Pseudo-Quasi-Method in His Madness
The "unactorish" world of peachy Keanu Reeves - bodaciously rising star of contrasting new movies Aunt Julia And The Scriptwriter and Point Break
by James Cameron-Wilson
Whatever you might read, Keanu Reeves was not an overnight sensation. He'd appeared in five TV movies and one feature before popping up in the cult downer River's Edge. And that movie belonged to Crispin Glover and Dennis Hopper.
Keanu crept up on us gradually. While the public were grappling with the pronunciation of his first name (Kee-ah-noo), he was giving a variety of performances in little seen movies, or taking supporting roles in star-laden vehicles (Dangerous Liaisons, Parenthood, 1 Love You to Death). More often than not, he was the epitome of sullen youth, a dour presence best overlooked.
Now he explodes on to our screens with two high energy performances in two very different, entertaining movies.
In Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, just out, he plays Martin Loader, a callow, zealous youth working at a New Orleans radio station in 1951. An aspiring writer, Loader is full of the sap of spring and is in love with his aunt. "But she's my father's brother's wife's sister, so she's not really my aunt", Kee-ah-noo sets the record straight.
Anyway, Loader's passionate relationship with his father's brother's wife's sister (played by Barbara Hershey) provides the station's resident soap writer (Peter Falk) with more than enough raw material. However, the literary leech (Falk) recreates the scandalous affair with such accuracy, repeating every verbal serenade word-for-word in his script, that soon the private dalliance is public news.
In spite of the heady presence of Hershey, Falk, John Larroquette and Elizabeth McGovern, Keanu is the central character - narrating the story and staring wide-eyed into the lunatic world of radio soaps.
The film is a stylish, witty comedy, and a most unusual one and, in the words of the producer, "we were pretty quick to go with Keanu Reeves. We just always saw him in the part".
A bigger stretch for the 27-yearold actor is another central role, in Point Break, out on November 22. A classy, muscular thriller, the film stars Keanu as Johnny Utah, a fast-talking rookie cop ("young, dumb andfull of cum", in the words of his superior), who is transplanted from America's midwest to Los Angeles.
There, the young detective, variously described as "a blue flame punk" and a "quarterback punk", must prove his manhood. However, his hip turns of phrase fall to ingratiate him with his boss ("receiving you zero-distortion, sir", he says, proudly).
Assigned to unmask a gang of bank robbers suspected of doubling as surfingfreaks, Utah goes undercover as a surfing dude himself - but gets carried away by the sun, sea and sex (not to mention his relationship with Zen surfer Patrick Swayze).
Keanu took his new role as professional, hard-edged tough guy very seriously indeed. Besides learning to surf (well, his father is Hawaiian), he "hung out with athletes, FBI agents, police, people in college fraternities... seein' a whole other part of the world, you know?"
The part was originally earmarked for Matthew Broderick (when the film was called Johnny Utah). But, when Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Blue Steel) came on board as director, she thought of Keanu.
"I've been an enormous fan of Keanu since River's Edge", the filmmaker explained. "When this film came up, I thought Keanu's innate physicality, intelligence and charm would make him perfect to play Utah. His choices, as an actor, are extraordinary. He holds the screen, and he's got a magical ability to put the audience in his back pocket. In addition, the role was a departure from the work he's done in the past. He's never played an 'action hero'. We all felt it would be a fresh approach for the picture".
In spite of the star' dedication to his craft, Keanu is the most unactorish guy you're likely to hang out with. He also seems stuck in an earlier age (the late 'Sixties?), cross-fertilised with the today of tomorrow. Unable to articulate a linear line of thought, he lets his limbs do the talking for him, jumping up to make a point, and punctuating his dialogue with words like "heavy", "cool", "man" and "jeesh" - and his favourite, "pseudo-quasi"-something-or-other!
"Jeesh, I guess I'm a pseudoquasi-method actor, man", he illuminates. "I'm generally pseudoquasi. I mean, I'm not really around, you know? I'm around. Yeah".
Keanu Reeves may not talk like Kenneth Branagh, but he is extraordinarily engaging on film, is a workaholic, and is a self-taught man. He reads as much as his work will allow him to, and digs Philip K. Dick, Dostoevsky, T.S. Eliot, Greek mythology and Thomas Mann. He describes Mann's Doctor Faustus as "like, wow, fuck, man".
Admitting to a "safe and sheltered upbringing", Keanu was actually born in Beirut and, as a kid, lived in Australia, New York and Toronto.
"In Toronto, I went to the Performing Arts High School. It was a fun year, but I got kicked out and failed. I was rude and stuff talking too much"
Today, he lives in Los Angeles, and is happiest when driving down the boulevards in the early hours of the morning. His pride and joy is his 1974 850 Norton Commando, a high-performance English touring motorcycle.
Girls seem to take up little room in his life, and he enjoys goading the press as to his sexual preferences - "No, I'm not gay - but you never know".
He's equally free with other controversial gems "I want to be on speed. I've never been on speed, but I'd like to be a speed freak for a while. Is that a stupid thing to say?"
In his next film, My Own Private Idaho, he plays a male prostitute opposite River Phoenix (his co-star from I Love You to Death).
"I play Scottie, who's based on prince Hal, from Shakespeare. He's from a wealthy background, and has been on the streets of Seattle for three years. River plays a character called Mike, who has an extreme case of narcolepsy. So he passes out and wakes up, and the film follows him around. I'm more like... side character".
Keanu also has a supporting role in Francis Coppola's much-awaited Dracula: The Untold Story, which stars Gary Oldman as the Count and Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing. And, true to his workaholism, he's done a couple of student movies and appeared in Paula Abdul's last video.
And early next year we can see him in the bodacious Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, teamed with Alex Winter, both repeating their roles as air guitar-strumming, hip-talking dudes.
In this wacky sequel, the boys are pitted against two robotic lookalikes from the future and The Grim Reaper, conjuring up images of The Terminator Goes To Hell. In spite of poor notices, the movie has proved extraordinarily popular in the States. Well, Keanu is a hot dude in the movies today. There's even a dance named after him - The Keanu Stomp.