Smash Hits (UK), February 17 - March 2, 1993
Don't you dare tell Keanu Reeves what he can and cannot do.
"Vampires, submission, rape, domination, bestiality, guilt, Biblical overtones, Satan, God, Christian motifs, the dead, the undead, blood, murder, revenge, opera, classicism and oral sex." This is Keanu Reeves enthusing about the qualities of his latest film, Bram Stoker's Dracula. When it comes to film roles and life in general this man doesn't like to play it safe, and why should he? Being dangerous is what keeps him so famous.
"I don't like people to tell me what to do. It infuriates me. When I don't feet free I react in a really strong way."
It's that sort of talk that has earned Keanu Reeves the reputation of being a Hollywood wild boy. He didn't wait until he was famous to start throwing wobblers, though. He's always been a trouble-maker. At school he was more than most teachers could handle. He was thrown out of three schools in a row. "I was hopeless at high school," he says. I failed everything but Latin and got kicked out." As a last desperate attempt, it was decided that he should attend Toronto's Theatre Arts School. He fancied acting and his mum was hoping to give him something to take his mind off raising hell for a while. It didn't work. Within weeks he was booted out once more for being rude and talking too much.
At 18 things got more serious. He started to experiment with drugs though he's quick to assure us that this is in the past now. The only thing he's addicted to these days is motorcycles. Not that he's ashamed of his drug-taking days. "Hallucinating is one of the most amazing things I've ever done." These days he contents himself with tearing around LA on his motorcycle, refusing to comply with California Helmet laws which he sniffs at as "petty government crap". Look closely and you'll see the scars on his stomach from various motorcycle accidents over the past few years. "I'm an awful rider, I've had a couple of falls," he drawls. "I once got broadsided by a car and ended up going from the middle of the intersection, doing a somersault and landing on the sidewalk on my back. These two kids ran up to me and one of them yelled, 'Wow, man, you flew!'" It's a wonder he hasn't copped his lot by now. But Keanu, it would appear, has an angel watching over him.
Once, after a crazy driving bout in the California desert, his car broke down in the middle of nowhere. He thought he was a goner for sure - no food or drink and no means of communication for miles... until... along came rock star Tom Petty, who rescued him on the promise that Keanu would be in one of his videos! He's always been hard though. At school they called him the Wall because of his amazing performance on the hockey field. So impressive was he that he was voted Most Valuable Player.
Keanu (Hawaiian name meaning "cool breeze from the mountains") was born September 2, 1964, in Beirut to an American mother and a half Chinese, half Hawaiian father. The family moved to New York, then Toronto and finally Keanu packed his bags in search of fame and landed in Hollywood. Now, with hit movie after hit movie under his belt, he lives dramatically and fittingly under the famous "Hollywood" sign in the Hollywood Hills. Despite the glamorous location of his living accommodation, Keanu refuses to play the Tinsel Town game. In the past he has admitted not changing his underwear very frequently and he's often been photographed at swish Hollywood film parties in the same tired old jeans and ripped T-shirts. He just doesn't care.
The weirdest thing is - he really does talk like Bill and Ted. One minute he'll be saying "cool!" and calling you "dude", the next he'll look pensive and be talking about acting as a serious art and how he'd like to get into more "Shakespeare and stuff". He is a constant contradiction. He says he's trying to clean up his act. He now admits to having a girlfriend - though he won't say any more - whereas only months ago he swore that although he got lots of offers from girls, he'd much rather spend time with his bike.
The other unusual thing about Keanu is that he isn't built like an actor. Most actors are smaller than they appear on screen - Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, River Phoenix - but Keanu is a strapping 6ft 1. He's constantly moving - twitching and shuffling and fidgeting. And he's not comfortable being interviewed. He frowns and gazes out of the window. "I'm not very good at talking about myself, man. I don't like it when I'm asked personal questions and shit, who cares?"
So who is the real Keanu? Is he the sensitive actor who likes reading, girls and Shakespeare? Or is he the lout who drives through the desert without a crash helmet and takes drugs? Even Keanu can't answer that one. "I don't really know what my raw essence is," he drawls, "I guess one thing I'm not really good with is authority. When people in school kept telling 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." And he does wish people would stop thinking he's Ted.
"People try to get me to act like Ted and I say no. Then their faces fall and I feel so bummed." Two years ago, on his 26th birthday, Keanu experienced a bit of a life-changing revelation. He explains. "I was going along great being 25 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 weird. It was a radical experience. I was like I woke up one morning with a different mindset. I wish I still had the old one, man."
When asked why he went into acting Keanu doesn't really want to discuss the issue. He will concede that it was all to do with coming from a broken home and having an unhappy childhood but he stops there. It's either too painful or too personal for him to talk about. His philosophy, however, is not unlike Bill and Ted's. "I think Bill and Ted appeal on a lot of different levels, at least to me. The child in me can dig watching them, but I also find a lot of the stuff they do very clever and I dig the 'be excellent to each other' idea, you know. That's beautiful," he sighs.
He also thinks it's rather beautiful that he gets to play in so many different films and plays. He loves doing his Shakespeare and is dead excited about his future project with English director Kenneth Branagh on Much Ado About Nothing - it's something that many of his Hollywood contemporaries never get the chance to do and that will always appeal to Keanu's sense of being different. Perhaps it's because of this that movie producers just can't seem to pigeonhole him. He may be muscular but he's no Schwarzenegger. He may be sensitive but he's no River Phoenix. He may be a heart-throb but he's no Johnny Depp. He may be weird but he's no Gary Oldman. Keanu knows it. "I got to work on three really different films last year. My Own Private Idaho was pretty low budget, then I did Bill And Ted which was just this crazy comedy, then Point Break which was a great action movie.
"I like the balance between Point Break and Bill And Ted," he says. "I enjoyed the respectability of appearing in a mature role opposite Patrick Swayze and Gary Busey (Keanu played an FBI crusader) and I like the reckless adventure of Bill And Ted."
Keanu's film roles pretty much reflect what he's like as a person. It makes you wonder whether the man shaped the films or the films shaped the man.
"I don't really think about that," he confesses. "I guess it's true that writers and producers create characters with people specifically in mind. But I've never known them to do that with me. I'm not unique. I know loads of guys who talk like myself."
Aren't you relieved that you got the part in Dracula and have finally been given the chance to not have to play a version of Ted? "Yeah, thanks Francis (Coppola), you gave me some of the best times of my life, and hopefully, I played Harker well."
If you ignore the bad reviews and caustic comments about his plummy English accent, Keanu is actually quite believable in Dracula. His character Harker not only gets to kiss Winona Ryder but also gets seduced in a very raunchy, four in a bed scene. So, what did Keanu think about his character? "Harker is the first yuppie, in a way he is the perfect Victorian gentleman." And, while we're on the subject of vampires, Keanu has been a major fan since childhood. "In school, I really dug the silent film Nosferatu, with Dracula's long fingers and the shadows and all that interplay. And in Vampire's Kiss, Nicolas Cage was rocking, shocking, brilliant. Radical."
For the guy who left school at 16 with not an idea in his head and too much mental noise he's done pretty well. No wonder he has the reputation of being "the most electric kid in Hollywood". Keanu loves that. He knows that psychiatrists would call his behaviour "hyper" and he knows that he's burning a lot of candles at all ends by working on so many movies back to back. But he's on a roll right now and doesn't care.
"I'm young and kinda healthy so why not?" he smirks, reasonably enough. "I'm not hanging around for anything else. I love performing and I love appearing on the big screen so if I can fit four movies into a year then why not? I won't be doing that forever. I have my sights set on other things. I'd like to do lots more theatre and I'd like to write a book or something. I've got lots of ideas in my head."
One of his not so good ideas is playing bass in his rock'n'roll band, Dogstar. He himself admits, "We're terrible. We've played about ten times now and though we're getting better, we play better in a garage. But I say, better to regret something that you have done than regret something you haven't done."
Keanu's just finished filming Little Buddha in Nepal and is presently in America co-starring in Only Cowgirls Get The Blues with Uma Thurman. What with Dracula and Much Ado About Nothing, it seems he can't put a foot wrong. But what about after you've got all that over and done with? What happens after you've proved all you have to prove? What happens, when you get tired? What happens when you get old?
"You know what's a nice thought? Retirement. That's what we've got to look forward to. A hundred movies in the can and time to relax on a warm beach. Isn't that a totally awesome idea?"
But who will Keanu be relaxing with? Applicants please apply in writing to P.0 Box...