Keanu Reeves: Growing Up on the Move
by James A. Baggett
What's it like when you're always "the new kid"? Movie celebrity Keanu Reeves, star of The River's Edge and Permanent Record shares his story.
His name (pronounced Kay-AH-new) is Hawaiian, but that's just about the only place this 23-year-old actor hasn't lived. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Chinese-Hawaiian father and an English mother, Keanu Reeves - the star of The River's Edge and Permanent Record - was raised in such assorted places as Australia, New York, and Toronto.
"I went to four high schools in five years," says Keanu, who took acting classes - after hockey practice - while in high school in Canada. "It's difficult being uprooted and having to change your environment. It's hard moving to new places, making new friends, and leaving behind your old neighborhood. But it's part of growing up."
Now that he's "grown up," Keanu can look back with wiser eyes on the experience of moving around. At the time, always being the new kid on the block wasn't so cool. "Going to all those different high schools was not that heavy, now looking back on it," he says. "I wouldn't say it was a traumatizing experience, but it seemed like it then. That was the most difficult period for me, puberty."
Like a lot of new kids, Keanu sometimes had trouble fitting in. "I was a loner in high school," he says. "I wasn't like a lot of my peers."
How did he cope? He tried not to focus on school life too much. "I was in high school, but sort of out of school at the same time," he explains. Sports were one outlet. Music was another. "I would listen to Randy Newman and eat tuna fish and crackers," he says. "I'd play basketball and hockey, and listen to the Beatles." When he wasn't doing well in school, finding something that he could do well - such as hockey - helped hold his ego together.
HIS BIG REGRET
Keanu dropped out of school at 16, about the same time he decided to become an actor. "Sometimes I regret not finishing high school," Keanu says. "But, I was just trying to live my life." To his credit, Keanu continued to study after leaving school. (Many dropouts don't.) "I took a lot of one-night classes and one-week intensive things," he says.
Luckily, Keanu was beginning to work as an actor - in spite of flunking acting class (The Screen Actors' Guild in New York City estimates that 90 percent of actors are unemployed at any one time.) He won a role in the Canadian television series Hanging In. U.S. audiences first saw Keanu in 1986's Youngblood, with Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze. He was also in the CBS Movie of the Week Under the Influence, about the relationship between an alcoholic father (Andy Griffith) and son.
But it was his part in The River's Edge, one of last year's most controversial and acclaimed films, that established Keanu as a star. The film is about a group 4 teens who protect a friend who murdered his girlfriend: Keanu played the boy who eventually goes to the police.
This year, Keanu took on a role in a film that deals with another serious issue: teen suicide. In Permanent Record, he played a kid coping with his best friend's suicide. "It's really about friendships and relationships, but it's also twisted," Keanu says, using one of his favorite words.
This fall, Keanu tackles two more "twisted" movie roles. In the comedy The Prince of Pennsylvania, he plays an oddball who kidnaps his dad. In Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Keanu plays a teen who, with a buddy, travels through time. The pair round up a team of history's all-stars, including Socrates, Napoleon, Joan of Arc, and Beethoven - to help with a vital final exam.
Though Keanu says casting agents aren't breaking down his door, he has been working steadily. "My mom said you either go to school or get a job," Keanu says. "She's happy I'm not an unemployed bum... yet."
As it turns out, moving around a lot was good training for an actor's life. Keanu has worked recently in Pennsylvania, Rome, and Munich. He's now in Paris filming Les Liaisons Dangereuses, a movie set in the 1800s.
When he's not working, Keanu enjoys being a homebody in Los Angeles (his base for the last two years). He reads science fiction and "twisted" Russian fables, rides his motorcycle, and is teaching himself to play electric bass. "I'm a hack," he, says. "I have no rhythm or anything. But I love the sound the bass makes. It's therapy."
Even if you've always lived in the same place, you've probably faced a new situation. If you haven't yet, you almost certainly will in the future. When that happens, how will you deal with it? Are there ideas from Keanu's story that you could use when you feel lonely or left out?