The Reeves Review
by Kristie McClellan
The first thing you notice when you sit down across from Keanu Reeves is his hair. It's got that just-rolled-out-of-bed look and he runs his hand through it constantly. Despite a reputation for being difficult, on the five different occasions we've talked to him, he's been co-operative and self-deprecating and funny. Still, it is fair to say he's changed considerably since his Bill and Ted days. At the time, he seemed very much in character, and his Valley Boy accent made him almost indecipherable. But his devotion to acting was and still is palpable. Any question about his past is considered carefully and treated like an acting experience--he presses the heel of his hand against his forehead and seems to travel back in time, trying to relive the moment and answer truthfully from the gut. As he relaxes into the interview, he becomes more and more vulnerable. He was in this state when we asked him about how he felt when River Phoenix died. Suddenly he began to gasp for breath and choke down tears. The room went silent as he tried to regain his composure. Then, as quickly as he lost his composure, he found it again and the interview continued.
LW : Your character in Speed was a pretty nice guy.
K : Yes, he was. I like him, because he likes to save lives. I don't know where that impulse comes from. I mean, it's not like being a doctor -- the aspect of being a hero, taking it on, it's not like it's thrust upon you. This guy decided to become a police officer, and I'm sure it started when he was a little boy. He saw a policeman, thought it was such a good thing and he wanted to be a good man. And there's a part of him that enjoys the weapons and enjoys the military tactics. So it is a mixture of his altruism and his desire to be a warrior, wanting to blow things up and come through walls. There's a saying that the good guys get all the best weapons, but in this one he's using his mind and his courage rather than James Bond-devices.
LW : Did you do any of your own stunts?
K : No.
LW : A little too dangerous?
K : It wasn't that. It's just inappropriate. If it's a stunt, it should really be a stunt man who does it. That's what they're trained to do. They can drive a car at 75 miles an hour, go off a ramp, spin it three times in the air and land on the wheels. They know how to use their bodies from training. They know what's going to happen. It's inappropriate for me to do those things. It's not about courage, it's about craft.
LW : It's a great movie.
K : Yeah, hard core action fans dig it. It's not Evil Dead 2, it's not Jean Claude Van Damme's work, but there is some good smash'em up. I think the emotional aspect, the humanity of the film makes it different and exceptional.
LW : Speed really changed everything.
K : Yes, it brought me to the edge of the cliff that I'm falling off now. "From the great heights Icarus fell, flying too close to the sun, dashed on the rocks."
LW : Did Speed change your life?
K : Yeah, for about three months. (Changes to a Bronx accent) But it's yesterday's news, old salad. Get it out of here. It's rotten.
LW : Plot? Money? Director? Why did you do Johnny Mneumonic?
K : For all of those reasons (laughs). I mean, you just named all of the top reasons. The plot, story, the director, the writer and the money.
LW : There's a lot of variety in your career. You've done a lot of different things, from Shakespeare to Bill and Ted to My Own Private Idaho, stuff very much off the edge with Gus Van Sant.
K : Off the edge (laughs). Not even on it. Just beyond the edge.
LW : Are you an eclectic kind of guy? Or do you just want to try everything?
K : Well, it's a little more than just appetite. It's an actor's dream to be able to do a variety of parts, and play the different genres and styles and eras. I've just had good fortune in the past to be able to do that.
LW : When you did Hamlet in Winnipeg, did you know that was going to create the kind of fuss that it did around the world?
K : No actually, I thought I was just going to go and play Hamlet in Winnipeg and hopefully some people would come. I didn't know that they would come from New Zealand, which was incredible... I mean really, we had incredible audiences... just giving audiences. Some of the actors were saying they were the best audiences they've ever had. They were so gracious.
LW : Why did you do it? Did you feel that you really needed to work on your craft?
K : Well I love Shakespeare...I mean, I like acting in Shakespeare and the part is pretty good (smiles at the understatement). It's a pretty good play. So in that sense, it's just a dream of mine.
LW : Keanu, what was your first acting job and how much were you paid?
K : There was a local TV show in Toronto who's name I can't remember... but it concerned kids and a community social-welfare kind of thing. I had a line. I was just a punk in the room and I think I said, "Hey lady, where's the washroom?" I think I got three hundred dollars.
LW : Good start.
K : Hey, not bad, huh? I started acting when I was 15, in night classes at this place called "Homemade Theatre." We were doing stuff out of Uta Hagan's book, using sense memory.
LW : Keanu, A Walk in the Clouds is a very romantic movie. Was it a nice change of pace after Speed and Johnny Mneumonic?
K : Yeah, that was part of it. When I saw it was a romance it was like ahhh... I want to do a romance. Like get me off this bus! There was a romantic element to Speed, but A Walk in the Clouds was just to the ninth degree, so I was looking forward to it and I think it turned out pretty well.
LW : Did having more rehearsal help you get into character?
K : Definitely. The director, Alphonso Arau, brought in an astrologer and acting teacher and it was a process that helped immensely. It's an opportunity that's not given very often. But sometimes it's not needed. On some films, if you meet before filming starts you'll ruin the whole thing. They're better with some chaos. But this was not a piece like that.
LW : Arau says he chose you because of your innocence.
K : What is that? I'm trying to get rid of it. I keep going down to the docks (laughing) and I can't shake it. Bernardo Bertolucci (his director on Little Buddha) said I had an impossible naivete (he laughs). So I don't know what that is. Everything that happens to me doesn't change it. I'm like Prince Michkin in Dostoyevsky's The Idiot. I can't heal.
LW : You have interesting techniques for concentrating on the set. What do you do?
K : Sometimes I scream and yell. I make funny sounds trying to loosen up the voice and relax. Try to get open. That's about it.
LW : That really helps you out?
K : I don't know if it's a placebo or not, but it comes from the tradition of my training. You know, where you try to get loose. If you close off, you're not available (he demonstrates with a voice exercise). Look at me, I'm better already.
LW : Yeah, you are. But tell me about you next movie, Feeling Minnesota.
K : It's kind of a drama, a romance-- in the tradition of Midnight Cowboy. It's about some brothers and a girl. My brother is an accountant for a local criminal, and the woman gets caught stealing money from him. So for punishment, the thug makes her marry my brother. I'm coming back into town and we meet, the girl and I, and we have a connection and we kind of go off, but then she wants to go back and get the money. My brother and I fight, and it's about her struggle for her own independence and for us.
LW : What do people say to you on the street?
K : No one really says anything but "Hello" now. Some make bus jokes or something.
LW : People Magazine this year rated you as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the whole world. You're regarded as a real hunk.
K : (Rubs his eyes tiredly) Ah, who cares?... That feels good. I have low self-esteem, so if someone thinks I'm beautiful it helps for about a millisecond.