Classic Keanu - And His Excellent Italian Adventure
He may be famous for his Bill & Ted films, but Keanu Reeves has opted for another period piece with his latest film Much Ado About Nothing. Eric Allen hunted him down in LA.
Wearing army boots and a check shirt, Keanu Reeves is playing bass guitar with his grungy five-piece group, Dogstar, at the famous Roxy Club on LA's Sunset Boulevard. They're just one of the many bands who'll perform tonight, but the crowd has come to see Keanu. As he strums his guitar, Keanu's bandmates sing and do the things that qualify them as the stars, yet all eyes are on you-knew-who!
After the show, several girls jump past the security guards to ask Keanu for his autograph, but he's nowhere to be found. I find him, eventually, hiding behind the amplifier, hoping no-one will notice. If this doesn't sound much like a movie star, It's because Keanu is a private person who's not interested in doing interviews or even going to his own film premieres. (in 1991, when Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and Point Break premiered within three days of each other, he showed up at both events wearing the same ripped loans and worn-out suede jacket!) Tonight, however, he comes out of hiding long enough to chat about his new film Much Ado About Nothing, in which he plays the villainous Don John. Adapted from Shakespeare's romantic comedy, it also stars Robert Sean Leonard and Oscar-winner Emma Thompson, and was filmed on location in Italy.
You've had a wide variety of roles in your career - was that deliberate?
I want to fall into all categories - and no categories! It makes it the most fun.
Why do Shakespeare?
I've been acting in Shakespeare for about eight years and I love it, love it, love it, love it!
But many people find it hard to read that Old English stuff.
I relate to his words. He can sing the praises of the sky and the heavens and of hell, of our loves, our treacheries. I recalled when I studied my first Shakespearean play, Romeo And Juliet, in grade ten. I didn't know what I was reading, but I started to pay attention. The teacher had us read it aloud and enact the scenes. Shakespeare is meant to be spoken. I've heard that he introduced 1,800 words into modern lexicon and expressions. Many words that people think we made up for the Bill & Ted movies are actually Shakespeare's - like "right on", "burned out", even "excellent".
What was it like filming in Italy during the heat of summer? I loved all that heat. Being together in that land with the heat certainly inspired us as actors to convey that subtle air. It's in our skin and eyes, it's behind us. It's the air we're breathing. We filmed on a high peak in Tuscany. The chateau is supposedly where the Mona Lisa was painted. It's one of those things like, "Elvis was here".
Did you stay in character even when you weren't filming?
I was so seduced with the place and the people that I didn't want to. I have done that, where you take it home with you, but this I didn't. Once I had the rhythm of the performance, I just seeked solitude, not behaviour exchange. Everyone was open and trying to have a good time and exchange stories. I enjoyed everyone's company. I lived with three others in a three-storey villa. We did communal living. I saw the sun come up with (co-stars) Kate Beckinsale and Robert Sean Leonard a couple of times, talking about our lives, looking for shooting stars, speaking of the people we were with, doing each other's lines, There's nothing like being around people you enjoy.
I hear you had to learn how to ride a horse for the part.
I ride a little bit. We would ride every morning before other rehearsals and then we filmed (the horse scenes) for three days. It's so physical and something happens when you get harmony of sound and music with the animals and the place.
Did you surf before you filmed Point Break?
No, I didn't at all. The ocean is strong and can miraculously take care of you and, sometimes, it'll smack you in the head. The first time I got in the water, in Hawaii, I totally didn't know what I was doing and the current was strong, because it's an island. I got in the water and the board went whack on my head. So began my journey. You ride, you fall, you practise popping up on the board.
You said many Bill & Ted words date back to Shakespeare. but isn't that just the way American kids talk?
"Heinous" huh? It's kind of suburban dialogue. The specific vernacular. It's original. The word "bogus" has been used throughout America. It's my favourite word. Actually, it's a really old word.
Will we see another Bill & Ted film?
A few more Bill & Teds? Oh my god! Let's see, I'm 34 and I'm playing Ted. "On The Road To Middle Age", I'd call it.
Much Ado is another period piece, do you enjoy doing them?
These have taken place over a couple years. I'm enthusiastic about acting in something that takes place in my time.
Is it fun being a teen idol?
Wow, I haven't been swamped. It's just in the past couple of years that there's been anything, you know? It's cool, but sometimes it's a little aggravating if you've got your own agenda, you have to stop and pay respect to these people, or you dog them. I don't want to be super-famous, man. That would be awful.
You like talking about your characters, but you don't like to talk about yourself much. Why?
That's because there's an expectation. There's no real respect in the listening. That's frustrating. I don't like to talk to strangers about myself in an open forum -about personal things. I'm very happy to speak about what I did and felt and saw in my work. Outside that parameter, I'm not very public. I'm also a fairly awkward speaker, you know?
What's the stupidest question you've been asked?
Things like, "So, what kind of girls do you like? What's your dream date?" In the early days, I got questions like that. Hello? Is anybody out there?!