From walking in the clouds to cyberspace
by Paul Fischer
So much has been written about this Hollywood super hunk, that one doesn't really know what to believe. But one thing is for certain: movie audiences continue to clamour for more.
In A Walk in the Clouds Keanu Reeves shows his softer side as romantic hero, while in the futuristic cyber pic Johnny Mnemonic, he's a man of few words in a futuristic actioner that had the critics howling. Keanu's reputation for being monosyllabic and difficult to interview, were put to the test recently when Paul Fischer talked with him about those gay rumours, his nomadic lifestyle, music, romance, and of course, his love-it-and-hate-it film career.
There's quite clearly a hint of expectation when Keanu Reeves walks nonchalantly into the room. Drifting over to the bar, he gets himself a glass of water, and is ready for yet another round
of interviews to help sell his latest movie, the romantic melodrama A Walk in the Clouds.
It's hard to know what to expect from this boyish, and at times broody, sexy superstar with the reputation of being a man of few (or no) words.
"Don't expect him to say anything", I'm warned. Great! All this way for nothing, I ponder. But then Keanu is a man of great surprises, and while he clearly dislikes the media merry-go-around, he has a sense of humour and passion about the work - the rest is hype and bullshit.
OK, so let's get the gay thing out of the way. Fixating me with those piercing eyes, he reiterates what he said in Vanity Fair. "Look, basically, my sex life is nobody's business, and I'd simply prefer it if you didn't ask me about it." But when pressed, he does an O.J. Simpson, declaring that "I am not gay nor am I married to David Geffen." End of story.
The work is what ignites his passion, and he's as happy to complain about it, as he is to praise it, like computer age Johnny Mnemonic which is his pet hate these days. This futuristic Cyber-age action flick, (which Australian movie goers will be able to catch come November 23), is set in 2021, when half of the Earth's population is suffering from the disease known as Nerve Attenuation Syndrome (NAS).
Johnny (Keanu), a mnemonic data courier, is hired to carry 320 gigabytes of crucial information to safety from the Pharmacom corporation. Pursued by Yakuza agents and a crazed cyborg, Johnny must deliver the data or die in twenty-four hours.
What makes matters worse is that this data could carry the cure of this dastardly plague!
Reeves is none too pleased with this critically maligned movie. "Oh my gosh, let it crash and burn!" Much of the criticism was levelled at Reeves, and, that's when he becomes defensive.
"In the case of Johnny Mnemonic, I don't really think the criticism is legitimate, because the film that was ultimately exhibited, was not the film that I made." Meaning? "Well for three and a half months I played a character who didn't conciously want his memory back, so six months later we re-shoot a scene where I say: 'I want it all back', which goes at the beginning of the film, and then at the end of the film, where my character used to make the ultimate sacrifice and offer up his life so that the world can have this cure, instead he ends up in this stupid virtual reality world where this big fish ends up trying to save me and mankind," Reeves explains.
As an afterthought he adds "It's a pretty cool idea, but it's not the film I and the director set about making. Then they [the film's US distributor] make the film come off as an action picture, which makes people disappointed."
This lack of control over his career upsets the actor, who jokingly responds that in order to gain more control he will "own a studio and direct." Well, maybe there are other ways. "Hopefully you go into the agreement with the studio based on the script that we all want to do. I mean, they all read the Mnemonic script, but they wanted to make their money back in a different way - they lacked confidence in the film."
But before Johnny Mnemonic has a chance to be judged here, Aussie movie goers may prefer the softer, gentler side to Keanu in the romantic A Walk in the Clouds, where the star struts his stuff with more clarity and depth than we've seen before.
The movie, set just after World War II, casts Reeves as ex-war vet turned chocolate salesman, who returns home to discover that he has nothing in common with his wife - a Kewpie doll he wed four years earlier after a hasty courtship.
On a train, he meets a Mexican-American woman (played by gorgeous screen newcomer Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) who, pregnant and unwed, is headed home from college to her affluent parents and the family vineyard in California's lush Napa Valley. Reeves volunteers to pose temporarily as her husband so that she can save face with her family. Naturally, real romance ensues.
This film is a departure for the young actor, who rose to superstardom recently in the highly successful Speed. It was while he was making the action pic, that he first stumbled across the script and met director Alfonso Arau (who made Like Water for Chocolate). "I met Mr Arau while filming Speed (just looking for work, because that's the gig), and I did enjoy the script very much, in terms of the relationships and the character."
On slow reflection, Reeves admits to an understanding of the war vet with a deep yearning for romance and family stability. "I have some of the same yearnings that he has - you know, family, home and kids running around in the yard."
In fact, his desire for family may have something to do with his nomadic lifestyle. He never knew his father (currently in jail for cocaine possession), and sees little of the tough mother who raised him. Despite his $7m-a-film career, Reeves is basically homeless, and lives out of a suitcase from film to film. "I've been working the last couple of years, and therefore haven't had the time to look for a place to live."
As a result of his unconventional lifestyle, the press has built up this mystique about the young actor, which he merely dismisses as "baloney. Look, I'm not a wild, living Bohemian gypsy spirit." So, home is where he parks his bike? "No, actually the closest home is wherever the key fits."
On the subject of the media, which seems to enjoy tagging him, Reeves pulls no punches as to how he feels. "I think the past couple of months in particular have been ridiculous, intrusive and in bad taste."
It all began with the rumour of his 'marriage' to David Geffen in the American People Magazine. "It wasn't something I agreed to, it's not an interview I did, and they showed photos of people who didn't want their photos displayed, nationally."
So what aspects of his past does he want to talk about? "I don't want to tell you anything about my past or my family." As to his sexuality, which the press never seems to let go of, he declares himself to be "very heterosexual, and not married to Geffen - I've never even met him."
Keanu is not only into this acting thing, but he's not doing too badly on the music front, either. His band, Dogstar, was about to head off on a tour at the time of this interview. "Our tour is going to be called 'The Dog Days of Summer'. "
He and the band have just finished touring in Tokyo, of all places, and the Japanese audiences "seemed to have fun - they're a very spirited crowd." The music and the band, though, are strictly for fun, the actor quickly adds. "Look, we got to bring five of our friends, none of whom had ever been to Japan, did some gigs, had plenty of free beer, met some girls and had a blast."
Sounds cool - but not an alternative career choice if the acting thing kinda fizzles out? "No, no, no no, no." is the definite answer.
A WALK IN THE CLOUDS IS CURRENTLY SCREENING AROUND AUSTRALIA, WHILE JOHNNY MENEMONIC BLASTS INTO CINEMATIC CYBERSPACE COME NOVEMBER 22.