MUCH ADO ABOUT KEANU(also published on May 10, 1995 as a shorter version under the title 'Keanu's Kiss-Up!' and in May 1995 as a longer version under the title '"I hate the term sex symbol" Reeves says quietly.')
Perhaps best known as Theodore Logan, the time-travelling high school moron in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Keanu Reeves has gone from gormless to gorgeous in the flash of an eye. Jane Smart talks to one of the hottest sex symbols in Hollywood.
"I hate that term, 'sex symbol'," says Keanu Reeves quietly but forcefully. "I don't think I'm a sex symbol and I don't think I look like one either."
Many recent polls and many millions of women throughout the world would beg to differ with the star's self-assessment however and, tonight at least, on the set of his latest movie, an ultra romantic and passionate tale entitled A Walk In The Clouds, Reeves himself seems to be unwittingly providing them with some fine ammunition.
As the sun slowly goes down in Napa Valley, in the heart of California's vineyards, it bathes the actor in a golden glow that highlights his strong, handsome face and dark, almost brooding eyes.
Sitting alone and off to the side as is his custom, Reeves seems a somewhat solitary and other-worldly presence, an effect enhanced by his appearance. Long gone is the military-style buzz cut and SWAT outfit of last summer's blockbuster, Speed. Instead, the star is sporting a comfortable 1940's linen suit and period hairstyle to match.
Although he sits alone, all eyes -- especially female -- are on him as he stretches his lean six foot frame, stands and then does a curious little dance -- almost like a quick run-on-the-spot -- to warm up for his next scene. In fact, you don't have to observe the actor for very long to see that he takes his craft very seriously indeed, that he's also very shy off-camera and that, despite his protests to the contrary, he has the intense physical charisma possessed by all movie sex symbols.
Given that physical charisma, it's a bit of a shock to realise that Reeves has never before played a romantic lead. After first making a name for himself a an airhead dude in the hit comedy Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, the actor has consistently broadened his range by taking on such diverse projects as Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Kenneth Branagh's version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Bernardo Bertolucci's spiritual saga Little Buddha, and Gus Van Sant's harrowing My Own Private Idaho.
The nearest he's come to getting the girl was in Speed, where after saving a bus-load of frightened passengers from being blown sky-high he got to roll around a bit with luscious co-star Sandra Bullock.
At the mention of Bullock's later comment that "I get to kiss Keanu Reeves for crying out loud! I'll be the envy of every woman from six to 60!" the actor looks slightly embarrassed. He pauses for a long time, kicking the dirt with his shoe. "I guess I haven't had too many romantic scenes," he eventually concedes.
Tonight, however, he seems to be making up for lost time. "I have to make love to this very beautiful young girl, which should be a lot of fun," smiles Reeves. "I play Paul Sutton, a young G.I. who meets the beautiful daughter of a vineyard owner and agrees to pose as her husband to help her face her domineering father. It gets a bit complicated and of course we end up falling madly in love."
A Walk In The Clouds also stars Anthony Quinn as the family patriarch and Spanish actress Aitana Sanchez-Gijon as Victoria, the beautiful daughter. "It's a very romantic story, as we play these two lovers who are separated by circumstance, who cannot consummate their love for each other and who have to express it in other ways," notes the star.
"My character really appealed to me too," says Reeves. "Paul's a simple man, straight ahead, fairly good natured, kind. He's an orphan and he's coming back from the Second World War, fighting in the Pacific, and his experiences. I think have created in him a sense of sensitivity to emotions and people -- he just wants to have a family and a wife."
Ask Reeves if his silent and strong tough guy persona in movies like Speed hides an inner sensitive soul and he looks distinctly uncomfortable. "I think everyone has an inner core they protect," he says. "I don't think I'm any different really."
Was it hard for Reeves to relate to the ultra romantic image after playing a gum-chewing SWAT team member and performing his own death-defying stunts in Speed? "Not at all, though to go from Speed to this is probably as different as you can possibly get," he admits. He explains how, in a later scene, he will be required to serenade the girl under her balcony window. "I've never done anything like that myself but, sure, I can relate to it," he adds with a grin.
"I was actually doing Speed when the script for A Walk In The Clouds came through," continues Keanu, "and I immediately thought, 'This is great,' because I wanted to do a romance, a project that concerned itself with the heart and the nature of passion and sensuality."
It's interesting to note that for all such talk, Reeves has kept a very low profile when it comes to real-life romance. Although he is one of the most eligible young stars in Hollywood, the 29-year-old actor apparently lives alone and is still unattached. "Yeah, I don't have a girlfriend right now," he mumbles. "It's hard having a relationship when you're working and moving around so much."
Various press reports have linked Reeves with co-stars like Bullock in the past, as well as Pamela Anderson, the busty blonde from Baywatch. Reeves just shakes his head. "You show up at a premiere together and the next thing you know, they've got you married," he notes wryly.
He isn't much more forthcoming about his day-to-day living arrangements, beyond admitting that he had a 'problem' with his apartment in Los Angeles and that he recently moved into the chic Chateau Marmont, the trendy Hollywood Hotel where John Belushi overdosed.
If Reeves seems like somewhat of a loner and a mystery man, those close to him suggest that his troubled childhood may have a lot to do with it. Born in Beirut to an English mother, Patricia, and a Hawaiian father, Samuel (Keanu means cool breeze in Hawaiian), Reeves was only four when his father walked out on the family. Reeves, his two sisters and his mother moved around a lot, eventually settling in Toronto where he admits to going "to about five schools in as many years" before dropping out. After a bunch of odd jobs -- "stuff like working at an ice hockey rink," he took some acting lessons and then at the age of 19 headed south to Los Angeles.
Significantly, Reeves first made his mark as a troubled, alienated teenager in the drama River's Edge. Actor Dennis Hopper, who has known him since they costarred in that film and who worked with him again in Speed, says that "He's always been very distant and he has some inner turmoil that he deals with."
It's no great secret that Reeves was utterly devastated when River Phoenix, a close friend who co-starred with him in My Own Private Idaho, died of a drug overdose in 1993. Mention Phoenix and the star looks visibly shaken. "I miss him very, very much," he says quietly. "A terrible loss."
Even over a year later, Reeves refuses to say much about the event. He has even less to say about his own estranged father who is currently to be found serving a lengthy sentence for drug possession at the Halava State Prison in Hawaii. "I don't want to talk about him," he says politely but firmly. "He disappeared out of my life when I was a kid."
There's no doubt that part of the star's appeal lies in his vulnerable image. He might exude an all-American boyishness but at the same time a hint of sadness surrounds him. Reeves doesn't like to linger on such question hero and he quickly and unequivocally answers "No".
So how does he see himself? "I don't know, I don't have a character description for myself," he states. "I think that I can play an all-American boy to a certain extent. I don't think it's something I can't play. But..." His voice trails off and he leaves the question unanswered.
So what else can he reveal about himself? The actor considers this for quite a while before finally confessing to being "a perfectionist. Yeah, I am, but I don't know if it helps," he laughs. "I watch my films quite critically, although I don't really have a set thing that I look for. No, that's not true either. I guess I look at the physicality and judge the acting and see what it looks like."
Reeves isn't much more comfortable talking about the "stuff" he likes to do when not working, such as riding horses, playing street hockey, riding his vintage Norton bike and playing bass with his group, Dog Star.
"It's not really a rock 'n' roll band," he explains. "It's more like folk-thrash. We just have fun with doing the odd show now and again. It's not a big deal."
Even if he wants to make the group a bigger deal, Reeves probably won't have the time now. He's already completed another film, Johnny Mnemonic, and is being wooed to make a sequel to Speed. Johnny Mnemonic is a cyberpunk thriller and I play this guy with a computer in my head," explains the star with a straight face. "As for a sequel to Speed, I don't know. I'd have to see the script first. I don't want to get locked into playing just action heroes."
Reeves isn't kidding. He reportedly turned down a $7 million offer to star in the movie of Tom Clancy's Without Remorse, opting to pursue a long held ambition to appear as Hamlet in a production in Winnipeg, Canada -- a very long way away from Hollywood.
As Reeves wanders off alone before his next scene, you get the impression that he'd be quite happy if he never came back.