Keanu Reeves: A Most Bogus Sex Symbol
(Previously published on July 27 in a shorter version under the title 'Keanu Reeves, Actor Dude')
Life for this hot young actor is just one excellent adventure after another!
by Cindy Pearlman
There are things you do not know about Keanu Reeves. Like that his name means "cool breeze over the mountains." Or that he lives under the Hollywood sign. Or that he was MVP on his high school hockey team. Or that when he's bored, he jumps on his motorcycle and sings this song: "I'm young. I'm rich. I want to be a gangster. I'm tough."
Hollywood. What a ride. If Reeves is afraid of heights -- especially his own -- he better buckle his seat belt. At an amusement park called Actorland, Keanu Reeves is a popular attraction. This fall he co-stars opposite Anthony Hopkins and Winona Ryder in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. He can't say much about the role, except this: "It's a brooding, erotic thriller." Both traits are new for Reeves, who has made a name for himself playing fluffy and stupid Ted in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey. "Some actors play Shakespeare. When I die they'll say, 'He played Ted,'" he jokes. Of course, he also played Todd, the stoogelike, scruffy and -- yes -- stupid boyfriend in Parenthood.
And there're other moments in Keanu Reeves's Excellent Adventure. Last summer, he played rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah, who goes undercover as a surfer dude to check into a bunch of bank robberies masterminded by Patrick Swayze in Point Break. Then Reeves got back to the streets to walk around as Scott Favor, a male prostitute who is also the mayor's son in My Own Private Idaho.
Add to this Reeves' induction into US magazine's 10 Sexiest Bachelors, where he was described as "26, but looks 17. He has that look of jailbait and that's damn sexy." Sipping a diet cola in the hotel room where he has to waste a day hawking projects, he looks scruffy. Damn unbathed. Jailbait? Maybe for riding his '74 Norton Commando black-and-red motorcycle too fast. He looks like one of those smart-mouthed high school kids with a one-way ticket to shop class.
His mop of brown hair falls in his face. Once you get past about two months' worth of uneven facial stubble and the four shirts Reeves has worn on this 78-degree day -- an undershirt, two flannel shirts, one sweat jacket and a leather jacket -- you find a shy guy.
He finds talking about the work an easy pill to swallow. Example: Bill and Ted II, which was mildly successful. "But it was a much more ambitious film than the first one. We got killed, man. We faced evil robot Bill and evil robot Ted, who came to take our place on earth. Then we faced the Grim Reaper, went to heaven, went to hell," he says. "And in the middle of all this is that genuine friendship and honesty between two guys.
"It was a beautiful thing," he sums up.
Ted is a perfect role for Reeves. There's air guitar, which he mentions, "is nothing you can fake; it comes from the soul." Reeves stops to think about it for a minute. "I also feel proud that we have reinvented the English language with 'princess babes,' 'heinous' and 'excellent' which I think we say about 84 times in the film, a world record." Did Reeves create any of the words? "I was using 'melvined' in my real life."
Which means? "Tricked, duped," he explains. "And then there is 'most bogus' which is self-explanatory."
Few things about Reeves are most bogus. He is just being Keanu, which is strange, but true. "I'm weird," he freely admits. He could blame his childhood for his uniqueness. The 26-year-old was born to an English mother and a Hawaiian/Chinese father in Beirut "while my parents were cavorting. That was one of their stops. I was only there for six months before we moved to Australia, where my sister was born. Then we headed for New York City. I was there until I was fifteen, and we moved to Toronto, Canada." (This is an error in the article: they moved to Canada when Keanu was 6 or 7, according to most other articles. -Roxy)
Why did his parents move so much? "I guess they were bohemians. My father's stepfather was very wealthy, and there was lots of money to live on, thank you. You got money, you can move around."
At age 16, Reeves told his mother, a clothing designer separated from his father, that he wanted to be an actor or nothing. Period. "Actually, I asked, but if my mother had said no, I think I would have become an actor anyway. But she said, 'Do it."'
So he did. He dropped out of high school and moved to Los Angeles at age 17. (Another error. He moved to LA at approximately 20 or 21. -Roxy) He was immediately kicked out of an acting school "for talking too much." (Actually, he was kicked out towards the end of the year, and he was still in Toronto. -Roxy) The whole story? "I was in a performing arts school. It started out with 26 students and ended up with 13. It was a fun year, but I got kicked out and I failed. I was rude and stuff. I did talk too much."
Still, his first paycheck was courtesy of a Coca-Cola commercial, and most of his early work had to do with playing scruffy, misunderstood teens. He made his breakout role in River's Edge, a movie about a group of teens who discover the dead body of their friend and are not especially fazed. "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."
For Reeves; it has been all about a slew of movies -- Permanent Record, The Prince of Pennsylvania, Parenthood, I Love You To Death, Dangerous Liaisons. The only problem with his star status? "I just hate seeing pictures of myself where I have this look in my eye where it's like, 'Ooh, I'm so sensitive and deep.' I hate that puppy dog look. Man, no! I'd rather be cross-eyed and making some stupid face rather than that somber, actor look.
"I don't think I'm the most handsome guy in the world, but I know I'm not quite a dog," he adds, lest he protest too much.
Is he cool? Reeves nearly chokes. He brings up his cameo in the number one Paula Abdul hit video "Rush, Rush," where he plays a James Dean character in a remake of Rebel Without A Cause. "I met Paula at a charity event," he says. "She dug my stuff. You know, making the video was interesting, 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 playing James Dean," he frets. "I'm not cool enough."
Some beg to differ. "He is one of the coolest people I know," says Alex Winter, who is the other half of Bill and Ted. "Just look at Keanu." His mother even remembers sitting in the audience of a high school play and hearing girls yell out one word when Keanu stepped on stage. "Hunk!" the girls cheered. Consider the entire package. The mop of hair. The motorcycle. "Motorcycles are one of my big passions," he admits. And consider his clothes, which are coolly understated.
What works for Reeves, works for few. He tells this story. Reeves was on the way to a big audition for Dangerous Liaisons, the pristine drama with Glenn Close and John Malkovich. The tryout was in New York City. "I decided to ride my motorcycle. It was a hot day and I started to sweat. Then I looked down and noticed my pants had holes in them. And my shirt didn't quite match.
"I was trying to look kind of together, and I didn't have it happening." So he locked up the bike and jumped on the subway. He was late to his audition. "Then I got there and everyone -- director Stephen Frears and writer Christopher Hampton -- was British! They say in a heavy English accent, 'Hello, Keanu.' They're neatly dressed. I read for them and Mr. Frears says, 'Can you be a little less ... American?' I was dying." Late, holes in his pants, bad accent. But he got the role.
One thing: Reeves is definitely not one of those drippy Hollywood actors who look like they stepped out of GQ. Never mind that he lives in a house smack under the big Hollywood sign. "Sometimes I sit there and say, 'Burn, Hollywood, burn.' I mean, everyone has this idea of what Hollywood is, right? Hollywood. I live under the sign, so I have a relationship with this town. Mostly I think, 'Who put the HO in Leywood?' But sometimes I'm weird like that."
Weird is interesting. Ask him about a mess of topics.
Being a sex symbol? "Embarrassing," he says.
Women? "A lot of girls are totally into this star stuff. They think it's mystical or something. The most mystical thing I used to have was a deodorant crystal. It was a crystal you wet and rub under your arm. Then you're smell-free! That was, and is, the most mystical thing about me."
Except for his love life. While other young Turks are linked with Winona, Brooke, Carrie or The Model of The Month, Reeves remains a lone rider. He has admitted to "dating an actress," but in another breath has alluded that she is someone not well-known. His social life is pretty much under wraps. Ask him about it, and he clams up immediately. Leaf through the tabloids and try to find a picture of him, and it's impossible.
So back to the topics he'll talk about. Breakfast cereal? "There's Bill and Ted cereal, which is cool," he says. "I never thought I'd have a cereal, you know. It's made by Purina, which has some weird ironies in it. But it's a good chew."
And what about the Bill and Ted dolls? "They suck," he succinctly says. "They bug me. You know, if they were cool dolls, I wouldn't care. I won't dog them too heavy. Maybe some kids will dig them. You can move the legs, and the dolls do play air guitar."
Reeves wants to be more than a walking, talking doll. He takes the work seriously. For My Own Private Idaho, where he played a male prostitute, he did lots of research. "I hung out in the streets to meet real male prostitutes. I met this guy Scott, this wealthy kid who's on the streets. I met him a few times in front of this nightclub. He's just standing there, a cigarette hanging from his lips. He doesn't want to be saved, specially by some actor dude."
He is equally passionate about Point Break, the surfer/cop film. "I played this young FBI guy (Utah), who is driven. He must succeed," says Reeves, who has a line on ambition. "He was brought up to play football. He succeeded. And now he has a highly motivated, competitive spirit. An FBI friend asks him, 'You want to be the big hero, right?' Utah says, 'Definitely.'"
Does Reeves want to be the big cheese? He hems and haws. "This career caught me off guard," he admits. "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."
He wants a lot. He wants to get all the parts he wants. "Oh, man! When some other actor gets the role I want, I curse under my breath. I congratulate him: 'You got it, man!' It's in good humor and love, but to me, it's also, 'Fuck!' I want it so bad; but you can't be mad. I guess I'm basically your cliched 'insecure actor."'
He just wants to act. He wants to ride his motorcycle. "When I'm alone, that's what I do. Or I sit at home, reading a script, playing some music and having a glass of wine." He is teaching himself guitar. On his bike, he is a happy man. "I zoom around, singing this song I heard somewhere, I don't know where. I sing, 'I'm young, I'm rich, I want to be a gangster."'
He stares at the Ferris wheel outside his hotel window. Like Keanu Reeves, it's twirling so fast, you can't see the faces inside. Everything is just a blur. "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."