Keanu's A Scream!
(Previously published in March 1995 as a longer version under the title 'Keanu Reeves: the US interview' (~5200 words); also published in July 1995 under the titles 'Daredevil Keanu' (~2600 words) and 'Keanu - the slacker prince comes of age' (~4400 words))
It's easy to find the Speed star on the set of his new movie, because...
by Margy Rochlin
Keanu Reeves is on the set of A Walk in the Clouds, oblivious to the fact that fake fog is slowly enveloping him.
As he stares at his scuffed brown shoes, it wafts up the sides of his Forties-style suit and eventually creeps over the peak of his beige businessman's hat. By the time the vapor makers stop puffing out greyish smoke, all that will be visible on this Hollywood sound stage is the tip of a man-made mountaintop.
Only Keanu, the romantic lead in director Alfonso Arau's (Like Water for Chocolate) first American film, can be located without a homing device. For included in his grab bag of concentration techniques - stretching, deep knee bends and aerobic-like wrist twirls - are lung-clearing shouts. And when ear-splitting hog calls don't do the trick, Keanu will blurt out back-story postscripts, thoughts that may help him empathize with the internal struggle of Paul Sutton, the sweetly befuddled soldier. he is playing. At this moment, for example, an anguished cry places him slightly northeast of the camera platform. "But I'm already married! " he is reprimanding himself furiously.
While it can be argued that Speed hailed his arrival as a mature screen presence, off screen Keanu still seems forever a teenager or something of a puzzle when it comes to the I.Q. department. Nevertheless it is Keanu's polite demeanor and no-nonsense work ethic that impresses crew members.
Observed one colleague, who worked with Keanu on Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure in 1989: "Even then he was incredibly professional. He was always on time. We always knew to find him. On the other hand, his trailer always looked like a bomb had gone off."
In many ways, that remark holds true for Keanu's interview style as well. Confounding all notions of flakiness, he arrived early for both sessions. For the most part, he aimed at being candid, although sometimes his demeanor telegraphed more than his words. (When asked how he was affected by the death of his friend River Phoenix, he rested his head on the table. "How was I affected? How was I affacted?" he whispered to himself. Then he looked up to reveal checks reddened with emotion. "Uh, what do I say?" he mumbled. "I was terribly, terribly, sad. Incredibly sad. And, um, I miss him very much.") Throughout our talk, his spirits rose and fell unpredictably.
You've been characterised as something of a vagabond. Why?
Keanu: I guess I'm just looking for a place to be. It's not like I've got this gypsy-bohemian philosophy like, "I don't want a home because I don't want roots." I've been at this hotel for a couple of months while working [on A Walk in the Clouds].
Your mother was a costume designer for rock stars. Were holidays at the Reeves household impressive visual events?
Keanu: Well, Halloween was exceptional because I'd always get a cool costume. One year, I was Dracula and wore this really cool cape. Another year, I was Batman and my sister was Robin. Once she made this Cousin Itt costume, from The Addams Family. I wore this giant wig. (With mock seriousness) It rained that Halloween. I got wet. I just looked like a big bowl of pasta.
So your upbringing was fairly theatrical?
Keanu: Well, there were times when groovy people would come over. Like Alice Cooper stayed at our house. I remember he brought fake vomit and dog pooh to terrorise the housekeeper. He'd hang out, a regular dude.
Do you remember any of your own early quasi-adult adventures?
Keanu: When I was 17, I had my first car. It was a 1969, 122 Volvo in British racing green. Bricks help up the front seat. Good stereo. I bought it from a man named Lester, who'd taught me how to walk. (Comic pause) He ripped me off. (Laughs) Anyway, I remember being with some friends and driving in that car from Toronto to Buffalo to see the Ramones. That was very adventurous. You know, there was a punk-rock girl in the back seat with a raccoon on her shoulder. The Clash was playing so loud. And all those questions that run through your head: "Will we make it?" "Yes, of course." "We're under age. Can we get in?" "Yeah, cool." You know, drinking and watching the Ramones. It was such a good time.
A perfect germinal experience for someone in a garage band. Does your band, Dogstar, play often?
Keanu: Yeah, we played in a club two nights ago. We play, like, folk music. Folk thrash, maybe? But not quite thrash.
Back to A Walk In The Clouds. Arau (the director) said he wanted this to be your first film where you played a man. How did you interpret this?
Keanu: I'll speak for the person I play in the film: For him, it was about taking resposibility for himself and for those around him.
And for you?
Keanu: I don't have any maxims on manliness or what it is to be a man. You know, nature will push you there.
Late year you worked non-stop. Do you find this place gruelling? Or do you enjoy it?
Keanu: Sometimes it's been really tough, but I've enjoyed that. There's been moments where I've just had to preserve my energy. I remember working on Johnny Mnemonic. It was right after finishing Speed, which was very physical and demanding. And Johnny Mnemonic turned out to be a very intense, quick shoot. I was in every scene. And I remember being so... I could quantify the energy it would take to get up off of the couch. I was trying not to move, so that I could save my strength.
Your reputation as an actor is you're work, no socialising.
Keanu: That's been my nature for the past year and a half. (Pause). I do go out once in a while. It's not like I'm a monk. It's not like people would say, Before, he was footloose and fancy-free, and then he became a monk". That's not what happened. I've always cared about acting and stuff.
Often, when directors are asked why they cast you, they say, "He has an innocence". I interpret this as a reaction to your openness to new situations. Do you agree?
Keanu: I'd love to say yes. But it's not true. I do have an open nature, I guess. My mum told me that after "No," the second thing I spoke was "How come?" So I guess it's in my nature. It drove her crazy.
On the other hand, your mother must have encouraged that openness in you.
Keanu: (Leans toward tape recorder) Thanks, mum. Thanks a lot. Good job. I know you know that already. But thanks.
Do you want to get married and have kids?
You know when?
Keanu: (Shakes head "No")
What kind of father do you think you'd be?
Keanu: To a certain extent, I would probably try to, first of all, be around. And then to be, hopefully, a nurturing, positive presence.
Do you feel that your father's departure from your family at an early age affected how you feel about marriage and relationships?
Keanu: Of course. (Sighs) I think a lot of who I am is a reaction against his actions.
Do you have any kind of relationship with your father now?
Keanu: I knew him up until I was six. Then, uh, I saw him occasionally when I would go to Hawaii on holidays. The last time I saw him was when I was 13.
You're tired - should we order some coffee?
Keanu: It won't help.
When you first came to L.A. you would audition under a name other than your own. Why?
Keanu: (Groans) That was a terrible, terrible phase, which lasted about a month. I had driven across the country, and the day I arrived on these shores, I was informed that my manager was having trouble getting me in to see some casting agents because of my name. It had an ethnicity to it that was getting in the way. So they said I had to change my name and that freaked me out. I came up with names like Page Templeton III. And Chuck Spinida. My middle name is Charles. Eventually, they picked K.C. (shivers). Ugh, terrible. When I would go to auditions, I'd tell them my name was Keanu anyway.
Every scar on a person's body has a story attached to it. Please pick out a scar, and tell me what it reminds you of.
Keanu: Let's see, which one should I choose? I have a scar on my knee, a very small one. I was on my motorcycle, and I got hit by a car on the corner of Hollywood and Normandie. The car was making a left, and I jumped from the motorcycle just before the guy hit me. I did a somersault in the air and landed on the sidewalk on my back. Then I jumped up. That must have been quite a sight.
Were you badly injured?
Keanu: No, no. It was only this long (indicates 6 cm). But it was deep. You could see, like, ligaments. I totaled my bike.
So your presence is common in emergency rooms?
Keanu: No, but I do have a relationship with a towtruck driver named Chuck.