Keanu Reeves, Actor Dude
(also published in August 1992 as a longer version under the title 'Keanu Reeves: A Most Bogus Sex Symbol')
He's on a list of "10 Sexiest Bachelors." He's Ted in the Bill & Ted movies. And for the most part, he says, it's "excellent, man."
by Cindy Pearlman
DATELINE: SANTA MONICA, Calif.
Keanu Reeves, 26, is glued to the window in his oceanfront hotel room, staring out at the Ferris wheel on a nearby pier. He points to a kid in the top seat.
"That's me," he says, moving his finger in circles on the windowpane as the ride goes round and round. "As they say, my career is up there."
But Reeves also wants to keep his feet on the ground.
"I don't ever want to get stuck up there," he says. "I'd rather be a little closer to the street."
If Reeves is afraid of heights -- especially his own -- he better buckle his seat belt. At the amusement park called Hollywood, Reeves is a popular attraction who might just be the attraction by the end of the year, due to his three new films.
In Point Break, released July 12, Reeves portrays rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah, who goes undercover as a surfer to check into a bunch of bank robberies masterminded by a real and highly spiritual surfer (Patrick Swayze).
In Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, which hit theaters on July 19, he resumes his role as goofy California teenager Ted in the sequel to the 1989 hit Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
And this fall, Reeves might get back to the streets he longs to walk when he plays Scott Favor, a male prostitute who is also the mayor's son, in My Own Private Idaho.
On top of all this, Reeves was in US magazine's recent "10 Sexiest Bachelors" issue -- where he was described as "26, but looks 17. He has that look of jailbait -- and that's damn sexy."
Today, sipping a diet cola, Reeves looks scruffy. Not damn sexy.
Maybe for riding his '74 Norton Commando black-and-red motorcycle too fast. He looks like one of those wise-guy high school kids who took shop instead of sociology.
His mop of brown hair falls into his face. And once you get past about two months' worth of uneven facial stubble and the four shirts Reeves has donned on this 78-degree day (an undershirt, two flannel shirts, a workout jacket and a leather jacket) -- you find a shy guy.
But Reeves finds it easy to talk about his work.
About Bogus Journey, which earned more than $10 million in its first three days of release, he says, "This is a much more ambitious film than the first one. We get killed.
"We have to face evil-robot Bill and evil-robot Ted, who come to take our places on Earth. Then we face the Grim Reaper, go to heaven, go through hell," he says. "And in the middle of all this is that genuine friendship and honesty between these two guys. It's a beautiful thing."
Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted actually do much more than just go through heaven and hell holding hands. They play air-guitar, which Reeves says "is nothing you can fake -- it comes from the soul."
TWISTER WITH THE REAPER
The two also commission robots to foil their evil twins. They play Twister with the Grim Reaper. And they invent some new slang. Women are princess babes; to be tricked is to be melvined; anything bad is most bogus.
Why do the sequel?
"Well, people were really digging these characters," says Reeves, who often naturally sounds like Ted. Parents, brace yourself for this.
"My friend, Alex (Winter), came to me while I was doing a play in Massachusetts, like, two years ago. We talked about another movie. And I kept thinking, 'This really could be excellent, man.'
"Bill and Ted are also (guitarists) and at the end of the first movie, they still suck. Our destiny is to save the world through our music, so we had to fulfill our destiny. So it's easy to see why I longed to play Ted again.
"Some actors are destined to play Henry V. I'll be 90 and say, 'I'll play Ted. Excellent, man.'"
But there are some aspects of playing Ted which are not so excellent. Reeves calls this a result of "being stuck in the Hollywood product machine."
Reeves says he has disdain for the slew of Bill and Ted products now on the market, including action-figure dolls, books, a cartoon series and even a breakfast cereal.
REDUCED TO A DOLL
"The dolls themselves suck, so that bugs me," Reeves says. "You know, if they were cool dolls I wouldn't care.
"The aspect of my character being turned into a doll is obvious. But it's not a good toy. I can't dog it that heavy -- maybe some kids will dig it. You can move the legs and it does play air-guitar."
"The cereal is cool," he says. "I know it's made by Purina, which is a weird irony. But it's a good chew."
Reeves got to chew on a meaty script in Point Break, directed by Kathryn (Blue Steel) Bigelow.
His character, Johnny Utah, is driven. "He was brought up to play football. He succeeded. And now he has a highly motivated, competitive spirit," says Reeves. "An FBI friend asks him, 'You want to be the big hero, right?' Utah says, 'Definitely.'"
But Reeves plays anything but the hero in My Private Idaho, which he describes as "not the classic American film, which means not a plot-driven beast."
"It's very layered and textured," Reeves says about his role. "Considering the times and with AIDS, this is going to be a controversial role, a big issue.
"It's heavy, but this movie is not exploitive."
Reeves researched the role by spending time with co-star River Phoenix on the streets of Portland, Ore., observing the life of male prostitutes.
"I met this guy Scott -- this wealthy kid who is now on the streets," he says. "I met him a couple of times in front of a nightclub. He's just standing there, a cigarette hanging from his lips. He doesn't want to be saved, especially by some actor dudes."
Reeves hasn't always been an actor dude, though now he lives very much in the heart of show business -- in his own home under the famed Hollywood sign.
"I can see the trappings of Hollywood right out my living-room window," he says.
"Sometimes I sit there and say, 'Burn, Hollywood, burn.' I mean, everybody has this idea of what it is, right? Hollywood, Hollywood.
"I live under the sign, so I have a relationship with this town. Mostly I just think, "Who put the Ho in Laywood?' But sometimes I'm weird like that."
If Reeves is weird, perhaps it is due to his unusual childhood. He was born to an English mother and a Hawaiian/Chinese father in Beirut, Lebanon. (Keanu means "cool breeze over the mountains" in Hawaiian.)
He says his parents were "cavorting" in Beirut.
"That was one of their stops. I was only there for six months before we moved to Australia, where my sister was born, and then we headed for New York City. I was there until I was 5, and then we moved to Toronto, Canada."
Reeves explains his family's frequent moves by saying of his parents, "I guess they were bohemians. My father's stepfather was very wealthy, and his money lives on, thank you. You got money -- you can move around."
At 16, Reeves told his mother he wanted to be an actor and nothing else. She told him to "do it."
So he did. He dropped out of high school, where he had been most valuable player on the hockey team, and moved to Los Angeles when he was 17.
Following some regional theater -- including a summer at the Hedgerow Theater in Rose Valley, Delaware County -- he landed his first major role in River's Edge, a 1986 film about a group of teenagers who are unsettlingly blase about the murder of a friend.
"That film is bigger than me," Reeves says. "It is an awesome film, an amazing film. I didn't know it was going to be like that when I did it. It has something to say. That's a real movie, man. That's cinema. That's what it's all about."
Some would say that what it's all about for an actor is exposure, and Reeves has certainly gotten his fair share of that.
He played Todd, Dianne Wiest's layabout son-in-law, in Parenthood (1989) and a thief in I Love You to Death (1990). He even has a cameo in "Rush, Rush," the new hit video by Paula Abdul.
In it, Reeves plays the James Dean role in a remake of Rebel Without a Cause.
"Making a video was interesting," he says, "but I think it's better left to the models, (the) beautiful people. There's no content, no emotion. I guess I'll stick to acting. I'm better at the whole game. Besides, I'm supposed to play James Dean (and) I'm not cool enough."
Some beg to differ.
"This career caught me off guard," Reeves says about moviemaking.
"I should have learned from seeing Emilio Estevez and all those Brat Pack cats. It's interesting because once you've got a certain amount of success, Hollywood goes, 'Well, what do you want to do now?' Good question.
"If someone (had) asked me that four years ago, I would have said, 'I'm just trying to act,'" he says, staring again at the Ferris wheel outside his window.
Like Reeves' career, the Ferris wheel is twirling so fast, you can see just a blur of lights.
"I guess I gotta grow up and figure out what I want to do. I guess I really want to go on that Ferris wheel right now. That much I know for sure.