KEANU REEVES NOW ON ACTION-HERO FAST TRACK
by Paul Willistein
When it came to "Speed," Keanu Reeves didn't waste any time:
"I opened it (the script) and saw the title and that made me laugh ... I thought it was kind of audacious for a film title and almost European, and I liked that."
In the action/thriller, which lives up to advance word as one of this summer's most exciting releases, Reeves plays Jack Traven, a Los Angeles Police Department officer on SWAT detail who must defuse a bomb set to explode on a bus if it falls below 50 mph.
Dennis Hopper plays mad bomber Howard Payne in the 20th Century Fox release which opens today nationwide. Sandra Bullock plays Annie, whose rush-hour ride turns into a commuter nightmare.
Said "Speed" director Jan De Bont, about Keanu, 29, as an action hero: "I thought it was time for new faces. We've seen (Sylvester) Stallone, Mel (Gibson) and Arnold (Schwarzenegger)."
Reeves has starred for some of the most respected directors: Francis Coppola ("Bram Stoker's Dracula"), Kenneth Branagh ("Much Ado About Nothing"), Stephen Frears ("Dangerous Liaisons") Lawrence Kasdan ("I Love You to Death," based on Allentown's Tony Toto and his family), Gus Van Sant (recent release, "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues") and Bernardo Bertolucci ("Little Buddha," which has opened nationally and is set to open soon in the Lehigh Valley).
Reeves, who made his movie debut in "River's Edge" with Bethlehem's Dan Roebuck, is best remembered by moviegoers as one half of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and its sequel.
De Bont was impressed with Reeves' work in "Point Break," in which he played an undercover policeman infiltrating a group of drug-dealing surfers. "To me, he's (Reeves) like Cary Grant in 'North by Northwest.' I really think he could be a modern Cary Grant."
However, there was resistance to casting Reeves as the "Speed" lead. "The studio wanted a big star 'cause they were afraid that Keanu couldn't carry the movie,"said De Bont.
But Mark Gordon, "Speed" producer, noted, "One of the things we wanted to do with this movie was something a little bit different. We wanted to have an actor who wasn't identified with this kind of movie.
"We felt Keanu could do it. And it's the first time he's playing a man. He's mostly played boys or young men," said Gordon.
"The studio went along with the idea to go with a younger star," added De Bont.
"We felt we had a very special idea. We didn't want to spend the money (on a higher-priced actor than Reeves)," Gordon said. "It's not a role for Arnold (Schwarzenegger). And Bruce (Willis) had done a lot of these roles."
"Speed," budgeted at $28 million, cost $33 million, according to De Bont, who said rushing the movie to release added to its cost. Average cost for a major studio release is $30 million, not including promotional costs. Action films by Willis and Schwarzenegger have cost upwards of $60 million.
"From what I can discern I'm not moving around in that realm yet," said Reeves of Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger, who receive about $15 million per film. "I think if your films are successful, it'll bring certain interest from the studios. But the bottom line is your acting. You have to have certain performances in order to get the parts."
Jeff Daniels, Reeves' SWAT team partner in "Speed," said Reeves' performance proved De Bont and Gordon made the right choice: "At the center of it (the movie) is Keanu because he didn't pose. He didn't play 'I'm a macho hero and I'm better than you.' He played the guy."
De Bont is noted for his dazzling visuals. He was cinematographer for "Flatliners," "The Hunt for Red October," "Die Hard," "The Jewel of the Nile" and "Basic Instinct." Friends back in his native Holland advised against directing "Speed."
"Everybody told me I was crazy. 'Why do you chose a movie that is so complicated that you're never going to finish?' But I had experience on action movies and this is the kind of movie that I like where you have to hold onto your chair and shout," said De Bont.
And that's what preview audiences have been doing. "After the terrific response that we got, the studio moved it (the release date) up to June 10," said Gordon. "Speed" was scheduled for August release. De Bont and several editing and sound crews worked night and day, seven days a week, for the past 10 weeks, completing "Speed" only two weeks ago.
Fox already is negotiating for a sequel, Keanu said.
Filming took place September to December in and around Los Angeles. Scenes were filmed on the Santa Monica Freeway; another then unfinished freeway; Hollywood Boulevard; the new Los Angeles Metroliner "Red" line, and at Los Angeles International Airport.
There were 10 buses (representing one bomb-laden bus), the shell of a Boeing 707 airplane and dozens of automobiles demolished during filming. Miniatures and matte paintings were used for some special effects. Other scenes, including an elevator sequence, were filmed on huge sound stages and in warehouses.
Said Reeves: "In this kind of genre, it's very much play time, which is primal. I'm playing cops and robbers. I'm a very physical actor in that I enjoy using my body." said Reeves.
Reeves worked out for "Speed." "I had about eight lessons in gymnastics, 3-1/2 hours each, doing tumbling and rolling and balance work. I was lifting weights for about eight weeks."
Said producer Gordon: "A lot of stuff you see in the movie he (Reeves) did. He jumps from the Jaguar to the bus. There's a little piece where we used a stuntman. He drove the Jaguar."
Reeves maneuvers a British racing green Jaguar XJ-S convertible through morning rush hour. "Fortunately, he's a very good driver," said De Bont. "I didn't tell the studio he was doing that.
"My biggest nightmare was that Keanu did all his own stunts," De Bont said. "I was always worried about Keanu -- like jumping from the Jaguar to the bus -- even dangerous for a stuntman.
For Reeves, who tools around Los Angeles on a vintage 1974 850cc Norton motorcycle, the stunt was a fantasy come true:
"Haven't you ever thought of doing that? I mean, secretly, I'm always on the highway going, 'I wonder if I can jump from my bike to that car? And then can I get back on to my bike?' I've always had that fantasy of jumping from car to car."
"We were very fortunate in that no one was hurt," said Gordon. "I think at one point Dennis (Hopper) jammed his fingers." Reeves said he made it through the filming with no injuries.
For an action film, "Speed" has comparatively few depictions of violence. "They (studio officials) actually wanted to see more," said De Bont. "You don't have to see gore to make a movie like this. Actually, I think people are fed up with violence."
Reeves said he has been stopped a few times for speeding. Did he get off? "I got off on the speed," he joked.
Next month, Reeves begins filming "A Walk in the Clouds," directed by Alfonso Arau ("Like Water for Chocolate"). Reeves recently completed "Johnny Mnemonic'' for artist-turned-director Robert Longo. In January, Reeves plans to do a stage production of "Hamlet" in Winnepeg. His Shakespeare stage work includes "Romeo and Juliet," "The Tempest" and "Much Ado About Nothing."
Several months ago, Reeves took ballroom dancing lessons as a hobby.
"I always wanted to learn how to dance," Reeves said. "I like the tradition of dancing from Fred Astaire. I always, since a kid, found myself jumping around, waiting for buses at bus stops, kind of dancing and twirling. And so that was one element. And I need to find some more grace for my acting, physical grace."
Reeves said he'd like to do a musical, maybe in the next 10 years. "As the world heads toward the apocalypse, I'll be dancing," he said sardonically.
PHOTO by UNKNOWN.
CAPTION: With ‘Speed,' Reeves joins the ranks of Stallone, Gibson and Schwarzenegger.