Is this teen scream the new DeNiro?
by George Anthony
Hollywood - To tell you the truth, it makes me kinda sad for Sean Penn.
Because, you know, he just worships Robert DeNiro. Almost slavishly, in fact. Emulates him in every possible way. When Bruce Kirkland asked him for an interview a few years ago, he just shook his head. Like, why should he do interviews? "Robert DeNiro doesn't do interviews," he said flatly.
So it makes me kinda sad, because I know he's picked up that new issue of Cosmo. I mean when your wife's on the cover, whaddya gonna do not buy it? And I can see him, you know, checking out the article on her, reading what Madonna says about him, and then maybe checking out the story on Kiefer Sutherland in the same issue. And then, you know, thumbing through the rest of the mag, going back to Guy Flatley's movie-reviews on page 24, reading the first one, and learning that a movie called The River's Edge, features a sterling cast, particularly Keanu Reeves - a budding DeNiro who is unforgettable as a sensitive, inarticulate, rebel-turned-informer.
But hey - when you're hot, you're hot. And make no mistake about it - Keanu Reeves is hot. In the last two years he's done three feature films and four TV movies.
That is, in the last two years he's done three feature films and four TV movies that he's willing to talk about.
He doesn't count his mysteriously-truncated role as a French-Canadian goalie in the Rob Lowe hockey flick Youngblood. Nor does he include his personal reviews (glowing) from Paul Lynch's thoroughly-trounced Flying. Nor does he count his bit with Sharon Gless and John Ritter in that TV movie they shot here three seasons ago, nor his stint as one of the assassins, who gets to 'off' Charles Bronson and Ellen Burstyn in Vengeance.
What he counts on TV - and, conversely, what has counted for him on TV - are his roles as Lindsay Wagner's teenage would-be lover in the delightful Disney drama Young Again, as Andy Griffiths' alcoholic son in Under The Influence; as storybook hero Jack B. Nimble in the three-hour. NBC extravaganza Babes In Toyland ("We shot for three months in Germany, which- was- just great!"); and albeit reluctantly - his role as a high school student who becomes hopelessly entangled in neofacism in Brotherhood Of Justice ("I was just bad in it," he groans. "I didn't mean to be. I just was.")
Actually he wasn't. But he was still working his way through it: establishing his own frontiers, finding his own technique. In Toronto he'd seldom been so challenged. Residuals from commercials for Coca-Cola and Kellogg's Corn Flakes had kept him in racing bikes and Walkmans; the nightly living-on-the-edge excitements of doing a play like Wolf Boy at Theatre Passe Muraille had kept his adrenalin pumping.
Born in Beirut, he lived briefly in Australia before moving to Toronto with his mother, famed British-born fashion designer Patric. His first name is an Hawaiian word used to describe the first cool breezes that descend from the mountains. His last name he inherited from his Hawaiian father, the first of his mother's three husbands, whom he describes in considerably less lyrical terms.
(He told USA Today: "Remember the '60s burn-out guy? That was my father," and referred to him in a New York Post interview as "an acid-taking goofball.")
A dedicated jock, Reeves never missed a hockey practice but wasn't quite so diligent about classes. He was named Player of the Year at De La Salle College while achieving a mark of two (yes 2) in French. He failed Grade 12 twice, and before that was asked to leave Toronto's High School for the Performing Arts, a request he graciously fulfilled. (He denies that he was plotting a student insurrection at the time.)
And no, he doesn't miss school. And no, he doesn't want to go back. For one thing, you don't get fan mail in school. And Keanu Reeves has been getting fan mail for some time now - "from TV," he says, still incredulous. From the movie with Lindsay Wagner, the movie with Andy Griffith, "even from Brotherhood Of Justice.'"
His first fan letter came from a Valley girl who asked him to write her back. He did. They corresponded briefly until she asked him to go out on a double date with her.
"People develop their own idea of what they want you to be," he observes, with a wisdom older than his years, "and then project it on to you."
What he wants to project is the larger-than-life image that can only be realized on the giant movie screen. Towards achieving that end he has already completed two new films - The Night Before and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure - and is about to start another. But his big break, ironically enough, seems to have come from River's Edge, which for months looked like it would never break.
Now playing in Toronto, River's Edge first premiered here last fall at the Festival of Festivals but was subsequently yanked from release when Hemdale, its British-based producer-distributor, lost faith in it. Controversial, provocative and downright disturbing, it's based on a real incident about a group of teenagers and their reaction, or lack of it, over the murder of one friend by another.
"Probably we should put warning signs on it," Hemdale-chief John Daly told Rolling Stone. "Ferris Bueller would have had a year off!" But there was still no release set for the picture when I visited Reeves in Phoenix, Arizona on the set of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
"I keep making movies that never get released," he remarked, a bit glumly. He had already completed The Night Before, and liked working with Tale Of The Comet director Thom. Eberhardt. But he did not like it when he was informed that the producer had asked for a new cut, and wanted Reeves to shoot some new scenes, not just re-shoot old ones. Besides, he had already made other plans. After Bill & Ted wrapped its final scenes in Rome, he'd buy a motorcycle, which would be cheaper than shipping his own bike over there, and then just veg out, bombing over to Sardinia, Florence, cities he'd never visited, until he ended up in Rome a month later.
His dream trip is still a dream, because as it turned out he did have to return to L.A. to shoot new scenes for Night Before. After which he flew to New York to do publicity for River's Edge, which finally found a happy home (i.e. partnership deal) with Island Pictures.
The New York press, of course, wanted to know about his other movies. Bill & Ted, he informed them, would not be released, until '88. "And The Night Before is having Hollywood technical difficulties. That means the producer and the director have artistic differences. Which means the film might be really bad."
He was, in their eyes, a coltish 22, a young 22, floppy-haired, kinetic, giggly, impatient, "writhing during the interview in that painful combination of insecurity and high spirits that marks the transition to adulthood."
Fact is, he'll be 23 in September, by which time he will have completed another film, Permanent Records.
"I had this great supporting part, this neurotic guy who commits suicide," he reports somewhat dejectedly. "But now someone else is gonna play that role."
Yeah. But only because producer Frank Mancuso Jr. has decided that Reeves should play the lead, Granted, he wanted to play the eccentric who dies, not the hero who lives. But life's like that.
At least, his life's like that. Or seems to be. At the moment he's being paid to not work (e.g. to turn down other offers) while awaiting a start date for Permanent Records (probably July 20, probably in Portland, Ore.)
In the meantime we'll see him this fall in The Night Before, and next February or maybe even sooner) in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure - his best film experience yet. His best moment on screen so far, he believes, is the interrogation scene in the police station in River's Edge - "it's pretty solid" - but he truly enjoyed himself, for the first time, making Bill & Ted. "There's no sex, no violence, no drugs, no bad language. It's just a funny movie. We hope."
He says he'll continue to do TV movies as well.
"I like doing TV movies because they're hard. Movies of the week are also a collaborative art," he says with a wry grin, "but unless you're the star, there's no communication. And sometimes there's no communication even if you are the star," he adds with a throaty chuckle.
And in his spare time - whatever that is - he'd like to take another crack at playing Mercutio, on stage, in Romeo & Juliet (he did it a few years ago, but he's sure he could do it better now.)
And he'd like to play Prince Hal in Henry IV - "at least I think it's Henry IV."
And he'd like to do the screen version of a book called Spring Awakening.
And he'd like to do an off-Broadway play by Toronto playwright Kate Ford, Out In America - "if she'll let me audition."
"I'm embarrassed doing interviews because I haven't done anything yet," he protests, squirming in his chair. "Certainly, not anything anyone has seen."
He forces himself to sit still for a minute, then starts squirming again.
"Acting," he says, "is the only thing that keeps me still. If I'm not acting I'm bouncing of the walls.
"My teachers thought it was sugar," adds Keanu Reeves with that boyish grin - "but they were wrong."