Oddball parts get Reeves' career rolling
by Stephen Schaefer, Special for USA Today
Keanu Reeves has made quite a career as the movies' biggest dope since Dopey.
As a dingbat history student (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure), Steve Martin's dorky nephew-in-law (Parenthood) or Uma Thurman's naive would-be lover (Dangerous Liaisons), this gawky, good-looking actor has made his mark as a semi-hunk in spite of himself.
Friday, the Reeves tradition continued with the opening of the all-star black comedy I Love You to Death. Reeves plays Marlon, who with Harlan (William Hurt) forms a drug-addicted ''hit team'' on a strictly hit-and-miss mission to kill Kevin Kline.
While Reeves, 25, shares the linguistic knots of his tongue-tied movie counterparts, he's a smooth and savvy actor who has been a professional since he came to L.A. at 18. Born in Beirut to an English mother and raised mostly in Toronto, his name (pronounced Key-AH-knew), from his grandfather, means ''cool breeze over the mountains'' in Hawaiian.
''There was no world for me in Toronto as an actor,'' he recalls. ''Because of my family (his stepfather), I had an opportunity for a green card if I went to L.A. It was pretty scary, but I had to go.''
Now the scary part is stoking a hot career. Reeves has been a supporting player (Parenthood, Liaisons and I Love You), but is moving to lead roles with a Bill and Ted sequel and fall's Aunt Julia and the Screenwriter opposite Barbara Hershey.
So far, Reeves keeps a low profile in Los Angeles, avoiding the celebrity circuit and insisting there's no steady girlfriend in his life. (Asked if he'd dated Thurman, he laughs, ''I'm not heavy enough for Uma.'')
In the city of cars, Reeves owns only a '74 Norton Commando black-and-red motorcycle. He lets off steam ''canyon busting'' on his cycle. ''There's no driveways or stop signs. That's when I wear a helmet and go demon riding.
''I'm certainly sedate otherwise - and completely culturally illiterate. But traveling makes you a civilized person.'' As for specializing in dopes, --Reeves bristles. ''I have to defend my characters a bit.'' Marlon is ''a heroin addict who likes to get stoned. He's pretty gentle and couldn't kill anyone.''
He's also quick to defend his biggest hit, which was not a ''satire'' on teen-age dunderheads. So what if Bill and Ted are failing history, he argues. ''They aren't gonna be lawyers or politicians. Or work at the 7-Eleven. They can't regurgitate Newsweek.
''But look at the world they're in! Their parents are seeing everybody's mother. So they say, 'Let's play some music and do what we want!' They're cool guys. They're nice guys.''
In Aunt Julia, Reeves romances his aunt. ''It's not steamy-steamy,'' he promises, although Hershey, he adds admiringly, ''is one of the most concentrated actresses I've ever worked with.''
This summer, Reeves is to co-star with his I Love You castmate River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho for Drugstore Cowboy director Gus Van Sant. They'll play street hustlers, sexual outlaws. Which sounds like another addition to Reeves' Dopey Gallery.