A CAREER IN THE CLOUDS
KEANU REEVES TRIES A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING AND WINDS UP BECOMING A LEGEND IN THE MAKING
(Previously published on August 10 as a longer version under the title 'Keanu on a 'Cloud' in the Biz')
by Mal Vincent, The Virginian-Pilot
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.
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's gay, and even that he's secretly married to billionaire producer David Geffen.
After Speed, his asking price rose to $7 million a 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 still has a shy, little-boy 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 various 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.
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 is 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 isn't 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's 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."
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."