolutely not the future of communication.
Charlotte is in her second year of medical school at UAB. Her plan at this point is to go into dermatology. As the youngest in the family at 24, she fondly remembers this about her dad: “He had me write down my goals, which really helped me stay disciplined.”
Are the three of you close?
Yes, we are. I spent a summer in L.A. with them before medical school and it was awesome. I spent most mornings hiking and afternoons reading or water-coloring into the night. We haven’t gotten to see each other in months but we have a strong bond.
Where do you see yourself landing in the next few years?
I will be finishing residency, hopefully in a beautiful state with mountains. I will have a pug and my boyfriend Blythe and I will be enjoying nature in my (limited) free time.
What kind of medicine do you see yourself going into?
As of now, I am working toward dermatology. When I studied abroad in Ghana, I shadowed a dermatologist at a leprosarium. I was moved by the way he could understand exactly what was going on inside of the patient just by recognizing a pattern on their skin. He knew that one man had cirrhosis by the red spidery rash on his palms, and that another patient had diabetes just because of the thickness of her skin. I think I’d find great purpose helping patients in the early stages.
How long does a med student study each day?
It depends. Sometimes 14 hours a day, but on average about 11. I do make sure to take a whole day off every weekend even if I’m behind. I usually use that day to swim or cook or spend with loved ones. It’s a long road; you gotta take care of yourself.
You mentioned Ghana. What was that about?
I went on a five-week medical mission trip through a study abroad program at the University of Alabama to Ghana with a group of eight random students and a psychiatrist who grew up and completed medical school in Ghana. We stayed in a coast town called Elmina in an old museum across from the emergency clinic. I helped in wound care, malaria tests, baby delivery. We also spent some time at the leprasarium as I mentioned, and a psych hospital. In Ghana, I not only learned the challenges of being a doctor for under-resourced people, I also grasped what it means to step into a community, gain its trust, and open up to its fundamental values. Each community has its own distinct culture and customs—sacred aspects that also affect a community’s health. Working hours in the clinics, I noticed a unique patience and perseverance in the Ghanaian doctors. They treated each patient with the same respect as the next, no matter the social status.
What creative pursuits do you enjoy?
I have always loved the use my hands, drawing and painting, especially. As a child, I exclusively drew flowers. I still do. Nature has always been a source of inspiration. I used to write poetry quite often. My poems usually involved combining the science of nature with the artistry of nature. It has been a while since I’ve written, and it doesn’t flow like it used to, unfortunately. I was a ballet dancer for 10 years before I left for college to pursue science. I enjoy photography. I like to jolt the eye by placing my everyday scenes in new and confusing perspectives.
What makes you happy when you aren’t studying?
Spending quality time with those I love. Being outside—one of my favorite things is to take myself on a date by downloading an audiobook and walking down unseen streets and seeing where I end up. I love to read. When I was a kid, I would sometimes spend an entire day in my bed reading. The best was when my mom would set a sandwich outside of my door, and I could go on reading without any need to stop.
“Medical school is a grind, but there are several moments when I get to interact with patients and form incredible relationships, and it just makes me feel good because I know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”Charlotte McRae
Thirty-two- year- old Keene is an actor, filmmaker, writer, and director. He appeared alongside Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern in the Oscar-nominated film Wild and has had roles in short films like Bad Furniture, Levi, and How’dy! His videos, financed by Warner for his brother’s band more*, have garnered attention passing the 100,000 viewers mark. “Keeping It in the Family,” “Woman on the Move,” and “Elaborate Attractions” are three to check out on YouTube. Keene somewhat recently completed Shot in the Dark, a horror flick which he directed, co-wrote, and stars in. He stays busy. keenemcrae.com
First off, congrats, you are married! How is that going?
Thanks! We got married September 10 in a really old deli here called Canter’s. It has a bar attached called the Kibitz Room, which is a hole-in-the-wall bar. [Note: Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, and Lenny Bruce used to hang out there.] My wife, Elizabeth, works in a bakery, which is a problem for my waist. We live by The Grove, which is a nice shopping and entertainment area. It’s a neighborhood feel and we can walk around. I miss the seasons, but this is not a bad place to be.
How close do you and Malcolm live to each other?
Around two miles. Close if you don’t count traffic.
Why did you move to L.A.?
I was 18 and aimless! I went to Thailand for six months and I thought I was supposed to go to Sewanee but instead I moved to L.A. and started working for FOX. I knew I wasn’t ready to go to college—I had no idea what I wanted to do. When I was in high school, Malcolm and I were “discovered” at the talent competition AMTC (shut down 2018). Malcolm signed with an acting manager and I signed with a modeling agency. Both in L.A. Modeling didn’t work out. I was about four inches too short, had no idea what to do in front of a camera, and my interest in it never grew. I called Malcolm’s manager to see if she would represent me, and that led me to acting classes with Craig Archibald. As soon as my acting chops were up to par, he walked me through finding the right representation. Then I started auditioning and began booking some things.
During the first two or three years I wasn’t booking any roles. Neither were a couple of my acting friends. So, we started writing a script. If work wasn’t coming to us we would make it for ourselves. That script, for Shot in the Dark,turned into the first thing I attempted to direct and became film school for all of us. It took us five years to write it and another six years to edit (and rewrite it). During the editing process of Shot in the Dark I directed a few short films. My most recent music videos for more* have started to create a little bit of a buzz—I’m still waiting to get noticed!
Making a living in the creative arts is risky. What does it take?
Well, it takes a lot. I’ve lived in L.A. for 13 years now. Working a day job has meant most of my nights have also been spent working. In my creative field there’s a lot you need to know. I started with acting, but you also need to know about cameras, lenses, camera equipment, lights, how to frame a shot, sound equipment, color theory, organizing a shoot, budgeting, how to direct an actor, editing, how to use editing and VFX software, and, most importantly, how to tell a story. I’m still learning about all of these things. These days, I’m fortunate enough to be able to learn on the job most of the time. It did not start that way.
How did your idea for the new more* video come about? How long does a video like that take to produce and can you tell us a ballpark budget for that sort of thing?
Malcolm, Kane, and I like to start with what the song is about. “Anything Can Happen” is about Kane’s struggle with perfectionism—becoming so obsessive about the minute details in his work that he has to battle himself in order to walk away. We took that idea and made it literal! Once we were all happy with the idea, it took my cinematographer, Robin Webster, and I about a week to plan the two-day shoot. The edit was three weeks total. We had $6,000, a small budget, but we love how it ended up.
What effects did you use on the music video Elaborate Attractions? It’s really cool.
We used a 360-degree camera. So in post we had to frame it.
What was your role in the movie Wild? You were early 20s? That’s a pretty big deal.
It was, thank you! Yes, I was 23. A year after my dad passed away. I shot my toughest scenes on his birthday and, a year later, the premiere was on his birthday.
You wrote and directed the movie Shot in the Dark? It’s been called “Easily one of the best horror films of 2021; masterful.” Where can we see it?
We are working on a distribution deal! We aren’t sure where it’ll end up yet.
“The fact that I have had some success doesn’t necessarily bring me joy, but if success means I get to work on something else then success has the potential to bring me joy.”Keene McRae
Malcolm, 28, is one half of the musical duo more* (moretheband.com). Kane Ritchotte is the other half. The two met in an L.A. bar when both were at a crossroads of sorts. Kane was in between bands and Malcolm was trying to decide how best to take the music plunge from a different life. Things happened pretty quickly by music business standards and they signed with Warner, a major label, and finished their first album. Malcolm has also gained notoriety for his courtship (some say marriage) to the quite famous Anya Taylor-Joy, the beautiful and talented actress who starred in The Queen’s Gambit.
What did you do after high school?
I went to Auburn to study architecture. I tried that for a while but I felt like there was a ceiling for me so I decided to move to L.A.
Do you think your parents helped you to get on this path you are now on?
Our mom was particularly supportive of that kind of thing but both our parents were creative types. I think my dad wasn’t super fulfilled with the monetary thing. They both attended Princeton, and back in the 80s when he graduated there that sort of a commercial materialist movement going on so he moved to New York to do the Wall Street thing, and I don’t know if that was his ultimate pursuit. It was just what he knew would appease maybe his parents or what he thought he was supposed to do or something. What he was really good at was teaching. He was really thoughtful and intelligent, and he got more out of having a dialog with younger people.
Both you and Keene left Alabama to do something creative in L.A. Most people try that and then move back. Why do you think it’s different for you?
Anyone who believes in their abilities and develops those abilities won’t tire of pursuing whatever it is they are interested in. That’s true in any field. It’s progress that makes something worthwhile, and luckily with art, that progression is endless. It’s also helpful to have parents who believe in you and are willing to allow you to take that kind of a chance.
Where did the band’s name more* come from?
We stole it from the poster for a 1960s film of the same name. Have never seen the movie.
What’s next for the band?
We’re writing some more, exploring potential producers. Sort of like a new cycle. What we’d like to do, need to do is tour. Now that we have enough of a body of work we just need to let people know that we exist. The videos help. But you need the foundation of a fan base first, and that’s what we are trying to do.
Who writes the songs?
Writing songs is my ultimate pursuit. It is, by far, the most enjoyable part of the process, personally. The way we handle it is the person who wrote the majority of the song will sing it. We’ve begun to write together more frequently. Just a drum loop and we’re off. I try to write daily, if I can.
You play piano and guitar? What does Kane play? Do you practice a lot?
Yes, guitar and a bit of piano. I suppose if you play guitar, you also play bass once you understand it relies more heavily on muting, as it’s typically a more rhythmic instrument. Practice time is pretty consistent these days. I started playing late, around 16 or 17 years old, so I have all this guilt if I’m not constantly improving. When I moved to L.A., I didn’t even know what an A-shaped barre chord was, so to say I was behind is an understatement. I’m playing four hours of guitar a day at the moment and 45 minutes of piano. Kane’s the type of guy to pick up an instrument he’s never touched and be able to draw a part out of it in no time at all. Started drums when he was three. His dad is also a virtuosic guitar player. Played with Steppenwolf and Cher and David Lee Roth, etc.
What do you do when you aren’t playing music? Hobbies and such?
Movies and architecture. Just started at an acting studio because it’s cathartic to open up like that. I love racing and basketball. Exercise. I read a lot. Hanging with my woman is easily the best hobby.
Do you see acting in your future?
It’s probably smart to pursue more than one thing at a time so that no one thing has the weight of everything. I’m certainly interested in it because I see it as an interpretive art, rather than a creative one, which interests me because you access your emotions instead of giving language to them (in songwriting).
Do you a have moral compass that guides your behavior?
My parents were and are very good ones for that. Both of them had and have very strong ethical and moral constraints. So whatever I have is from them. The people who have that kind of philosophy instilled in them will last in a place like L.A. It’s the opposite of what you might think. The surface-level people are exposed eventually.
How do you feel about your significant other, Anya?
I’ll just say that when we met we both felt as if some sort of taut string connected us from our stomachs. Might’ve just been the burritos we had for lunch, but I’m sticking to the string. She’s my confidant, my person, and now that I know she exists, I don’t want to do it without her.
“Elaborate Attractions” (the song) is very good. Is this a story of regret? Hope? Both?
Thanks, kindly. My dad studied the classics in school, and introduced me to mythology, specifically, Greek. So that line is derived from someone (Joseph Campbell) who revealed the structure of those types of stories. And interestingly, after the death of my dad, he lived on in some form of legend or mythology, himself.
“It’s hard when you try to do something creative because no one is telling you to do it. You have to be super self-disciplined, and I think my dad gave us the courage to do that.”Malcolm McRae