Hollywood's Wary Star: Keanu Reeves in 'A Walk in the Clouds'
by Jerry Roberts
Having to handle the business of being famous is for Keanu Reeves somewhere between a total miserable drag and having bamboo shoots driven up his fingernails.
If his newest film, "A Walk in the Clouds," becomes his second nonhit in a row after the dismally received "Johnny Mnemonic" this spring -- "Johnny Moronic" to some -- will he start choosing scripts more for the sake of boosting his career than for their inherent quality?
"No," he said. "I choose each one on the merit it means to me. And my star isn't that high anyway. All this talk of my star is irritating. If nobody goes to see the movie then my star will be even lower. How's *that* for an answer?"
"Now I'm not going to do 'Speed II.' I didn't do 'Speed' just so I could do another 'Speed.' So if the picture I do bombs, then maybe I'll have no choice but to go to Australia. It'll be over for me. I'll go over there and be the American guy. Sometimes I've done things because I was broke. Now all I look for is a good character. But then I have to get past the audition."
He looks at you and grins, running either hand through his short, almost black hair. Seated in a hotel room, he wears a tan jacket over a t-shirt and endures this press session, an interview he gives only because he sees it as an extension of his duties as an actor to promote the films he's in.
"This is OK," he said, "but the "People" magazine article I felt was very invasive," he said of the June 5 cover story. "It made me very angry. I felt that it was in poor taste.
"They talked to my sister. They ran a photo of my father, who was incarcerated when the photo was taken. It was unfair of them. I didn't say peep to "People". After it came out, I tried to find out how they got all that information."
Reeves, who abruptly states, "That's a personal question," to ward off any queries into his private life, about which there has been ample speculation since "Speed," took the novelty off a Christian name pronounced Kee-ah-noo.
Some really basic questions remain unanswered for a public that likes its poster boys enigmatic but not oblique and even opaque, intangibles that contributed to Reeves' position as an indefinable slacker icon, identity that led Stephen Prina, an instructor at the Art College of Design in Pasedena, to skip Olivier and Hepburn and teach a course on "The Films of Keanu Reeves."
Why haven't you had a home for several years?
"I've been working a lot in the past year. I did 'Speed,' 'Johnny Mnemonic,' 'A Walk in the Clouds,' and I just finished 'Feeling Minnesota.' I've lived wherever work has taken me. I'm missing my couch. I gave my couch to my sister, and sometimes I feel like I could use it."
Are you involved with anyone?
"That's a personal question."
OK. What are you going to do next?
"I'm going to disappear."
You have such an identity as a contemporary figure, and yet you've done several costume period pieces such as "Dangerous Liaisons," "Bram Stoker's Dracula," Shakepeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," [and] "Little Buddha."
"The directors of those movies -- Stephen Frears, Francis Coppola, Kenneth Branagh and Bernardo Bertolucci -- felt I was right for the part," he said. "As for Shakespeare, I like some of his plays.
"I like the verse. It's fun to act. Shakespeare is close to the root aspect of keeping sound and meaning consonant. With Shakespeare, you do image work, you open up sound possibilities, you figure in your body language. Acting his words is somehow close to primal memory. If you get yourself onto the verse, it's a challenge not to go overboard, to stay the course of the nature of the words."
Is there any one of your characters who is closest to who you are?
"The character in 'River's Edge' was pretty close, especially at the time (1987)." He played a slacker teen.
"A Walk in the Clouds" was shot near Napa. The film concerns a soldier who returns from World War II and agrees to pose at the newlywed husband of the pregnant daughter of a Latino wine country baron.
"What I liked about the character was his being an orphan and his experiences in the war," Reeves said of his part, Paul Sutton, in the film. "And this film has this quality of preciousness of life. He always wanted family. When you see him in the film, he doesn't ever get mad at the father or at his wife.
"Yeah, this is definately a romantic film. A mainstream Hollywood film usually has a cruder sensibility. Most of the time mainstream films seem more as if they're about coitus than a kiss. What I like is that there is tenderness in all of the relationships."