The World According To Keanu
Harold Von Kursk
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Keanu Reeves lives on another planet from the rest of us. His conversation contains elements of Shakespearian English wrapped up in Californian slang. He has been portrayed in the media as an air head with a tenuous grip on reality. But such an interpretation onlu scratches the surface of this intelligent and mysterious actor. Keanu Reeves doesn't believe in the materail world where men and women are trapped in the "reality" perpetuated by TV shows and advertising. He remains aloof' from it, but is not so naive as to believe that he is not a co-conspirator in it all. "I've made an accommodation with the movie business. I look for the opportunities that can lead me to a higher level. I wish I could tell you that one day my quest for the truth about myself will come to a magnificent stop and I'll be happy with all that life has to offer me. But I'm still enormously fucked up."
Reality might be a hazy concept for Reeves, but there is no doubt that the success of his new film, Speed, has opened up a new reality as fas as the film world is concerned. "A film actor is always limited by what the market expect of him. Now I'm marketable, so I have to think how I'm going to respond to the attention."
Directed by Jan de Bont (the cinematographer of Basic Instinct), Speed will earn over $300 million worldwide this year. Reeves stars as a SWAT-team' policeman out to catch a mad bomber played by Dennis Hopper. Reeves' performance has helped raise his value from $1 million to $7 million a picture. He is also being offered roles which would never have come his way in the past. Reeves now finds himself having to re-think his attitudes towards Hollywood: "I don't want to be sucked into the belly of the beast, but I can't live in denial anymore. Now I have the freedom to create as an actor, it's my responsibility to deal with that freedom."
Speed was an odd choice for Reeves. Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Harrison Ford would have been more obvious options for the macho role. He realizes he has nothing in common with these actors, but he liked the storyline: "The film is totally synchronized with the moment: it's all happening in front of you and you don't have time to debate what you're seeing. The film's a bulldozer that just keeps going, and that appealed to me."
Reeves spent most of last summer in Toronto, Canada, his home town, where he was shooting his latest film, Johnny Mnemonic, a fantastic cyberpunk thriller. Directed by Robert Longo, the celebrated New York artist, it is the sort of philisophical movie more in tune with Reeves' own otherworldiness. "The premise is very abstract", explains the actor. "A disease called nerve attenuation syndrome is ravaging the earth, it's the cyber equivalent of AIDS and my character has the cure implanted in his brain which a bit drug company wants to use for its own selfish purposes ... What I had to find in my character was a way of expressing his disillusionment with the system and still give him the urge to fight back. Johnny has to find his faith".
The Question of faith is an important one for Reeves. It was during the filming of Little Buddha that he first became interested in Tibetan Buddhism. Reeves is basically a searcher and this quality prompted Bertolucci to cast him in Little Buddha. The director was also impressed by the ethereal quality of Reeves' physique: "I think almost every director I've worked with has sought to exploit the innocence they see in me 'Yes, Keanu' I need that from you, I need your purity. You are Siddhartha'. It's funny, but I did share a few things with Siddhartha. I was 29 when I made Little Buddha, the same age as he was when he began his quest for spirtuality, I also aspire to higher values, I also want to be greater that when I've limited myself to so far. I'm still trying to escape from my bourgeoise white consciousness and find poetry in the world that will guide me past all the debris.
Born in Beirut in 1964 to a British mother and Chinese-Hawaiian father, Keanu (his name means cool breeze over the mountains) spent his childhood years in Australia and New York before his mother eventually settled in Toronto after splitting up with her husband. He had a difficult childhood, drinking heavily and partying wildly while studying at the High School of Performing Arts in Toronto. But he eventually dropped out and began making TV commercials for Coke and other products. At the age of 19, Keanu decided enough was enough, packed up his car and drove to Los Angeles, where he has lived ever since. His first serious movie was River's Edge. Later that year he made his name as Ted in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Since then his most notable roles have been as an FBI agent in Point Break, as an Englishman with an accent problem in Bram Stoker's Dracula, as a Shakespearian roque in Much Ado About Nothing, and as a male prostitute in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho, probably his strongest performance to date. Despite his reputation as a sex symbol, he had only been linked with a few women and confessed to being frustrated at times in his search for a female partner. So it was no real wonder his recent wedding with show businessman, David Geffen.
But the most difficult time in Reeves' life of late was his best friend River Phoenix died of a heroin overdose. The death of Phoenix has haunted him ever since. "We were spiritually very close, brothers. River was a soulmate, a pure human being with a gift for naturalness. I'm still so sad about his loss, it's the heaviest thing I ever had to face". Although troubled by a lack of focus in his day-to-day life, Reeves has an inner drive which impresses the directors even if the critics are less pleased with his performances Reeves still has a long way to go before his sharpest detractors will take his work seriously. But he's getting there.