Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ken King, Oct. 27, 1995

Ken King is on the left
Standard-Examiner staff

Ken King is a cop who spends his vacations starring in movies. Or, at least he did this year.

King, a detective on the San Francisco Police Department, snagged himself a co-starring role in the film "Jade." But it was purely by accident. King had made an arrest on a computer fraud case and had phoned an assistant district attorney because he needed the prosecutor to come by his office -- in a hurry. The D.A. said he'd be over in a while, but he was "with some people."

An hour later, an anxious King called him back. King told him it was OK, bring the people along; he just needed him.

"And so he comes here with Billy Friedkin and David Caruso," King recalls during a phone interview from his squad room desk in San Francisco, referring to William Friedkin, director of "Jade" and the Oscar-winning "The French Connection," and former "NYPD Blue" star Caruso.

"I didn't know who Billy was, and Caruso had a baseball cap over all of his red hair, so I didn't recognize him. I said 'hello' to them, then I turned to this D.A. and asked where the hell he'd been -- kind of yelling at him a little, you know.

"Then Billy says, 'You'd be perfect in this film we're making.' I said, 'Wonderful, and the Queen of England's coming in and we're going to have high tea.' But a week or two later, they really called me and had me come in and read for the part. And here I am talking to you."

Fortunately for King, he had eight weeks of vacation saved up, and he used every last drop of it in order to play the part of San Francisco homicide inspector Petey Vasko in "Jade."

(King has no illusions about the quality of the film, which has been receiving scathing reviews: "I was good, but it was a shitty movie, right?" is the rhetorical question he opens the conversation with.)

In reality, King is not currently working homicide. "I work felony assaults, extortions, anything that doesn't fit somewhere else," King says. "If you get shot and die, your case goes to homicide. If you get shot and live, it comes here."

Although King didn't recognize Friedkin's name -- "I'm not a movie buff," he says -- he was familiar with the director's "The French Connection," which was based on the real-life exploits of a New York cop, played by Gene Hackman, who broke up a heroin-smuggling operation based in the south of France.

"I worked eight years on narcotics, and I'd been there," King said. "My favorite scene in that movie is when Hackman is standing outside with a cold cup of coffee watching the Frenchman eat a nice meal in a warm restaurant. I've done that."

And, it turns out, the 29-year veteran of the SFPD, who began his career in the city by walking a beat in Haight-Ashbury, had actually spent time on at least one movie set before "Jade."

"I had a long talk with Dirty Harry -- what's his name, Clint Eastwood? -- once," King explained. "At the time, I had a female partner and he had one in the movie he was making. So the four of us sat down for about an hour one day and talked all about it, to help them make it look real."

While filming "Jade," King didn't retire to a trailer when he wasn't in front of the cameras. Instead, he remained active and interested throughout.

"I was busy all the time, talking to anybody who would talk to me -- grips, sound technicians, lighting -- just trying to learn what was going on," King said. "It was a great experience. (But) I was surprised at how much of the movie ended up on the cutting-room floor."

In "Jade," King's character is working to solve a particularly brutal series of murders. But the inspector -- who's worked the Zodiac murders and the Charles Ng serial murder case, among others -- says it's not like he hasn't seen things that weird in his years on the force.

"If anybody works any length of time in any large city, you'll run into this kind of thing. Especially in a place like San Francisco, with our liberal outlook. This is the capital of bizarre sometimes."

Looking back on the acting experience, King has nothing but good to say about it.

"I thought it would be fun, and it was. I was really up for it. I thought, 'I'll have my 15 minutes of Andy Warhol fame.' "

But his 15 minutes may not be over just yet. His performance caught the attention of several producers, directors and casting directors, he said, who have approached him about acting jobs. But 29 years as a cop in the big city have made King somewhat less than naive.

"What I did learn real quick is that talk is cheap, and when you put that contract down in front of me to sign, then we'll get serious."

For now, King is planning to retire from law enforcement sometime soon, after which he'll move to a home he's building in Montana. And, maybe, he'll act again. It all depends on whether those contracts materialize.