Keanu Reeves has looked like a hippie nearly all his life, but he seems to be getting more and more like one every day since playing the spiritual master, Prince Siddhartha, in Little Buddha.
For Keanu Reeves, Little Buddha was more than just a movie about spirituality. It was very much a spiritual journey for him, too. And who could blame him. Sitting naked in the deep Nepalese woods to get into character must surely do something to a guy! But the biggest lesson Keanu learnt, was never to doubt himself. "I had lots of people saying 'you can't play this part'," says Keanu. "People on the street said, 'what's your next project?' Little Buddha. 'Oh yeah, what do you play?' Prince Siddhartha. 'Siddhartha?' Yeah. Buddha. That's hard to say to someone who goes, 'You can't play Buddha. You can't play Siddhartha.'"
Not only did Keanu play Buddha, he came out of the other side of. this picture something of a changed man. No mistake, he's still the same ambling breezy boy he's known and loved for, but now he seems to speak in great masses of spiritual sentences. Something happened while making Little Buddha, didn't it, Keanu? "I'll tell you what I learned, yeah," he says radiating like a sun beam. "It was such a joy, man, some of the best days of my life in acting and in film. It was just so full, and working on something like that is beyond entertainment."
Keanu also became more wrapped in the Buddhist faith than he ever imagined he would. "In the beginning, I didn't know anything about Buddhism," he says. "I didn't know the story of Siddhartha or anything else for that matter. It was all such a crash course for me. Literally 90 days of total immersion. I had no teacher, really. I was embracing everything so much. It was very intense, but I was looking for it, and I found it. And I was glad."
Perhaps it was just a case of perfect timing for Keanu. After all, the role of Prince Siddhartha came along at a time when he's questioning more than ever, the direction of his life. "I'm of that age, 29," he says, "so I'm historically, traditionally in the 'spiritual quest' part of my life. The beginnings of the quest of spirituality! For the common man." Erm... right. In English, please Keanu? "I feel like I'm beginning. I really do," he continues (in the same flouncyspeak mode). "Because I've had some successes and non-successes, with performances. I got killed in Dracula. I got slaughtered. I didn't think the accent was that bad, but supposedly it was! Because of that, because I stunk in some films, I wasn't making strong acting choices. I tried, but those kinds of failures put me in a precarious position. I really do have some improving to do. It depends on how familiar you are with the films that I did, but I haven't been in any really major studio successes." Even if critics absolutely cane the film or its star, Keanu isn't doubting himself - over this one. He likes the film, and he's thrilled with it. "You know what I liked about the film?" he asks with a smile. "I thought it was very subtle. It was putting things across in a very natural way." As for his favourite part in the film, Keanu is adamant. "My favourite scene to do was as the Sadu, the long-haired Prince Siddhartha," says Keanu. "Then yoga, going into the river, talking to the Moose. And my favourite scene to do was, I guess, at the bowl, squatting by the side of the water with knowing what I knew. Knowing that and having a wooden bowl in my hand and then the woman there watching me. It was just fun, 'cause that was the last scene I filmed."
So will Keanu ever return from this almost out of body experience of playing Prince Siddhartha? Well, for a start, he's got a totally conventional action movie - coming out. "Speed," he says, "is silly, it's ridiculous, it might be fun! It was good fun. I mean, it's very heavy. It's an action picture: The scenario is there is a bomb on a public bus and once the bus goes above 55mph it activates the bomb, if it falls below the bomb explodes. I'm a cop in the movie trying to save the day, Dennis Hopper is the mad bomber." For other humbling experiences there's Keanu's band. The mention of Dogstar makes him double up with laughter. "Dogstar!" he shrieks. "Wooooooo... well one thing I can say is that we're not a pretentious band. That could be a knock against us 'cause I think that in the music business you need to be a little pretentious to succeed. So we actually fail on that side. We played in the garage the other day. It was a bitchin' jam, but unfortunately I've moved out of my house so we have nowhere to play. Dogstar is, erm, in between music halls (laughs)."
So is Keanu planning to be a 'god' on the guitar? "I would like to make some good music," says Keanu going all serious again. "But I certainly have no ambitions to do this all the time. I mean I'm not a musician in that sense. But I'll play in a bar, that's for sure, cool!" And there it is - the old Bill And Ted-style grin is still there under that messy mop, no matter how serious making Little Buddha might have been. I point this out to Keanu, and while he looks back and laughs at the Bill And Ted days, he is keen to move on! "I thought it was great clown work!" says Keanu. "I'm very lucky to have had the opportunity to work in different genres. I mean the only consistency I can see upon reflection is the innocence," he ponders. "There's always innocence in my characterisaiton and in my life. So that's got to change." We'll look forward to the next stage Keanu.
Little Buddha - Big Stress
The Little Buddha crew picked one of the most impossible places to shoot their movie - ever. For authenticity and to capture the "spirit of Buddhism" they travelled to Bhutan. It's an extremely difficult place to get into, as the government only issues 2000 tourist visas a year. It took months of planning and delicate diplomacy for the crew to be allowed to use the ancient monasteries, where they wanted to film. Little Buddha is the first film ever to be filmed in the country of Bhutan.
Even catering became a nightmare in the tiny country. Caterers had to provide tons of food each day for sometimes over a thousand people, and had to make sure that the food fit in with everyone's religious beliefs and cultural differences when they were serving people from Italy, England, France, India, Nepal and Bhutan!
There is only one plane that makes the journey in and out of Bhutan, and it's only two flights a week from Kathmandu. The one small jet had to be stripped of all its seating, to be able to fly in all the filming equipment.
The men in Prince Siddhartha's court are made up of over 200 men - all generously supplied by the Nepali Army and Cavalry.
A total of 500 hair pieces, all made from real hair, were flown from London to Nepal, for the crowd scenes.
Keanu was set to have a body double for his revealing scenes in the film, but then he decided to fast and look "wasted away" enough to do the scenes himself.
Jewellers scoured the earth to get the valuable materials needed to make 150 anklets and toe-rings. Gold plated nutmegs, ginger roots, seed pods and shells were just some of the things brought in from Mexico, East Europe and India!