"I MISS RIVER PHOENIX A LOT"
(Translated from French)
by Noemia Young
Just like his Hawaiian name which means "cool breeze over the mountains", Keanu Reeves is a lot different from the very cool and very grunge image he portrays on the screen. With his hair still very short due to the requirements of the "Speed" shoot, Keanu, who is wearing black with a white shirt no tie, looks more like a poet than an action movie hero.
One of the reasons why actors are paid so well is that they can look a lot different than what they appear in real life. With his razor-sharp hair cut and thin frame, Reeves doesn't appear to be the newest action movie hero at all. His film career so far, in earlier films such as "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" and its sequel, "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey" as well as "River's Edge" and "My Own Private Idaho", do not necessarily prelude this major change. In fact, nor does his participation in Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing", directed by Kenneth Branagh, or his project of playing "Hamlet" on stage in Winnipeg. Regardless, he plays very honestly and believably his role of action hero in "Speed". Perhaps it is easier to associate him to the character of Prince Siddharta in "Little Buddha", the Bertolucci film. It is a role that seems closer to his natural detachment and sensitivity.
As funny as it may sound, what first attracted Keanu to this movie is its title. After reading the script, he said he was attracted to the various situations in the story. "They were fantastic. A little like daily life but more intense." After meeting the actors who would work with him, Dennis Hopper and Sandra Bullock, Reeves said: "It sounded a lot of fun and seemed a good deal." He then started laughing and added: "No... What I really meant was that I hadn't worked in over 8 months. So I was happy..."
THE SHIEST OF HEROS
However, Keanu doesn't wish to make a career out of this kind of role. "I have no intention of becoming an action hero or of repeating this experience." He told me during our meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "I love to work and working on this film has been wonderful. But I can't predict what will happen in the future." That is true. However, it doesn't prevent the producers of "Speed" of talking about a sequel. What better compliment for an actor.
Jan de Bont who is making his debut as a film director and who previously worked as Director of Photography on "Die Hard", "Basic Instinct" and "Lethal Weapon 3" said: "I was convinced Keanu could play the role once I saw him play the surfing federal agent in "Point Break" with Patrick Swayze. "What is an asset when he plays the role of a hero is that he brings to it his vulnerability. And so, he doesn't appear too menacing to men and women find him very attractive."
Upon getting the role, Keanu wanted to work his body in order to attain a certain muscular definition. He did vigorous weight training during two months but without the aim of becoming an Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I wanted to strengthen my arms and my torso," he said. When someone asked him if that helped him gain self confidence, he humourously replied: "Well, the guy who threw sand in my face is no longer with us." But, right after uttering these words, he quickly added: "No, not at all."
Keanu lived in Toronto with his mother and step-father, Paul Aaron. He learned the basics from watching him work on stage with Claudette Colbert in a play whose name he couldn't remember during this interview. At 17, after frequent school changes, he finally dropped out and started working at various jobs. He worked at a skating rink and an italian pasta store while playing on stage in community theatre. Two years later, he moved to the United States where he still lives. The turning point in his career was working with Lindsay Wagner in a made-for-TV movie called "River's Edge". Then, he followed this with work in "Parenthood", "I Love You To Death" and Francis Ford Coppola's "Dracula".
EXTREME SPORTS FANATIC
Even if Keanu Reeves does become an action hero, it is quite possible that he won't be in the genre of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone or Jean-Claude Van Damme. He would most probably be the shiest among this kind of hero. He is not into extreme sports either. "If I like extreme sports, I am not aware of it, he replied laughing. "I haven't jumped from a plane or sailed across the Atlantic on my own but I try. Therefore, I would answer, no, I'm not."
Nevertheless, riding two of his motorcycles sounds to me to be quite dangerous but Reeves, 30, says: "No, not at all. I love motorcycles. That's how I get around." It's while he works as an actor that Keanu finds this feeling of risk of danger. "Sometimes, in certain scenes, you get the feeling that's a life-or-death situation and everything is a game; at these times I do my best to survive. It's like one of the scenes in "Speed" which Keanu wanted to do himself. It's a scene where his character Jack Traven, an L.A. police officer with iron will, jumps from a Jaguar into a running bus. The director felt that it was too risky for Keanu to attempt this stunt and didn't want to even hear of it. Reeves secretly prepared for the stunt and, when it was time, he made the jump which nearly caused de Bont to have a cardiac arrest.
THE DEATH OF HIS FRIEND RIVER
Reeves doesn't consider the films that are made today to reflect the truth of his generation. "The lives of people I know are much more interesting than what we see on the screen." Which brings us to a very delicate subject for Keanu Reeves: the tragic death of his friend River Phoenix, the young actor who lost his life due to a drug overdose in October of 1993. They had become close friends following their work in two films "My Own Private Idaho" and "I Love You To Death". River's passing, during the "Speed" shoot, gave Keanu a shock and a major scare.
They say that he takes his work very seriously and that he is distant. As for her, Sandra Bullock, who co-stars with him in "Speed", finds in him hardship: "I think that he has gone through a lot even though he doesn't let on about it. I think he hides a great pain."
Pain and suffering are always present in his eyes. It is hard for Keanu to speak of River. His throat constricts when he attempts: "What could I say? I miss him a lot." says Reeves after a long pause while looking at the floor. Perhaps he is thinking of his own past drug experiences which could have cost him his life...
"The dangers of drugs are relative and the importance of a spiritual life is very great. The world is tough, you know. I have had the opportunity to travel and meet extraordinary people. I try to keep this within me," he says in a Shakesperian voice.
Keanu Reeves lives alone and no one seems to know if he's in a relationship. He lives in a Hollywood hotel where John Belushi, another Canadian, found a tragic end. Reeves also has an appartment in New York and likes to play hockey. As for work, he has just finished "Johnny Mnemonic" a sci-fi film with Dolph Lundgren and Ice-T. In July, he will start work on a remake of an Italian film "A Walk in the Clouds", a romantic comedy about an American soldier coming home from WWII.
At the mention of a sequel to "Speed", Keanu, with a huge smile, looked over at Sandra Bullock and said: "We'll have to make love, right?" She started laughing and added: "I have the perfect title. Instead of 'Speed', 'Breed'! From the bus to the bed."
And it is while laughing that the charming Keanu Reeves completed the interview.