Keanu dig it?
He's Hollywood's latest heartthrob and was catapulted to superstardom in the film, Speed. Adored by millions of women he remains an enigma. Chris Carbury reports.
There are two words guaranteed to reduce most women to quivering lumps of jelly - Keanu Reeves. The six-foot tall Canadian hunk has become one of the world's biggest sex symbols since the smash-hit flick Speed, which also made him one of Hollywood's richest actors. He owes his chiselled features and olive skin to an Hawaiian-Chinese father and English bohemian mother who, in a burst of abandon during the 1960s, eloped to Beirut where Keanu was born.
It's a romantic streak which Keanu claims to have inherited. But if you're wondering which lucky girl benefits from it, you'll have to stay wondering. Though he admits to wanting a wife and kids, Keanu is notoriously shy about his private life. We do know he has angrily dismissed rumours he's gay, says his longest relationship with a woman lasted two years and recently dated a girl called Autumn.
Perhaps he's more interested in his acting career. Next month he opens in A Walk in the Clouds. And with any luck this film should do for him what Legends of the Fall did for Brad Pitt. It's his first romantic lead and is sure to set all his female fans into overdrive. The plot concerns a World War II soldier, Paul Sutton, who meets a tearful woman on a train and learns she's pregnant out of wedlock, heading home to face the wrath of her father, a wealthy vineyard owner. The soldier gallantly volunteers to pose as her husband for a night, meeting her parents, sleeping on the floor of her bedroom, then ducking out before dawn so the baby will seem legitimate. Soon, of course, he's picking grapes and locking eyes with his new love across the vines.
Keanu, apparently, is painfully shy and when asked about himself, he squirms like a schoolboy or lapses into silence. His own family experiences have been fraught; with his mother's family alien to him and his recently jailed father a stranger to him for over half his life.
Keanu moved to LA in 1986 and since then his list of film credits is impressive: beginning with Youngblood, Permanent Record, The Prince of Pennsylvania and then moving on to Dangerous Liaisons, I Love You to Death, Point Break, Parenthood, cult film My Own Private Idaho, Much Ado about Nothing, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Little Buddha. And of course there was the adrenaline filled Speed which set millions of hearts throbbing and rocketed at the box office.
Speed was your breakthrough as an action hero. Will A Walk in the Clouds do the same for you as a romantic lead?
Hopefully. That's part of the reason why I wanted to do it. It was very sensual and sexy and the script really appealed to me.
Is it up to you entirely what films you do?
I have my agent and other than that, my interpretation of the part, so there's a lot of me in it. I certainly feel my interpretation of the part comes from my interpretation of my own life and what I see in the part. The character is very romantic and I feel I am too.
Your character Paul Sutton is a very honourable guy. Is there something similar in that respect in yourself?
I don't know. A good actor can make you believe anything. He can make someone seem like a saint. But I'm not always a good man. I'm only human, I can also be a rat! Everybody has their dark sides.
But you seem like an honourable person. We don't often hear about Keanu Reeves in a sordid tabloid scandal!
I know. That's what makes me so boring. It's not that I work all the time and that makes me boring. I'm boring in my spare time too! That's why people make things up about me, I'm sure. (Keanu laughs). They're like, "God, we've got to give this guy life, if only in print."
You laugh about it but does it sometimes make you angry?
No. Well, not until it's so intrusive or insulting or in really bad taste, then it gets to the stage where I can't ignore it. I wish they wouldn't say things about the people I love.
Why do stars like Charlie Sheen and Hugh Grant pay for sex but you never seem to get caught up in anything like that?
As I said, I lead a boring life. I don't do anything. That's why people manufacture stories about me. I don't think what Hugh Grant did is much to do with being a movie star or actor - prostitutes aren't exclusively for stars. It's to do with the kind of person you are and whether you obviously get off on that kind of thing.
Do you think what Hugh Grant did was somehow a reaction to his sudden fame?
I don't think Hugh Grant did it out of guilt because he's suddenly successful. It's not like he said: 'I must pay penance! I'm too good!' I think it's just human behaviour. I don't know him so I can't see the whole picture but I don't suppose work pressures would send a guy like that to, say, a prostitute or to hit the bottle. Not like they did with someone like Spencer Tracey, who was supposed to have been a priest before he became and actor. He used to go on two-week drinking binges. They used to stop filming and he'd go and lock himself up and just drink. So he needed that release. It was just natural behaviour for him. I visit prostitutes. (He laughs). No. I play music, I read. I spend time with my friends.
How do you feel about the rumours that you are gay? Do you get angry over that?
For a long time I'd say to people who asked me that, "It's none of your business!" But eventually I was told by my manager and agent that I should address the question because if you don't collaborate with the press to a certain extent, they get quite venal. And that starts to get in the way, especially in Hollywood, when you're perceived in terms of your media image. One has to address it, especially if there's no end to the rumour.
What about the rumour that you're married to David Geffen (gay record mogul)?
I didn't know it was going around until recently. Someone told me and I was amazed because it seemed so ridiculous. Then the rumour just took on a life of its own so that's why I started addressing it.
Who were your screen idols when you were growing up?
I don't know anybody who really influenced my acting or my style, if there is a style. But I loved English actors like Peter O'Toole. He's really the one I looked forward to seeing. I hear him and Richard Harris used to do a lot of boozing together!
Your background is a mixture of different races. Do you feel that contributes to a dual nature?
Yes, I do think that. I'm half English, a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese. I guess from my English mother I inherited the good manners (Keanu laughs). That's very important. And from the Hawaiian side I guess I have my earthy aspect which makes me very well-grounded. I know Hawaii is an island and so I should associate that side of me with water and lighter stuff. But if you look at Hawaiians they have these very broad feet, big toes and big thumbs.
So you have big feet?
(Keanu lifts up one leg to reveal a huge hiking boot) Yeah, they're pretty big! And that's why I'm well-grounded. That's the earthy aspect of me.
What about your Chinese side?
I don't know about that. It's one thing I've always wondered about. What does that part of me mean? It's weird because my family is Hawaiian and so I get a sense of that tradition from them but I don't have Chinese family. Those roots are Polynesian, I guess, in correct terms.
That's on your father's side. How close are you to your mother's side of the family?
My mother has a divorced relationship from her family so I don't know who my grandparents are on that side. I don't know anything like that about them.
In A Walk in the Clouds the girl doesn't see eye-to-eye with her father. Are you still estranged from your own father?
Very much so. Otherwise I'm fairly close to my family. (Apparently, Keanu counts his sister Kim as his best friend) I wouldn't say that we are as traditionally close as the Aragon family in the film. Their traditions are important to keeping the family together. What I love in the film is the way it shows how relationships within the family struggle or harmonise as they do in real life. The character Victoria is interesting. She is confused and tries to establish her independence from the family, or from her father, by going to school and then by getting pregnant by the English professor. The traditions of family are valuable but that incident shows how they can smother a person and cause them to react against the family if the traditions are too wilful.
Does it hurt that you're not close to your father?
(Keanu takes a deep breath) I don't know if it hurts anymore but it did in the past and I can't forget that. The experience of what I felt as a young child is very much who I am today. Very much so. I live with that every day of my life.
Do you feel that part of your ambition and drive to prove yourself comes from the rejection you felt as a child?
Yeah, of course. The rejection has fuelled the need for me to be accepted, accepted on a wider scale. There's also the quest to do something with my life so that I can feel proud of myself and not feel like the rejected child. A lot of what being an actor is about is proving yourself for similar reasons.
Do you talk to your father at all now?
No, I haven't heard from him since I was 15 years old. It's part of my life that is very complex and unresolved. There are a lot of issues and some that are very painful. Perhaps too painful still.
Are you ever able to deal with such issues in your own life through playing out roles, such as Hamlet, who sees his father as an idol?
I never felt that when I did Hamlet (on the stage in Canada last year). I've never felt that with any of my roles. I think Hamlet is as much about the mother as the father. It's the first thing he speaks about.
But the father is the key element.
Right, but it's the nature of the father. It depends on your interpretation of that. The first soliloquy is about his mother. I've never had a personal catharsis from acting but what has come out subconsciously have been things that are contained in me. You know, feeling for my mother. What I really felt playing Hamlet was anger. It was anger not toward my father but toward my mother.
That must have been cathartic.
No it wasn't because it wasn't freeing from the event. Acting has never brought me freedom from trauma but it's introduced me to perhaps a trauma that's been contained in expression. It's never brought release. It does give me that moment of freedom from it so I get to live.
Is it true you live in hotels?
Yeah, especially when I'm working. Now I just need a suitcase with my stuff in it. That's all I've been using. I think I now want to get an apartment.
Are you a loner?
Yes, I'm a loner. I like to be alone. But I also like to be among people. When I'm in the right mood.
What are your best qualities?
My manners, thanks to my mum. But manners are not much. So I don't really have much to go on.
Do you like to watch yourself on screen?
When I'm good because then I don't really see myself. I just see the character. When I'm bad I just see myself and that's painful to watch. They say that you learn from your mistakes but I don't think it helps me to improve when I see myself (he laughs).