Time was short: Critic gets 6 minutes with Johnny Mnemonic Keanu Reeves
by Jeff Strickler
I crashed Keanu Reeves' party. But he was nice about it. The hunk who starred in last year's blockbuster Speed answered all my questions, and nobody tried to kick me out. Yes, I was shown to the door after just six minutes, but I didn't take it personally. It happened to everyone.
The "party" was thrown by TriStar Pictures to promote Reeves' starring turn in Johnny Mnemonic, a futuristic sci-fi action-adventure that opens Friday. Reeves is in the Twin Cities filming the romance Feeling Minnesota. Rather than have him take three days off from that job -- one to travel to Hollywood, one for interviews and one to come back -- the studio decided to bring the Hollywood press to the Twin Cities to talk to him. (You know how it goes, if Keanu won't come to the mountain...)
The promotion was for TV movie critics only. The print media were told we wouldn't be allowed in because there wasn't enough time. This was a "sound byte" session, the goal of which was to produce as many TV interview clips as possible between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday. As a result, each interview was limited to six minutes.
There had been an interview session for print people, but Reeves didn't participate. The attendees were co-star Dina Meyer (her first movie), director Robert Longo (his first movie), writer William Gibson (his first movie) and actor Henry Rollins (the grizzled veteran of the group, this being his second movie).
WE WANT KEANU!, we insisted. No way, they said.
"Handle with KARE"
But luck was on my side this time, because I also review movies for KARE11. With the TV station's blessing, I went over and got in line for an interview. Didn't even wash the black ink off my fingers first.
Truth be told, I kind of hoped someone might try to stop me. I had promised my bosses a report about this brazen sortie, and it's hard to base an entire newspaper article on a six-minute interview. Alas, everyone was cooperative.
They did want to know if KARE actually intended to air the interview, or was I just there to make a fool of myself? (I get asked that question a lot about my TV work, unfortunately it's usually by the people at KARE.) Assured that I was semi-legit, they pointed me toward the cookies and coffee, with which I became very familiar as I waited 2 1/2 hours.
Waiting is a big part of the game. These interview feeding frenzies are the journalistic equivalent of a McDonald's drive-through with a long, long line. The studio rents a hotel suite where the interview subject holds court with the reporters queued up in the hall.
The interview room is full of lights and TV cameras. No outside photographers are allowed; studio technicians do all the lighting and taping. It saves time, yes, but it also ensures that the studio maintains control of what comes out of the interview.
But you don't have time to quibble about journalistic principles. You have begun your six minutes, and the floor director overseeing the interview assures you it won't last one second longer.
So you talk fast. And you wish he talked faster. Every time he pauses to gather his thoughts, you want to shout, "C'mon, Keanu! The clock's running!"
"2 seconds of sympathy"
You don't want to be mean, though. In fact, you feel a little sorry for Keanu, with 48 people in seven hours asking him the same question over and over. Even so, he's upbeat, positive, friendly. He laughs when I kid around with him. He laughs again when he kids back.
Then I grab a tight rein on my sympathies and ask the one question I'm sure he's already been asked 40 times: Why did he pick this role?
Instead of running screaming from the room, he says with apparent sincerity, "I thought it was a cool science-fiction piece, and it was an opportunity for me to do some extreme acting."
OK, I have more ammunition: Question No. 2 on everybody else's list: How tricky was it working in a movie driven by special effects that weren't added until afterward?
He smiles. "It was weird, but it was also fun. You have a certain kind of freedom, and you just go. There was a scene when I make a phone call in virtual reality, so I just tried to invent things, actions, so that the special-effects people could match it. But it was cool [to see the completed movie] to see what I was doing."
If I was going to get him to crack, I had to pull out the big gun: Yes, it was time for C.J. The phenomenal success of Speed has to have changed his life, what with the Star Tribune's gossip columnist lurking one step behind him every time he goes into a local watering hole to unwind after a hard day on the set.
So, I offered, here was his chance to straighten out C.J.
"I didn't know she was crooked," he said. "I met her on the street once. Shook her hand." He shrugged as if to indicate that it was no big deal. (Sorry, C.J.) The success of Speed has gotten him some work, he said, laughing, "but I'm not a prisoner of my success. I can go out on the street. I can live my life."
There was so much more that I wanted to ask:
-> How does he balance his status as a box-office hunk with his desire to do classic drama, like Kenneth Branagh's 1993 adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing?
-> How firm are his plans to launch a theater group, and is that why he has been spotted at several small theaters in the Twin Cities?
-> What's Sandra Bullock really like?
But my six minutes were up.
How it works is, if the star is talking when the time runs out, he can keep talking for two or three days if he feels like it. But if the reporter is talking, the session is over.
It didn't feel like six minutes to me. As it turns out, it wasn't six minutes. When I got back to the TV station, I ran the interview tape through an editing booth. Turns out my interview lasted only five minutes and 55 seconds.
Keanu, you owe me five.
The interview will be aired at 9 a.m Friday on "KARE11 Today."