The Virginian-Pilot (US), August 10, 1995

KEANU ON A ''CLOUD'' IN THE BIZ

(also published on August 21 as a shorter version under the title 'A Career in the Clouds')

by Mal Vincent

DATELINE: NAPA VALLEY, CALIF.

KEANU REEVES tosses his jet-black hair off his forehead and ponders his new status in the entertainment industry.

''I guess I've got a lot of responsibility,'' he said with an earnest expression that suggests there's no joy in Keanu-land.

He's gone from valley-speaking dude (''Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure'') to big-time action star (''Speed'') and is now making his debut as a romantic leading man in ''A Walk in the Clouds,'' which opens Friday.

The studio calls him ''the icon of a new movie generation.''

Critics hailed his versatility for trying everything from Shakespeare's ''Much Ado About Nothing'' to Bernardo Bertolucci's spiritual epic ''Little Buddha.'' In between, there's been a surfer action thing called ''Point Break,'' the film version of Tom Robbins' novel ''Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,'' a co-starring stint with the late River Phoenix in ''My Own Private Idaho'' and the comedy ''Parenthood.''

He got good reviews for ''Dangerous Liaisons'' but was blasted for his odd British accent in ''Bram Stoker's Dracula.''

Italian and Spanish newspapers reported that he is gay, and even that he was secretly married to billionaire producer David Geffen.

After ''Speed,'' his asking price rose to $ 7 million per picture.

To top off all the talk, there's great speculation about whether he can bring off a classic World War II romance.

Returning to the northern California vineyards where he shot ''A Walk in the Clouds,'' the Keanu Reeves sitting before us is a big change from the lively, blank kid with torn jeans who rode to the ''Bill and Ted'' opening on his bike.

But he's still got an ultra-shy, little-boy-vulnerable way about him.

''I don't think I've changed at all,'' he said. ''I'm growing up. I'm more experienced. I have to learn to push more - to go to places I've never been before.''

In spite of his $ 7-million salary, Reeves, 30, lives with one suitcase in varied hotels. ''I just haven't found the place I want to be home,'' he said. ''I prefer not to own things. They'd end up owning me.''

His proudest possessions, reportedly just about his only possessions, are his two Norton motorcycles.

''If I'm broke, then I gotta make money and I'll do whatever it takes, but, if I'm not broke, I want good work. Right now, I'm not broke, but I did have to borrow some money recently.''

The best thing he's done as a result of his new stardom? ''I bought my sister a house.'' (His sister, Kim, 29, also owns show horses, paid for by her brother. She is in remission from cancer.)

The worst thing about his new status? ''The powerless aspect. The press. Getting punched and not being able to punch back.''

The dumbest thing yet printed about him? ''The rumors - the drugs and the gay thing.''

European newspapers reported that he was secretly married to Geffen, who is Steven Spielberg's partner in the new Dream Works studio. ''My friends got a good laugh about it,'' Reeves said. ''I've never met Mr. Geffen.''

But he steadfastly maintains his own independence, telling Interview magazine that he was not gay but adding, ''But ya never know.''

''There's nothing wrong with being gay, so to deny would be to make a judgment,'' he told Vanity Fair magazine. ''It's just gossip, isn't it?''

''A Walk in the Clouds'' is the first Hollywood film directed by Mexican director-actor Alfonso Arau, who scored with the romantic ''Like Water for Chocolate.''

Based on an Italian movie, ''A Walk in the Clouds'' changes the setting to a wealthy Mexican family in the Napa Valley vineyards.

''This is Keanu's first role as a grown man,'' Arau said. ''I urged him not to play it with so much innocence. Younger women like Keanu. Now, older women are going to like him, too. He plays a very supportive, understanding man. He's a star. He has that open, innocent quality that Henry Fonda, James Stewart and Gary Cooper had.''

But Keanu bristles a little at his director's suggestion that it is his first adult role. ''I wasn't playing manhood,'' he said. ''I was playing a particular man. I kept trying to find what drove this man - what made him love life so much.''

He plays Paul Sutton, a young soldier who returns to San Francisco after World War II and finds that he has nothing in common with his war-time bride. On a bus, he meets Victoria, a distraught young woman who is pregnant and afraid to return to her family. Out of kindness, he agrees to briefly pretend to be her husband, allowing her to retain honor.

Director Arau interviewed 150 actresses before he decided on Spanish star Aitana Sanchez-Gijon to be Keanu's love interest. In Spain, she's played everything from Maggie the Cat to Madame Bovary.

''The moment I saw them together I felt they should be together forever,'' the director said. ''I felt the audience would feel the same thing.''

Reeves said he knew Sanchez-Gijon was right for the part after he did a single scene with her - when she cries about having to return to her stern father. ''The first time they see each other - they know,'' he said, ''but the first attraction isn't sexual. It's more than that.''

Reeves is painfully shy in interviews, but there are two things he loves to talk about - ''Hamlet'' and his band, Dogstar.

He took off two months last year to do ''Hamlet'' in Winnipeg, Canada, turning down a co-starring role with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in ''Heat.''

"But 'HAMLET!'" he exclaimed. ''To play that dude is, well, it's worth it, in spite of the fact I wasn't too good, at first. On opening night, I couldn't breathe. I had to get over that. I was like a deer caught in the floodlights. I was, kinda, mesmerized. On the second night, I was better. The reviews were bad, understandably, but a few critics came back later in the run and I was better.''

He wants to take off two months and tour with Dogstar, but he finds his band draws people who ''know nothing about music and want to see some movie star.''

Keanu, which means ''cool breeze over the mountains'' in Hawaiian, had a Hawaiian-Chinese father and a British mother. His grandfather made a fortune turning out a children's edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica in Canada. His parents lived in pre-war Beirut in the '60s, but his father deserted the family when Keanu was 2. His father, whom Keanu hasn't seen since he was 13, was convicted of a drug charge in Hawaii last year and received a 10-year sentence. Keanu was raised by his mother in Toronto.

Reeves drove to Los Angeles on his own, with $ 3,000, in 1986. Since then, he's amassed an impressively varied list of movie credits, first attracting attention as an intense teen who is in conflict with his peers when he wants to report a murder in ''River's Edge.''

''The camera is God,'' he said. ''That's why I'd like to do more stage. On stage, I can move and not worry that the camera can't follow me.''

When not working, he plays ice hockey, as a goalie. During filming of ''A Walk in the Clouds,'' he was injured playing ice hockey and needed four stitches in his mouth. The big love scene with Aitana had to be done the next day.

''Yeah, it was the most painful kiss ever,'' he said, ''but maybe that helped the scene. Aitana was very sweet. She knew I was suffering, but I had to do it.''

Director Arau said that ''A Walk in the Clouds'' was halfway through filming when ''Speed'' became a huge hit and turned Reeves from promising young star to superstar. ''Girls came to the Napa Valley looking for the film production,'' he said. ''We kept them away. There was no change in Keanu. He was concerned only with this part. I don't think he has any idea how big a star he is.''

Scriptwriters are working on a sequel to ''Speed.''

''I haven't read anything,'' Reeves said, ''but I think Sandra (Bullock) and I HAVE to be married at the start of it - and something happens on the honeymoon. That's my fix on it.''

Bullock, his ''Speed'' co-star, said, ''Yes, we're on the honeymoon and I'm attacked and I go into a coma, and they haul me off in an ambulance. Then, Keanu will spend the rest of the picture getting revenge. I'll come out of the coma for the final scene. That way, I'll get a rest.''

But first, Reeves will star in a small, independent film, ''Feeling Minnesota,'' which he says is about ''people trying to escape from a small town and my brother bites my ear off.''

Like it or not, he's in the middle of things.




Article Focus:

A Walk in the Clouds

Tagged:

A Walk in the Clouds , Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure , Speed , Much Ado About Nothing , Little Buddha , Point Break , Even Cowgirls Get the Blues , My Own Private Idaho , Parenthood , Dangerous Liaisons , Bram Stoker's Dracula , Fake Geffen Marriage and Related, The , Hamlet , Dogstar , River's Edge , Speed 2 , Feeling Minnesota




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