Keanu Reeves: Canadian cool
by Craig MacInnis
Keanu Reeves tucks a thumb behind a braided leather suspender and hoists his right foot to reveal a thick hiking boot - worn sockless, natch.
For Reeves, these are the vestments of a Toronto upbringing, stylistic remnants from an era that pre-dated the "grunge look" by a good 10 years.
Even here, on the Riviera, he exudes Canadiana in all its languid, lank-haired splendor, although it's a look most observers would rush to describe as Californian, or at the very least, "West Coast".
"Uniquely Toronto fashion," Reeves insists in his cool, beatific manner, flashing a smile etched with the faintest hint of mischief.
"Boots, lumberjackets, T-shirts, jeans. I was living the grunge thing 15 years ago."
At 28, and with a string of credits in major commercial movies, from period pieces like Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula and the Cannes-entered Much Ado About Nothing to up-to-the-minute entertainments that include roles in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho and the forthcoming Even Cowgirls Get The Blues to his valley-boy schtick in the Bill & Ted movies, Reeves is indeed a long way from Leah Posluns Theatre and guest shots on CBC's old sitcom, Hangin' In.
For the sake of a hometown interrogator, he permits himself a brief bout of nostalgia.
"What was the name of that store, South Pacific? Army surplus, '50s clothing. Yeah, South Pacific. We went there a lot."
"I grew up in the Annex, went to Jesse Ketchum, delivered The Star."
He adds with a grin: "Delivered the Globe & Mail and delivered the Sun, too."
Leaving Toronto at age 20 to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles, Reeves first came to prominence for his role in Tim Hunter's angst-drenched essay on Gen-X mores, River's Edge.
In short order, that was followed by appearances in Permanent Record, The Prince Of Pennsylvania and, most notably, as the naive Danceny in Stephen Frears's Dangerous Liaisons opposite Glenn Close and John Malkovich.
Few actors his age have worked with such an impressive array of directors, from Frears, Coppola and Van Sant to Lawrence Kasdan (I Love You To Death), Ron Howard (Parenthood) and, of all people, Bernardo Bertolucci.
The Bertolucci film is called Little Buddha and was recently shot on location in Nepal.
"Amazing," says Reeves, who tends to speak in blissful sentence fragments, especially when he's savoring a special memory or idea.
He is vague on the story behind the film, but obviously appreciated the experience of acting in it.
"I travelled to Katmandu, was introduced to Buddhism, hanging out with lamas, and then of course to work with Mr. Bertolucci and (cinematographer Vittorio) Storrara.
"Sometimes it would be very pragmatic: 'Come in here, go shoot there.' But then also he'd speak about things, to try to get that transcendent look that (the film) has."
Kenneth Branagh, the director of the picture that has brought him here (Much Ado About Nothing is considered a medium longshot for the Palme d'Or, which will be announced tonight) is another of Reeves's favorite filmmakers.
"He's a remarkable man to mount productions like that, especially in London. To have your own (theatre) company and to have done the work that he's done in such a short time and in a place with such a history. He's a very energetic man."
It isn't lost on Reeves that some of his more recent roles, including his turn as the dastardly Don John in Much Ado, are at least in part about box-office strategy.
As the theory goes, with Reeves's name on the marquee, younger moviegoers might be teased into seeing pictures they would otherwise forego.
Any way you look at it, though, the effect of making a film like Much Ado, which also stars Branagh, Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington, is good for Reeves.
"To be travelling to that place (Tuscany, where the film was shot on location last summer) and to be playing that part with the people that I was with, I was just very fortunate, lucky and glad to be there."
He's not sure what's next, although he says he's thinking of maybe doing an "action picture or another drama."
"Drama," he repeats mysteriously. "It's such a naive word."
As a Canadian kind of guy, Reeves allows that he spends some of his time worrying about the unfortunate state of his current home base, L.A.
"Los Angeles is in transition, right? So much of the economical woes are hitting California.
"I guess I just deal with my own behavior, my own life and friends there. I'm not involved, really, with any local community services, (but) I've donated money to some causes, which is the easiest thing to do.
"When you drive from the beach all the way in to, say, downtown L.A., you're passing through 15 neighborhoods.
"It's like passing through all of America - it's a melting pot.
"It's a violent place and not only with guns. The cacophony of advertisements.
"There seems to be no real respect from the government for the people who are living there."
Not suprisingly, all of this sad talk about L.A. eventually turns the conversation back to Toronto, the city of Reeves's youth.
"Most of my friends have gone on from Toronto, so when I go back it's always a sort of melancholic walk through old haunts," he says.
"When I first left town, the first five years or so, I would come back a lot and see people. But eventually you realize everyone's life changes, not just your own."