by Mike O'Connor & Ian Blair
Keanu Reeves has learned the hard way that to dare to be different is to become a target of gossip, rumor and intrigue. MIKE O'CONNOR and IAIN BLAIR in Los Angeles chart the course of the young actor who is not afraid to show his insecurities.
KEANU Reeves is nothing if not versatile. The last time audiences saw him, he was pumped up, sporting a buzz cut, chewing gum and saving a busload of frightened passengers from being blown sky-high in the thriller Speed.
Now he's caught the love bus. The tall and handsome actor had every woman in the theatre enthralled.
Reeves, dressed in a stylish brown 1940s vintage suit with a matching fedora, is serenading under the balcony of a beautiful young girl. The scene is from his new movie A Walk In The Clouds, a love story from Alfonso Arau, director of the huge 1993 hit Like Water For Chocolate.
Reeves stars as Paul Sutton, a young GI who meets the beautiful - and pregnant - daughter of a vineyard owner and agrees to pose as her husband to help her face her domineering father.
"Paul's a simple man, straight ahead, fairly good-natured, kind,'' says Reeves. "He's an orphan and he's coming back from World War II. His experiences have created in him a sensitivity to emotions and people - he just wants to have a family and a wife.''
The setting is the sleepy wine-district of California's Napa Valley in 1945, a "sort of timeless Shangri-La, where anything can happen''.
"I've never done anything like sing under someone's bedroom window myself,'' says Reeves, "but sure, I can relate to it.''
Fortunately Reeves, who admits he's "no great singer'', has a little help for this scene: he's backed up by four mariachis and the presence of Anthony Quinn playing the family patriarch, who waves encouragement with a half empty wine bottle.
To switch from performing death-defying stunts as the tough cop in Speed to serenades and tender lovemaking is probably as different as you can possibly get. But Reeves has never conformed to the stereotype of a handsome young Hollywood lead.
After first making a name for himself as an airhead dude in the hit comedy Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, Reeves took on Gus Van Sant's harrowing My Own Private Idaho, Francis Coppola's adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Kenneth Branagh's version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and Bernardo Bertolucci's spiritual saga Little Buddha.
"I don't want to do just all-action films, or all anything (movie genre),'' he says. "The best way to work on your craft is to work with the best possible directors and keep trying new things. If you're not learning as you go, what's the point?
"I was doing Speed when the script for A Walk In The Clouds came through.
"I immediately thought, 'this is great', because I wanted to do a romance, a project that concerned itself with the heart, and I also shared Alfonso's interest in the nature of passion.''
Reeves has been described as mysterious, distant and detached, but he insists he is none of these: "I don't try to be mysterious - I just don't have a lot to say about the obvious everyday stuff,'' he says.
It may be the slightly detached air with which Reeves carries himself that led to him being the target of gay rumors.
Whatever the reason, the rumours regarding Reeves's sexual preferences have continued to spread, the most widely repeated being that not only was he gay but that he was secretly married to producer David Geffen, an admitted homosexual.
Finally, Reeves was forced to put the record straight, saying he had never met Geffen and describing the rumors as "ridiculous''.
That aside, the biggest challenge facing the 30-year-old actor at this point in his career is A Walk In The Clouds.
Yet part of the mystery surrounding Reeves has been generated by his lifestyle. "I don't hang around with anybody famous,'' he says. "In fact, I don't hang around much at all, except with a few friends and guys in my band, Dogstar, where I'm trying to play the bass.''