Keanu Reeves in My Own Private Idaho
Director Gus van Sant had originally planned to cast unknown actors in the lead roles of his movie, My Own Private Idaho.
But given the sudden and unexpected success of his previous film Drugstore Cowboy, Van Sant decided to go after his dream cast.
His idea of a "dream cast" was Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, but he was convinced their agents would turn the roles down without consulting their charges.
The two actors, who'd worked together previously in the film I Love You To Death, committed to My Own Private Idaho and in doing so, took an the most controversial roles of their young careers.
River Phoenix stars as Mike Waters, a troubled street hustler searching for his lost mother, while Keanu Reeves is Scott Favor, whose street life is an act of rebellion against his father, the mayor of Portland, Oregon.
The two friends travel from Portland to Seattle to Idaho and Italy and find their lives enriched by a colourful collection of companions, customers and lost relatives.
"My character is based an Prince Hal from Henry IV," says Reeves.
"Scotty comes from a wealthy background that he's trying to deny. He's been on the streets for three years."
Reeves is the son of an English mother and a Chinese-Hawaiian father, both free spirited globe-trotters.
Their only son was born during a brief stop in Beirut. ("I could have joined the Lebanese Army when I was 21" he muses).
After that, the family moved to Australia, where his first sister was born, and then to New York. Keanu was raised mostly in suburban Toronto, where his second sister was born.
"I asked my mum whether I could be an actor when I was 16," he says. "She told me to 'do what you have to do'."
He kicked off his career that year with a few television commercials and at 20, moved to Los Angeles, where the work was.
His film career started with a small role in Youngblood and after another small part in River's Edge, he landed a co-starring role in Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Next came Permanent Record, Prince Of Pennsylvania, Dangerous Liaisons and Parenthood, followed by the critical success, I Love You To Death.
Reeves was a screenwriter in Aunt Julia And The Scriptwriter and an FBI agent opposite Patrick Swayze in Point Break, before My Own Private Idaho came along.
Reeves has made it his business to only and always pick vehicles that make statements,
"I always want to work with passionate people," he says. "I want to work with scripts that have something to say.
"I don't want to get too far away from the street. I don't want to be stuck in some 'Hollywood' kind of product machine, where they have some intellectual sense of what sells."
It was a gut instinct that made him accept the role in My Own Private Idaho, despite being advised against it.
"It was one of those roles that people in Hollywood always warn you about," he shrugs. "Playing gay roles, they say, can harm your career".
*My Own Private Idaho is a February release from Fox Video.