Angry Young Man(Scans are from Time Out Amsterdam)
Keanu Reeves attracts vicious rumours about his acting ability as well as his private life. "I fucking hate it," he says. As he tells Carmen M. Nelstein, he'd rather talk Shakespeare than sex.
When it comes to his sexual preferences, IQ, and dress sense, Keanu Reeves has not been spared by the press. In addition, film journalists have described him as "extremely shy" and "a genius at one word answers." Not so. The "critically burned lad," as he mockingly calls himself, answers virtually all of my questions. He frequently quotes Shakespeare (his all-time favourite), gives sane answers, is funny, engaging and above all, disarming.
Still, I thought is was wise to start on neutral ground. Last night his band Dogstar played a gig in an LA bar. Does he plan on a second career or is the band merely a hobby? Keanu: "No, I don't want to become a rock star. I'm an actor. Playing music and hanging out with friends is really good fun and that's it." Reeves has dubbed the music his band plays "folk-thrash."
"I haven't really expressed a lot lyrically. Right now I'm just the bass player. I love the sound of it, the physicality of it," he says. When the band plays, Reeves' movie star status attracts so many people (especially women) that the venue gets a trifle close. Like last night in LA. "I guess there were about 50 people in this small bar. Most of them my friends," he grins. "The guitarist had 19 people on his guest list. We laughed about it, but in the end we were lucky - it might have been half empty without his guests," he modestly remarks.
Last December at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg, Reeves played Hamlet to an audience packed with Keanuphiles, one of whom had flown all the way from Australia to catch a glimpse of her idol. She attended eight performances. Does it scare him to know that people worship the ground he walks on? "Not so much. As long as they don't have knives or guns or make voodoo dolls of me, I find it kind of flattering. Hopefully, people like what I do. It was all very astonishing. Some of the people had travelled so far. It was really cool. It was great for all the other actors too. Those people were the best audiences we have ever had. Everybody went 'wheew'," he reports enthusiastically.
At less than $2,000 dollars a week, a tiny fraction of his regular fee, he trod the boards as the tormented Danish prince. After the opening night he was crushed when the international press said that he "lacked the equipment to handle Hamlet's melancholy and came alive only in the fight scenes." In later performances, however, they completely reversed their judgement. He was splendid, "the Hamlet of Hamlets." He just shakes his head over the media circus which surrounds him. "Why don't they worry about actors who are really too old for the part, but think they can play it anyway?"
"Mel Gibson, perhaps?" I propose carefully. But he has become so indignant that he doesn't even hear me, it seems. He leans over and says into the tape recorder: "I have never seen a Hamlet on film that is worth anything. I mean, they are all atrocious. Everyone says (mock-Shakespearian voice) 'Ooh daahling, you can play Hamlet until you're fifty years old.' Wrong!" he shouts. "It's a young man's part. In fact, you should play it when you're seventeen or eighteen. I mean, its the greatest part in western drama, don't you think? Other than, you know, Jesus Christ," he grins boyishly. "It's as far as you can go as an actor with love, anger, trust belief and um, spiritual anything. Hamlet is the top, constantly asking you to go further. Isn't that fantastic?"
Reeves has Speed to thank for his breakthrough into the mainstream. Before that film he never really managed to shake off the goofy character he played in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Since the unexpected success of Speed, Keanu has moved to a higher rank in Hollywood. For Dead Drop, which is expected to begin shooting this autumn, it's reported that he'll earn $7 million.
Instead of settling into the lucrative action hero business, Keanu decided to move forward in some different directions, with Johnny Mnemonic - a cyberpunk thriller scripted by author William Gibson and directed by artist Robert Longo, and A Walk in the Clouds, a bittersweet romantic comedy by Alfonso Arau. In A Walk in the Clouds, a soldier (Reeves) returns from WWII to his estranged wife. They split up, and Reeves falls in love with a pregnant girl who has been dumped by her boyfriend. Although it is not his first romantic part (Reeves was in Tune in Tomorrow, a very under-rated film, according to him), its the first part in which the 30-year-old actor plays a grown man instead of an adolescent. Reeves' dry explanation for choosing the part: "I just had a yearning for romance and um, I got it, so that was cool."
His drawing power at the box office is giving him the opportunity to be selective, and to win the most sought-after roles. "The biggest advantage is, if there's a story I'm interested in, I can hire a writer to develop a script. I haven't had time these last couple of years to really take advantage of that. I hope to in the future though."
"In terms of my career, I'd like to work in mainstream and independent films, and do theatre. I would love to work in another language. I would like to tell the story of Edward de Veer, the 17th Earl of Oxford who is thought by some to have been one of the authors of Shakespeare's works. Furthermore, I would like to speak French and Italian, ancient Greek and Latin. It would be nice to be able to read in a foreign language," enthuses Reeves. Suddenly he is windmilling his hands. "You now what? I can order in French. And I picked up a few Spanish phrases from a song while I was doing AWITC, but I can't seem to remember the lyrics anymore."
Reeves first name means "cool breeze over the mountains" in Hawaiian. He was born in Beirut, Lebanon (his mother is English, his father, from whom he has been estranged for several years, is Chinese-Hawaiian). He grew up in Toronto where he enrolled in acting classes, did TV series and some theatre. Meanwhile, he sharpened ice-skates at the local rink. After a commercial for Coke he took off to Los Angeles and began to play small roles in TV movies until better offers came along. Now he is a bankable actor who collects seven million dollar pay checks.
It was often been said that Reeves' acting is wooden. He remains matter-of-fact about such criticism. "What should speak is my creative work. I think I'm an acquired taste or something. My acting changes pretty much, I have to agree on that. Either you dig me or not," he remarks and circles back to the subject of his public persona. "Actually, more than a lot of other actors, my public personification has really coloured the interpretation of my work."
Why is that? He gestures wildly in the air as if to express his powerlessness. "Perhaps it's laziness on their side. It's easy for the press to present me as this goofy guy, so I guess, you know..." he trails off. Does his shyness have anything to do with his clashes with the press? "No, not at all. I don't feel shy, probably more uncomfortable with myself. If it looks like I'm shy, it just means that I'm not comfortable either with the situation or myself."
What about the misconceptions in the press of his alleged marriage with producer David Geffen then? Is it all one big conspiracy against Keanu Reeves? "Oooh," he sighs, "I don't have a clue. I mean, it really can't get any more ridiculous, can it? Except having children with a Martian perhaps. I'm trying not to concentrate on it, but on life. I don't read any press anymore, because I'm too angry, tired of being misrepresented, misquoted, manipulated, being put on a pedestal or being knocked down."
One way of dealing with his alleged marriage to the entertainment mogul was his public statement. "My manager and my agent said I had to address it because it was getting in the way of work and it was freaking people out. So it was okay. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't have done it either. So voila, there you have it. Yeah, I fucking hate it. It's a drag. Besides, I think its nobody's business. However, on the other hand I kind of find it funny." he wails.
"Especially in America, it's like: well, you're a public figure so I am allowed to ask you anything, it's part of the job. My take is, I wouldn't mind so much as long as it was somehow connected to the acting as opposed to the gossip," he says.
"So good guys don't always finish first?" I ask.
Keanu is taken aback. Thinks. "Indeed, good guys can finish last. They can get crushed by a boulder, stomped by life totally. The gods are pranksters, you know."