The play's the thing to catch the interest of this king .... Keanu
by Nelle Oosterom
Keanu Reeves comes to Winnipeg in the dead of winter for the chance to play Hamlet on stage
Five bright-eyed young women are patrolling in the slush outside the Manitoba Theatre Centre like trained watchdogs.
Their keen senses are alert to any suspicious movement - an approaching car, a too-cool dude. After all, it could be HIM.
It could be Keanu Reeves.
It seems unlikely, but this most excellent Hollywood actor is playing Hamlet in Winnipeg in the darkest, dreariest days of winter.
And the locals think that's pretty cool.
Sonya Barnhardt, 17, hopes he'll oblige to having his picture taken with her.
"My friends think I'm crazy, but I'm going to wait here every single day until I meet him."
"He doesn't seem to be a real stuck-up movie type," says Lori Yurchak, 17, on a Keanu-watch Thursday. "He seems very down-to-earth. And he came to Winnipeg. That just amazes me."
It has amazed a lot of people, starting with Steven Schipper, the artistic director who lured him here for the play that runs Jan 12 to Feb 4.
"I remember sitting in exactly the chair I'm sitting now and wondering who would be my first choice (to play Hamlet)," said Schipper from his office. "And his was the name that came up."
After a few months of phone calls, Schipper met with the 30-year-old actor in Venice, Calif., in a restaurant called the Market Street Grill. A favorable omen, it turned out, since the Manitoba Theatre Centre is on Market Avenue.
"The first words out of my mouth at that lunch were 'I hope a year from now we'll be sitting in the theatre on Market Avenue celebrating your performance in Hamlet.'"
It happened that Reeves was keen on tackling the Prince of Denmark after playing characters ranging from a studly cop in Speed to a goofy time-traveller in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
But he made it clear he didn't want his presence in Winnipeg to spark a fuss.
When word got out last spring, it circled the globe.
More than 500 people from around the world - including China, Argentina, Taiwan, Sweden, the United States and Australia - bought season-ticket subscriptions to the theatre just to be guaranteed a seat for Hamlet.
For the first time in the 37-year history, the theatre sold out its entire run before it opened.
Local newspapers have flooded their pages with Keanu minutiae. His name is Hawaiian for "cool breeze over the mountains." He rides a motorcycle, but doesn't own a car. He may have been spotted downtown in a fake bearskin hat.
After his arrival in mid-December, the Winnipeg Free Press set up a Keanu Hotline in hopes of drumming up gossip.
But the hotline soon died. Some people considered it an embarassment to the proud but self-conscious city.
"Some people have expressed that they felt that (the hotline) was undignified or that it was an invasion of his privacy or that it made us look small-town," said entertainment editor Morley Walker.
Besides, Reeves' activities sound mundane.
"He's mostly been traipsing between whereever he's been staying and the MTC, learning and doing his play, and going out the odd time to eat," said Walker.
Reeves has declined interviews apart from a few 10-minuite hits with a handful of local reporters the day of his arrival.
A shy man who blushes easily, Reeves told the Winnipeg Sun he had no idea what playing Hamlet would do to his career. "Maybe if I'm terrible, it might end it."