Platinum Magazine (US), May / June, 1995

"I hate the term sex symbol" Reeves says quietly.

"I don't think I'm a sex symbol. I don't think I look like a sex symbol either."

(Previously published in August 1994 as a shorter version under the title 'Much Ado About Keanu; also published in an even shorter version in May 1995 under the title 'Keanu's Kiss-Up!')

by James Count

Many recent polls and many millions of women throughout the world would beg to differ with the star's self-assessment however, and, today at least, on the set of his latest movie, an ultra romantic and passionate tale, A Walk In The Clouds, Reeves himself seems to be unwittingly providing them with some fine ammunition. Sitting alone and off to the side, as is his custom, Reeves seems a somewhat solitary and other-worldly presence, an effect enhanced by his appearance. Long gone is the military-style buzz-cut and SWAT outfit of last summer's blockbuster, Speed. Instead, the star is sporting a comfortable 1940's linen suit and period hairstyle. But although he sits alone, all eyes—especially female—are on him as he stretches his lean six-foot foot frame, stands, and then does a curious little dance, almost like a quick running-in-place, to warm up for his next scene. In fact, you don't have to observe the actor for very long to see that he takes his craft very seriously, that he's also very shy off-camera, and that, despite his protests to the contrary, he has the intense physical charisma possessed by all Hollywood sex symbols.

Given that that physical charisma, it's a bit of a shock to realize that Reeves has never played a romantic lead before this film. After making a name for himself as an airhead in the hit comedy Bill and Ted 's Excellent Adventure, the actor has consistently broadened his range and defied expectations by taking on such diverse projects as Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Kenneth Branagh's version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Bernardo Bertolucci's spiritual saga Little Buddha, and Gus Van Sant's harrowing My Own Private Idaho—in which Reeves starred opposite his friend, the late River Phoenix. Perhaps the nearest he's come to getting the girl is in Speed, where after saving a bus load of frightened passengers from being blown sky-high he got to roll around with luscious co-star Sandra Bullock. Bullock later commented, "I get to kiss Keanu Reeves for crying out loud! I'll be the envy of every woman from six to 60!" which the actor finds slightly embarrassing. He pauses for a long time, kicking the dirt with his shoe. "I guess I haven't had too many romantic scenes," he eventually allows. "I just haven't done those kinds of movies."

Now, however, he seems to be making up for lost time. "I have to make love to this very beautiful young girl, which should be a lot of fun," smiles Reeves. "I play Paul Sutton, a young G.I. who meets the beautiful daughter of a vineyard owner and agrees to pose as her husband to help her face her domineering father. It gets a bit complicated and, of course, we end up falling madly in love."

A Walk in the Clouds is being directed by Alfonso Arau, who previously scored a hit with the erotic comedy, Like Water For Chocolate. It also stars Anthony Quinn as the family patriarch, and Spanish actress Aitana Sanchez-Gijon as Victoria, his beautiful daughter.

"I was very attracted to this film because I really wanted to do a romance, something that concerned itself more with the heart and sensuality," explains Reeves. "And I also shared Alfonso's interest in evoking passions. It's a very romantic story—as we play these two lovers who are separated by circumstance—who cannot consummate their love for each other and who have to express it in other ways."

"My character really appealed to me, too," says Reeves. "Paul's a simple man, straight-ahead, fairly good-natured, kind. He's an orphan and he's coming back from the Second World War, fighting in the Pacific, and his experiences, I think, have created in him a sense of sensitivity to emotions and people, and he just wants to have a family and a wife."

It's easy to see why the character would appeal to the actor, who off-screen often exudes a vulnerable, waifish charm as if he were a real-life orphan. But ask Reeves if his silent and strong, tough-guy persona in movies like Speed hides a sensitive, inner soul, and he looks distinctly uncomfortable. "I think everyone has an inner core they protect," he says. "I don't think I'm any different, really."

Was it hard for Reeves to relate to the ultra-romantic image after playing a gum-chewing SWAT team member and performing his own death-defying stunts in Speed? "Not at all, though to go from Speed to this is probably as different as you can possibly get," he admits. He explains how, in a later scene, he will be required to serenade the girl under her balcony window. I've never done anything like that myself, but sure, I can relate to it, he adds with a grin. "I could see myself doing it."

"I was actually doing Speed when the script for A Walk In The Clouds came through," continues the actor, "and I immediately thought, 'this is great,' because I wanted to do a romance, a project that concerned itself with the heart and the nature of passion and sensuality."

It's interesting to note that for all such talk, Reeves has kept a very low profile when it comes to real-life romance. Although he is one of the most eligible young stars in Hollywood, the 29-year-old actor apparently lives alone and is still unattached. "Yeah, I don't have a girlfriend right now," he mumbles. "It's hard having a relationship when you're working and moving around so much. You know, the life of an actor is a bit like a Gypsy's...." The star lets the thought dangle there for a moment, as if he's about to add more. But he never does.

In the past, various press reports have linked Reeves with co-stars like Bullock, as well as Pamela Anderson, the sexy busty blonde from Baywatch. Reeves just shakes his head, half in irritation, half in bemusement at such reports. "You show up at a premiere together and the next thing you know, they've got you married," he notes wryly.

He isn't much more forthcoming about his day-to-day living arrangements beyond admitting that he had "a problem" with his apartment in Los Angeles, and that he recently moved out. It appears that his temporary digs are at the chic Chateau Marmont, the trendy Hollywood hotel where John Belushi died.

If Reeves seems like somewhat of a loner and a mystery man, those close to him suggest that his troubled childhood may have a lot to do with it. Born in Beirut to an English mother, Patricia, and a Hawaiian father, Samuel (Keanu means "cool breezes" in Hawaiian), Reeves was only four when his father walked out on the family. Reeves, his two sisters and his mother moved around a lot, eventually settling in Toronto, where he admits to going "to about five schools in as many years" before dropping out. After a bunch of odd jobs, "stuff like working at an ice hockey rink and stores, nothing special," he took some acting lessons and then at the age of 19 headed south to Los Angeles in search of fame and fortune.

Significantly, Reeves first made his mark as a troubled, alienated teen in the drama River's Edge. Dennis Hopper, who has known him since they costarred in that film and who worked with him again in Speed, has said that, "He's always been very distant and he has some inner turmoil that he deals with."

It's no secret that Reeves was devastated when River Phoenix, a close friend who co-starred with him in the acclaimed drama, My Own Private Idaho, died of a drug overdose in October 1993. Mention Phoenix, and the star looks visibly shaken. "I miss him very, very much," he says quietly. "A terrible loss."

Even after a year, Reeves won't say much about the event. He has even less to say about his own estranged father, who is currently serving a lengthy sentence for drug possession at the Halawa State Prison in Hawau. "I don't want to talk about him," he says politely but firmly. "He disappeared out of my life when I was a kid."

There's no doubt that part of the star's appeal his in his slightly vulnerable image. He might exude an innocent, All-American boyishness, but at the same time there's a hint of sadness. Predictably, Reeves doesn't like to linger on such questions, but ask him if he sees himself as representing a clean-cut, All-American hero and he quickly and unequivocally answers, "No."

So how does he see himself? "I don't know, I don't have a character description for myself," he states. "I think that I can play an All-American boy to a certain extent. I don't think it's something I can't play. But...." His voice trails off and he leaves the rest unanswered.

So what else can he reveal about himself? The actor sits and considers this for quite a while before he finally confesses to being "a perfectionist. Yeah, I am, but I don't know if it helps," he laughs. "I mean, I watch my films quite critically, although I don't really have a set thing that I look for. No, that's not true either. I guess I look at the physicality and judge the acting and see what it looks like."

Mention the fact that now the Pasadena Art Center School of Design has added a course on the films of Keanu Reeves, others will also be studying him quite critically, and the actor just looks sheepish. "It wasn't my idea. It's kind of strange," he mumbles.

Reeves isn't much more comfortable talking about "the stuff" he likes to do when he's not working, such as riding horses, playing street hockey, riding his vintage Norton motorcycle and playing bass with his spare-time band, Dog Star.

"It's not really a rock 'n' roll band," he explains. "It's more like folk-thrash. We just have fun with it doing the odd show now and again. It's not a big deal."

Even if he wants to make the group a bigger deal, Reeves probably won't have the time now. He's already completed another film, Johnny Mnemonic, and is about to start shooting Feeling Minnesota, a drama in which he will star opposite Cameron Diaz, the beautiful super model who made such an impact with her debut in The Mask. As if that's not enough, he's also being energetically wooed to make the sequel to Speed, one of the most financially successful films of last year.

"I'm pretty excited about Johnny Mnemonic. It's a cyberpunk thriller written by William Gibson and I play this guy on the run who's got a computer in his head, which is kind of cool," the star explains. "As for a sequel to Speed, I don't know. l'd have to see the script first. I don't want to get locked into playing just action heroes." Reeves isn't kidding, either. He reportedly turned down a $7 million offer to star in the movie version of Tom Clancy's Without Remorse, instead opting to pursue a long-held ambition to appear as Hamlet in a production in Winnipeg, Canada—a very long way from the glitter and glitz of Hollywood.

And as Reeves wanders off alone again before his next scene, you get the impression that he'd be quite happy if he never came back that often.




Article Focus:

A Walk in the Clouds

Tagged:

A Walk in the Clouds , Speed , Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure , Bram Stoker's Dracula , Much Ado About Nothing , Little Buddha , My Own Private Idaho , River's Edge , College Courses on Keanu , Dogstar , Johnny Mnemonic , Feeling Minnesota , Speed 2 , Hamlet




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