Head in the Clouds
Now he's 30 what do the stars have in store for Keanu?
by David Jays
KEANU REEVES HAS TURNED THIRTY. It's hard to believe, but the journey from goofball in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, via his current status as boy-babe, leads towards the foothills of early middle age. Though still sloe-eyed amid the stubble, it is time for Keanu to cast off childish things for his career to embrace more tough-guy action and tender-guy romance.
Keanu is without doubt the most iconic of Hollywood's testosterone totties. Like a latter-day Marilyn, people write about him as an unwitting embodiment of desire. Panting magazine profiles become barely concealed proposals, written in the forlorn hope that Keanu might happen to read them and have nothing planned that evening. Even his exotic first name echoes that languorous sensuality of classic female sex symbols - Deneuve, Moreau, Signoret - wonderful names which drape themselves across the sofa and dangle a shoe from a perfectly poised foot. (Or as British director Terence Davies put it, "I couldn't cast someone who sounds like a small Polynesian island: 'I spent two weeks on Keanu Reeves and it was fabulous.'")
But what do we really know about Keanu? His boho Mom designed frocks for Dolly Parton; and he hasn't seen his bad-news Pop since he was 13. He likes motobikes, and has a scar snaking down his belly to prove it. He goes ballroom dancing and would like to be Fred Astaire. His last squeeze was a dame called Autumn.
So why do rumours persist about Reeves' sexuality? The answer is that that's what stars are for. They're like dollies for grown-ups - blank screens on which we project our desires and fantasies, the ink-blot doodles of our unconscious. The more PR minders clingwrap their charges in banality, the more the imagination wanders. The more figures like Tom Cruise and Richard Gere protest, parading their non-deviancy like garlic before a vampire, the less credible they seem. When Lady Rumour wants a smoke, there's always someone to light her fag.
One of her greatest hits was the story about Keanu's marriage. Wagging tongues whispered that he and media mogul David Geffen got hitched on a beach down Mexico way, and celebrated the nuptials with a $15,000 shopping spree. Hidden desires, new-age ceremony, conspicuous consumption: it's the kind of package that fits our notion of the Dream Factory - a sex 'n' shopping blend of perversity and excess.
Keanu's reaction (in Out Magazine) wins him yet more brownie points: he shrugs off the goss ("I've never met the guy"), but seems unvexed. Perhaps it's just good PR management, but he appears to have twigged that offering yourself up to fantasy is part of the silver-screen deal. How unlike our own dear Donovan (though if anyone wants to prattle about Jase tying the knot with Andrew Lloyd-Webber, I'll happily pass it on).
Call me set in my notions, but once I learned that Keanu played bass in a folk-thrash combo called Dogstar, he was heterosexual until proven otherwise. Queercore aside, it's such a straight lad thing to do, a full-on air-guitar-in-front-of-the-bedroom-mirror thing. Noise for boys. Kinda cute, but totally het.
That, of course, is the voice of adulation: the other thing about our idols is that we find everything about them cute. Keanu takes time out to play bass with his buddies: how sweet! He treks out to Winnipeg to play Hamlet, a bum-fluff babe pitting himself against the classics: what a dear! Even if his thespian talent was not quite equal to the task, we just have to adore the little boy lost, the honey-chile trapped by beauty in a career he can't quite cut.
Take Keanu's bizarre speech patterns, which go beyond mere communication - or bypass it completely. He speaks in a waltz-time all his own, swaying to a mysterious private rhythm. When the lines are Shakespearean, in Much Ado or My Own Private Idaho, strangeness is heaped on strangeness; even the terse exclamations of speed sound bizarre from his mouth. In interviews, too, he talks Californian, whether "bodacious" dudespeak, or hazy 'the-world-is-within-us' Caiagabble (Little Buddha has a lot to answer for), or else 'astro-gush' about his starsign (which, incidentally, is Virgo).
His new release, A Walk in the Clouds, directed by Alfonso Arau (of Like Water for Chocolate), casts Reeves as a war-shaken GI doing good by a distressed damsel he meets on a train. It is supposedly his first romantic lead, but anyone who saw Speed will know that the adrenaline-flick par excellence got there frst. For Brits, especially, the idea of a time-bomb bus holding an even 50 mph wasn't that exciting - slow-lane Skodas do as much - and if you've ever used the Northern Line, a subway death train holds no fear.
No, the thrill was in Keanu's pairing with Sandra Bullock. Speed was supposed to be the movie that confirmed Keanu as action hero, but it only underlined his delicious passivity. Trapped on a public trasport system gone crazy, he was swept along by a wave of disasters, completely dependent on Bullock - not only to help him out, but also to crack jokes. It was she, as the funny girl to his straight man, who had the power to ignite his sexiness, as if she had drawn a finger down his spine. He pulled the stunts, but she provided the spunky humanity; and it was dead romantic.
So what will Keanu's thirtysomething movies be like? In the past, it wasn't surprising that directors treated Keanu like a doll, casting him in period dramas that sent stylists rifling through their fancy wardrobes. Dangerous Liaisons did it best, especially his winter duel against John Malkovitch - noble nitwit versus salon demon, all frilly white shirts and sleek black boots, with bloodstains on the snow. If his snarl-and-massage villain in Much Ado About Nothing was less convincing, at least he gave some respite from the over-the-top rent-a-thesp fustian of Ken & Co.
Johnny Mnemonic, in which Keanu plays a cyberpunk courier with secrets stashed in his brain, may be the last chance we get to see him as tabula rasa or dolly-boy. The time has come for him to join the grown-ups: he's big enough to buy his own clothes now - and if it's not on David Geffen's credit card, then we can still dream.
When we got to speek to Keanu, he was displaying his famous minimal wardrobe: white long-sleeve shirt, two buttons undone; rumpled black blazer and slacks; and functional black leather boots. His hair looked a little wacky, like he'd slept on it, but then again he had been up all night trading riffs with his Dogstar buddies.
I hear your band Dogstar played a secret show last night.
Yes, we played in this bar. There were about fifty people, most of them our friends. It was funny. Our guitarist had nineteen people on his guest list. I made fun of him, but I guess we were lucky because if he hadn't brought them, there wouldn't have been anyone there.
How serious are you about the band?
Well, I don't want to become a rock star. This is not a second career or anything like that. I'm an actor. Playing music and hanging out with friends is a real good time. Right now I'm just a bass player. I haven't really expressed a lot lyrically or iin the band yet. We haven't had much time to write songs together.
Why the bass?
I love the sound first of all and I like the physicality of it. I like the way the bass feels and the way it feels to play it.
There's been a lot of fuss over the fact that A Walk in the Clouds sees you playing your first romantic lead.
Fuss? I don't think there's that much fuss. I did a film called Too Many Tomorrows [Roxy's note: slight error here; it should be Tune In Tomorrow] which I consider a romantic part in a romance - a very under-appreciated picture, I felt, a good film. so I don't feel like I was in completely new territory. But I was glad to be there. I was working on Speed - I love saying that, "I was working on Speed." That's why I did that film, just because of the title! - so I was having meetings about other work, the future, and I had a kind of yearning for a romance. And I got it, so that was good.
What do you look for in a film part?
It's really the script and the part and then who's working on it. It's about what you can find and what comes your way. One of the new things is that I really have the opportunity maybe to create, which is new for me - in the sense that if I had something I was interested in, if I could find a book or a story, I could get a writer hired and I could develop it. I haven't had time in the last couple of years to really take advantage of that but I hope to in the future. I'd like to walk that line. And I'd like to be able to work in both mainstream and independent film, and to do theatre. I'd love to act in another language too. I'd like to speak French and Italian, or ancient Greek or Latin.
How important is spirituality to you?
I don't want to say spirituality is like higher energy but it's everything other than [he bangs on the table] this hard table. It's in the table but it's not the table. There's so much there.
Do you think of yourself as a seeker?
You know, I'm a left-handed Virgo: it's the worst thing to be. I'm almost trying to make myself right-handed. A seeker? You know, less so now, but more so earlier. Maybe three years ago, I was feeling that a lot. And as a child growing up. Maybe I've stopped seeking and I've decided to make house here: just stop and live a life.
What are the burdens of Virgoism?
Order. And perfectionism. Control. Oh man, I think my rising and sinking... all my signs are business. I'm like a pure Virgo.
Were you bothered about turning 30 this year?
No, it wasn't traumatic at all. I was very happy to turn 30. But now I have the fear. You know what the fear is? 40. I think that was Hamlet says, "There's divinity that shapes our ends." You can't deny it, the Virgo thing. You can't say it's not true. So what does it mean? That there's an interconnecting; that when you were born, elements of your mother and father came together and your spirit entered in and was born.
Do you read what is written about you?
No. I don't read anything any more. I'm too angry. I'm tired of being misrepresented, misquoted, manipulated, being put on a pedestal, being knocked down - it's just all too much trouble. No, I haven't read the Vanity Fair story. I have to admit to feeling like the critics's whipping boy. You know what? It used to bug me, but now, being a Virgo, digging the masochism, I kind of like it. I think it's funny.
What kind of impression do you think people have of you?
Well, I think I've done some good work in some films. I think I'm an acquired taste. I think my acting changes pretty much, but you either dig me or you don't. More than a lot of other actors, my public persona has really coloured the interpretation of my work.
Laziness. It's easy for people to do that. And I'm kind of a wacky goofy guy.
There's been a lot written about the fact that your're shy? Are you really shy?
I don't feel shy. If it looks like I'm shy, it just means I'm uncomfortable with the situation or with myself.
Do you have a favourite misconception?
I don't really have a favourite or 'unfavourite'. You can't get any more ridiculous, I guess - except having children with a Martian - than being married to a man you don't know. That's pretty good, pretty good. But like I say, I'm just trying not to see any of that and I just want to concentrate on work and life.
Was giving the interview to OUT magazine the right thing to do?
Well, my manager and agent said I had to address it because it was getting in the way of work and just freaking people out so I said "OK". Otherwise, I wouldn't have. I just took the advice of people whom I've hired for professional aspects. Et voila!
Does this stuff get in the way of your life?
Yeah, I fucking hate it, it's a drag. It's nobody's business. It's very funny, though. Especially in America, there's this thinking that 'you're a public figure so I'm allowed to ask you anything'. I wouldn't mind so much if it was somehow connected to the creative act, as opposed to just trying to get gossip or trying to get to know me. I still have people asking me about River in an interview where they have three minutes. It's like, "Tell me how you felt". and I'm astounded, because they want to have a moment of seeing whether a person's affected or not. It's the form which is so completely disrespectful and inconsiderate, I can't believe it.
Did you hear about that fan from Australia who flew to Canada when you were doing Hamlet, spent all the money she had and saw every show? Does that sort of thing scare or flatter you?
Well, so long as they don't have any knives, guns, poisons or voodoo...But yes, it's flattering and hopefully people like what I do. It was astonishing that some of the people had travelled so far. It really intensified for me that I had to put on a good show. It was great for the other actors. We had the best audiences ever, people were standing up and clapping and everyone enjoyed the piece. And Hamlet is a great play to see. It's very much an actors' form, and what I mean by that are the words and emotion, and the nature of it. I love the language. I like most of Shakespeare's play, especially Lear or Hamlet. I've never seen a Hamlet on film which is anything. They're all atrocious. Everyone says [putting on a perfect English luvvie accent], "Darling, you can play Hamlet till you're 50." Wrong! It's a young man's part. You should be 17 or 18. It's the greatest part in Western drama, other than JC. As far as you can go as an actor, as - Hamlet is there, It's really the role.
What about your character Paul Sutton in A Walk in the Clouds? Was this is a particularly challenging role?
No, actually, it was a lot of fun. That was probably one of the more enjoyable aspects of the role, the preparation of Paul in myself - how he was when he came off the boat. I really had a great time doing imaginative work, creating the events that happened to him in Japan, that sensitised him to life and the preciousness of life. It was great fun to play a person who felt like that. It was great to come back as someone who just cared and just wanted to give. It was one of the best elements of the film, that and how he cared about Victoria. It was just beyond his personality, it's just human. It was cool that I got to play that.
Do you see a big difference in working with a Mexican director like Alfonso Arau and American directors?
Not really. all directors have a different style. Mr. Arau is a very experienced artist, as a performer, as an actor and as a director. What was cool about him was this unique point of view. He was really taking care of all the elements, of the plastic arts, and the internal and external.
Did you like thrashing around in those grapes?
After the first couple of stomps, it became quite fun - you just want to squash them. And you really don't want to get it in your eyes because it stings! They had to wash our feet with special soap and stuff. We were all getting stained and turning this weird red colour.
Do you still live in hotel rooms?
Oh yes, but I'd like to build a house. It's an act that just has to happen. I think you have to build a home to get to the next level.
Do you want a family?
Oh yes, kids, a wife.
Are your own family important?
Yes, I'm very close to my mother and my sisters.
Honour is an important word to your character.
Yeah, he's a good dog.
Do you think honour and loyality are lost traits?
Well, I certainly don't think loyalty and honour are superfluous. Everyone seems to be thinking and saying that there are no morals and no traditions any more. So maybe 16-year-olds don't have chaperones any more. But everyone who now says that there is no honour or no loyalty seems to have it.
Do you think good guys finish first?
No, I disagree with that. Good guys can finish last: they can get crushed by a boulder, stomped by life. Totally. The gods are laughers.
What's the oddest job you've ever done?
Sharpening ice skates. when I was a wee lad in my teens in Canada, in the frozen north of Toronto, I worked at an ice rink.
Do you play ice hockey?
I used to play in the California Senior Hockey league. I've played on a few teams. I'm a goaltender. This last year I didn't have time to play, but I did last summer.
You mentioned earlier that you have the power now to get a project off the ground. Is there any particular story you'd like to tell?
No-one is going to care and it's never going to happen, but I would love to tell the Edward De Vere story. He was the 17th Earl of Oxford, who is considered to be one of the authors of Shakespeare's works. For me, it would be great to play this and illuminate the Elizabethan life, the Elizabethan drama, because to me it's the closest that we've come to the Greeks - not as profound obviously, but at least in terms of language and meaning.
Finally, will you do Speed 2?
Sure, if there's really, really, really great script, with Jan De Bont directing and Sandra Bullock. We'd have to be married.