Film Review talks to Keanu Reeves, rising star of new movies Prince of Pennsylvania and Dangerous Liaisons
by David Aldridge
Keanu Reeves, of River's Edge renown, is one-quarter Hawaiian.
Hence the exotic Christian name.
And the talented 24-year-old is set to say aloha (that's Hawaiian for 'hi') to success with two fine new films. In the first, Prince Of Pennsylvania, out this month, Reeves teams with Fred Ward, Bonnie Bedelia and Amy Madigan to play an alienated contemporary teen whose life is made nightmarish by his blue-collar-worker dad's narrow notion of what constitutes the American Dream.
In the second, Dangerous Liaisons, out on March 10, Reeves teams with Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer to play an innocent music teacher embroiled in the machinations of two 18th-century sexual provocateurs.
The contrast between the two films couldn't be greater. And that's just the way Reeves likes it - as he tells me by Transatlantic phone.
"I just love jumping from one sort of thing to another", he enthuses.
"I'd like to make a space movie, a good horror film - and anything directed by Stanley Kubrick".
In the meantime, there's comedy. Reeves has just completed Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, in which two hip-to-the-trip dudes travel back in time to garner firsthand facts for a history project.
Watch out for it.
But enough unpaid advertising. Back to Reeves, and to background.
Despite the Hawaiian island influence, the actor actually hails from Toronto, in Canada.
And it was there that he cut his acting teeth, working on stage, on radio and in TV commercials.
The theatre was, is, and he reckons always will be, his first love.
"You really know you're performing" he says. "You're a real actor, not some meat puppet."
However, he could take only so much of the sort of main-character's-best-friend's-son support slots that his boyish good looks landed him with.
"I got into my car and drove to Hollywood for fun and freedom", he reveals.
It's said with some humour, a sense of which is much in evidence during our interview.
Reeves may have played one or two dour characters on screen, but in real life he's quite a laugh.
Was Hollywood the obvious way to head, I ask. "Hollywood is Hollywood", Reeves replies. "The entertainment capital of the world. If you want to break into films, which is what I wanted to do then, that's where you've got to be".
Now, though, as an at least semi-established star, he's permitted himself the luxury of living in New York, and commuting westward whenever the audition-occasion demands it.
The Big Apple is, after all, the core of American theatre, and it's on stage where Reeves now wants to re-establish himself.
Not that he doesn't like making films.
In fact, he loved both Prince of Pennsylvania and Dangerous Liaisons, not least because of the acting experience afforded by his working with such experienced casts.
"I've never really been to drama school", Reeves reveals. "But acting is a process of constant learning. And there's no better way to learn than watching professionals at work.
"Glenn Close, John Malkovich... it was fun."
So, too, it seems, was the whole Dangerous Liaisons experience.
"I spent most of my time just drinking wine and cavorting around Paris", Reeves reveals. The film was shot in France. "I was there for three months, but my part only involved 15 days' work. I got to know the Beaujolais better than the cast.
"It brought out the boy in me. Costumes, pomp and circumstance - the chance to wave a sword about. It was great".
Wonderful in another way was the contrasting Prince of Pennsylvania. Reeves, then 23, drew on his memories of being 18 to play the alienated teen who kidnaps and holds to ransom his dad in a film that spans the emotional spectrum, from high tragedy to low comedy.
"It's a real roller-coaster ride", he agrees.
He played an alienated teen, too, in River's Edge.
Or do such parts appeal to him? "Both", he says.
"It was a coincidence that the parts were similar, but I love playing them.
"I guess I just like being alienated", he quips.
Not that we're likely to see too many more alienated teen performances.
For Reeves, held back already by his boyish good looks, is determined now to grow up on screen.
"I'm 24. I can't play kids all my life".