'SPEED' THRILLS, REEVES DISCOVERS AS HE BRANCHES OUT
by Betsy Pickle, Knoxville News-Sentinel
Keanu Reeves isn't the first name that comes to mind when you're casting the lead in an action film.
Face it, audiences tend to remember Reeves best as the airhead air-guitarist of "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure." And those who admired his more adventurous work in "My Own Private Idaho" and "Much Ado About Nothing" usually aren't the same people interested in a thriller like "Speed."
None of that discouraged Jan De Bont. The veteran cinematographer, who makes his directing debut with "Speed," thought Reeves would be perfect for the role of the hero, who must try to defuse a bomb on a runaway bus.
"I really wanted to get a new star," said De Bont, a native of the Netherlands who served as director of photography on such films as "Die Hard," "Lethal Weapon 3," "Black Rain," "The Hunt for Red October" and "Basic Instinct."
"I worked with a lot of those big action stars, and I felt it was time for a new one, for young heroes. He's been around, but he's never played a role like that. He's barely 30, and all the other action heroes like Mel [Gibson] and Bruce [Willis] and [Sylvester] Stallone, they're getting up there. And I think audiences deserve some new faces."
For his part, Reeves doesn't really see Jack Traven as an action hero. "I think of it more of as an action-drama piece," Reeves said of the movie. "I tried to give him a sort of everyman quality." Reeves speaks as though English were a second language to him.
There's a foreign air to his words that comes partly from his theatrical training, partly from his refusal to make any statement he hasn't thought through and partly from his global upbringing - he was born in Lebanon and grew up in Australia, New York and Toronto.
In "Speed," Reeves plays a man of few words but many actions. He took on the physical nature of the role with little hesitation, De Bont said.
"He doesn't like action movies too much, and I knew I had to get him on my side; otherwise we wouldn't get a good movie," De Bont said. "So I let him do, like, small stunts in the beginning. And that got him really intrigued. . . . That got his adrenaline going."
Reeves didn't want to be in a movie that stressed action at the expense of the characters, but De Bont put his mind at rest. "In meeting him, it was cool that what he was concerned about was the script, was the emotions and the characters in the film," Reeves said. "So when I heard that and when that was the first thing it was like, I can trust him."
Reeves said he agreed to make the movie for the experience it offered, not as a way to broaden his image.
"It's not about my image," he said. "I don't come from the image point of view. That is something after the fact. . . . I work from an interest in my own desire for my life and my art, which is working in different genres of films and different characters. I'm not interested in repeating a certain personality or character."
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service