KEANU REEVES (say it Key-ah-noo). It means "COOL BREEZE FROM THE MOUNTAINS"
by Karen Krizanovich
Keanu Reeves has a Hawaiian name, an upbringing that takes in both Beirut and Toronto and looks and dresses more like a bike messenger than a pampered West Coast movie brat. After critically acclaimed performances in "Dangerous Liaisons" and the cult chiller "River's Edge", he looks set to conquer Hollywood next year in three major movies.
Karen Krizanovich talks to the big screen's freshest film star.
Keanu Reeves doesn't want to appear sensitive. "I just hate seeing pictures of myself where I have this look in my eye where it's like 'Ooh, I'm so sensitive and deep,'" he says, offering advice on Sky Magazine's cover shot. "Do I have some fucking puppy dog look on my face? Oh no, man! I'd rather be cross-eyed and kind of making some stupid face rather than that sombre, actor look. I don't think I'm the most handsome guy in the world, but I know I'm not quite a dog."
No, not quite. At 25, he has the romantic, slightly oriental -- and highly bankable -- boyish beauty that succeeded in "Dangerous Liaisons" and helped land him roles in three upcoming smashes, including the hit comedy "Parenthood". The half-Hawaiian Canadian is one of Hollywood's most sought after young actors. Right now Keanu describes himself as "almost known." But the truth is he's just about on the brink of becoming huge.
"Parenthood", an ensemble comedy with Steve Martin, is doing brilliantly in the States and will reach our cinema screens in January. Meanwhile, he's recently completed "I Love You to Death" with Kevin Kline, William Hurt and Tracey Ullman. And now he's sitting in a rented house in North Carolina where he's on location putting the finishing touches to his role in Lawrence Kasdan's "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter", co-starring Barbara Hershey and Peter Falk (last seen as Emily Lloyd's mobster father in the gangster film "Cookie").
Making "Aunt Julia" has not been without incident. "Hurricane Hugo missed us only by about a mile," he says. "It blew up the backlot, though, took the second storey off some buildings."
Reeves doesn't seem too perturbed. He sometimes reminds you of a hurricane himself. Though he conducts the interview in a New Orleans drawl -- he claims he needs to keep it up for his "Aunt Julia" part -- he'll frequently get carried away by enthusiasm. He is forever leaping to his feet to make a point. Part of his appeal is that, though he's 25, he looks much younger than he is and exudes a kind of boundless boyish energy.
In "Parenthood", Reeves plays the kind of scruffy, unfathomable, nightmare boyfriend that respectable middle-class American mothers dread their daughters getting involved with. The daughter he takes up with is Martha Plimpton (recently seen in the Woody Allen film "Another Woman"); the anxious mother is Dianne Wiest. Reeves' is a cameo part, but one that let him successfully create an amusing, offbeat character and which shows him acquitting himself well in a formidable ensemble cast, under the watchful eye of director Ron Howard ("Splash", "Cocoon", "Willow"). "It was very kickback," says Reeves of the feeling on set. "it really was enjoyable. Ron Howard is a damned good actor and director. He won't say 'less is more' and all that stuff. He gave me some really offbeat direction that was really *actory*. Just tangible, you know? 'Do it like you're the blue,' or 'pretend you're like this when you make your entrance.' That's exciting, that's fun. It's kind of like, 'Ooooooh, it's playtime in the sandbox'!" Reeves says. He'll flit through a dozen accents in the course of a story, punctuating his speech with bursts of loud, easy, whooping laughter. He finds it hard to contain his enthusiasm, to sit still.
Keanu's first substantial pay cheque for acting was earned in a Coca-Cola commercial, and his work to date has been mainly concerned with misunderstood youth. Reeves' part in the teen- suicide tale "Permanent Record" with Rob Lowe led to a breakthrough role in Tim Hunter's shocking teen-murder film "River's Edge", starring Crispin Glover, Ione Skye and Dennis Hopper. His role, a downbeat part which mainly involved sitting around looking wasted, brought him to the attention of directors and audiences alike.
In "The Prince of Pennsylvania", he plays a young man who falls in love with an older woman and kidnaps his own father. He managed to avoid typecasting, going on to play the witlessly appealing Ted in teen comedy "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure". Stephen Frears' "Dangerous Liaisons" followed. But his audition for the prime dramatic role as Glenn Close's young lover and John Malkovich's romantic rival was a harrowing experience.
"I decided to ride my motorcycle," says Reeves. Motorcycles are one of his big passions. "It was in New York City and I was way downtown. Well, I started to sweat and the only pants I had had holes in 'em and the shirt didn't look quite right. I was trying to look kind of together and I didn't have it happening. I locked up my bike in the subway and I was late. I got there and they were just *British*! You know, Stephen Frears and writer Christopher Hampton just sitting there." Keanu puts on a posh English accent: "'Hello, Keanu. Nice to meet you.' And they're talking to me and the more British they got, the more *American* I got!" Reeves shifts between the English and American accent as needed. "I read it and finally Mr Frears goes, "Can you be a little less.... *American*?' I was dying. I was just going, please, God, get me out! Why are they doing this to me? Why does he say, 'Can you read it again? This time try to *e-nun-ci-ate*...' Oh my God. OH MY GOD!" But the audition was a success and working with Close and Malkovich was an education, even if Reeves had to make the most of his role as Le Chevalier Danceny being "innocence incarnate" rather than as the well-rounded character of the book.
So the guy who was kicked out of acting school at the end of his first year ("for talking too much") has joined the big league. Sometimes he finds working with actors he respects an overwhelming experience. Oscar winners William Hurt and Kevin Kline star in Lawrence Kasdan's ("The Accidental Tourist", "The Big Chill", and "Body Heat") "I Love You to Death", a sinister comedy which also features Tracey Ullman, River Phoenix and Joan Plowright.
"There were a few times when I was in the same room with Kevin Kline, Tracey Ullman, River and Bill, and I would just laugh, just laugh out loud because I was so happy to be there with these great actors. They'd go 'Action' and all this stuff would just go on and you'd be so alive. Amazing just to be there.
"Bill Hurt and I play addicts. I'm Marlon and he's Harlon. I'm a drug addict, Harlon's an alcoholic who maybe does a little speed on the side and we are hired by River Phoenix to kill Kevin Kline. Actually his wife hires us because Kline is cheating on her. There are four attempts of Kevin Kline's life and he never dies." Reeves snorts with laughter. "He's like this very full of life Italian." Keanu's accent slips briefly into New York/Italian overdrive. "He's kind of like, 'YO! HOW'S IT GOING! Hey, I do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, I got extra genes, extra energy, you know?' Of all the people to try and kill someone, we are the worst people in the world. I'm totally spaced out and can't even walk . . . barely. Its a comedy," he deadpans, as if it wasn't obvious.
"Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter", his latest project, is set in June 1950. "I play a character called Martin Loder who falls in love with his aunt who is Barbara Hershey," Keanu says. "But she's my father's brother's wife's sister so she's not really my aunt. I'm studying to be a lawyer but I wanna be a writer and this character is introduced to Peter Falk -- who is amazing - who plays Pedro Carmichael, a writer for a radio serial. He's a man possessed. He lives his art. Carmichael kind of manipulates my life by forcing me to confront the family's prejudices, confront myself and my love for Julia."
Despite the motorcycle junkie side to his nature, Keanu has a ferocious appetite for books: Dostoyevsky, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Mann. The highlight of his summer was playing Trinculo in "The Tempest" with the Shakespeare Company in Boston. When he's working he spends his evenings quietly -- reading the script, playing music, taking a shower and maybe having a glass of wine before he turns in. He's also teaching himself bass guitar because he wants to play music live once before he dies. When in New York he illegally sublets what he calls his "own little birdcage" on the East Side.
But the wilder alter ego is quick to surface: he'll gladly talk motorbikes -- "I've got a Norton Commando ... Zoom, up the PCH through Malibu Canyon on that thing and I'm a happy man." And he doesn't always wear a helmet, despite being dumped a few times. The scars are still all over his belly to attest to that.
Born in Beirut and raised in Toronto, Keanu started acting classes as a teenager. "I kinda had a potpourri," he says. "I went to night classes at a place called the Homemade Theatre. You'd walk up these rickety stairs, you'd go into this room and you'd lie on the ground. Then you'd breathe and start to place the sun on your tongue or the sun on your arm. Then you'd sit in a chair and you'd have a teacup. You'd feel the cup and you'd take a sip out of the hot liquid and you'd feel it ... Fucking seventeen doing shit like that!" He laughs. "I went to Performance Arts High School in Toronto. I was there the first year -- started out with twenty-six students and ended up with thirteen. It was a fun year but I got kicked out and I failed. I was rude and stuff -- talking too much. Well, that taught me a lesson when they kicked me out!"
But Reeves had already proved himself a hit. In his first high school acting role in Miiler's "The Crucible", he came out on stage and said his first line, "What am I?" His mother (a clothes designer long separated from Keanu's father) distinctly overheard a girl sitting in the audience murmur breathlessly: "A hunk!"
He seems genuinely embarrassed by the fact that he's now a fully-fledged sex symbol. Reeves is not the type to hang out with LA movie groupies sipping cocktails in swish movie-star haunts with a bimbo on each arm.
"A lot of girlfriends that I know, a lot of the women have been totally, totally, totally into the planet, mysticism, living and loving and stuff..." He checks himself, then giggles, "But the most mystical thing I have is a deodorant crystal. It's a crystal, you wet it and rub it on under your arm and it acts as a deodorant. I haven't used it yet, but you rub it in your armpit and your crotch area and you SMELL FREE!"
Claiming that he's getting fat despite all the work, Reeves feels middle-age advancing already. "I'm getting slothful. I thought recently that I want to run a marathon. I hate to run but I'm twenty-five and I'm gonna try and get buff before I'm twenty-seven -- fuck, as much as I can in a positive way, otherwise it's gonna be over." He's still single, still searching for that capital R Relationship. "I'm not gonna be no Henry Miller marrying Venus Flytrap at eighty-three and getting it on." And he still worries about where his next part is coming from.
"Oh baby!" he says. "Sure. I'm already thinking about my unemployment now. You can't help it." He says that there's not much jealousy or competition between him and his actor friends although: "I've cursed other actors -- like going, fuck, man! First I go congratulations, man! You got it, man! When I hear about some actor who got this play or movie that I was up for" (Reeves has a penchant for 60s laidback slang), "It's really good humour and love, but it's also FUCK!!!" Keanu groans in mock agony. "You want it so bad but you can't be mad because they got it, so what. I'm your basic cliche insecure actor. I'm kind of like a pseudo-quasi-method actor."
Reeves calms down long enough to consider his ambitions. They don't include directing but he'd like to write a play or some poetry that's not just "personal bullshit".
Life's pretty good for Keanu Reeves. He even sees his mum occasionally. "She's happy that I'm doing what I want to do," Keanu says, "and that I'm not at home doing drugs and stealing from her." Suddenly he gets up again, brainstorming about the cover shot. "Ask them if they can get a picture of me smiling. If they have a picture of me in a swamp, I'd just rather be smiling."