Let's Do Lunch
Keanu Reeves doesn't eat much, but that's because (oh dear!) he's got a roaring hangover. Maybe our London correspondent Tim Fennell will just have to eat it all himself...
Keanu Reeves has a problem. He's holed up in an expensive suite in the Gray D'Albion Hotel in the south of France. He has surrounded himself with the sort of watertight personal security which means that getting a message through to his room involves a complicated series of coded responses. It is a routine which goes something like this: French hotel receptionist: "Ow can I 'elp you?"
Smash Hits reporter (who the receptionist doesn't know from Adam): "I'd like to speak to Keanu Reeves please."
Receptionist: "Certainly, sir, I'll just put you through."
Keanu's problem is he doesn't realise quite how big a star he is.
His arrival at Nice airport two days previously proved it. Keanu landed completely alone, with not a bodyguard in sight, and found himself having to contend with his own suitcases and a posse of autograph hunters. This laid-back vibe may be something to do with a four-month rest after doing three films without a break. First there was Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare, but a bit of a chuckle nonetheless), then Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (with River Phoenix's sister Rain) and finally Little Buddha (epic film in which Keanu gets to wear a curly wig and sit cross-legged a lot).
It still makes a pleasant change for a famous film star to behave like a real human being. All morning there's been a group of young French fans hanging around the hotel entrance and so Keanu sneaks surreptitiously out the back way of his hotel to a quiet side street and the restaurant where our interview is to take place.
He sits at the table looking his usual rumpled self. When he smiles it isn't a practised Hollywood tooth display, it's a modest grin. His hair is the standard Keanu curtain, flopping drape-like over his unshaven face. This, coupled with his looloping walk and his vaguely hippyish West Coast vocabulary, gives him a dude-like, light-in-his-loafers air. Yet there is a deeper, thoughtful Keanu who gets into things of a worldy nature. He's been reading a book called A Brief History Of Time all about how the universe got started, by Professor Stephen Hawking (i.e. a very well-known boffin type who is smarter than most of the world put together!).
"That Professor Hawking man, is one heavy dude," remarks Keanu, who was, by his own admission, competely crap at school - "I even flunked gym." He's a lot wiser these days. "Did you know," he says, "that we only use about one-tenth of our brain?"
But he does have peculiar fashion sense. Probably even Professor Hawking would be scratching his head to work out what goes on in Keanu's wardrobe. He's wearing the same clothes he had on at a party last night. He may even have slept in them judging by the creases: collarless linen shirt, shapeless sack-like trousers, whose overly generous - positively gaping - waistline is supported by a pair of plaited leather braces and a rather loud pair of black and cream shoes. But then clothes, like personal safety - he remains an avid motorcycle freak despite having once ridden into a mountain - have never been of great concern to Keanu.
Nor, for the moment it seems, is food. The waitress plonks down a plate with a couple of prawns, a small leaf of lettuce and a smidgen of sauce so minuscule you'd have trouble drowning an ant in it. Keanu all but ignores this starter (it's so small there's a faint possibility he hasn't actually noticed it). If truth be told he looks a bit tired. He's been out round town having a bit of a hooley and was up late last night with a couple of friends.
"We raided the hotel mini-bar and well, I'm feeling a bit fragile. I've been working solidly for a year," he explains. "So I thought I'd take some time-off. Enjoy myself."
His films have taken him all over the place. Even Cowgirls Get The Blues was filmed in Oregon, only about 400 miles north of LA, where he lives. But before that he did Much Ado which was shot in Italy. Keanu found himself shacked up with Robert Sean Leonard in a crumbling old cottage on a hillside surrounded by grapevines. Originally he wanted the nice guy's part in the film - the one who gets off with the best looking girl - but that role had already gone to Robert Sean. Instead Keanu got to play the complete bastard who never smiles, wears a beard and goes round lying a lot about other people. In the end, he admits, he enjoyed being a bastard. He also enjoyed Italy.
"It was beautiful," he declares, toying with his main course - two microscopic bits of meat and some pea-sized potatoes - and turning down wine in favour of some fizzy water. "I got a chance to meet up with my sister in Florence and I had friends come out to visit me."
Next stop was up the Himalayas in Tibet - somewhere between India and China (i.e. further than Italy) - for a film called Little Buddha, in which Keanu plays the lead role. He got to work with elephants, cows and some other actors, including Chris Isaak, and spent most of this time done up in a blue toga.
Fortunately he didn't get the sort of hassle he's had from the fans in France, mainly because people in Tibet had never heard of Keanu Reeves.
The scenery was even more spectacular than Italy, what with the Himalayas being the highest mountains in the world and all that - and Keanu says he wished that he'd had his motorbike with him when he was over there. "All those mountain roads just waiting to be ridden down. Man, I could have had a blast!"
Instead, he spent a lot of his time running to the toilet with a runny bottom. "I guess it was something I ate. It happens to everyone who goes over there," he smiles, still not having touched much of his food. Makes you wonder if he's still suffering from a dicky turn.
"Nah, I guess I'm not that hungry," he insists, before gingerly making his way out of the restaurant and disappearing into the sunshine of the French Riviera - without a bodyguard, but with a monster of a hangover to keep him company.