KEANU REEVES GROWS UP -- A LITTLE BIT
by Cindy Pearlman
NAPA, Calif. -- There was a time when he was a total airhead. Keanu Reeves was a complete flake. He wasn't exactly *acting* in those "Bill and Ted" movies. He was Ted, surfer dude extraordinaire.
For proof, cut to the interview tapes circa 1989. On his new movies: "Hope you dig it." On his fans: "Wow! I have fans. That blows my mind!" On his extracurricular activities: "It's always fun to break plates and jump around."
At the time, talking with Reeves was always an excellent adventure. His take on the English language was, uh, unique. With a dreamy sigh, he'd crinkle those sleepy brown eyes and insist, "When I say, 'Be excellent to each other' or 'Party on,' that's a beautiful thing, man."
Man, times have changed.
It's 9 a.m. in the Napa Valley, and Reeves speeds through the William Hill vineyards in a tweed suit jacket and tailored black jeans, with his hair in a long combed shag. He looks like a young business executive as he sits down at a picnic table to quote lines from "Hamlet," mull over the acting motivation he used for his new film "A Walk in the Clouds" (opening Friday in Chicago) and toss out his views on metaphysics and Buddhism. "Both keep me centered."
Still you can take the actor out of the dude, but you can't take the dude out of the actor. Ask him if the months following his megahit bus movie "Speed" have been cooler than cool. Reeves cannot resist. "Most definitely!"
The deal with Keanu Reeves is that he is not like you or me. Or anyone else, for that matter. When he is happy, he will give himself a big bear hug or yell "Woooo" to the heavens. If he is unhappy, he has been known to crane his neck and start to howl. "Dogs dig me," he says.
So does his adoring public. On the screen Reeves stars this month in "A Walk in the Clouds" where he plays a World War II vet returning to the States to fall in love with the pregnant daughter of a vineyard owner. Reeves is also playing rock n' roll star this summer, touring with his band Dogstar, which was scheduled to perform Saturday night in Chicago at the Park West. When asked if he has ever been to Chicago before, Reeves nods vigorously, mentioning, "I don't know when I came to Chicago before. I don't know why."
Fans know why they love Reeves. At the Dogstar show in Washington D.C., a group of girls actually snuck on the band's tour bus to lift Keanu's almost empty bottle of beer. "I took it to drink the backwash," a teenage girl told the press with delight.
Reeves would be the first one to understand such strange behavior. He has a line on this sort of thinking. Consider this oddity: All of his possessions fit neatly into one scratched-up brown leather suitcase. Keanu Reeves' worldly goods include a couple of pairs of pants, a few T-shirts, socks, underwear and one pair of shoes.
To avoid hassles, he moves his stuff at night. He roams from hotel to hotel, wherever his work or his wishes take him.
The man many women would like to take home has no home of his own. Since picking up the $121 million-grossing "Speed" last summer, Reeves has received $8 million per film, but he figures he will never buy property because "I never want to have to mow a lawn, and this way I don't have to concern myself with painting any woodwork.
"I'm a gypsy. I'm a bohemian. I don't want a home because I don't want roots. Roots are so messy," he contends.
Like a kid on an allowance, he allows himself only three expensive toys. The first is his bass guitar, which comes in handy when he plays with Dogstar. Then there's his Norton motorcycle, which he once toppled, rupturing his spleen. The last is his weapon.
"I keep it in a long box that is sealed," says Reeves, who admits that he watches in amusement as hotel bellmen have struggled with the awkward carton, always eventually asking what lurks inside.
Have sword, will travel. Yes, Keanu kept a little souvenir from his days of playing Hamlet onstage in Canada last year. "I travel around with a hundred-pound golden sword. It's actually a good-luck charm," he says.
Ask Reeves if he thinks packing a sword in 1995 is a little, well, weird. He smiles and shrugs. "Oh no, I think it's kind of normal."
Reeves is always busy convincing people that he is a regular, ordinary, normal guy. It's a time-consuming job. He begins with the rumors. What's the dumbest thing he has ever read about himself?
"I'm either on drugs or I'm gay. Both are bull----," he says, adding, "Oh, yeah, I'm also supposedly married to David Geffen." For months now, rumors have surfaced that the "Speed"-ster and the record mogul have tied the knot.
"It's pretty dumb. I've never even met the man," Reeves says. Did he at least get a good laugh out of the hoopla? "I think my friends got a good laugh. I was in Canada doing Hamlet when all this stuff surfaced. My friends were calling going, 'Are you married? Why weren't we invited to the wedding?'"
Concerning rumors of being gay, Reeves adds, "It makes me angry that I have to say that I'm not gay, which implies to some people that there is something wrong with being gay -- and there is not. That's why I usually just say nothing."
Now that he's starring in a romance, does Reeves consider himself a romantic person? "Yes, definitely. I am romantic," he says. Ask him about his ideal romantic night and he gets exasperated. "What do you mean? Would this be a courtship type of night or a romance once you're in a relationship?"
Just pick one.
"Well, I haven't been in a relationship for so long that I can't speak about it. I have no idea."
OK, try the courtship scenario.
Seconds turn into minutes. Minutes turn into what seem to be hours. "I guess I believe in all the cliches. I did some serenading in 'A Walk in the Clouds,' so, yeah, man, I'd hire myself a mariachi band and sing to the girl. I know about wine and I know about the mariachi way after doing this movie."
"Wooooo!" he yells to the heavens, giving himself a bear hug. "I'm almost a renaissance man!"
Keanu. It means cool breeze over the mountains. The cool breeze was born to an English mother and a Hawaiian father in Beruit, Lebanon. The family traveled the globe on inherited money, finally settling in Toronto. "It was a weird childhood," Reeves admits. "Alice Cooper would stay at our house. He was a family friend. It was cool since he'd bring fake vomit to terrorize our housekeeper."
A shy teenager who played ice hockey when not working as an ice skate sharpener or a tree trimmer, Reeves recalls hating high school, which is why he attended four of them in five years before dropping out. "I'm not really good at any type of control being assumed over me. I wanted to feel free." So at 16 he asked his mother if he could be an actor. "She said, 'OK. Whatever you want.' So I was an actor."
Eventually he packed up his one suitcase and hit L.A., where he immediately landed a TV movie with Lindsay Wagner before making his noteworthy debut as a teen slacker in "River's Edge" (1986). Since then he has worked in two "Bill and Teds," where he told the press the secret to playing cool air guitar -- "You just gotta feel it in your bones. Let the sensation come over you. Right on!"
His resume also includes Ron Howard's "Parenthood" (1989), Lawrence Kasdan's "I Love You to Death" (1990), Gus Van Zant's "My Own Private Idaho" (1991), Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992) and Bernardo Bertolucci's "Little Buddha" (1994). None of those acclaimed directors claims to know the real Reeves.
"He has this incredible shyness and innocence," recalls Howard.
"He is like a man-child," says Alfonso Arau, who directs him in "Clouds."
Last summer Reeves became a household word when he got tough and buff for his role as action hero Jack Traven in "Speed." Co-star Sandra Bullock says of Reeves, "He has gone through harder times than he's willing to admit. I think there is a lot of pain. I would see him go off by himself, and there's a hint of sadness in his eyes that makes you want to go, 'What is it?' But he keeps to himself."
He walks alone through the vineyard, skinny as a stick. Since "Speed," Reeves has lost his muscles because, "That was a lot of time in the gym. And it's not always so easy to work out in hotels."
Or on the road with his band. Reeves says the music of Dogstar is folk-thrash. Is he a fan of folk music? "No, but I like it," he says.
Reeves mentions that Bruce Springsteen need not worry. He only sings one song. Ask him to hum a few bars.
"OK, here goes," he begins, "Isabelle is a girl. Isabelle loves her world. You can tell by the way she smiles. Cutest girl by a country mile." The song is dedicated to a friend's 3-1/2-year-old daughter. "Once I was up onstage with the band singing 'Isabelle,' and I was feeling her so much that my blood tickled," he says, adding a quick, "Woooo!"
He says the concert tour will take him "here and there." Along the way, he stares out the bus window and ponders the past. He runs the lines from "Hamlet," which he considers his best work to date. "I didn't puke or pass out onstage. That was an accomplishment."
Does he think he has changed since his "Bill and Ted" days? "That's such a vast question," says the 30-year-old man who once showed up for press conferences on 90-degree Los Angeles days wearing three sweat jackets and with enough dirt under his nails to grow 10 Chia pets. "I guess I've kind of grown up."
Of his acting career, which might soon include an action movie called "Dead Drop," to be shot in Chicago and directed by Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive"), he says, "I have no game plan. If I'm broke, then I gotta make money, so I'll do what it takes." Certainly he doesn't need money anymore. "Oh, no, I had to borrow some money recently. I'm broke. I just bought my sister a house."
He has no house of his own, but he bought his sister a place? "She's gonna let me keep my sword there," he says, adding, "Pretty smart thinking." Goodbye, airhead. Hello, Keanu the brain.