Keanu on cloud 9
by Elaine Lipworth
...but this howler brings him back to earth!
Now that Keanu Reeves is a certified superstar, it's not surprising that he's being "dogged" by his past failures. The Speed star obviously hoped that everyone would forget his hairy cameo as a mutant dog-man in the 1993 boxoffice bomb Freaked. Unfortunately, the British press got hold of the embarrassing stills and splashed them all over their newspapers. Freaked, which was released on video in Australia last year, was directed by Keanu's Bill And Ted buddy, Alex Winter.
From a distance it is impossible to tell that the dark young man chatting to a friend in an L.A. hotel lounge is a film star.
But close-up, Keanu Reeves is so striking it is hard to keep your eyes off him. He has pale skin, sculpted cheekbones and an oriental beauty that stems from his Hawaiian-Chinese genes.
He is tall and lean, with broad shoulders, and dressed in black from head to toe. Unlike most Hollywood stars, he is not surrounded by bodyguards and publicists. There is no entourage.
He jumps up to shake hands, then quickly sits down again.
He fidgets, twisting around in his chair and twiddling his fingers. He smiles nervously. You might expect a star to display confidence, but Keanu is not like any other famous actor. He genuinely hates to be in the limelight and longs for anonymity.
"I don't want to be super-famous. That would be awful," he says.
"But you're already a superstar," I remind him.
Keanu doesn't agree. He runs his fingers through his short, spiky black hair and sighs in exasperation. "I'm not a superstar, that's ridiculous," he insists. "Elvis was a superstar. I'm just an actor doing my job."
He may not want fame, but since the phenomenal success of Speed he can't seem to stop it.
With two new movies out in The U.S. - the futurist thriller Johnny Mnemonic and a World War 2 love story, A Walk In The Clouds - Keanu is in the spot-light again.
When I tell him that women all over the world think he's one of the best-looking men in Hollywood, he smiles and says: "It's cool, it's nice, but I'm not a sex symbol.
"Do people see me as a sex symbol? All right, but I'm not besieged by girls. If people like my films, and like the work I do, that's fine.
"I can walk the streets and live my life, you know. I'm not a prisoner of the successes I've had. I have a normal life. I can go out to restaurants, of course I can."
Keanu may have movie-star looks and on-screen charisma, but after a few minutes it becomes clear that he is not a sparkling conversationalist.
He's no good at idle chat. His answers are short. He's pleasant and friendly, but not exactly warm. There are long silences that seem endless and long pauses between thoughts.
Keanu is also painfully shy, so shy it makes you wonder how he became an actor in the first place. He speaks so softly it is sometimes hard to hear him.
Only when the chat revolves around work does he smile and talk with a degree of enthusiasm and vitality.
"I love my job. I love acting, more and more all the time, and I'm always looking for good scripts," he says.
"I've wanted to be an actor since I was 14. Various things probably led to my interest. My mother worked in rock 'n' roll, doing costumes for people such as Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, so I was around performers from a young age.
"My stepfather, Paul Aaron, was a director. He did theatre and film, and the people in his world seemed incredibly exotic to me. I remember thinking they seemed like gypsies and had a different vibe."
Keanu seems to enjoy a nomadic existence himself. He doesn't own a house and stays in hotels most of the time.
"I stay with my sister or at a hotel when I'm in Los Angeles," he says. "I've been doing that because I haven't had time to look for anywhere.
"But I'm not going to buy a house, I don't need one. I'll probably just get an apartment in Los Angeles."
As soon as the conversation turns to personal issues. Keanu clams up.
Does he have a girlfriend? "No. I don't have a girlfriend." he says. "I don't have time at the moment. I'm always working."
Why isn't he married? "I haven't met the right person."
One day, Keanu says. he would like to settle down and have a family of his own. But the subject makes him distinctly edgy. He leans from side to side and mumbles almost inaudibly.
"Um, yeah. I would like children of my own." he says. "Sure. if I could find somebody it would be very important to me."
He looks uncomfortable, shifts around in his chair again and hesitates before adding: "If I have a family it'll mean a lot - I mean a lot. It's the human condition. It's one of the miracles we all share."
Keanu insists his life hasn't changed much since he became famous. But even as we talk, a group of idol is doing promotional work in the hotel today.
"It's fine that they like me, but the work is the only thing that interests me," he says.
Keanu gets up and smiles. The interview is over. We walk together to the lift. Once inside, he asks which floor I want. There's an uncomfortable silence and he looks at his watch.
"Is that the time already? Where's the day gone?"
The lift stops and Keanu smiles, relieved that he's about to be on his own again. "It was nice meeting you." he says.