Keanu Reeves - A Tear Out Photobook
'Keanu Reeves is for 1990s girls what Brigitte Bardot was for 1960s boys.' That's one critic's attempt to assess the impact this talented, good-looking and improbably modest actor is currently having on the youth culture of a generation.
Strange as it seems, it's as good a comparison as any. Because Keanu is a star, with a capital 'S'- like Brigitte, Arnie, Sly and Mel, you only need the one name for positive identification. And just as Bardot adorned the walls of thousands, no millions, of bedrooms, so Keanu Reeves is looking down benevolently on a worldwide army of slumbering admirers, all of whom would cross continents to breathe the same air as Hollywood's newest megastar ... in their dreams!
But hang on a minute - this is no wet-behind-the-ears teenage prodigy we're describing. The man we're talking about has just turned 30! Where has he been all this time, waiting for overnight success to come tapping on his shoulder? Well, long-time fans will already have caught him in a string of memorable movies that range in appeal from the all-boys-together escapism of Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure to a brush with the Bard - Shakespeare to you and me! - that was Much Ado About Nothing.
But the current ado about Keanu is very much something. This is a star who's clearly set to shine brightly for some while to come. Welcome to the world of Keanu Reeves - crazy name, crazy guy...
And speaking of the name. Keanu, pronounced Key-ah-nu, is Hawaiian for 'cool breeze from the mountains'. It was his great, great-uncle's name: his somewhat less exotic middle name is Charles.
'What odd names have I been called? Well, one I heard was Keanunu. I was like "Where did you see the other 'n' ?" Don't start calling me Keanunu though. My name can't be that tough to pronounce.'
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, on 2 September 1964 under the zodiac sign of Virgo, his English mother and half-Chinese, half-Hawaiian father were 'hippies - cavorting around the world in the 1960s': they are now divorced. His mother Patricia worked in showbusiness as a costume designer and after a spell in New York (Manhattan - upper west side) settled in Toronto, Canada, with his film director stepfather when Keanu was six. He has two younger sisters - one, Kim born two years later than him (in Australia, where the family lived for a year), the other, Karina, 12 years after. Curiously, all three offspring boast christian names beginning with the same letter: cosmic or what!
Originally, he'd never really wanted to be an actor; his main priorities as a youth were being either a racing car driver or a conductor of an orchestra. Another ambition was to be a nuclear physicist - a surprisingly suitable occupation since, as The Guardian newspaper later pointed out, his name is an anagram of 'A Severe Nuke'!
The family took out Canadian citizenship, and everything in the garden was rosy. 'You won't find any stories of poverty or ghettos in this dude's closet,' he confesses of his childhood years. 'When I see stuff in Los Angeles now I realise how safe and sheltered my upbringing was. It's a great place, no graffiti, cool people. It was a very safe and very sheltered upbringing compared to what the kids in LA have to put up with. The roughest it got was when we slung chestnuts at each other and built go-carts.
'I'm a middle-class white boy,' he continues, warming to his theme, 'a bourgeois, middle-class white boy with an absent father, a strongwilled mother, and two beautiful younger sisters. I played sports - my main sports were hockey and basketball. I was kinda shy in school, but I also had the class-clown element about me. I was removed, but I was involved. I was very particular. If you wanted to invade my space it was heavy; you'd get a reaction.'
Even though he didn't see him much, he has fond - if few - memories of his father, who 'taught me how to rollerskate! We went hunting together. My father was a strong-willed man. He taught me to cook. He had a je ne sais quoi about his step. I remember being little and grabbing his finger; his hands seemed so big back then.' (Note: In the original interview with this quote, Keanu was being very sarcastic here, and so most of this is probably untrue. - Ani)
The acting bug soon bit, courtesy of his stepfather Paul Aaron, who directed both for the cinema and the Broadway stage. 'I went to see a couple of the plays he produced,' Keanu recalled later, 'and worked as a production assistant on one of his films.'
His first screen appearance was the real thing in more ways than one - dancing in a Coca-Cola commercial! He also filmed one for Cornflakes which the cereal company is probably right now searching feverishly through the vaults to find! 'I once did an advert for Kelloggs that got me loads of money,' he recalled. 'I didn't put it in the bank, I just put it in a basket and dipped into it when I needed it. Now I pay very careful attention to everything - well, my accountant does!'
His first professional role was on a local TV show in Toronto. His only line was 'Hey, lady, can I use the shower?' An invitation few could resist these days! But then Keanu has always been a man of few words and rather more actions. He's well-known for being tongue-tied in real life, admitting 'I'm a meathead, man, I can't help it'. But Gus Van Sant, director of My Own Private Idaho, says he is 'very, very smart,' and Keanu himself admits that one of his hobbies is playing chess.
He'd never been that comfortable in school, claiming to be 'not very good with authority. When people in school kept trying to tell me what I should do it used to infuriate me. When I don't feel free and can't do what I want I just react. I go against it. I was hopeless at high school - I failed everything but Latin!'
Ironically for a self-confessed non-scholar, people are now learning about him: The Art Centre College of Design in Pasadena, California, is currently running a course called The Films of Keanu Reeves. But if he failed to make a positive impression on the teachers he made more of an impact on the kids: rumour has it that when he first acted in high school, uttering the line 'What am I?' his mother heard a girl in the audience reply breathlessly, 'a hunk!'
After work in local theatres and on TV had given him the taste of early success, he happily dropped out of high school but, ever the politest of rebels, was careful to get his mother's approval first. 'I asked my mom if I could be an actor when I was 16 and she said do what you want to do". My parents were bohemian and then some!'
He took his first step into the grown-up acting world when he enrolled at a night school drama course in Toronto - and enjoyed it so much he started gatecrashing auditions. He then joined a community theatre and got some jobs, using the money to pay for an agent who could - and did - put him forward for television parts. 'The first professional role that I got was on a Canadian show called Hangin' In,' he recalls. 'It's about a youth counselling centre -I was really lucky to get on it. Lots of Canadian actors get their lucky breaks on it.'
Thrown out of acting school at 17 for 'talking too much,' Keanu then got a job sharpening skates. After a succession of dead-end jobs ('I also made pasta and cut trees for a living, Man - acting's much better, believe me'), he made it to Hollywood aged 19 when he drove his 'thrash mobile,' a beaten-up 1969 Volvo, to Los Angeles to audition for a Disney TV movie. And, though he didn't get the part, he's lived in the 'City of the Angels' ever since.
Hollywood bigwigs thought his initial lack of success might be due in part to his unusual name - and suggested he change it if he wanted a lasting career in movies. 'They were sayin' names like Templeton Page Taylor III. I came up with Chuck Spadina! They knew right out that I wasn't into it.'
But in terms of physical attributes, if not in name, the grown-up Keanu Reeves had everything going for him. Six foot one inch, with brown eyes and highly appealing features, he clearly had star quality stamped right through him. And things weren't too bad from the neck down, either...
'I like my body,' he's said, 'and I know what it feels like when I'm in good shape - but I don't want to work at it all the time. Sometimes I do but if I'm not feeling as cool then I get into my whole other worlds and going to the gym is not at the top of my list.'
The physical attraction many profess for Keanu isn't limited to the fairer sex, either: A play early in his career called Wolfboy cast him as a gay delinquent who has an affair with another boy at reform school. Though the play might rate little more than a footnote in his curriculum vitae, it left an interesting legacy: a publicity shot of him kissing fellow actor, Carl Marotte. The photographer commented: 'The (Toronto) gay community was turned on by Keanu and still is. I know he and his mother were happy with the pictures because she told me so.'
This bisexual appeal would later resurface with a vengeance in My Own Private Idaho. A friend suggested that Keanu enjoyed the Wolfboy experience. 'He had no qualms about the play ... in fact he was very enthusiastic because it was so offbeat and shocking.'
Around this time, he started adding a number of TV dramas to his showreel. They included Act of Vengeance, Brotherhood Of Justice, Under The Influence, I Wish I Were 18 Again, and Moving Day.
For someone who rejoiced in the nickname 'The Wall' and was once named 'Most Valuable Player' at school, the part of an ice hockey goalkeeper in 1985's Youngblood posed few problems - except for having to walk through a crowded changing room balancing a roll of tape on his head... And though the film was primarily a vehicle for Rob Lowe, who wanted to join the team (which he finally did, to ensure a happy ending), Keanu enjoyed and learned from the experience.
Then as now, he found himself wrapped up in his role. 'The first two weeks after I've wrapped a movie, I'm out in space. I can't speak about anything.' 1986 brought Flying, a film about gymnasts and Brotherhood of Justice, in which Keanu co-stars with Kiefer Sutherland as a rich teenager in a tale about schoolboy vigilantes gone wrong.
Keanu played the first of his 'misunderstood youth' roles in 1986's River's Edge, a real-life tale of murder, drugs and love. He starred alongside Crispin Glover, Dennis Hopper (with whom he'd be reunited in Speed) and Ione Skye, and it was his scruffy, be-T-shirted character who, with Skye, who altered the whole outcome of the film. It remains a popular cult movie and one of which he's justly proud ... but he has a sad tale to tell too.
'Only one really heavy thing has happened to me. Once I met a kid who was 17 and he was dressed up like Matt, my character in River's Edge. He told me that I was his idol and he gave me loads of free food from the restaurant where he worked. He was a great guy. Every so often I get a fan letter that is really beautiful and sincere and I get really moved.' But for the most part, Keanu's growing army of fans seemed to view him with a certain detachment: even now, he's relatively free to walk LA. 'I can walk on the street with no problem.'
On the face of it, 1988's Permanent Record was struggling against some highly unpromising subject matter - teenage suicide. The plot centred round how a group of students tried to deal with the sudden and unexpected suicide of the most promising member of their highschool class, Keanu's character's best friend.
The story of how the kids, and Chris (Keanu) in particular, come to terms with David's senseless plunge off a cliff actually comes off better than might be expected. Keanu's character was an aimless, irresponsible type who had idolised his pal (played by Alan Boyce) and was forced to re-evaluate his life. Keanu was unhappy with the ending of this film which he feels reduced its impact with a schmaltzy message.
With hindsight, the story was an eerie prediction of things to come with River Phoenix's demise in mind. What, then, are Keanu's feelings on life, death and the beyond?
'Sometimes I worry that I might get some sort of retribution for my success,' he reveals. 'I guess I must have to pay for it somewhere along the way. As for believing in God, well I don't like to say a definite "no" because I feel that there must be something up there. I guess I'm still in turmoil about this.'
In contrast to Permanent Record, Keanu's next film release, The Night Before was highly - possibly too - straightforward. He plays an offbeat high-school senior, in his words a 'hungover dweeb,' who wakes up realising he sold his girlfriend to a pimp the night before. 'It's a coming-of-age movie,' he explains. 'You know, guy wants girl, guy gets girl. I was in every scene.' 'Teen nerd time!' warned Smash Hits ... and they were right!
1988 brought his first big role in Dangerous Liaisons, the big-screen version of the hit play Les Liaisons Dangereuses. In it, he plays an 18th century French musician, the handsome Chevalier Danceny, who falls in love with Cecile de Volanges, a shy, innocent 16-year-old played by Uma Thurman. The original novel had been written over two centuries ago in 1782, its purpose to show up the power games played by the French upper classes - and while that's unlikely to make it a big hit with Speed-obsessed Reeves fans, it means their parents might be prepared to give it a try!
The real villain of the piece is not Keanu but John Malkovich, who plays the Vicomte de Valmont. Glenn (Fatal Attraction) Close plays Merteuil, the scheming woman who wants Valmont to sleep with Cecile to spite her fiance, a former lover, while Michelle Pfeiffer (who you'll remember as Catwoman in Batman Returns) is Madame de Tourvel, a toffee-nosed married woman who Valmont secretly sets his sights on.
Both Close and Pfeiffer were nominated for an Oscar, while the film actually received three awards for Best Art Direction, Adapted Screenplay and Costume Design - indeed, anyone who's into the history of fashion might even find their gaze straying from those handsome Reevesian features, so sumptuous are the costumes.
In 1988's The Prince Of Pennsylvania Keanu returns to the role of rebellious teenager, playing the son of a miner who refuses to follow in his father's footsteps, in a sensitive, downbeat tale of a youth's alienation from his family. A film with a serious theme, Keanu thinks it is one of his best movies, together with Aunt Julia & The Scriptwriter. 'Thank heaven for home video,' he's said. 'it gives little pictures like that a second chance.' For those of you currently hung up on Keanu's Speed-style 'wash and go' haircut, we recommend you pay close attention to the weird hairstyle Keanu boasts here...
For one of Hollywood's most eligible bachelors, the title of 1989's Parenthood was perhaps a little ironic. This funny, bordering on corny look at family life starred Steve Martin and Rick Moranis as two very different kinds of fathers, the neurotic and the yuppie. Leaf Phoenix and Martha Plimpton are the rebellious teenage kids of divorcee Dianne West who cause her much trouble.
Keanu played Martha's boyfriend, but in real life, his screen date was going out with actor River Phoenix. An introduction was effected and a firm friendship started, even though as Phoenix remembered the two supposed lovers were 'regularly sucking face'!
In 1987, he'd teamed with Alex Winter in a low-budget youth movie, the improbably titled Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Keanu played Ted, alias Theodore Logan III) who shared two aims in life with his fellow dude, Bill S. Preston: launching their two-man rock band the Wyld Stallyns and avoiding 'flunking most heinously' out of their school history class.
A cosmic benefactor appears in the shape of comedian George Carlin, who offers them the chance to travel back through time in a Dr Who-style flying phone booth and collect some significant historical figures to help them make a prize-winning presentation. Among those they cram into the 'Tardis' are Joan of Arc, Ghenghis Khan, Abram Lincoln, Mozart, Napoleon, Billy the Kid and Socrates.
Keanu supplied the physical presence, Alex the good vibes and 'bodacious' vocabulary, and together the two dudes from San Dimas, California, made a highly appealing team. 'I like Ted,' Keanu enthused. 'There is such joy to his outlook. He is a very sincere young man. He's a good guy, and he just wants to laugh and play rock 'n' roll, y'know? It's not that complicated.
'When I see Bill and Ted together, I feel real love there. They have such joy in their existence and there's so much friendship, honesty and purity. They are the perfect example of best friends who totally understand each other.'
The film's release was delayed by two years because the production company went bust, but this had little effect on its success. In fact, it was absolutely right for its time - a fact proved when it grossed more than $70 million (£40 million) in America and inspired a host of similar 'buddy' movies with their own language - most notably Wayne's World. Its success catapulted Keanu Reeves into the big time, but saddled him with an image it would - initially at least - prove hard to shake off.
He was, he complained good-naturedly, 'always getting asked to be like Ted. in the streets most kids just wave at me or ask for an autograph, some get me to act like Ted but I just say no. Then their faces fall and I just feel bummed, you know.' It's significant that Speed director Jan De Bont demanded that Keanu have a radical image change. 'The first thing I did was to have him cut his hair off. I didn't want people to think of Bill and Ted any more. I want them to think of Keanu as an adult actor now.' Such was the strength of the Bill and Ted image.
Says Keanu: 'I think Bill and Ted appeal on a lot of different levels, at least to me. The child in me can dig watching them, but I also find a lot of the stuff they do very clever, and I just dig the "Be Excellent To Each Other" idea, you know. That's beautiful.'
Keanu admits he has friends just like Bill and Ted in real life. 'You know how they have their own language and say things like "bodacious" and "bogus", well for a lot of my friends I know that sort of thing is true. These two guys I know can rap to each other and I don't even understand what they are saying,' but in the final analysis, 'It's just trying to be a funny film. It doesn't have any deep hidden meanings. I guess it's about learning, and you know, Bill and Ted get a lot of grief from their parents. It's saying that if you've got an ambition, and that's the way you want to live, then you should go for it, I guess. That is, as long as you're not hurting anybody.' But Keanu reckons that the role has been a milestone in his career, 'When my life is over I'll be remembered for playing Ted.'
The final year of the 1980s had seen Keanu celebrating another major landmark in life - his quarter-century. And it was something that gave him considerable food for thought as the 1990s began: 'I was going along great being 25 and then suddenly I passed it and started thinking, hey, I'm gonna die one day. I started looking at my mother in a different way. What's important? Who am I? Why am I here? It was weird. It was a radical experience. It was like I woke up one morning with a different mindset. I wish I still had the old one, man.'
In retrospect, the most memorable feature about the black comedy I Love You To Death released in 1990 was that it was Keanu's first film with River Phoenix. The opening credits stressed that this was a true story adapted for the big screen, but real-life drama was conspicuous by its absence: one critic rated the film 'An excellent guide on how not to kill someone.'
Keanu plays Marlon, one (very stoned) half of a pair of hitmen hired by unhappy wife Tracey Ullman to kill her unfaithful husband, a rather stereotypical Italian restaurant owner played by Kevin Kline. The other hitman was played by William Hurt, while River played a young waiter cooking pizzas and looking decorative when not involved in the plot.
Variety magazine, one of America's prime tastemakers, called it 'a stillborn attempt at black comedy that wastes considerable acting talent.' Hardly a sex symbol this time out, Keanu appeared in his scruffiest state yet, with post-designer stubble beard growth and a haircut that looked as if it was the result of a crazed chainsaw attack.
Things returned to normal, appearance-wise, for Aunt Julia And The Scriptwriter, made in 1990 but set 40 years earlier. A very charmingly clean-cut Keanu plays Martin Loader, a young lawyer wanting to write a book who is forced to confront the disapproval of 1950s America when he falls in love with his aunt's sister, played by Barbara Hershey. Set in New Orleans, the film also stars Peter Falk of Colombo fame.
Keanu's sex appeal was, by now, becoming somewhat legendary - but it wasn't something he seemed willing to take advantage of. 'I've never been the type of guy that ends up sleeping with all his leading ladies,' he shrugged. 'I'm almost a celibate monk! I would do a nude scene but only if I knew that it was going to be a good one. I wouldn't just take my clothes off for the sake of it.'
And integrity was clearly an important part of the Reevesian make-up. The actors who inspire Keanu most are the likes of Clint Eastwood, Robert de Niro, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, all personalities with a solid body of work behind them and the respect of critics, fans and fellow thespians alike. Yet none of these come in the Schwarzenegger class of hero - and it was into that category that his next big-screen venture was to pitch him in 1991.
For the all-action Keanu, who numbers ice hockey, basketball, playing pool and riding his motorbike among his hobbies, the film - billed as '100% pure adrenaline' - was the ultimate high-power thriller. Point Break (a surfing term describing the type of surf at a particular beach) teamed him with fellow hunk Patrick Swayze to interesting effect. Reeves plays a 25-year-old American footballer turned undercover FBI agent, Johnny Utah, who teams up with a veteran G-man (Gary Busey) to trap bank-robbing surfer Bodhi (Swayze). He has to gain Bodhi's trust while overcoming his colleague's ill-disguised dislike of him ... all of which adds up to what one critic called 'cowboys and Indians on a high-tech level'.
It was a film that obliged him to add several new skills to his repertoire (he and Patrick did all their own stunts), and this he did with a will. He trained with the FBI, learned skydiving, surfing and how to handle guns.
Surprisingly, perhaps, it was the surfing that posed the biggest challenge. 'The first time I went into the water, the board just smacked me in the head! But eventually I could do it, I could stand up, depending on the wave. It was kind of a small summer wavewise, but some of the waves you see me on - that's me, yeah.'
With plenty of bronzed bodies on display, Point Break offered female fans their own equivalent of Baywatch, yet the thrill-a-minute plot won over the male contingent and justified the film's 18 certificate. The end result was a satisfying one for the actor, too. 'I enjoyed the respectability of appearing in a mature role opposite Patrick Swayze and Gary Busey.'
The character too was one he could understand and sympathise with. 'One of the things I dug was his name: Johnny. The energy from that name! I already had an expectation of this guy. Johnny Utah is a very physical, very competitive, very cocky character who's not sure if he's ever really been happy. He's always liked living right on the edge, but through his relationship with the leader of the gang, he learns a lot about himself.'
1991 was also memorable for another screen appearance in the middle of the year when he was cast as a James Dean-type character (which Keanu describes as 'another regurgitation of icons and culture by the American media') in friend Paula Abdul's Rush Rush video. The song was the fastest-selling of the singer's career - a fact which was doubtless not unconnected with the video - and led to heavy rumours that the two might be romantically involved.
Ever the gentleman, Keanu wasn't commenting on that - but he was happy to talk about the video. 'What can I say?' he shrugged. 'it was an interesting experience. I met Paula Abdul at a charity event, and she's a very interesting lady. I think she dug my stuff, you know, so she approached me to do the video. I thought I might as well check it out. This was not, he emphasised, an appearance of which he was unduly proud - even though he'd always had ambitions to be a bass guitarist in a rock band. 'When I saw snatches of the video, I just thought, wow man, you're not cool enough for that, so I guess I'm not going to be in any more videos.'
That cameo, though, preceded a real career highpoint: 1992's My Own Private Idaho, a highly controversial item about a pair of very different street hustlers. Directed by Gus Van Sant, it became the highlight of Keanu Reeves' 'adult' career - but it was one he and co-star River Phoenix nearly passed on.
'River and I were in this car driving to a club, talking real fast about the film. We kinda forced ourselves into it. We said, okay, I'll do it if you do it. I won't do it if you don't. We shook hands and that was it.'
Based on a storyline from Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1 and mixing Shakespearean language with hip street talk, River plays Mike Waters, a scruffy outcast who sells his body in Seattle to men and women alike. Keanu plays Scott Favor, another rent boy who chose his lifestyle as 'an act of rebellion' against his dad, the snooty mayor of Portland. The two street hustlers have an affair although, as one critic put it, 'for a story about two gay hustlers, the film deals very little with sex'.
Keanu saw his role as more of a support for Phoenix. 'River's performance in that picture was exceptional. I'm OK in it. But he's the activator of it all. He was brilliant.
'I play Scottie, a guy from a wealthy background. He has been on the streets of Seattle for three years. River plays a character called Mike, who has a form of narcolepsy, a disease where sufferers fall asleep, instantly, any-old-where. So he passes out and wakes up, and the film follows him around. I'm more like a side character.'
Lovers in the plot, he and River became great pals off screen. 'I think he's the best. He asks questions that I don't normally think about sometimes. He works in a way that, at least for me, showed me how to get it more in my blood and more imaginative.' This tale of two teenage male prostitutes was the riskiest bit of cinema the pair have come up with since they first took on big screen roles: naked, three in a bed, Keanu wearing just a G-string on the cover of a porno magazine in the film.
'One moment I'm playing a hero and the next I'm the clown. I've only done a few films that are very different. My Own Private Idaho was certainly a very unique picture.'
The film got its name from a song by avant garde rock band the B-52s (of 'Love Shack' fame), so it was highly appropriate that Keanu and River spent free time off the set jamming with guitars and singing songs. But once, as they made their way through a rough area of LA, they unwittingly got caught up with knife-wielding thugs.
'Both gangs thought we were trying to work their territory,' said River. 'It was terrifying and there was no way we could tell them we were actors - they'd have cut us to pieces. We pretended we were ordinary guys and then ran like hell,' said River.
'We'd accidentally wandered into the no-man's land between two street gangs,' Keanu continued. 'They thought we were invading their territory. It suddenly got very heavy.'
The same writing and producing team behind Keanu's first excellent adventure were employed for 1991's Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, a film ID magazine rated 'that rare movie: a sequel that's better than the original!' Having been dumped by their 'medieval princess babes' without a hope of winning the Battle of the Bands, the boys are killed by androids from the 27th century who look just like them - 'the evil us's' as they're appealingly termed. 'It was weird playing them (the robots), but fun.'
They meet up with the Grim Reaper (played by William Sadler), who challenges them to various games in an attempt to claim their souls - but because the duo can choose the games (Battleship, Cluedo and Twister), they win and secure the services of His Royal Deathness to help them secure victory over their android aliases and ensure their return to the modern day. A further helping hand comes from Rufus their inter-galactic guru (George Carlin).
The film was originally going to be called Bill And Ted Go To Hell, reflecting its other-worldly plot, until the promoters discovered they would not be able to advertise on American TV before 9pm (because of the word 'hell')
Unlike the first film in which Bill and Ted were a couple of teenagers, here they are four years older. The difference, as Keanu explains, is vast. 'We have real jobs, we have our own place, we have girlfriends and we're not in school. Bill is more frustrated and yet he's still hopeful and sincere in his goal: to be the best rock 'n' roll guitar player he can be, despite the fact that he has no ability whatsoever. Ted is more go-with-the-flow but Bill really does struggle to get the band off the ground. He lives every day with the fact that they really are awful.'
Older and wiser the duo might have been - but the editing of the final product was not to Keanu's liking. 'They cut a lot out,' he commented. 'They just wanted to make sure it was very sweet, you know. There were just concerns about the film - about perhaps making it more adult, you know. I think they're a bit afraid of that.'
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey was predictably given the thumbs down by the critics - one of whom described the duo as like 'The Simpsons on speed' - but audiences loved it nonetheless.
The critics' doubts were shared by the two main actors who, at first, hadn't wanted to reprise their former roles. 'The first couple of scripts they wrote were just not happening,' admitted Keanu. 'So we had this one meeting with the scriptwriters and I just got turned on again to Bill and Ted. Afterwards Alex and I thought, "whoa, this is fun".
'Basically, Ted is a lot dumber this time,' says Keanu. 'This one is much more ambitious and audacious ... a sort of Shakespearean clown show with spiritual harmony.'
'Yeah,' says Alex, 'I like this film a lot better than the last one.'
Part of the attraction had clearly been the prospect of working with Alex again: 'It's like when you haven't seen your friend for a long time and you get to know each other again. Alex and I would get together and generally, after we'd eaten and had a couple of drinks, we'd go outside and start trying to get back into character. I remember twice we spent about three hours in the studio car park doing that.'
The original film had spun-off an animated cartoon series for which the duo were contracted to do the voices for the first season. 'It helped because it got us back into character a bit,' Keanu commented, but in retrospect regretted his involvement. 'We whacked those out in a month last summer, but I don't think I'll do any more. They're not very good.
'I only did it because it was a great way to prepare for this movie -we hadn't even done the characters in four years. The cartoons are just kinda bland and they missed the boat with some of the characters. All they really do is go back in time, but the thing about Bill and Ted is that they have wild imaginations and though they could have gone to town with that in a cartoon, they just didn't.'
The whole thing, he considered, had lost its meaning. 'I saw a TV commercial where Ted was saying Bill's line and Bill was saying Ted's line! It's like they (the producers) didn't know the difference between them. Bill and Ted is a very specific mind-set to get into, and you can't just jump into that - it's a state of mind.'
Nor was the cartoon the only spin-off ... stand by for the breakfast treat, 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Cereal,' plus Barbie & Ken-style action dolls, and a Saturday morning Bill And Ted cartoon series. 'The doll sucks, it's kind of crass, but the cereal's a good chew.'
A good breakfast, of course, sets you up for the day - but when Keanu was struck down by a mystery infection during filming, more than a lack of nutrition was initially suspected. He collapsed in a Hollywood studio and was rushed semi-conscious to a Los Angeles hospital; happily, an insider revealed 'it wasn't too serious and he was soon back at work'. However, he had recently admitted experimenting with drugs such as LSD: 'I got into drugs at 18. It was really groovy. I'm so glad I've hallucinated - it's one of the most beautiful things. But nowadays I'd say I was more of a motorcycle junkie.'
That was putting it mildly, as it would take a very special woman to lure Keanu away from his bikes: 'sure, I have no shortage of offers but I prefer to channel my passions into bikes because they're cool, fast and less trouble.' The one true love of his life is his red 1974 850cc British-built Norton Commando (he's also owned a Harley Davidson): he frequently rides at dawn through Los Angeles before the traffic gets too bad, but doesn't wear a helmet, claiming the Helmet Law in California is 'petty government crap'. Yet this devil-may-care attitude has nearly cost him dear: he sports a huge scar on his torso from a bad motorbike accident, in which he ruptured his spleen.
And that's far from being his only accident: 'I'm an awful rider,' he confesses. I once got broadsided by a car and ended up going from the middle of the intersection, doing a somersault. I landed on the sidewalk on my back. I did a layout somersault, man! Two men ran up to me and went, "Wow man, you flew!".'
Off the road and on the screen, Dracula: The Untold Story linked Reeves in 1992 with director Francis Ford Coppola - a legend in the film business, but one who amazingly had little idea who Keanu was.
'I was just hired on the strength of (co-star) Winona Ryder putting me forward for the part,' the actor revealed later. 'The director didn't really know my work but he'd been told that I was popular with younger people.'
Working with Coppola certainly left an impression on Keanu Reeves. 'He's a man of many, many ideas, and a man ... who sets up a creative situation where you can explore. He's forever writing and writing. When you work with him it's like: "okay, now do it like the script. Now, improvise." He really pushes.
'Yeah, thanks Francis,' he concluded, 'you gave me some of the best times of my life, and hopefully, I played Harker well.'
The subject-matter was certainly something close to his heart. 'In school I really dug the silent film Nosferatu, with Dracula's long fingers and the shadows and all that interplay. And in Vampire's Kiss, Nicolas Cage was rocking, shocking, brilliant. Radical.
'Vampires, submission, rape, domination, bestiality, guilt, biblical overtones, Satan, God, Christian motifs, the dead, the undead, blood, murder, revenge, opera, classicism and oral sex,' he enthused. No wonder he got the part ...
His co-stars were Winona Ryder as Mina Murray, plus Anthony Hopkins (best-known as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs) whose character, Van Helsing, he has to save from Gary Oldman's Dracula. Keanu's English accent in this was not up to much, but he plays the part believably. His character, the dashing Jonathan Harker, not only gets to kiss Mina (Ryder) but also gets seduced in a very raunchy, four in a bed scene. 'Harker is the first yuppie,' he says. 'in a way, he is the perfect Victorian gentleman.'
The film certainly hit the right note with the critics that counted, scoring three Oscars (Best Sound Effects Editing, Costume Design and Make-Up), plus a further nomination for Art Direction.
It had been a gruelling year, and even a workaholic like Keanu was bound to feel the strain. 'I'm a homebody, I don't get invited out much. In the past year I've just been doing these films, I haven't had much of a life.' On the other hand, he admits candidly that he doesn't like being between roles. 'The first couple of weeks I get psychotic and I drink too much, sure that I'll never work again, and then it settles down and I go hang out with my friends, ride my motorcycle and listen to music.'
The 1993 release of Much Ado About Nothing was one of the cinematic events of the year - not specifically for Keanu Reeves' involvement (though there's no doubt whatsoever that his luscious looks put many a female derrière on a cinema seat) but for the involvement of Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh, the so-called golden couple of British drama.
Branagh directed, co-produced, wrote the screenplay and hammed it up as the proudly unmarried Benedick attempting - vainly, as it turned out - to avoid an inevitable coupling with Beatrice (played equally inevitably by his real-life wife). Perhaps because she was always waiting for her overworked husband to show up after filming, Thompson reportedly cooked Keanu pasta every night on location in the sun-spattered Italian region of Tuscany. They filmed in and around the Italian villa in which Leonardo da Vinci is said to have painted the Mona Lisa. 'That's what they say,' smiled Keanu, adding somewhat irreverently 'it's one of those things like "Elvis was here".
Keanu was cast as the villainous Don John, the thoroughly evil halfbrother of Don Pedro (Denzel Washington). Don John's main aim in life was to stop the marriage of Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) and Hero (Kate Beckinsale) by falsely convincing the groom of his future wife's infidelity. He even grew a beard for the part, which gave a certain edge to his appearance but could not disguise the fact that he is white and his stage brother, Washington, is black. Did this discourage the all-powerful Kenneth Branagh? Not a bit of it!
'I wanted actors who seemed to have an appetite for doing different kinds of work,' opined the maestro. 'What I like about the best American film acting is when it's emotionally fearless - full-bodied and gutsy. That's what Shakespeare demands ... also, I've seen a truthfulness in Keanu's work. When I met him, he was someone I admired for his sort of curiosity and enthusiasm. I was genuinely impressed,' Branagh concluded generously, 'with what I thought was a very grown-up individual who was utterly serious about his profession.
'Actually, he was scary to be around sometimes because the part stayed with him, he was intense. He gives a really smouldering performance.'
Doing Shakespeare appealed to Reeves' need to do something different from his Hollywood contemporaries. 'To perform Shakespeare you get to say very profound words and in the body it feels more thrilling. Your spirit, your intellect, your heart and your voice all have to, at a very high degree, melt into the speaking of words and behaviour. And for me all of these things are missing in action pictures. In Shakespeare it's pure.'
It also stretched him in various different ways, including the ability to ride something less predictable than a motorbike - a horse! 'I had ridden a little bit before,' he claimed somewhat unconvincingly. 'I went to this place in Los Angeles for riding lessons.'
If Tuscany was an exotic location, it scarcely held a candle to his next port of call. Nepal was the destination on Keanu's luggage labels as he headed out to the far east for the filming of Little Buddha. There was no pasta-cook on hand to fatten him up, he had to endure a very short haircut and, what was more, clothes appeared to be all but absent - to the delight of his many female fans, the part obliged Keanu to wear nothing but a skimpy loin-cloth!
'I was very happy to be in Kathmandu,' he enthused. 'It was incredible. The cows in the road.' Yet he had reservations about how tourism in Nepal was affecting the place. 'Down these 900-year-old cities with cows and children and houses that barely have electricity, you know, Mercedes-Benz tourist buses with windows that don't open full of a hundred tourists totally enclosed in their environment...'
It could all have been something of a culture shock for someone who listed his culinary preferences as Coke, beer and burgers... and with llamas the preferred mode of transport there wasn't a motorcycle in sight! On the other hand, there was little attention from the press - and at this stage in his career, the publicity-shy Keanu was more than happy with that..
Interviews, for instance, don't rate highly on his scale of priorities. 'I'm not very good at talking about myself, man,' he complains. 'I don't like it when I'm asked personal questions and shit, who cares?'
But when he met acclaimed director Bernardo Bertolucci, it was Keanu who was asking the questions for a change. 'I asked him why he picked me and he said it was for my innocence.'
The resulting film was something he admitted he'd never forget. 'I remember I was in my underwear parading back and forth in front of monks and llamas and all the monks are looking at my feet and my hands checking me out. It was like being inspected by the police. And they'd say things like "yes, we asked the oracle and it is good you are playing this part".'
The part in question was that of a divine Indian prince, for which he cultivated an accent (not too convincing) and a shaggy haircut (much better). 'I play Prince Siddhartha,' he explained, 'who, after the enlightenment, is referred to as Buddha. But I only go half-way through the enlightenment: there is no depiction of Buddha. I'm post-enlightened.'
Confused? You will be... but all this certainly made Little Buddha a film even Keanu made a point of watching. 'Sometimes I'll watch things to check out how I look, but usually I don't bother.'
He fasted throughout the shoot, though whether this was on his director's orders or from choice we don't know. 'I dreamed about bread and cheese and pouring wine on my head while I rolled naked in the dirt' ... so much for the loincloth!
His return to Los Angeles, city of Coke, beer and burgers, proved as much of a shock to the system as his original journey had been. 'When I came home I felt really different,' he confessed. 'it was surreal, you know, the bombarding pace here in LA.'
Something else that was different was the earthquake that followed hard on the heels of his return. 'My house really shook,' he said, wide-eyed. 'I jumped out of bed and fled the house, and then I ran back in and got dressed.' It's nice to know the earth moves for him, sometimes, too ...
In 1993 he linked up once more with Uma Thurman (his co-star in Dangerous Liaisons) and Idaho director Gus Van Sant for Only Cowgirls Get The Blues, which is based on Tom Robbins' story of Sissy Hankshaw (Thurman), the world's greatest hitch-hiker. On her travels she meets and almost marries an asthmatic Mohawk Indian named Julian Gitche (played by Reeves). The film also starred Rain Phoenix, John Hurt, Angie (Policewoman) Dickinson, Crispin Glover and larger-than-life funny woman Roseanne Arnold.
While Keanu's participation was a coup for the film (he himself described the admittedly minor role as a 'cameo-cowgirl-cameo'), it was merely the entrée to the main course which came in late 1994 with Speed. 'Get ready for rush hour' proclaimed the ads - a prediction that was fulfilled within weeks when, by the beginning of October 1994, it had grossed $119m at the American box office.
Keanu nearly turned his role down, believing the plot to be insubstantial. But after he got together with the director the script was re-written. So what attracted him to the film among the thousands of scripts that regularly thudded onto his doormat? 'The first thing that hit me was the title. I opened up the page and it said "Speed"... and I went "cool". So I went onto the second page.'
The story, confidently directed by debutant Dutchman Jan De Bont (the cinematographer for Die Hard and Lethal Weapon 3), is based around a bus that has to be kept moving at more than 50 miles an hour or the bomb on board will explode. Explosives genius Dennis Hopper plays a cat-and-mouse game with Reeves, an LA bomb disposal cop called Jack Traven.
Hopper, who'd played alongside Keanu in River's Edge, noticed there'd been a considerable physical development. 'in Little Buddha, Keanu looked like a beautiful young woman. Suddenly, he's this bulldog.'
That's hardly surprising, considering that Keanu had taken eight months to prepare for the part, working out at Gold's Gym in LA to get fit. 'I lifted weights, focusing on the arms and chest 'cause that's what would be seen most of on camera. I took gymnastic classes too for tumbling. I was studying that for a month and a half, three times a week doing handstands, trampolining, somersaults and back handsprings. Oh yeah, and the high bar. I was just trying to know my body better.'
He reputedly did all but three of his own stunts in this film, including jumping from a speeding Jaguar onto the bus. 'The first time we did it,' Keanu recalls, 'the stuntman driving the car couldn't look at the bus, where I was jumping to, in case the camera caught his face and it'd be obvious he was a stuntman. So there he was, driving really fast, one-handed and not looking at where I had to go!
'Well, there I was hovering outside the car going, "Can you see?" and he'd say, "Oh yeah, yeah!". The car's swerving from side to side and so's the bus. I was like, "I'm not going - I'm not doing this". So much of me wants to be a hero usually, but this time I wasn't so sure. The second time we did it the stuntman was a little more co-ordinated ... so I leapt.'
Another memorable scene saw the ten-ton bus appear to jump a 50ft gap, though this chasm was created by computer - it didn't actually exist in reality. The illusion required a number of little jumps and camera tricks costing $500,000. The shot was filmed on a new freeway in Los Angeles a month before it opened, the bus, with only a stunt driver on board, taking a mile and a half to run up. But after going up a 70ft ramp, the vehicle actually went much further than expected (109 ft), landing awkwardly and taking a chunk of concrete out of the road - as well as out of the stunt driver's lip!
'Yeah, I was kinda in there,' said an exultant Reeves as shooting closed. 'I surprised myself. It was great to participate and get as close as I could. I enjoy that sort of pressure and excitement very much.'
One scene in the film he wasn't present in was where his character has to go under the moving bus to defuse the bomb: 'The last scene of someone going under the bus is a stuntman,' he admits. ' I didn't really do tough stunts. Other people get paid to do that sort of lifethreatening thing. I did do a lot of what's in the film, though.'
Accusations that he was out to become the second Arnie Schwarzenegger, however, were met with ill-concealed disdain. 'I'm not interested in becoming that guy,' he pouted. 'I'm not interested in doing another action picture for the next two or three years. I'm not saying it's not fun, though!' The new, tough haircut certainly helped: after all, as one critic pointed out, 'How could he keep one step ahead of Dennis Hopper if he was at home with the hairdryer?'
Speed had its share of hair-raising moments - but to the dismay of studio bosses Reeves shaved his hair off during filming: a number one razor cut. He's only the third movie star in history to have a haircut named after him. A 'Keanu' is currently cool.
Female lead in Speed was played by the little-known Sandra Bullock, who found overnight success as Annie, the lady at the wheel of the bus ... and in the arms of the hero! Her close-up view of the Keanu phenomenon was fascinating. 'One minute you wanted to punch him because he was so blatantly honest,' she said. 'The next you wanted to throw your arms around him.' All in all, though, she considers him 'an exceptional human being'.
Half-way through the filming of Speed came some sad tidings -the death of River Phoenix on 31 October 1993, reportedly from an excess of alcohol and drugs. Mystery surrounded the events that led up to the death, but the news hit Keanu hard.
'It was a terrible shock, and I miss him very much. I think of it as an accident ... I can't make any sense of it.' Director De Bont immediately eased up on the schedule, giving him some less demanding scenes until he could come to terms with the loss of one of his best friends. 'He became very quiet,' the director said. 'it took him a while to calm down ... it scared the hell out of him.'
'River was a really heavy actor, man, he was the best. It helped me a lot to work with him. He was really inspiring and intelligent.'
The year of 1995 promises to be an exciting one - starting in January, with a return to the country of his youth to play the title role in Hamlet on stage in a low-budget production in Canada. Since the success of Speed, he's been valued at seven million dollars per movie, but this stage appearance fulfils an ambition that means more than money to him. 'There's this company where I may get to play Hamlet,' he'd told a reporter a couple of years previously. 'That would be bitchin!'
'I haven't played any of the larger parts in Shakespeare,' he continued. 'I've played Mercutio and I've played Trinculo from The Tempest ... so to play the second largest part in Shakespeare in probably one of the greatest pieces of dramaturgy in the history of Western literature - it's a bit daunting.'
By the end of 1994, Keanu Reeves had clocked up some 20 films. Scheduled to be released in 1995 on the movie front was Johnny Mnemonic, a film in which Keanu played the part of a 21st century courier whose head has the capability of storing the information of a large computer. He rates the filming of this the most tiring ever - cause for two helpings of Bill & Ted's cereal, perhaps?
'There are action elements,' he says of Johnny Mnemonic, 'but it's not the main thrust of the film. And if you thought my stunts were good in Speed, wait till you see this. I only had a month and a half after finishing Speed to prepare for this film. Going from such a physical film and then going into another physically demanding experience, takes a lot of energy.'
More of a drama than Speed, Johnny Mnemonic co-stars tough guy Dolph Lundgren, rock star Henry Rollins and rapper Ice-T. Sky magazine summarised it like this: 'Reeves rents out space in his brain, and only the bad boys are buying. In other words, Blade Runner meets Total Recall in cyberspace.'
Impressive it may sound, but in the final analysis the man himself remains as unmoved by this as he has always been over all the adulation he's received over the years. 'I'd have to say I prefer Shakespeare to the action stuff.'
Also likely to make an appearance during the year is A Walk In The Clouds, directed by Alfonso Arau and quite different from anything else he's attempted. 'It's about a Second World War soldier coming home. I'm learning about the war, life as a soldier and the whole American history thing.'
Then, of course, there's the potential follow-up to Speed. Reports suggest that Keanu banked $1.2 million for his involvement in the film - but is now worth a cool $7 million a picture. Money well spent, his fans would say, and certainly a sequel without the dashing actor would be unthinkable. We're talking priceless talent here ... and given that the film grossed £14 million in its opening weekend, there's little doubt his demands will be met.
A sequel would give us more of the same, and doubtless few would complain at that. Yet one significant unfulfilled cinematic ambition remains in his sights. 'I would love to play a mean character, someone who is just really ugly. Most of the people that I've played have been good, naive characters. I want to do films about death, hell and sin!' Seems unlikely to us ... but one thing all Keanu-watchers will know by now is not to discount anything the man's put his mind to!
Unlike many 30-year-olds, he's so far shown few signs of settling down: he currently doesn't own his own house and lives in a hotel, Chateau Marmont. 'I don't know where I'm gonna live,' he says. 'I just want to hang out, learn my lines and work on Hamlet. I don't feel I need a home right now.'
Where and with whom he'll end up is anybody's guess. having lived under the legendary Hollywood sign, the thought of anywhere else could be one giant comedown. His favourite place in the entire world, he claims, is the American desert 'dirt and earth and flowers and big skies and the desert! Wow!' He might well take a horse out there, having continued the interest cultivated to play Don John in Much Ado About Nothing and riding from the LA Equestrian Centre in Burbank. What better way to view the arid, awesome sandscape than from on horseback?
Things didn't look quite as impressive, however, when his car broke down in the middle of the Californian desert. With no food or drink or means of communication he was lucky enough to be rescued -by rock star Tom Petty who made him promise that Keanu would be in one of his videos (he was).
Reticent about girlfriends, his name has been linked with Sofia Coppola, Paula Abdul and Autumn Macintosh, and in 1994 he was rumoured to have been 'an item' with Sharon (Basic Instinct) Stone.
He claims having a famous girlfriend has no place in his kind of lifestyle. 'The thing is, the kind of person I am in real life depends on the day. The biggest sacrifice I've made is the chance of success in love.' Revealingly, he has said that the worst thing about being famous is 'losing out on love ... I'm single and I enjoy it sometimes. But it would be great to find somebody special. it would be very important for me to have a home and a family, but this work is on the road a lot.'
The price of fame has been great, then - but, he claims, not that great. 'I don't really get mobbed,' Keanu smiles, 'in the sense that I don't have people camped outside my door. I think it's cool that people find me attractive, though. Once in a while people say "hello" when I'm out shopping, which is cool.'
It's been a hectic schedule so far, movie after movie with very few breaks in-between - but you won't find Keanu complaining. 'I'm young and kinda healthy so why not?' he says. 'I'm not hanging around for anything else. I love performing and I love appearing on the big screen so if I can fit four movies into a year then why not? I won't be doing that forever. I have my sights set on other things. I'd like to do lots more theatre and I'd like to write a book or something. I've got lots of ideas in my head.'
And if that hints at a second career away from the silver screen, you may just be right. Keanu Reeves is not prepared to burn himself out. At 30, he clearly sees many different possibilities, many diverse roads stretching out before him on the map of his life. He's not prepared to carry on Speed-ing down one highway to the exclusion of all others, even if the road is paved with gold.
'I don't want to become a Hollywood product machine,' he insists. 'I'm not interested in being the main guy on the screen - I love playing little parts. All I need is to support myself and I've been doing that from acting since I was 18.'
One of Keanu's side trips was his grunge band Dogstar, at one point so bad they were pelted with cups at a heavy metal festival - 'I'm the worst bass player in the world, man, I have no rhythm'. In 1994, however, he was more complimentary: 'we're getting good now, and hopefully we can come over to England and do some live dates.' But shortly afterwards he shelved the idea of going out on the road: perhaps living in a hotel full-time makes the life of a rock star less attractive!
Rock 'n' rollers never die, it's said - but when it gets right down to it Keanu Reeves claims he's looking forward to hanging up his guitar, closing the book on his acting ambitions and opting for a life of leisure. In preparation for this, he's taken up ballroom dancing ... any prospective partners can start an orderly queue!
'You know what's a nice thought?' he laughs. 'Retirement. That's what we've got to look forward to. A hundred movies in the can and time to relax on a warm beach. Isn't that a totally awesome idea?'
We can't see it happening just yet ...