Keanu Reeves is the star of this month's huge film release, Little Buddha.
L&K takes the first of eight steps to enlightenment on the fellow.
by Jeremy Mark
Keanu Reeves is a pretty cool geezer. He's laid back, cruises around Los Angeles on one of his motorbikes (a 1972 Norton Combat and a 1974 Commando) and sings and plays guitar with his band, Dog Star. He's also one of the world's most wanted actors. In the past two years he's made no less than four major motion pictures and is currently at work on another. He's starred alongside such huge names as Patrick Swayze, Winona Ryder, River Phoenix and Oscar winner Emma Thompson. And he's played all sorts of characters, from an airhead student (Bill And Ted) to an evil lord (Much Ado About Nothing) and a surfing cop (Point Break).
He's now the star of Little Buddha, a film he made with arty director Bernardo Bertolucci in Nepal last year. He plays Prince Siddhartha - the young Buddha - in a series of flashbacks in the movie. But although he plays a prince, Keanu had a far from princely time making Little Buddha. You see, while filming he was struck down by a not-very-nice bout of food poisoning. Apparently he began to feel a bit under the weather after eating a meal in a monastery during rehearsals in Khatmandu. "It was a very picturesque and peaceful place. Little did I think I was going to be poisoned there!" he says. "I felt so ill I couldn't do anything!"
Once fully recovered, Keanu discovered something else which he couldn't quite 'do'. Playing part of the Buddha required him to master the lotus position (a sort of crossed-leggy position where you put your heels on your thighs) and he couldn't get the hang of it at all!
"I was very embarrassed about that! I worked very hard at it but I just couldn't get it. When Mr. Bertolucci realised, he said disbelievingly, 'You can't do lotus? He was aghast. And I was like 'Oh my God!' He sat on the ground and just went into it immediately!"
Did you ever manage to get the hang of it? "Once, yeah, but only for about 20 seconds when we weren't even filming" I found it so difficult that they ended up covering my legs for a lot of the movie so that you couldn't see how I was really sitting!"
Despite knowing very little about the Buddha and Buddhism before making the film, Keanu was very keen to learn.
"What the director told me about Prince Siddhartha and above all the way he spoke to me about it all, moved me greatly," he recalls. "I made it my duty to read as much as I could about the life and thoughts of the Buddha. Before shooting my scenes I spent some time in Bhutan working with the technical advisor, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, to immerse myself in Buddhist teaching and practices. This training period involved meditation, yoga and reading. The whole process has made me far more sensitive."
Keanu sensitive? Well, that would seem a far cry from a kind of chap he was as a youngster.
Keanu (pronounced 'Kee-ah-noo') Reeves was born on September 2, 1964 in Beirut to a British mother and a Chinese-Hawaiian father. The family went to live in Australia, then New York before finally settling in Toronto where Mrs. Reeves used to run up costumes for country singer Dolly Parton. By the time he was 15, Keanu had become a bit of a troublemaker and find himself kicked out of Toronto High School For The Performing Arts.
"Apparently I was a little too rambunctious and shot my mouth off once too often!"
He then started taking night classes in acting, which led him being cast for a Coke commercial and landing a role in a short-lived TV series called Hanging In. This was swiftly followed by the hit movie Youngblood and a flood of other film work. This meant a move to Los Angeles where he became part of the second generation Hollywood brat pack alongside Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Winona Ryder and his very close friend, the late River Phoenix.
Now he's got his bikes, his band (who've played 16 gigs so far to mixed reviews, although Keanu says they've gone down really excellently - but he would!) and a reputation for being Tinseltown's coolest dude (which he rather enjoys.) He's not dating anyone at the moment, although he was linked with film director Francis Ford Coppola's actress daughter Sofia and says he enjoys a good flirt. What with all that and the truckloads of top films tucked into his scuffed biker boots. Keanu really does have it all. And as for his ambitions, well...
"I don't want to cover ground I've already covered," he smiles. "I don't want to play Ted from Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure again, it might be interesting when I'm 40! I don't want to repeat myself because I'm still learning from the characters I'm playing. So far, I've just been very, very lucky."