Keanu Reeves takes 'A Walk in the Clouds'(also published on August 18 as a shorter version under the title 'Keanu Reeves Swept Up in Romance of 'Clouds'' and in August 1995 as an even shorter version under the title 'Keanu Reeves Takes a Walk in the Clouds')
by Dan Yakir
DATELINE: NAPA, California
"I didn't think of it as a romantic lead," says Keanu Reeves, running his hand through his short black hair. "But I was attracted to the project because of its romanticism." With "A Walk in the Clouds," the 30-year-old actor, Hollywood's hottest and one of its more versatile, is trying his hand at a full-fledged romantic role, showing a new side of his screen persona. Reeves plays Paul, a World War II veteran and chocolate salesman who falls in love with Victoria (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), a beautiful Mexican-American woman from an aristocractic family of Napa valley wine makers.
Directed by Alfonso Arau ("Like Water for Chocolate"), the movie, which takes place in 1945, has a decidedly different romantic tale at its core: Paul meets Victoria, who is pregnant and unmarried and afraid of her conservative family's response to her predicament. Paul volunteers to pose as her husband for a few days until she is better able to cope with the situation. The two then proceed to fall desperately in love.
"I was looking forward to (doing) such a romantic piece," says Reeves. "And I liked it when it came around. You can call me a fledgling romantic. What I liked about this movie is that it makes you enter a dream world. It's about a guy who would open the door for you. You might say, 'big deal,' but it is. He wants to keep giving and giving.
"It's not about one moment of lovemaking," Reeves continues, "but about a kind of magic that goes on and on, a totally romantic love built on anticipation. It's when two people feel there's only one person for each of them. What's cool here is not that there's a knight who sweeps her off her feet, but that the two save each other. I believe everybody has this kind of yearning for another person, no matter how reluctant they are to say it."
In the movie, it takes a whole hour before the two protagonists have their first kiss. This fits very well with the "director's romantic notions" as well as with his own, says Reeves: "sex is for a few minutes, but eroticism is forever."
Does he believe people go about it too quickly today? "More than that," he responds. "I think in mainstream Hollywood films, at least, it's a cruder sensibility - it seems more about coitus than it does about the kiss or about the kind of partnering that occurs. Or else it's movies like 'Forrest Gump' that put the romantic aspect on a pedestal and where there's no actual relationship. It's distorted. But this movie is about the gentleness that comes with partnering."
Reeves and Spanish actress Sanchez-Gijon clicked right away during their screen test. "It was obvious," says director Arau. "Keanu was the only actor who had this innocence I was looking for, in addition to being a very charismatic, handsome, and devoted actor. To my mind, this was a role in the tradition of Gary Cooper and Henry Fonda.
"He has an understated quality that's natural to him, and he's also a private, introverted person," continues the filmmaker. "I had to help him open the door for the character's passion." That door was opened largely with the aid of improvisation exercises where the two actors faced each other, carrying on a dialogue as if they were lovers. Soon the flow of emotions became a river.
Reeves has been the subject of much gossip recently, that people tend to forget how devoted he is to his craft. Ask him about his transformation from a goofy kid in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" to a graduate of the Kenneth Branagh, Bernardo Bertolucci and Francis Ford Coppola schools of filmmaking, and the actor responds that he hasn't really changed all that much. "People who saw 'Bill and Ted' probably didn't see 'Permanent Record,'" he says of his 1988 teen suicide film. "People have different images of me, depending on which of my films they've seen. But I always took acting seriously. To me, there's nothing else."
Although he was offered millions to do it, he's turned down "Speed 2" "because I didn't make it to do another one." He has consistently opted for quality projects without paying attention to such favorite Hollywood preoccupations as "career planning." It's all about the work for Keanu.
Further proof of that, if needed, was his portrayal of Hamlet onstage in Canada. "I like Shakespeare's verse and characters - and it's fun to act," he says. "I love words and meaning, and when I work on Shakespeare, especially on the verse, it's the closest I've found to the root aspect of sound and meaning. Because when you pay attention to the vowels and the consonants and the order that they're in, and when you start to express them, it's just the closest thing to primal meaning.
"When I was playing Hamlet, when I did the soliloquies, it was literally like putting your hand into a socket of electricity. I get the greatest charge out of acting. When it works, it's totally exhilarating!"
In the meantime, this hot media item says he's becoming even more reclusive in the face of mounting stardom. "There was a recent cover story in People magazine that I felt was very invasive and made me very angry," he recalls. "It was in poor taste. I think it's unfair to involve people around my life who perhaps don't want to be involved. I didn't cooperate at all with that article. It's things like that that make me want to disappear a little more."
Yet Reeves remains surprisingly matter-of-fact about it all. "My star isn't that high," he protests, adding, "but what does that mean? It doesn't mean anything. Hopefully the films will be good and the acting will be good and that's it."
He also has a healthy sense of the fleeting nature of fame.
"So I'm just waiting," he concludes with laughter. "I'm just waiting for it all to disappear."