by Kevin J. Koffler
Photographed, edited, and with an introduction by Karen Hardy. Interviews and text by Kevin J. Koffler. Design and cover by Wesley Anderson.
Keanu Reeves could care less about becoming a "movie star." Success, he feels, is all relative anyway, and for Keanu, pure passion and true happiness are derived from one thing -- acting.
For the past few years, Keanu has been starring in one film after another, yet little has materially changed in his life. He still lives with a roommate in the same small, dark, sparsely furnished apartment in a rent-controlled section of Los Angeles. He still only bathes once or twice a week. There is still a slightly gamey smell emanating from his bedroom, where mountains of unlaundered clothes cover the floor. He still wails to the Butthole Surfers, and he still drinks cheap red wine for recreation during his little time off.
Keanu seems oblivious to his surroundings. He says he keeps thinking about getting a new place, but he just never gets around to it. Besides, it's not that bad; it's home and fine for now. He has plenty of room to set up his amps and all of his bass equipment, and he has his own bedroom. What's much more important to him at this point is getting quality roles and growing as an actor.
Since enrolling in a night-school drama class in Toronto, Ontario, when he was 17, "just because it seemed like the thing to do," Keanu has been obsessed with acting. The class provided him with the tools to create a new perspective, self-respect and something to live for. At the time, Keanu was attending his fourth high school in five years, living aimlessly with no real goals, resigned to the notion that he might be making pasta for the rest of his life.
An existence devoid of material things didn't really bother him, though; he says he could still live without a lot of worldly goods -- as long as he could go on acting forever.
WHY DID YOU GO TO SO MANY HIGH SCHOOLS?
They all seemed to make sense. When I got out of grade eight, I picked the best academic school, even though I wasn't a very good student. I was the only one from my school who went there, so that was sort of weird -- oh, the agony and ecstasy that was grade nine. One day I was playing basketball in grade ten and a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go audition for the performing arts high school. I did, and I got in. I was happy for a while, but then I got kicked out.
Because I was greasy and running around a lot. I was just a little too rambunctious and shot my mouth off once too often. I was not generally the most well-oiled machine in the school. I was just getting in their way, I guess.
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME AN ACTOR?
That didn't really happen until I was 17 or 18. I started taking acting courses at night. It just seemed the thing to do. Most of it was out of respect for acting. I worked at some Stanislavsky stuff and I was playing around with sense memory. I started crashing auditions and then I gotsome jobs and joined the community theater. Then I got an agent.
WHAT WAS YOUR VERY FIRST ROLE?
I was in summer camp and I was in the chorus of Damn Yankees. I think I was nine. That was my first dramatic appearance.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PROFESSIONAL ROLE?
Hanging In, CBC, Toronto. It is a local television show about some counseling place in the inner city. It's a Godsend for young actors in Toronto -- it's still going. They give lots of roles out to young kids. It was a three-camera shoot, and I played a tough street kid. I wore stupid clothes and had no idea of what I was doing. My line was, "Hey lady, can I use the shower?" (Roxy's note: that's not quite what he said. It was something like, "Paul said we could use the shower.") After that, I did more community theater and a Coke commercial.
Then I did a play in Toronto called Wolf Boy. I played a guy named Bernie, a suicidal jock who goes into an insane asylum -- a place where they put people who are emotionally disturbed. There's this guy in the next room who thinks he is a wolf. He fucks with me and eventually we fall in love. He kills me because I'm a bonehead and I ultimately can't love him. In the last scene of the play, he stabs me; the lights go down, and it cuts to another scene with him, my father and a nurse. I'm lying on the stage, tons of blood all over me, and he's hunched over me in this white light, slurping blood off of my chest, licking my mouth. The poster depicted us in white T-shirts with our hair slicked back, all wet, and he's almost kissing me while kind of grinning. So the first couple of shows, all these leather boys came; that was funny... but it was also scary, because the first week I was really bad. I got better, though, and by the end of it, I was pretty rad, thrashing-cool.
WHY DID YOU MOVE TO L.A.?
Two years ago I was at a point where I had done the most I could do in Toronto. I was tired of playing the best friend, thug number one and the tall guy. I read for a Disney Movie of the Week called Young Again. No one liked me but the director. He hooked me up with Hildy Gottlieb at ICM. I flew out to meet her and eventually got my green card. I got into my dumpy 1969 Volvo and drove here with $3,000. I stayed at my stepfather's and proceeded to go into the darkness -- the darkness that is L.A.
SO YOU DID RIVER'S EDGE; THEN WHAT?
I did a film called The Night Before. It seems in Hollywood you have to do a kooky comedy to lose your cinematic Hollywood virginity. It's a coming-of-age movie -- you know, guy wants girl, guy gets girl. It was the first time I became involved in the process of making a film, since I was in every scene. Then I did a film called Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, directed by Steven Harrick. I got to play a child of nature, someone who is almost an idiot savant -- except he's not that smart, but he's pure and good. He's got a good soul; he doesn't judge anyone. Then I did a film called Permanent Record for Paramount about suicide. Paramount took some risks. Fred Allen shot it. It looks so amazing. Alan Boyce plays a boy named David who' s a songwriter who commits suicide, and I play his best friend.
WHAT WERE YOUR GOALS WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED OUT AND HOW HAVE THEY CHANGED NOW?
I jumped into acting without an ultimate goal, and it's just recently that I've realized that if I don't have any goals, people are going to fuck with me -- I really hate that. In the immediacy of being in Hollywood, now in my life as it is, I would like to play a very neurotic, crazy, preferably mean, evil character -- I would like to play someone who's just fucking ugly. Most of the characters I've played so far have been good people; they all, in a sense, are in possession of sort of a naivete. I guess that's me, and I'd like to explore and exploit some other stuff.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT MOST SCRIPTS YOU ARE SUBMITTED?
Most of them are bad.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A SCRIPT?
I want to be enlightened, dude. I don't know, just interesting stories, interesting people, character development, ideas being posed, clash/conflicts, hate, love, war, death, success, fame, failure, redemption, salvation, death, hell, sin, good food, bad food, nice smells, colors and big tits.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR A ROLE?
All I can say is that I try to give and I try to learn.
WOULD YOU DO A NUDE SCENE?
Only if it was a good nude scene, I won't do superfluous nudity. If you are asking me if I am embarrassed about my body -- sometimes.
DO YOU STILL STUDY ACTING?
Yeah. Studying has a definite place in my world. I'm 23 and I've been studying since I was 17 -- 16 if you count the performing arts high school. My studying has been very nomadic and has been a fairly wide range of approaches. Studying is important; there's still a lot I don't know.
WAS FINDING THE RIGHT MANAGER OR AGENT HARD FOR YOU?
No. They sort of all serendipitously came together. I thank the gods. You know, one thing that's cool about Hollywood is that if you somehow happen to be an actor in a film that makes a lot of money, you get power. By power I don't mean too much power, like Eddie Murphy -- being so far out there that you're no longer accessible as an actor. But I would like to have enough interest in me so that I can make a difference.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST SACRIFICE FOR SUCCESS?
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT YOU?
That I'm clean.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING AN ACTOR?
I almost said chicks and sex and fucking and money -- but that hasn't happened yet. What do I like most about being an actor? Acting! The best thing for me about being an actor is acting. I mean, what else is there?
DOES DEALING WITH YOUR FANS EVER PUT ANY PRESSURE ON YOU?
Yes. Very bizarre -- sometimes it's fun. Most of the fan mail I get makes me cry, though. Occasionally I get letters that are so amazingly beautiful and sincere, and I know that I've moved someone and that makes me feel fucking amazing. I totally write them back and go, "Here man, thank you. Thank you." Other times, I just don't deal with it at all.
DO YOU EVER GET RECOGNIZED?
It's happened about 12 times. I feel like a young pubic hair -- you know, I keep getting checked out and played with sometimes. The heaviest thing that happened to me was when I met this kid, about 17, who looked like Matt, my character in River's Edge, and he said, "Man, you're my idol," and he gave me all this free food in this restaurant he worked in. That was really cool.
IF YOU COULD STAR IN AN ONSCREEN BIOGRAPHY OF ANYONE, WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
The young part of me would love to play Rimbaud. Imagine writing those fucking sonnets in Latin at 17 and telling teachers they're full of shit. And then, at 19, 20, being totally disillusioned, and for the next 20 years, leading a life of debauchery, and, ultimately, dying in the gutter. That sort of appeals to my self-destructive, artistic, cool kind of deep side.
WHAT SPIRITUAL THINGS ARE IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I'm going to get more wine. Oh yeah, man, if we're talking about spirituality, man, I'm going to be like drinking wine. "I'll be going in the gutter" is the man's essence -- and the man's essence is in the gutter, man.... Spiritual? Well, um, I don't involve myself in any organized religion. I checked that out when I was 11; since then I haven't needed it.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?
Here we go. God? OK, sure. I seem to pay some petty respect whenever I talk about my success. I talk about my fear of retribution for my success -- that I must pay for it. I guess in some sort of deep-rooted way, I feel I haven't. I guess I'm paying tribute to irony. Irony can make you bitter, but, yeah, I guess I believe in God. No, I don't believe in God. I don't know. These things are still in turmoil.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR?
If I knew that [he sips his wine] Um, ... That my underwear would have a shit stain on it if I'm ever with a woman that I've never slept with before. That's a major fear -- that would be a drag. God, it's like everything is a flash. All I can say is that I'm 23 and there's some poem -- I don't know who wrote it, probably Walt Whitman in his youth -- dealing with young men and their fears.
DO YOU MANAGE YOUR MONEY WELL?
No! But better than I used to. I used to live my life out of a basket. I had this killer Kelloggs commercial once, made tons of money, and I cashed the check and put all the cash in a basket. I'd get a residual check, and I'd go to the bank and say, "I'd like to cash this check for $4,000," and they'd ask me if I wanted to open up an account with them. I'd say, "No, just give me my money," and for the next year I'd say, "well, I've got money," and I'd live my life out of the basket. Then things got more complicated. When things get complicated, I bail. Now I've hired accountants and I pay careful attention ... kind of. I'm still sort of delinquent about that. I've learned from acting that simple things grow strong. Yeah, I'm trying to keep my life simple. I'm basically a pretty rudimentary fellow: "Think of Ben Hur when you write my name; think biblical. -- Keanu Reeves."
WHO WOULD BE THE IDEAL WOMAN YOU COULD BE CAST OPPOSITE?
Oh, I don't know, man. Who would I like to fuck the most? Meryl Streep.
Because even if I wasn't good, she could fake it the best.
HAVE YOU SLEPT WITH MOST OF YOUR LEADING LADIES?
Not at all, man. I'm practically a celibate monk -- it's true. I would actually most like to act with Eleanora Duse, who was a contemporary of Sarah Bernhardt. Those were two amazing women, and they represented a real dichotomy in acting styles. Sarah was very theatrical, melodramatic; Eleanora was more straight. She revolutionized a more natural acting style.
IF TWO OTHER ACTORS WERE UP FOR THE SAME PART AS YOU, AND ALL THREE OF YOU WERE EQUAL IN TERMS OF LOOKS, TALENT, EXPERIENCE, ETC., WHY SHOULD THE DIRECTOR PICK YOU?
I don't know -- that's hard.
HOW DO YOU FEEL YOU FIT INTO THE CONTEXT OF THE NEW BREED?
Ha! OK, this is what I feel is happening with actors in Hollywood. A lot of people I've been working with have a sense of darkness and seriousness about their point of view of acting. I think there are a lot of heavy actors who are going to come out and surprise people. They are going to help Hollywood. They are very sincere and generally well-read and smart about what they are doing. They have a strong point of view about their acting and their place in the world. We are getting more theatrical in our acting styles. Film in that sense is taking more risks. Even the actors who aren't doing anything yet but being cute and themselves will hopefully in the future push and expand their limits. We *hope* -- because I'd like to spend six bucks and feel it was worth it.
The New Breed for me has some sort of connotation and reflection about the past -- the brat pack/the method/the studios/the Russians/the English/the Americans/the truth. People are bored with being so literal. We need some more of that good old thirt ies, forties and fifties surrealism again, especially in our comedy. Audiences are ready to see more intelligent work.
When I go to see Beverly Hills Cop 2 in Times Square at midnight, and people are getting stoned and talking to the screen, I don't think they are satisfied. I realized being a semi-successful actor in Hollywood brings certain responsibilities with it. Some of them I enjoy, but some of them are sort of weird. I guess I'm in the new breed because I'm 23, and I'm not 46 or 52. I'm not Dennis Hopper; I'm just doing what I'm doing -- trying, at least. I'm trying to pursue what I'm curious about, trying to survive, and hopefully not be fucked up the ass by irony and the gods.
PHOTOS: Three full-size pix of Keanu, 23 years old, with past-shoulder-length hair.
1) bare-chested and laughing. 2) crouching by a chain link fence. 3) posing in front of the old 1969 Volvo with Ontario plates.