Keanu Reeves on getting wasted for Little Buddha and bathing in vintage Bordeaux
by Amy Raphael
What sort of experience did you have making Little Buddha?
That's a nice little question. That's like a 'What did you do on your summer holiday?' question. I'm teasing. First of all I got to meet the most incredible person in Bernardo Bertolucci. I'd always admired his films: He told me the story of Little Buddha and he was glowing; it was like he was pickled in spiritual blood. He was so enthusiastic about the story and said he wanted to make children come and see it. I was taken with him.
I was involved with the picture for about 85 days - it was a great gift to my life. Simple meditation was an eye-opener; I'd thought life was about waking up, living, loving, eating and sleeping, but there are whole universes I don't know about. And I got to travel - to Nepal and other incredible places.
How much research did you do for the part?
As soon as I got the part I read Buddhist books. No fiction. No music. No TV - only occasionally when I had to flop; then I'd watch CNN and MTV. I did some yoga as well.
Why did you fast for the part and was it hard?
No time was set aside for me to get skinny - to make the switch from princely life to skinny life - but I wanted to try. I got down to just a handful of rice, and I was juicing vegetables and sucking on an orange each day. I was like: 'gotta get skinnier!' I almost got skeletal - three days more and I'd have been scary skinny.
What did you miss most?
Red wine. My fantasy was to come home and go into my backyard with a bottle of vintage Bordeaux, open it up, pour it all over my body, roll around, laugh. But it didn't happen.
You realise you're inviting a whole new set of fantasies?
Yeah [laughs it off].
What were your thoughts on religion before Little Buddha?
I didn't have any cultivated thoughts about religion before the film. When I was 11, I had an interest in it - I went to a Bible class where you could play street hockey as well. But it didn't really inspire me.
And since the film?
I think there's something in the body and mind which seeks religion. There are three things in life: religion or spirituality, politics, and finding a mate. They're all inherent in our nature. There's this thing in Buddhism called taking refuge, but I never took it. And I never had teaching, only what I read. So I don't know if I'll take it up or not. It's wonderful, though - there's all this compassion and wisdom, both amazing things. I trust it more than anything else.
What are your next projects?
I've just finished filming Speed with Sandra Bullock, directed by Jan de Bont and set in LA. I play a police officer chasing Dennis Hopper. I'm just about to start filming Johnny Mnemonic, a sci-fi movie directed by Robert Longo. It's a reinvention of a William Gibson short story. Robert Longo is an artist; he's never directed a studio picture before. Dennis Hopper calls him 'one of the 10 most important contemporary US artists'.
What would your ideal role be?
There's no name to it. Not Hamlet. It would depend on the elements going into the role - who was involved in it, the story - and if these were alive and interesting.
And your most challenging role to date?
My failure in Dracula. Totally. Completely. The accent wasn't that bad, though.
Do you regret your involvement?
Not at all. I got to hang out. It was a great opportunity. Amazing people.
Did My Own Private Idaho and Much Ado About Nothing give you an interest in Shakespeare?
I've been interested in him since I was about 16 and doing Romeo And Juliet in my English classes. I love him. Where did he come from? I got completely engrossed in acting Shakespeare - in the eloquence, in the low and high humour, in the agonies and the ecstasies. King Lear is my favourite.
Did you enjoy the 'hidden' Shakespeare in Idaho?
The Shakespeare in Idaho was intriguing - I enjoyed it very much. But my favourite scene was cut. I had this soliloquy which explained my character, his lifestyle, and his denouncements of Falstaff. It was fun to do, but they cut me out.
How is your band, Dog Star, getting on?
We toured San Francisco a few months ago. We tried to play and hated what we did. We're gonna try again. Hopefully we'll make it to London this summer.
Are you happy with people loving your looks and does it affect your professional and private life?
It hasn't in the least affected the acting aspect. And let's say in the past few years it hasn't touched me [guffaws].
Are you happy with the semi-nude Greg Gorman photos published by Sky Magazine?
They were great fun - a performance piece. Greg Gorman had the shoot set up in a warehouse and I had to be in certain positions because of the light, etc. I found myself being very self-conscious, so we went to a spot in Mulholland and reduced the number of assistants from eight to one. Luckily there was this mist passing over the road. A friend said the session was like an old Playgirl spread. I said, 'You're right. It's cheesy!' I'm leaving, good night.
Little Buddha opens on April 29.