Dolly (Aus), November 1995
Keanu - in his own words
by Janis Hawkridge
OK, so we all know he's the love-muffin of the century, but what's he really like? Does he have a brain? What sort of kid was he? What does he think about his work, drugs and his big... motorbike? Well, here it is! Keanu finally spills the beans in our hugely EXCLUSIVE scoop...
My mom told me that after "No" the second thing I spoke was "How come?". It drove her crazy, But she encouraged that openness in me. Thanks, Mom. I am the oldest in my family. I have two sisters - Kim is a part-time model and Karina just graduated high school. Our life was long on love beads, incense and visits from my mother's clients, but short on discipline. Me and my friends were into building go-karts. I played on the high school soccer team.
My mother was a costume designer for rock stars. Halloween was exceptional because I'd always get a cool costume. One year, I was Dracula, another year, I was Batman and my sister was Robin. Once, my mother made me a Cousin It costume from The Addams Family. I wore a giant wig. It rained and I got wet. I looked just like a big bowl of pasta! Alice Cooper stayed at our house. I remember he brought fake vomit and fake dog poo to terrorise the housekeeper. When I see stuff in Los Angeles now, I realise how safe and sheltered my upbringing was. We didn't even do graffiti.
My father is a geologist of Hawaiian-Chinese descent. He left the family when I was a child. He dropped out of sight for years but resurfaced in 1994, convicted for cocaine possession. I knew him until I was six. Then I saw him occasionally when I would go to Hawaii on holidays. The last time I saw him was when I was 13. I'd like to get married and have three kids, but I don't know when. As a father, I would probably try to, first of all, be around. And then to be, hopefully, a nurturing, positive presence.
I was born in Beirut, Lebanon, on September 2,1964, and raised in Australia and New York before we settled in Canada. When I was a kid I thought I'd grow up to be a race car driver or an inventor, but I knew I wanted to be an actor by the time I was 14. I was around performers from a fairly young age. My stepfather, Paul Aaron, was a director - he did Broadway, off-Broadway and film, and the people in his world seemed incredibly exotic.
Growing up, I held down a variety of odd jobs - from ice-skate sharpener to tree trimmer. I didn't graduate from high school. I like to read. I try to travel. Every moment's precious. I switched high schools four times before dropping out in 1984, after I discovered drama class and local theatre. My first paycheck came from a Coca-Cola commercial when I was 16.
When I was 17, I had my first car. It was a 1969 Volvo, British racing green. Bricks held up the front seat. Good stereo. I bought it from a man who ripped me off. I remember being with some friends and driving in that car from Toronto, Canada to Buffalo, New York, to see The Ramones. That was very adventurous. There was a punk-rock girl in the back seat with a raccoon on her shoulder. The Clash were playing so loud on the stereo! And all those questions that run through your head: "Will we make it? We're underage. Can we get in?". It was such a good time.
I moved out when I was 18 and was leading a kind of cool life in Toronto then. I had room-mates and we had a cool pad in a cool neighbourhood. I'd just done a play and had some bank from a movie of the week. I had a girlfriend and a car and was going to clubs and everything was fun. Why did I leave? In Toronto you always ended up auditioning for the part of the main character's best friend. You were always number two. I guess there was a part of me that wanted to be a movie star so I came to LA in 1984 when I was 20.
When I first got there, I would audition under the name K C Reeves. That was a terrible, terrible phase. I had driven across the country and the day that I arrived on the West Coast I was informed that my manager and my agent at the time were having trouble getting me in to see some casting agents because of my name. It had an ethnicity to it that they found was getting in the way. They said I had to change my name. That freaked me out completely. And now Keanu is the name that gets projects financed.
When I first got to LA I didn't have any friends and I didn't work for the first eight months, so it was kind of tough until I got the part in River's Edge.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure demanded all my skills as an actor. Playing Ted hung a label on me and I hung it on myself, to a certain extent. My voice lacks a bottom. That may be why people can't get over the surfer-dude thing. To some people I'll always be dumb, happy Ted, airhead supremo. I have a goofy side and I've certainly had my moments. But I've made several fairly serious films and seen a few things in the last 10 years - I've been really lucky in that I've been around some great artists. Almost every director I've worked with has been exceptional.
As an actor I'm all work, no socialising. I always immerse myself deeply in my parts. I can't just show up and do it. Whenever I think I don't need to prepare, I quickly discover I'm wrong.
In 1994 I worked non-stop. Sometimes it was real tough but I enjoyed that. I got recognised a little more often after Speed. Once I was playing hockey - it's a thrilling game, lots of drama, lots of physical contact - my defense man came up to me and said, "OK, a guy is coming in on a breakaway. What do you do? What do you do?". Usually people came up to me and said, "Weren't you the guy from Speed?"
Action films are a bit far afield for me as I usually opt for more creatively adventurous parts. Speed interested me because it attempted to bring an element of realism to action movies. For Speed I worked out in a gym six days a week. I wanted to have cop arms - big, beefy. But for Little Buddha I just quit eating so I looked rail-thin. I always stayed in character, except if there was any really good French Bordeaux wine around. I dreamed about bread and cheese. I fasted throughout the duration of the shoot, which made it hard to keep my energy up, but I loved how I felt.
During filming I had to wade into the river to bathe with water buffaloes. I filmed it twice and I told Bernardo Bertolucci, the director, that I'd like to do it again. He's like, "No, no. It's OK. We have it". I'm like, "No, I can do a little better scene". And he says, "No, that's good". So I trust him and walk away. That's when the producer revealed that men armed with shotguns were sitting in steel cages in the river ready to shoot crocodiles! I thought I was getting in with water buffaloes and it's crocodiles!
I don't want to be superfamous, That would be awful. I don't really have a career game plan. I have a band called Dogstar which plays folk-thrash, maybe, but not quite thrash. We play pretty often.
For fun I still like to surf, play my bass guitar very loudly and ride my Norton Commando motorcycle way too fast. Time goes much slower when you're moving at around 200kms. I've gotten many tickets for speeding or for driving at night with the headlight turned off. A few years ago I had a serious accident and still have a scar on my abdomen from it. I ran into a mountain.
Movies - and particularly working in movies - creates false expectations of life. It's up to you to investigate what you take in. I've always found that the simple act of paying attention can take you a long way in life. River Phoenix and I met while shooting Parenthood. We also co-starred in My Own Private Idaho. At that time I, too, had a fascination with drugs. And now he's dead. I miss him. I miss him greatly. The biggest problem with teenagers today are drugs and emotions because they're so casual about both of them.