Lunch with Keanu
Joan Goodman joined the Hollywood star on the set of Feeling Minnesota and met the new woman in his life
We're invited to Minnesota to lunch with Keanu Reeves and we say 'Cool' and hop on a plane. Why Minnesota? Because Reeves, who after Speed can pretty much write his own ticket in Hollywood, has chosen to do Feeling Minnesota, a gritty-tender drama about two brothers who are looking for love in all the wrong places. His co-stars are Vincent D'Onofrio (dangerous in Strange Days) and Cameron Diaz, the effervescent blonde beauty from The Mask. Reeves is as sombre-sweet off-screen as he is on. The chiselled jaw and sexy smile are as advertised, and his body is as lean and long as a lumberjack's.
But lunch may not be as glamorous as it sounds. Reeves, 30, has a reputation for not being mediafriendly; he doesn't give a lot away, and his private life is strictly off limits. We are ushered into a disused industrial building - dressed to look like the interior of a cheap motel in a low-rent part of Minneapolis. Reeves is in the middle of a scene, dressed in a corduroy jacket and faded jeans. D'Onofrio has on a plaid shirt and Diaz is in 1960s bimbo trash - a teddy-bear jacket and tight pants. When the company breaks for lunch, we are led to a makeshift dining-room, where the caterers have set up tables for the cast and crew and, as a concession to our interview, a separate table at the back. By the look of it, it's not going to be a private talk. Hard on that though, Reeves arrives hand in hand with Diaz, followed by D'Onofrio. We all shake hands rather formally, and they line up on one side of the table like Serbian negotiators facing down the UN peacekeepers. Reeves is polite but seems tense. Diaz is edgy but friendly and given to nuzzling Reeves's neck. D'Onofrio is positively surly. The first questions don't go down a treat. 'I don't know why I took the role,' says Reeves, when pressed. 'I just remember reading the script. My character, Jjak, was great; emotional and romantic, and what happens to him in the piece is extreme. The script had a unique view. I remember liking it and going and auditioning.'
Keanu Reeves auditioning! First-time writer/director Stephen Baigelman wanders over at this point and shakes his head. Keanu looks up at him. 'That's what I thought I was doing, I learned the scene. I went to meet you guys. It wasn't, like, "We'll meet him and if he's cool, we'll give him the part." You guys were seeing a lot of other people, weren't you?' Baigelman tries to explain. 'When you left the room, I said, 'Jjak's just left the room."'
'Yeah.' says Keanu, rather insistently, 'but you didn't say that before I walked in. You didn't go, "We're about to meet Jjak," did you? It was an audition.'
Reeves inches his chair closer to Diaz as our lunch is brought in. It's the kind of non-descript food that health-conscious Americans are fond of - salad, chicken and undercooked vegetables. No one seems terribly keen. Diaz, who's like a beanpole, looks at it with positive disdain, and gets up and saunters off towards the kitchen.
Reeves follows her with his eyes, trying not to lose the thread of the conversation. He's describing how he gets into character. He's often said he doesn't like to talk about the way he works, but now he's beginning to relax a bit and he's making an effort. 'You build a story about any character you do. What's happened to him, how he got to the place he's at when you meet him. You do all that, but I don't have a particular way of getting into it...'
Vincent D'Onofrio rescues him. 'I'm going to speak for my brother here,' he begins, shooting a friendly look at Reeves. 'The greatest thing about Keanu is he finds himself in the skin of the character so much that it makes him uncomfortable. There's a lot of pain involved in that.' 'Yes, yes, yes,' says Reeves, melodramatically grabbing his stomach. 'I'm in so much pain I don't know how to talk about it. I'm not eating because I'm too full of pain.' We all laugh and the ice is broken, On cue, Diaz returns with a plateful of mashed potato and plumps herself down on Keanu's knee. 'I have a tapeworm,' she says, and snuggles into Reeves's chest. The two have become close while working on the movie.
'I didn't know Cameron before she came in to rehearse,' says Reeves. 'Now that was an audition,' laughs Diaz. 'And I really had to audition. I read with Keanu and with Vincent. It was very risky for them to see me and give me a role as emotional as this one...'
Before she can finish she is called away for a costume fitting. Diaz was a model before she did The Mask and became an actress. Models have a hard time moving into acting. The director agrees. 'But Cameron was great. She read three times for us and she was simply better than anybody else. It wasn't just me. Keanu thought so, too.' Did Reeves have casting approval? Keanu shakes his head. 'I'm not a star. Johnny Depp's a star. I don't get approval. The beat I could get was script consultation - whatever that means. But I didn't even think about cast approval.'
'But you did approve,' director Baigelman recalls with a laugh.
'Keanu called me up after reading with Cameron, and said, "So, is Miss Diaz going to do the part?" I said yes, and he said "Cool," and that was that.
'I said, "Keanu, what do you think? Would you look forward to this?" He waited for just a beat and I could see he was relishing the idea of working with Cameron. He said, "It's not my role to say, I'm just your humble servant."'
Baigelman turns to Reeves for confirmation and they're both laughing. 'You said that, didn't you?'
'And I meant it,' says Reeves.
'I think you did, too. But I don't know what you would have said if Cameron didn't get the part.'
'But that wouldn't have happened,' said Reeves, ending the conversation, excusing himself and going to find Cameron Diaz.