In Search of Keanu
Our intrepid reporter has a few (very few) words with the elusive Mr. Reeves
by Lauren David Peden
MY FRIENDS COULDN'T believe it. I could hardly believe it. I'd been invited to visit the set of Keanu Reeves's new movie Feeling Minnesota. Sure, Reeves is notorious for shutting out the press, but I figured that was because he hadn't met me yet. Once he came into range of my outgoing-yet-nonthreatening vibes, we'd be bonding over brewskis in no time. Anyway, that was my plan. Here's the reality.
My Not-So-Excellent Adventure
When I arrive at the St. Paul soundstage, I'm struck by the upbeat atmosphere. Feeling Minnesota is not a perky film: It's about the lifelong hatred between two low-life brothers, Jjaks (Reeves) and Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio), which turns violent when they both fall for a woman named Freddie, played by The Mask's Cameron Diaz. For Reeves, the stakes in making this film are high: He may have cemented his heartthrob status with the 1994 action hit Speed, but Minnesota marks the first time in his ten-year, 24-film career that he plays a romantic lead in a movie that takes place in modern times - without the distractions of costumes or high-speed bus chases.
But if he's feeling the pressure, it isn't showing. After one take, he gives Diaz a bear hug and pulls her into an impromptu flamenco dance, waving his arms in the air like a goofy shaman; she responds by giving him a playful kick in the ass. A few minutes later, he yells, "Oh, my God!" Several people turn around, startled. He shrugs cheerfully: "It's part of my acting exercise." This particular exercise also includes shouting "Let us perform!" and then answering himself in a Yiddish accent: "Lettuce? You vant lettuce?" "Keanu's a lettuce," says the writer/director, Steven Baigelman, nonsensically, to which Reeves replies, "Iceberg!"
Ice-cold is more like it: During lunch break, I have my first up-close-and-personal encounter with the 31-year-old actor. I'm scraping the remains of my eggplant parmigiana into the garbage when someone comes up behind me and asks, "So, who are you writing this for?" I turn around; it's Reeves. I can't shake his hand and introduce myself properly (I have a dirty plate in one hand and utensils in the other), so I turn to unload. In the meantime, he walks off, and I'm left standing alone, hand extended, feeling foolish.
And It's Downhill From There
During the rest of my weeklong stay, Reeves keeps as far away from me as possible. At one point, Alan Amman, the set publicist, and I stop by his trailer to ask if he'd like a ticket to the local R.E.M. show. When he spots us, he looks like a deer caught in headlights. "No," is all he says. Not "No, thank you." Not "No, but thanks for asking." just "No."
The next day, he's in a foul mood. Jjaks is supposed to return to his motel room and find Freddie bloodied and unconscious in the bathtub, a scene that calls for major emoting, After two hours and 12 takes ("Should I say, 'Jesus' when I see her, or should I see her first and then say it?"), Reeves punches the wall, muttering "Shit!" From there on in, it's no more Mr. Nice Guy, as Reeves gives the finger to no one in particular, and punctuates blown shots with a quiet "Fuck me."
Baigelman clears the set. Amman - informing me I won't be allowed back on set the next day or the day after, as promised - tries to reassure me. "It's nothing personal," he says. "It just gets distracting with people around." So much for bonding with one of America's most wanted actors.
Reaching Out - But Not Touching
Finally, after five months and countless pleading calls to his manager, movie studio and publicist (who refers to himself as "Keanu's apologist"), I get the man himself on the phone, Briefly. When I ask him if it's difficult to play someone who's on the edge, he replies, "No, it's good fun." Uh-huh.
When I mention that a Minnesota producer had told me that Reeves's post-Speed box-office clout was instrumental in getting the movie made, he turns peevish. "I don't think I got Feeling Minnesota made," he says, with a distinct edge in his voice. My last question fares better: He does admit to reading "the first two or three lines" of his reviews. Why? "Ahhh," he groans, "I can't help it."
Neither can I. Reeves may have dissed me on the set and strung me along before agreeing to a short phone interview, but I find it hard to hold a grudge. Apparently, so does the rest of America.
What Is It About Him, Anyway?
I'll tell you: It's the Vulnerable Puppy Syndrome. Everything we read about Reeves contributes to an urge to protect him: His fatherless upbringing (he never saw his half-Chinese, half-Hawaiian father after age 13); his rootless childhood (the family moved five times, about as many times as Reeves changed high schools); his homeless lifestyle (he lives in hotels, out of a suitcase). Then, of course, there's his exuberant physicality - his lumbering walk in Parenthood, his big gestures and heartstopping grin in both Bill & Ted movies, his sleek strength in Speed. (Fans of his action-hero persona should look for his upcoming thriller Dead Drop.)
Finally, in a business full of hotel-room trashers, gun carriers and hooker-hirers, Reeves is refreshingly free of bad-boy-itis. But what about interview-itis? Should generally good behavior exempt a star from the duties of the public eye? Now, that's another story.
Over the past two years, we've received more fan mail about Keanu Reeves than about all other Hollywood actors put together. So, we asked our readers to tell us exactly what they see in him. You answered with astonishing lyricism, insight, honesty and, well, lust:
"He's masculine and well-built. It's a commando-type thing." -Vicky, 26
"I thought he looked quite good naked in My Own Private Idaho. He has lovely skin." -Randi, 33
"That whole elusive-rebel thing and the fact that he's from several ethnic backgrounds makes him stand out from the rest of the crowd." -Leslie, 29
"He's the ideal himbo. It's like that saying, he 'should be seen and not heard' - but I mean that - in a nice way." -Carol, 26
"Deep in my heart, I know he's really smart underneath it all." -Selena, 25