He is adored by millions and rising high in Hollywood, yet he lives alone in a series of hotels and doesn't believe that he's the clean-cut hero type. Keanu Reeves talks to Peter S. James.
A crowd gathers outside Whiskey, the legendary club in downtown LA. They're waiting to hear Dogstar, a band with a growing reputation for its thundering fusion of thrash and folk music. But there's another reason most of the people are here: Dogstar's bass player, Keanu Reeves.
With imminent rock stardom and twenty-five films to his credit, Reeves is riding high on his post-Speed success. This month he stars in two films, Johnny Mnemonic, a punchy, teched-up, cyberpunk thriller written by William Gibson and directed by post-modern visual artist Robert Longo, and A Walk In the Clouds, a romantic drama directed by Alfonso (Like Water For Chocolate) Arau.
He has just finished filming an indie film, Feeling Minnesota, in which he stars opposite Cameron Diaz from The Mask (he describes the film as "kind of Beckett meets Sam Shepard in Minnesota in the winter: romance, intrigue and crimes of passion in a cold climate") and has teamed with director Andrew (The Fugitive) Davis in Dead Drop for a reported $US7 million.
I catch up with Reeves at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood a few hours before his gig. It is one of a number of hotels in which he currently lives. ("It's not a bohemian kind of thing," he says. "I just don't want to set roots any place yet. I like moving around a lot.") Attractive in a slender but ambiguous way, the thirty-year-old actor has an earnest, wide-eyed, almost somnambulistic manner, and appears devoid of the irony and bitchiness that is characteristic of some of his fashionably rude colleagues. He is usually portrayed as an object of desire.
A Walk in the Clouds is his first romantic lead. "I've always wanted to do a romance, a project that concerned itself with the heart and the nature of passion and sensuality," he says. Reeves is not in a relationship - he attributes this to the fact that he seldom stays still. "I don't have a girlfriend right now, because it is hard to stay close to someone when I'm moving around so much. My sister calls me a gypsy - just me, a case of clothes, my bass and my bike." In the past, various press reports have linked him with co-stars such as Sandra Bullock, as well as Baywatch's Pamela Anderson. His response: "You show up at a premiere together and the next thing you know, they've got you married."
Those close to him suggest that Reeves's troubled childhood may explain his loner ways. Born in Beirut to an English mother, Patricia, and a Hawaiian father, Samuel (Keanu means "cool breeze from the sea" in Hawaiian), Reeves was four years old when his father walked out on the family. He acknowledges that "a lot of who I am is a reaction against his actions". Reeves, his two sisters and his mother (a costume designer for rock stars such as Alice Cooper and Fleetwood Mac) moved around a lot before eventually settling in Toronto, where, he admits to going "to about five schools in as many years" before dropping out. After a series of odd jobs, "stuff like working at an ice hockey rink and stores, nothing special", he took some acting lessons and, at the age of nineteen, headed south to Los Angeles where he found success. He won't say much about his family and even less about his estranged father, currently serving a ten-year sentence in an Hawaiian prison for drug possession. "I don't want to talk about him," he says politely but firmly. "He disappeared out of my life when I was a kid."
For all his innocent, all-American boyish-ness, there's a hint of sadness in Reeves's voice and demeanour. When asked if he sees himself as representing a clean-cut hero type, he quickly, emphatically answers, "No." So how does he see himself? "I don't know, I don't have a character description for myself," he says. "I can play an all-American boy to some extent. I don't think it's something I can't play. But..." His voice trails off and he leaves the rest unanswered.
He is, he says, "a perfectionist, but I don't know if it helps." He laughs. "I mean, I watch my films quite critically. although I don't have a set thing that I look for. No, that's not true either. I guess I took at the physicality and judge the acting and see what it looks like." To the rest of the world it looks pretty good.