After taking A Walk in the Clouds....
Keanu clears the air!
by Jenny Cooney
Forget everything you've read about Keanu Reeves.
That he's shy. Or dumb. Or untalented. The real person behind the star of Speed and his most recent romantic drama, A Walk In The Clouds, is far too complicated to neatly file away in any traditional movie star category.
Just look at his career choices. Though initially stereotyped by the surfer dude role in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Keanu constantly fought that image, popping up in unexpected places and working for the cream of Hollywood's directors.
For every no-brainer such as Point Break or Speed, he dazzled fans with complex roles in such classics as Dangerous Liaisons and Much Ado About Nothing. Then, when his career couldn't get any hotter, he shunned big-budget movies to risk ridicule by playing Hamlet to mixed reviews and for union minimum salary in a theatre in Winnipeg, Canada, last year.
If you want intellectual evidence that Keanu is more than a 31-year-old high school drop-out who failed acting classes, he'll confuse you even further with conversations that digress with equal enthusiasm from Shakespeare to the astrological significance of being a Virgo.
Look for evidence that he's as untalented as many critics would have you believe, and directors as respected as Bernardo Bertolucci, Kenneth Branagh and Stephen Frears will jump to his defence with glowing testimony to his brilliance.
Call him shy - as TV WEEK suggests during this interview with the T-shirt-and-jeans-clad star to promote A Walk In The Clouds - and he'll calmly correct you that he's just uncomfortable.
"I don't feel shy, but I think I'm probably more unromantic with myself," he retorts, fidgeting with his glass of water. "So if it looks like I'm shy when you meet me, it just means I'm uncomfortable in that situation."
In A Walk In The Clouds (scheduled to open in Australia on October 19), Keanu plays Paul, a young GI returning from war to a bride he hardly knows. On the way, he encounters Victoria (Spanish actress Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), beautiful daughter of a Nappa Valley vineyard owner.
Agreeing to pose briefly as her husband to help her face her domineering father (Giancarlo Giannini), Paul discovers she is pregnant to a man who has left her, but nevertheless falls in love with her. Their passion erupts during the harvest, in a humorous family atmosphere presided over by the patriarch (Anthony Quinn).
Keanu has worked steadily since Speed broke through the $100 million box-office barrier. His films include the cyberpunk adventure Johnny Mnemonic (scheduled to open in Australia in November) and the dramas Feeling Minnesota and Dead Drop, but he modestly confesses that his latest romantic role was not too much of a stretch.
"It was actually a lot of fun," he says. "That was probably one of the more enjoyable aspects of the part. To play someone who cares and wants to give is very cool."
The film (by director Alfonso Arau, known for the hugely successful Mexican film Like Water For Chocolate) is described as "magical realism" - a blend of reality and fantasy prevalent in contemporary Latin-American literature.
"I have to admit I feel like the critics' whipping boy. It used to bug me, but now I dig the masochism," Keanu says, trying to remain tongue-in-cheek. "What should speak for me is what has been created. I think that I have done some good work in some films of note, but I guess I'm an acquired taste and either you dig me or you don't."
Although Keanu has a serious side - such as spending half of the interview earnestly telling the story of a film he wants to produce and star in, about the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward Devere, claimed as the true author of Shakespeare's works - he also goes off on strange tangents at other points.
He responds to questions about his spiritual beliefs with a joke - "My favorite so far has been heroin, but it was bad for my work" - and enthusiastically proclaims himself to be a big astrology fan and proud Virgo (born on September 4).
Keanu's self-effacing mood darkens over the subject of his constant and unsolicited battle with the media.
"I'm tired of being misrepresented, misquoted and manipulated," he says with a sigh.
"Being put on a pedestal, being knocked down - it's just all so much trouble."
One tabloid even claimed it had witnesses to a gay wedding between Keanu and record company boss David Geffen - a report so widespread in Hollywood that the actor was forced to publicly deny it in a U.S. magazine and state that he'd never even met Geffen.
"You can't get any more ridiculous - except having children with a Martian, perhaps - than being married to a man," he begins with disgust. "They say you're a public figure and it's part of their job to ask you anything. I wouldn't mind as long as it was somehow connected to the work, as opposed to gossip or trying to get me to react.
"I still have people ask me about River (Phoenix). 'So how did you feel?' I'm astounded, because they want to have a moment of seeing a person affected and sell it. It's so completely disrespectful and inconsiderate of my feelings, I f --- ing hate it! So I'm just getting tired of dealing with it."
Although the bachelor actor and musician - who still plays bass guitar with the band Dogstar - says he is close to his mother and two sisters (his father, a Hawaiian-Chinese geologist, is serving 10 years in prison for cocaine possession), he's more reluctant to talk about his own romantic or family dreams.
"I spend most of my time these days in hotels," he says. "Maybe now I'm ready to stop seeking and make a house here and live a life.
"Sure I want a family - a wife, kids - but I have to have time to get to all that. I'd like to build the house, because I think that's an act that has to happen if you're to mature in life and get to the next level."
There's no doubt that, as with his career, Keanu will build his house on strong foundations.