Turbo-Charged and Exploding
Or how an Excellent Adventure made Keanu Reeves change his tune about playing teens
by David Aldridge
The last time I talked to Keanu Reeves, a little over a year ago, the 25-year-old half-Hawaiian had two immediate ambitions.
One was to do some 'serious' theatre.
The other was to escape the teen roles that his boyish good looks and Hollywood's proneness to pigeon-holing had combined to confine him to.
He achieved his first ambition, he now tells me, having played Trinculo in a New York Central Park open-air production of Shakespeare's The Tempest.
"But I've sort of eased up on the other", he adds, down a crackly phone line from his California home.
"Work is work. And I've sort of accepted that I'm still going to get offered teen parts for a while yet. So I might was well make the most of them".
It's likely, too, that Keanu's "easing up" has been at least partly prompted by happy teen-part experiences on two of his more recent movies: Parenthood, and, in particular, Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, which has just opened here.
"They were great characters", Keanu says of Bill and Ted, two hip-to-the-trip High Schoolers who travel back in time to purloin various historical personages for a class history project.
"And it was great what happened to them. They got to travel through time. To meet Beethoven. It was so crazy. It was a real hoot.
"The movie's makers knew that Alex (Winter, who plays Bill to Keanu's Ted) and I were getting off on each other.
"So we got to do just about anything we wanted to do. We could contribute to the characters almost anything we wanted. "Sometimes, when I'd been working 14 straight hours, and still had to yell 'excellent!' (one of the movie's teen speak catchwords) as if I meant it, things got a bit tiresome.
"But, by and large, we had a ball. And I learned so much from the character of Ted - much more than I put into it.
I've appeared in hit films, but I haven't actually made one
"I was really grabbed by his lifeview, his energy, his kind of joie de vivre. And he was such a kind guy. So unjudgemental.
"He was so turbo-charged and exploding, he made me feel really young again".
Little wonder, then, in the light of such enthusiasm, that Keanu is keen on reprising the role, in Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure II. But his involvement is dependent upon the finding of a decent script.
"I don't want it simply to be a rehash of old rhythms and old ideas", he tells me. "That's bullshit."
Keanu, whose other films include River's Edge, Prince Of Pennsylvania and Dangerous Liaisons, is currently in what he calls a "resting mode" - enjoying the California climate, and the opportunity it affords him for riding his favourite motorbike, a British Norton Commando.
But the break is only a brief respite after an intense biz burst which saw this likeable likely-lad make not only Parenthood and Bill And Ted I, but also offbeat comedy I Love You to Death, and surreal romance Aunt Julia And The Scriptwriter - both as yet unreleased, and both more fully detailed in last month's in-depth Keanu Reeves profile.
For, in addition to the strong likelihood of Bill And Ted II, Keanu is set to start work shortly on what could be his most 'adult' work to date.
It's a low-budget film called My Own Private Idaho, and in it peachy Keanu goes against type to play a psychotic male hustler.
"He's a sorta good guy who becomes a sorta bad guy when he bails out on a buddy, just abandons him", he says. "It's very different from anything I've done.
"And it's difference, contrast, that I'm always looking for. It's what you learn from".
Keanu is awestruck by the movie business, and what it has to teach him. As innocent and ingenuous as the characters he so often plays, he's also still starstruck by it. He recalls a recent moment during the making of I Love You To Death.
"I was in a room with the film's stars, Bill Hurt and Kevin Kline, and its director, Laurence Kasdan. And I just looked around, and I was having so much fun, and I just thought: 'Whoah, this is great! All these amazing actors, and I'm here working with them, and learning from them'.
Modestly, Keanu maintains that, though he's appeared in hit films, he hasn't actually made one.
I take the distinction, though I'd query its truth in the case of Bill And Ted, which went on to make big bucks Stateside after initial doubts as to whether it should even get a US theatrical release.
Whatever, it's allowed Keanu to preserve at least a semblance of his much prized privacy.
"Sure, I get recognised", he admits. "But not that often. It's at the perfect level - not so much as to be a real nuisance, and not so little as to set me worrying.
"That's ideal. I don't want to be Tom Cruise."