Keanu Reeves - Hawaiian Punk
by Shari Roman
His Hawaiian first name means "cool breeze over the mountains" and its romantic, vital imagery suits twenty-four-year-old Keanu Reeves. So far he's mostly played variations on the misunderstood-youth theme, in films like the cultish River's Edge and Permanent Record, and to quirky comic effect in The Prince of Pennsylvania and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, always managing to come off with a natural charm that makes you want to tuck your arms around him and give him presents.
We had planned to meet for dinner at Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood. But as I stroll up, I spot him waiting patiently outside, perched on his brand-new red Suzuki motorcylcle. Not the goofy teenager I was half expecting, but a surprisingly lanky, self-possessed adult - and ten minutes early to boot. He brushes the hair out of his eyes and shakes my hand, exuding best behaviour. "I checked inside. The place is all dinnered out," he says, disappointedly jerking his head toward Musso & Frank Grill. So we leave the motorcycle parked, and head west on Hollywood Boulevard, searching for a spot. The electric pink facade of Frederick's of Hollywood glows to the east, the stars of the Walk of Fame glitter for miles, as swarms of tourists with cameras feverishly roam the street for celebrities and glamorous icons. Keanu is all charged up, his head swiveling back and forth, taking it all in. "I love this street, man. I really do." Turning the corner, two girls pass, spin on their heels and squealing, point at him, but, characteristically, it's the one thing Keanu seems oblivious to.
Settling into the seediest dive we can find, Keanu talks about his passion for motorcycles, girls, his interest in guitar lessons and the world at large in a slangy off-the-cuff rhythm that is totally unaffected.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, and raised in New York and Toronto, Keanu was around sixteen when he started acting classes. "It was this place in Toronto called Homemade Theatre," he says smiling, and then adds shyly, "I'm like one of those people who dropped out of high school and has a complex. So I'm ...what's the word? Autodidactic." He waves to an imaginary audience. "Yes, I'm reading five books that I don't completely understand and I can't speak about, but I've read them."
Keanu hoots with laughter when I steer the conversation towards his growing acting reputation (next up: the weighty Dangerous Liaisons with a cast that includes John Malkovich, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer). Then he sighs, brushing that thick dark hair out of his face. Talking about what makes him tick performance-wise is not his favorite subject. "The idea of fame is so abstract. It's really cool to have a response to what you've done, but it's not something I like to search out in my spare time." He poses himself like an actor hailing an interview. "Is there anyone I can talk to today? From US or People perhaps? Any animal periodicals I can do? Oh! I had an operation. Perhaps I can be in a medical guide, "Actors on Operations." He snorts. "I mean, what have I done, man?" His arms go wide and he careens into a give-me-a-break response that makes me laugh. "I was in one fuckin' movie that people saw. Then I was in a fuckin' Hollywood movie about suicide, where everyone fuckin' smiles, and then," he says, in a sell-that-ad-copy voice, "I'm a precocious young punk in a charming offbeat comedy." He shrugs. "I guess I'd call myself 'almost known'."
He wraps his arm around his motorcycle helmet and waits politely for the next question. Okay, I ask, he seems to be sensitive to so much, has he ever taken on the personality of a character he's played? He gives me a not-another-acting-question look and grimaces. "Of course." He adds quietly, "To some extent you can't help it. If you can help doing that, then I guess you're a different creature than I am." He looks off shyly for moment, but his tone is intent and measured. "The voice of an actor, especially in film, is supposed to be realistic, in a sense. Even if it's a John Hughes comedy, there's supposed to be some contemporary reality, whereas in theatre, you're more divorced from that reality because you're part of a different world. So that frees you in some sense from your present-day life. You're always drawing on it, but it frees you from dealing with the specificity of that reality." His voice trails off, and he looks a little uncomfortable, so I ask him to tell me the motorcycle story he had earlier promised to go back to. Keanu's eyes shine. "I had this girlfriend," he begins. "This girl was just the most rockin' girl in the world you could have on the back of a bike because she was fuckin' fearless. One night, it was like 12:30, at the time I was practicing doing wheelies, and she said, 'let's go!' So we went on the freeway and it was just magic. She would grab me - she had these really great breasts and really long hair - and we had no helmets and no goggles and we were going like a hundred and thirty miles an hour on five lanes of freeway, with not a soul in sight. And this incredible cloudless moon just hangin' there." He sighs happily. "I've had some of the best times of my life on a motorcycle."