Keanu, After Buddha
(Translated from French article "L'apres Bouddha, Keanu")
by Bose Hadleigh
Will Keanu Reeves embody the ideal "Fin de Siecle" lover? A meeting of East and West, his Chinese and Hawaiian ancestry permeates his features with an indefinable exoticism... Synthesis of virility and gentleness - FBI agent tracking a gang of daredevil surfers in Point Break or "flick de choc" SWAT cop in Speed, which he just finished filming, he shines in action roles but is unafraid to flirt with ambiguity, playing a whore of fog and vapor in My Own Private Idaho... Blend of adolescent innocence and eroticism - in Tune In Tomorrow, Barbara Hershey is his lover, the redoubtable Glenn Close contends for him "le dispute" with ingenue Uma Thurman in Stephpen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons, the starved vampire brides in Coppola's Dracula throw themselves on his "offert" willing body... Poised between good and evil - "sitot campe" he incarnates the scheming prince in Much Ado About Nothing, for Bertolucci he cast himself in the bronzed skin of the divine Siddartha... In America, god knows why, Keanu Reeves is a teen idol. French women are disturbed by the way he conveys both sensuality and spirituality. So? Archangel of ambiguity or just a California Boy? Keanu "remet les pendules a l'heure" redefines old standards.
In Coppola's Dracula, you have a couple of scenes that are very erotic. Was that difficult?
More like strange. With all these vampires, the brides of Dracula, who were trying to seduce me "en s'agitant dans tous les sens," swimming in yards and yards of fabric... It was more of a pose that anything else.
You were criticized in the film for not having a good British accent.
I was criticized a lot. Just like every time I play in a historical film. What can I tell you? I have an American accent because I'm a North American.
On the other hand you were "plebiscite" lauded for your interpretation of Shakespeare's Romeo (ndlr: opposite actor River Phoenix's Juliette, dead of an overdose last Novembre) in My Own Private Idaho.
I think a lot of the opportunities I've had are due to the success of that film. It was a very good part. Okay, the guy was a hustler, but his character presented a lot of depth and complexity.
"Y compris dans sa sexualite". You took some risks in accepting the role of a bisexual prostitute, while you were an idol for young Americans.
Not really. I didn't have to kiss a guy. But I wanted to shock certain people and to get rid of the young leading man label that I was stuck with. River, he took more risks. He played a gay prostitute, in love with my character, and he had to kiss guys.
Is it different, being directed by an openly gay director like Gus Van Sant?
No, because I knew it, just like the rest of the world. And journalists also knew, even if they chose not to write about it. I think all this fighting about homosexuality only shocks the old. The whole thing has been blown way out of proportion, "comme s'ils avaient besoin qu'on les provoques." As if it were necessary to provoke them.
Did you choose to act in Little Buddha to be taken seriously as an actor?
I think the part chose me. I never chased after Bertolucci, or believed I'd be in one of his films one day. Fate wanted me to be offered this script. It's probably what you'd call destiny. Besides, I prefer, where this particular character is concerned, to just play him and remember him, rather than try to analyze him.
In Hollywood, hadn't you been locked into a stereotype, the masculine equivalent of the beautiful dumb blonde?
You mean a sex-symbol?
An actor more often engaged for his looks than his talent, adored by the young but not necessarily by the critics.
I think that to be noticed or get good press in a magazine, I have to work harder than actors who are fully mature. When you're twenty years old, unless you're a Brando, or a Shakespearean actor, producers, like the critics aren't much interested in you. I think most of them are jealous of your youth and hate you for it.
Let's just say that all the critics aren't right. "Disons que tous les critiques ne vous ressemblent pas."
If you're young and famous, it's for sure the critics will destroy you, unless you're a little genius, part of an ethnic minority or English! The critics love to break their toys. The entertainment press loves to flex their muscles. Look at what happened to John Travolta - he'd never have crossed that great divide if Saturday Night Fever hadn't been such a huge success.
It would be hard to rise as high, or fall as far.
He never made it back to the top. As for me, I alternate between hits and misses. Neither one or the other are attributed to me. But I do what I have to do with passion, while trying to be interesting in all the roles I play. This business requires passion.
You don't have a blasé attitude. So many young stars do.
I think that comes from my childhood. I traveled around the world a lot and my family has already distinguished itself in many fields. (ndlr: born in Beyrut, he grew up in Australia and the USA before his family settled in Canada). Someone who arrives in Hollywood fresh from their home town can get their wings burned "s'y bruler les ailes" cause they expect too much from this scene "ce milieu". For example, that it'll make them happy. Appreciating that life depends on you.
What do you think of the Hollywood jungle, of drugs and such?
Everyone tries it but it's a trap. Something a little more fashionable than alcohol, that kids love because it's illegal. But the fleeting sense of well being it brings isn't worth the effort of trying it "qu'on s'y essaye."
Can you talk about your love life?
(laughs). Hmm, it's delicate. I'm not trying to hide what there is of it. But in Hollywood, people are so hypocritical... Some take advantage of their so called private life to further their careers. It's sordid.
You're thinking of the casting couch?
No, not really, true, we all get propositioned that way. I've had passes made at me too. But you can't respond to it. It leads straight to a dead end. In Hollywood, if you have the reputation of being an easy lay, you'll never be taken seriously. You have to refuse, that's it. No, I was thinking of all the gossip in the tabloids. A lot of it is publicity stunts. An actor can attache himself "se maquer" to an actress just to get himself talked about, to get his picture taken. Not a thing to do with love. And so it goes!
That's what gay actors and actresses do.
Totally. I know lots who play that game. The same if you're straight. Certain B movie actresses would do anything to get attention. If a starlet is seen with me everyone thinks were together, she's in the public eye. My notoriety reflects on her. She uses it as a springboard, finds a husband whose even better known, gets even more publicity and then divorces with a lot of fanfare and the game is played.
Like Zsa Zsa Gabor in her youth?
Tough to go back that far... but it's a little like that. For sure, the only way to put yourself out there is to participate in the whole cocktail party scene. That doesn't interest me. I have too little leisure time to bother with that sort of thing. I spend a lot of time on the set talking with the crew, working, and when I'm done, I don't feel like doing public relations.
No marriage on the horizon, no desire for a family?
Well, I'd rather not talk about that. Those decisions touch on my private life, which I don't want out in the open. Anyway, actors aren't very elligible people; they usually lead an unpredictable life that doesn't correspond with most peoples idea of a good husband and father.
So Hollywood couples are fake then?
A lot of the time. Marriage and children are planned to give a positive image to couples that more often than not have nothing to do with it.
Like Joan Crawford adopting four children?
I'd never do a thing like that. I won't be had by the system. My career is my business, a means of making a living, and a formidable source of energy and creativity, but it's me who's in charge not the other way around. A lot of actors let themselves get trapped by their professional ambitions.
What's you're ideal woman like?
I accept people for what they are. Of course I'm not immune to a persons physical aspect but what would attract me to her the most is her personality. I think that during your life everything evolves, including your personality. But we remain more or less the way we were to start with.
You have a fatalistic view?
No, not really. What I mean is, we need to accept ourselves the way we are and make the most of it. If you're homely, you'll never be handsome no matter what nonsense the press says. You have to be aware of your faults and know how to turn them to your advantage.
Soon you're going to crossover into your thirties, with serenity it looks like?
I'm really happy about it. I await the moment with impatience. Up to now, everything's gone well for me. Aging a little, that's a plus in life. At twenty, you're preparing yourself, you're searching. At forty you start gently sliding down the other side of the slope, at least physically. That I'm a little wary of. But forty's cool.
How do you react when you are treated like a California Boy?
You mean does it affect me? It's true that stereotype has stuck with me. I must be giving that impression because nobody thinks of me as a Canadian. California's just the place where I work and I think that once I get older the connection will no longer be made.
Is it tough for you to do nude scenes?
No, I don't make a big deal out of it. I know some people who do porno movies. They make a lot less of it than the mainstream actors who play scared.
Hollywood likes to think of itself as pure...
Hollywood is a mask behind which hides the biggest hypocrisies. Everything's based on money, art is secondary. All anyone here thinks about is money; some like Bertolucci are real innovators, but he's European.
What's the difference between Europe and the US?
Aside from foreign accents (laughs)? Money and the mind set in Europe. They concern themselves with art on occasion. They're less moralistic. Less hypocritical.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years, personally and professionally?
In good health, happy, full of hope. Capable of making choices. Always busy.
And your personal life?
I don't see myself being alone, or tied down either. I don't know yet. But one thing's for sure, I hope the future still has a few surprises for me.
Who is the real Keanu Reeves?
An actor who wants to do his job as best as he can. And a guy who tries to conduct his private and professional life smoothly and without gossip. Like anybody else. I've undoubtedly got a better chance than others. But I don't take anything for granted. And I'm not jumping for joy.