The totally delicious Keanu
by Jeff Hayward
Orgies, forbidden love and blood-curdling passion are the name of the new game as Keanu Reeves turns his back on teen movies and gets seriously sexy in the latest film version of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
He once publicly expressed an interest in having sex with Meryl Streep - "Even if I wasn't good, she could fake it the best" - and said he was concerned that at a crucial point on a big date it might be revealed that his underwear was not the cleanest. But Keanu Reeves, recently voted by Cleo readers as the second sexiest man alive, is now keen to improve his image. The 28-year-old actor isn't saying he has changed that much, he's just a bit more cautious about what he says now. "Oh, that was Keanu in fine form," he jokes about his Streep fantasy. Keanu (pronounced kee-ah-noo) has never been a publicist's dream, and even though he has toned down his act, he still won't suffer fools gladly. The more boring the question, the more bizarre his answers are likely to be. It's an independent streak which makes him something of an oddball in a business where image counts for so much.
For a start, clothes don't figure largely on the Reeves list of priorities. He's been photographed in the same ripped T-shirt and jeans at several glitzy Hollywood premieres, can't seem to do a thing with his hair, and turned up for this interview in dirty jeans, a weathered suede jacket, track-suit top and a paisley shirt that had seen better days. He looked like he'd slept out overnight in the desert. None of which seems to put off the hordes of Keanu-crazy "babes" who'd watch paint dry if they thought Keanu had a hand in slapping it on in the first place. Keanu, said one interviewer, "is a gorgeous shambles", and women long to push that hair out of his eyes and solve his ironing problem by getting that rumpled shirt right off him.
Although there haven't been any fist fights with photographers, high-profile girlfriends paraded around Hollywood social spots, or the usual displays of star petulance, he has been a victim of the Hollywood fast lane. Several months ago he booked himself into a rehabilitation centre for drug addiction, saying, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. "
Yet he has still managed to keep his film career on track. He's survived the teen dream graveyard by elevating his role as Ted in Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, and the follow-up, Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey, to cult status. And he's gone on to win critical acclaim for his portrayal of a restless adolescent in River's Edge; the good-hearted young lover Danceny in Dangerous Liaisons; a young father in Parenthood; a young lover in Aunt Julia And The Scriptwriter and a male prostitute in My Own Private Idaho. While minus that shirt as a surfing FBI agent in Point Break, he made the Hollywood heartthrob stakes. He was helped along by the fact that his co-star in the film, Lori Petty, described him as, "a very good kisser".
Now Keanu Reeves has come of age with a starring role in the darkly erotic Francis Ford Coppola film Bram Stoker's Dracula. He plays the hero, Harker, who tries to rescue Winona Ryder's heroine, Mina, from the clutches of the vampire (Gary Oldman). Along the way he gets to take part in the most sensual scene in the movie as Harker is seduced by a bevy of Dracula's brides in The Bat's bed chamber. It was, Reeves has said, both sexual and scary.
However, if his career is becoming increasingly high profile these days, his personal life isn't. Plainly, Reeves just feels it's not important. 'I'm not very good at talking about myself, man, and who really cares?" When a lot of people care, he responds, "Hey, I don't like it when I'm asked personal questions. And shit, who cares?"
For the record, he was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1964 of an Hawaiian-Chinese father and an English mother. The family moved to New York when he was "six or seven" then to Toronto where, at 15, he was accepted at the local Theatre Arts high school. At 16, he was thrown out for a lack of concentration. But he gained a love of acting and puts his motivation down to "coming from a broken home and all that stuff'. Apart from acting, he also loves motorbikes, beat writers like Jack Kerouac, kids, desert flowers and "people with passion". And apart from personal questions, he hates kiss-kiss-darling-how-are-you parties, anything he sees as artificial, and people who make him into a hero.
Because, as far as Reeves is concerned, being an actor does not make him a role model for anyone. "I'm only an actor, man. It's politicians and sportsmen who get that thrust upon them." His personality depends on the day, he says with a shrug. "I don't relly know what my raw essence is. I guess one thing is, I'm not really good with authority. When people in school kept trying to tell me where I could go and what I could do, it infuriated me. I know that when I don't feel free and can't go where I want, I react. I just go against it."
He refused to acknowledge any link between the frequency of his roles as disturbed, unconventional adolescents and his own life, explaining they were just the parts he was offered at the time. When a part called for a moody, oddball character, Reeves would be pencilled in along with all the other usual suspects.
Although of his relationship with his father (his parents separated when he was a teenager), he once said, "The story with me and my dad's pretty heavy. Full of pain and woe and loss and all that shit." The role, he says, which left the biggest impression on him was playing Matt in River's Edge. Matt is a teenage gang member who can't live with the knowledge of a senseless murder. "Roles like that make you really think about things even though it's also your job. When you play something as strong as that, it changes your life in a way."
Less heavy-going roles have also left their mark on Reeves. "Playing Ted was really about friendship surviving through anything and that's good," he says. What's bad is that he can't shake off the role. "People try to get me to act like Ted and I say 'no'. Then their faces fall and I feel so bummed. Oh well, party on, be cool."
The problem for Reeves is he still looks like a disturbed teenager, even though he's well into his 20s. Waving his arms and slapping his forehead for emphasis, he explains, "When I turned 26, it was a radical experience. I was going along great being 25 but that's a kind of landmark and then suddenly I passed it and started thinking, 'Hey I'm gonna die one day'. I started looking at my mother in a different way. What's important? Who am I? Why am I here? It was so weird, it was like I woke up one morning with a different mind set." He sighs heavily and continues slowly, I wish I still had the other one, man."
Of course, along with all this angst have come six-figure fees and a growing status as a recognised big name. Keanu now divides his time between a flat in New York and working off and on in Hollywood, and he owns an 850cc Norton Commando bike. He won't talk about the girls in his life and kind of shuffles about when the question arises. "Babes man, yeah well. I'm kind of a homebody really. I don't get invited to much on the Hollywood scene. In the past year I've been doing films, I haven't had much of a private life." Although there was one girl who "dreamt of dolphins" and made him feel "broody". "I'd like to have more time to myself but I'm afraid that if I do, a lot of projects will pass me by. I now have more responsibility to my career so I'll stay home and read scripts."
What a lot of people don't appreciate, he says, is that making films requires a tremendous amount of energy. "It's 15 hours a day for three months. It doesn't leave a lot for other things in your life."
But if he did have free time, what would he look for in a woman? Keanu's twitching increases noticeably. He leans forward in his chair, leans back, jiggles his leg, sweeps his hand through his hair, looks away and finally mutters, I don't know man, next question." It's not that he's annoyed at the prying, just impatient, and the sight is so exhausting, so discomforting, that you give up trying to get a straight answer out of him. And when you do stop, Keanu looks relieved, then sly, then happy. You get the feeling that dodging tricky questions from interviewers is something of a game for him.
As far as living in Hollywood goes, he says he likes it. "I dig it, and there's no motorbike helmet law. I believe in helmets, I just think you should have a choice whether you want to wear one." When Keanu gets on the subject of motorbikes, his hesitation disappears. He sits up straighter and his trademark drawl speeds up several notches. "I'm an awful rider. I've had a couple of bad falls. I once got broadsided by a car and ended up going from the middle of the intersection, did a somersault and landed on the sidewalk on my back. Two kids ran up to me and one of them yelled, 'Wow man, you flew'!"
Try to steer him to speaking about other things in his personal life and it's back to the Keanu Reeves shuffle, a hand-sweep through the hair, fidgeting in his chair and a grin. "My priority is acting. I want to get better at that. I don't know what's going to happen in the rest of my life, man. In the early days I was one of those headstrong guys who would question the directors. I wanted to know why I had to do things. I remember they used to go, 'Grrr, OK'."
After Dracula comes Shakespeare with a role in Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing then a part in the film version of the Tom Robbins novel, Only Cowgirls Sing the Blues. So what does he think about the prospect of becoming a major celebrity? "There was one day last week... I don't know..." He trails off and looks at the floor, only livening up when his publicist says the interview has to end. At those words Keanu is electrified - up and out of his chair.
His leaving is as unconventional as his interview technique - no backward glance, no polite handshake, no standard-issue, "Thanks for the interview". Nope, Keanu's not about to do the expected. Instead, he's off and out there, slouching, rather than marching, to a different drummer. As Keanu might say, weird dude, man.