Speed of fright
Keanu steals action crown from big Arnie
by Garth Pearce
MOVE over Arnie Schwarzenegger. The guy seen here clinging desperately to the roof of a bus is the cinema's latest and greatest action hero - and he does it for real.
Better known for his romantic roles, Keanu Reeves decided to take his life in his hands for new film Speed.
In one scene, the 29-year-old star of My Own Private Idaho does a breathtaking leap on to a runaway bus.
In another, he slides under the bus on a makeshift trolley.
"There were no safety wires," says director Jan De Bont, 50.
"One slip and it would all have been over, not just for Keanu but for all of us as far as the film and our careers were concerned.
"The highly-trained stuntmen we had standing by couldn't believe he wanted to do these things, but Keanu insisted.
"I've seen the same people in action movies for so long now - Arnie, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes or Mel Gibson.
"I wanted a younger hero. Keanu is a great-looking guy, very sexy and romantic. But I never expected him to be so brave and determined."
In the film, released in Britain on September 30, Reeves plays Los Angeles cop Jack Traven, who finds himself up against a master blackmailer and explosives expert (Dennis Hopper).
Hopper's character plants a bomb on a city bus that is set to explode if the vehicle's speed drops under 50 mph.
That's when Keanu springs into action - and claims his action crown.
The star was hesitant at first. De Bont says: "I started him off on a little stunt and he was very nervous.
"By the end of the first week, the thing was giving him such a rush of excitement that he was fighting with me to allow him to do more and more."
Co-star Sandra Bullock worked opposite Sylvester Stallone in the stunt-packed thriller Demolition Man.
She says: "Sly has gone on record as saying that he wants to slow down on his action films because he's getting older. It seems to me that Keanu is the ideal man to take over."
Speed, a box office smash in the US, proves that that De Bont knows how to get the best from his actors. They had to feign horror as the bus veered out of control. The director says: "I told them what they were going to see - but not when or where trucks and cars were going to hit them.
"Believe me, the terror you are seeing is for real."
Reeves, however, stayed as cool as a cucumber. "I put my trust in the stunt co-ordinator - and prayed."