The class clown makes good
by Dan Yakir
"I get the greatest charge out of acting," declares Keanu Reeves, running his fingers through his long, straggly hair. "To me , there's nothing else. When I do a scene and it works, man, I feel I'm on fire. I feel heat going through me and it makes me laugh and laugh... It's totally exhilarating!"
The 26-year-old actor is referring to his new movie, Point Break in which he plays undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah, who has to infiltrate a bunch of surfers suspected of bank robberies. The group is headed by a charismatic guru type (played by Patrick Swayze), who appeals to Johnny and introduces him to their carefree way of life. It's a complex role for Keanu; a far cry from his goof, but loveable, performance in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, his most recent hit.
"You buy into the world of Point Break" says Keanu. "It's going to make you want to surf, to jump out of an airplane, maybe fight... It's going to make you want to love. And it's hopefully going to make you think a little bit about what you're doing, about the moral of your actions - about who you are and where you are in your life... It sounds a bit high-reaching for this kind of film, but this is what came to my mind when I was watching it. It was really fun to make and it's full of action and excitement as well."
If all this sounds a bit unexpected coming from Keanu, well, he's always been full of surprises, and he's not afraid to take risks. He played a bumbling, spaced-out, would-be murderer in I Love You To Death, and in the upcoming My Own Private Idaho, he plays a male hustler living on the streets. "I like to do things I haven't done before," he says simply.
Although he seems to have specialised in offbeat characters, in person this goofiness is complemented by plenty of energy and charm. So is he always like this, or is it just a show for his fans? "I'm very rarely comfortable in my own skin," he says, "except sometimes when I'm working - or with women. I keep asking 'What, Who? Why? When? And how?' I don't know if I'm trying to get answers or simply to find out things... I guess I haven't seriously put the mirror to my soul yet."
But he's been doing just that for many others - on film. Keanu has shown a knack for portraying the difficulties of being a teenager in a series of films that probed the subject - from the bleak existence of street kids in River's Edge to teen suicide in Permanent Record. In his first big break, the TV movie Under The Influence, he played an alcoholic's son. "I had to have a gun in my hand to shoot at my dead father's grave, drinking from a bottle," he recalls, "with snow on the ground and me going, 'Help me-e-e! Help me-e-e!"
But Keanu himself needs no help to attract fans, especially since he himself resembles more closely the hero of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, the movie that made him a star. Still, he sometimes forgets himself and becomes the character.
For all his easy-going manner, Keanu won't open up easily, nor does he find making friends very simple. It takes him time to build up trust "The minute you let go, you can feel love for people," he says, hopefully. "It should be easy..." At school in Toronto, where he grew up, he recalls "never being the most popular or the one most likely to succeed... I actually went all over the place – I've been a loner and I've been class clown, and once I was even elected vice-president of my science class, but that was more of a joke!"
He now divides his time between L.A. and New York, and in the rare periods when he's between jobs, finds life unbearable. "The first couple of weeks, I get psychotic, sure that I'll never work again," he says, smiling, "and then it settles down and I go hang out with my friends, ride my motorcycle, and listen to music..." For all his success and acclaim, he remains the same guy he's always been - and that suits him just fine. "I hope I don't get too much of the farce and fortune thing," he concludes. "I don't want to lose my privacy... I just want to go my own way, that's all."