Cruisin' with Keanu
Keanu Reeves is fiddling with the long sleeves of his black Polo shirt. He yanks them over his hands, he wraps his arms around his chest, he shuts his eyes. Is he bored? No, it's typical behaviour or this notoriously press-shy star. Most actors like to talk about themselves. Keanu doesn't. But he's been making movies long enough now to know that it's all part of the game. At the age of 28, he's already starred in more than a dozen movies. From the laid-back Matt in River's Edge through to the painfully naive Danceny in Dangerous Liaisons and back to brain dead in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Keanu has given life to some incredibly inarticulate but likeable goof balls. Next up is a much rumoured, much speculated-over movie, a $50 million Francis Ford Coppola costume epic, Bram Stoker's Dracula. It's the only movie Keanu has filmed this year, but it looks like it's going to be his biggest one yet.
Last year Keanu released three movies back-to-back, and he admits it was tough. First there was Point Break, the cop surf thriller. Then he joined River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho, a strange road trip about two gay hustlers. Finally, Keanu reprised his role as the bonehead Ted for Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. "It's been hysterical," Keanu says as he shifts around in his seat. "The most jarring for my psyche was going straight from Point Break to Private Idaho. I finished Point Break in Hawaii at six in the morning when the sun came up. Then I got on a plane, arriving in LA at four in the afternoon. I flew to Portland at seven the next morning and bam, started filming."
Point Break turned out to be the most physically challenging movie of Keanu's career. He and co-star Patrick Swayze did a lot of their own stunts, a fact which added to the wear and tear of a 77 day shoot. "It was reaaaaallly hard," Keanu drawls, bobbing his head up and down. A non-surfer, Keanu found himself on a board for the first time in Kauai's massive waves. "I got to do just about all my own stunts. I did just about all the surfing stuff - especially the falls. I got real good at the falls."
While Point Break showcased Keanu as a sexy surfing cop, My Own Private Idaho immersed the actor in entirely different waters. The plot revolved around two male prostitutes: Scottie (Keanu), a wealthy young man whose street prowlings are an alternative to a pampered lifestyle, and Mike (River Phoenix), a narcoleptic hustler who falls asleep at the oddest moments. It was an unusual plot but one that appealed to Keanu instantly. "I thought it was an amazing script," he says. "Just in terms of narrative, man. There's cows, bang, bang, bang, porno shops, salmon swimming, oral sex, money exchanging hands, and then I bust out in Idaho... smash! And then there's the Shakespeare."
That's right, in the middle of Private Idaho, the plot suddenly shifts to a modern-day version of Henry V. And then there were the gay hustling scenes between Keanu and River. Did Keanu ever feel uncomfortable with the complexity of his character?
"Why, because of the homosexual aspect of it?" he wonders. "See, that's not really it, man. Street kids are a weird world, man. The street is gnarly, it's hard. But also I met people who like it... who love it!"
After the concentration required in sliding through the separate worlds of Point Break and Private Idaho, Keanu took a bit of a mental break with Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. "I love playing Ted," Keanu says with a grin. "He's a total clown and a really good guy."
Which brings us right up to Bram Stoker's Dracula. Under the guidance of Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola, Keanu is playing a foppish Victorian gentleman named Harker. The director, Keanu says, told him to think of Harker as 'the first yuppie'. As for the rest of the movie, Keanu happily sums up all the elements: "Vampires, submission, domination, rape, bestiality, guilt, biblical overtones, Satan, God, Christian motifs, the dead, undead, blood, murder, revenge opera classicism and oral sex. Does that answer all your Dracula questions?"
Well, maybe one more question. Why make another mega-budget Dracula movie, after so many other big, expensive ones - not to mention so many little, cheap ones?
"Well, this is another day, another story and you've got Coppola's passion, and when you have that, you have something that is going to be... extraordinary," Keanu reasons. "You know, sometimes the rest of us couldn't keep up, but, with those other actors - I mean, Richard Grant, Cary Elwes, Tom Waits, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, Gary Oldman, Sadie Frost - Coppola made me feel I could fly. Francis brings joy to his work. I take that back; he brings joy, period." Keanu pause a moment, leans over and whispers into the tape recorder: "Thank you, Francis, you gave me some of the best times of my life and hopefully, I played Harker well."
So does Keanu have any favourite vampire films? "In school, I really dug the silent film Nosferatu, with Dracula's long fingers and the shadows and all that interplay. And, of course, in Vampire's Kiss, Nicolas Cage was rocking, shocking, brilliant. Radical!"
Radical, too, says Keanu, was filming one particular scene in his new movie. "There's one scene in the movie where I'm pinned down by these vampire brides. A lot of people would say to me, 'Hey dude, you're lucky'. But these women are carnivores. When Harker enters the room he sort of goes under a trance. When Dracula comes in, the spell is broken and the horror and insanity and the gruesome evil dawn on him. He's revolted and goes into extreme shock. I mean he goes mad. He's seen the devil. And these witches are from the pit of hell. We took a lot of days to shoot that scene. By the end it was great because we just got more blood and we did crazy things. Francis was twisting the camera and we were biting and twisting and screaming and pulling and biting! That was a lot of fun! I'd put that right up there with working with River in My Own Private Idaho - he's beautiful, inventive, funny and creative, too."
With his many film roles, you might think Keanu has his pick of exciting movie projects. "No waaay," he insists. "It's only very recently that I've been approached with, 'Would you like to do this'? Mostly, I'm still auditioning, which there's something to be said for. Up to now, my only choices have been: 'Hmmm, an audition, go or not go? Go'!" He admits he was considered for the lead role in Oliver Stone's film, The Doors. "I auditioned a few times," he says, "but I don't think I was ever seriously in the running. I was terrified. I just read some of Jim Morrison's poetry and listened to some of his music and did what I could." And although he loved his two Bill & Ted movies, Keanu doesn't see himself playing Ted again now that he's almost 30.
It's no surprise that Keanu already has his next two projects lined up. He's travelling to Italy to film Much Ado About Nothing for English director Kenneth Branagh, and then he returns to work with his Private Idaho director, Gus Van Sant an the movie version of Even Cowgirls Get The Blues.
Not being able to resist a personal question, I ask if Keanu is seeing anyone. "Yes," he says tersely. He's been seeing a girl "for a year or so". And what does she do? "She doesn't do anything," he says with a scowl. "She's got a lot of passions, but she won't do a stupid job just for money."
That subject is obviously 100 per cent closed. I risk one more personal question, though. What is Keanu's idea of a good time when he's not reading scripts or acting? He says, "Lying in bed with my lover, riding my bike, sports, happy times with my friends, conversation, learning, the earth, dirt, family with wine and glorious food and happy tidings and energy and zest and lust for life. I like being in the desert, in nature, being in extraordinary spaces in nature, high in a tree or in the dirt, hanging out with my family, my sisters. I'm just in the bell curve of humanity, cruising along where I should be." Right on, Keanu!