Keanu Reeves - The unlikely star
Keanu Reeves still can't quite believe what's happening to him. Suddenly he's got three films out and he's being touted as Hollywood's hottest new hunk. But he doesn't want any of that - he's trying to come to terms with the meaning of life!
by Jeff Hayward.
Keanu Reeves turns up to interviews looking like he's slept overnight in a park after a hard night on the juice. A few years ago he told an interviewer that hygiene wasn't a big factor in his daily routine. He also suggested that his main concern on a big date was the problem of stained underpants. He also said he'd like to spend the night with Meryl Streep - "just to see what all the fuss is about."
Trying to get more than a sentence at a time out of Reeves is a tough assignment. There's lots of "I don't know why, man" and "be excellent, party on" type responses. He also moves about a lot. It has been called the Keanu shuffle, hand sweeping back long thick dark hair, parted in the middle, moving back, forwards, to the left, to the right... never still. But Keanu doesn't think he's hard to interview. "It's just that sometimes I'm not very good at talking about myself. And hey, who cares anyway?"
A growing legion of fans care, that's who. Keanu may not want it, but he's one of the hottest young actors in Hollywood. "Hey, it's hard dealing with all this, you know?" Despite the mumbling, Keanu is far more intelligent than he makes himself out to be. He plays the game of spaced out dude to avoid difficult questions, to avoid becoming owned by the media. But in front of the cameras it's another matter. He may be best known for playing the spaced-out airhead in the Bill and Ted sagas, but he's turned in some sharp performances over the years.
The critical highpoint was River's Edge. This cult chiller proved that Keanu could hold centre stage in a gripping drama. He's had more mainstream roles, like Danceny in Dangerous Liaisons and the disoriented boyfriend in Parenthood, but River's Edge made the film industry sit up and take notice.
"Roles like that make you think about things," he says, warming to discussing his films. "When you play someone like Matt in River's Edge, someone who can't live with the knowledge of murder, it changes your life."
His two latest films, Point Break and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey are unlikely to have the same effect, but they cement Reeves' status as a sought after young actor. He's just completed a dark drama with River Phoenix in which he plays a lonely street hustler, My Own Private Idaho, a role that could see another bout of critical acclaim for the introverted young actor.
Maybe one of the reasons he's shy is that he's definitely not a product of the Hollywood system. He didn't go to any of the West Hollywood high schools where future actors rub shoulders with stars' children. He was born in Beirut to an English mother and an Hawaiian father, lived in Australia when he was young and then settled down with the family in Toronto, Canada.
At 17 he enrolled in night school drama classes and began performing in local theatre productions. He spent a summer in reperatory theatre in Pennsylvania, performing in Romeo and Juliet. Then he headed off on his own to California and landed a part in a B-movie as a nice young hockey goalie - a sport he was pretty good at in Toronto.
"I remember I said to my mother that I wanted to be an actor when I was about 16," he recalls. "Looking back I don't know what was going on in my head at the time, but I just started to take acting classes. I came from a broken home and all that shit," he says, self-mockingly.
"In my early days in movies I was one of those headstrong young guys who like to question everything. I'd want to know why directors would want to do certain things. I remember they used to go 'grr, okay'," he laughs. "I think I used to piss people off."
He's trying hard to dispel that reputation now - he's even taken on the services of a high powered public relations firm to sharpen up his image. However he has no desire to become one of the nouveau bratpack, with the likes of Christian Slater and Richard Grieco. He doesn't want his names in gossip columns. In fact he admits he's a quiet one away from the set.
"I'm kind of a homeboy really, I don't get invited too much on the Hollywood scene. In the past year I've been working hard on films so I haven't had much of a private life. I'd like to have more time to myself but I'm afraid that if I do then projects will pass me by. I now have more responsibility to my own career so I stay home and read scripts. Once you have a certain amount of success people think you have this wild glamourous life."
Hanging out for Keanu usually means cruising around the Los Angeles shoreline in his 1974 vintage 850 Norton Commando. In spite of the hype, he says he likes Hollywood, too.
"I dig it here man. There's no motorbike helmet law and I've got some really good friends. There's also a lot of films being made. There are more acting opportunities here than anywhere else in the world."
Despite his appearance in Paula Abdul's Rush Rush video, there will be no more video clip experiences for Keanu. "I'll stick to acting in movies - I guess I'm better suited to that game." The most important thing in his life at the moment is turning 27.
"It's been a radical experience, man. I was going along in my early 20s, doing fine, then suddenly I pass 26 and I start thinking - hey I'm going to die someday. I start looking at my mother differently. I start thinking, who am I? Why am I here? It has been weird. It was like I woke up one morning with a different mind. Know what I mean?" He sighs heavily. "I wish I still had the other one, man."