Keanu Reeves: The Rodney Dangerfield of Film?
What must Keanu Reeves do to be taken seriously? Despite performances in an eclectic assortment of films--ranging form River's Edge, Parenthood and My Own Private Idaho to Dangerous Liaisons, Little Buddha and Much Ado About Nothing--he spent the early part of this acting career living down his role as the latter half of the scatterbrained duo, Bill and Ted.
Even now, the 31-year-old actor may not get much respect, but it certainly isn't for his lack of trying. Indeed, Reeves seems to catch a lot of flak whenever he attempts anything very sophisticated or smart (like a recent Canadian stage production of Hamlet). As he puts it, "It's like I'm overstepping my boundaries to even consider doing something remotely serious. I'm just the guy from Speed, after all." (He won't be the guy from Speed 2, however; he passed on a $12 million offer to do the sequel, which will now team Sandra Bullock opposite Jason Patric.
In contrast to Chain Reaction, Reeves' action-movie flop from earlier this summer, there's Feeling Minnesota, first-time director Steven Baigelman's brooding love story about an ex-con named Jaxx (Reeves), his estranged older brother (Vincent D'Onofrio), and his brother's new wife (Cameron Diaz), with whom Jaxx hits the road. Dan Aykroyd, Tuesday Weld and Courtney Love also appear. Rough Cut's Bert Osborne spoke with Reeves.
Steven Baigelman says this film couldn't have been financed without your involvement. What was it about this script that attracted you?
I just really enjoyed the writing, the situation and the characters. I think it's about people being trapped, and about wanting love and all the different incarnations that entails. I liked the comedy and the wordplay, even the violence. There's a kind of confusion in these people as they're trying to deal with their pasts, to deal with their yearnings.
Did you respond to your character on any personal level?
I don't know. He's a good-hearted guy who happens to have a few wounds. He's just someone with huge feelings of hurt and abandonment, and yet he's someone who's become conscious of that somehow and keeps trying to fight his own nature. What can you say? He loved his mother, and she sent him away. He's conditioned himself to be suspicious when things start feeling too good. He just knows everything is bound to turn to s--t, but then he meets this woman who rocks his world, and so he goes for it.
Is something like Chain Reaction a necessary evil, in terms of being better able to justify working on a smaller picture like Feeling Minnesota?
Yeah, but you know what? Those other parts have their challenges as well. I mean, I was acting in independent films long before I ever acted in a hit action picture, but I don't always make that sort of distinction. It's all about making movies.
So you just go for the material and the role, regardless of any financial considerations?
Not only that. I mean, I want to act in popular films, and I really enjoy working on those big Hollywood movies. There's a scope to them that you don't get anywhere else on Earth, and it's great, great fun. It's all about fantasy, you know? Sometimes I get depressed because it's just so crass in the representation of human relationships, but I think those types of movies are necessary, for their entertainment value, if nothing else. Sometimes, you just want to go out and have a good time, instead of thinking about issues of "Who am I?" "Who are you?" or "What about the Earth?" Sometimes it's nice just to go and escape from everything.
Have you seen Chain Reaction?
It's not bad. At least it has some content to it. It was a real battle between the action aspect of it and the drama of it, but I think we did OK. I miss some of the humanity in it, but I guess that sort of stuff just takes too much time. Let's get back to the chase scene, you know what I mean? I call them "follow-the-carrot" movies, but, as those movies go, I mean, Morgan Freeman is excellent, and it's shot really well.
You're obviously not the kind of star who's in it for the money.
I'm a fool, aren't I? What's my problem anyway?
Is it a problem, at least for your agents and managers, that you walked away from the Speed sequel and so much money?
You know, we'd made the first one, and I've always been a little ambivalent about sequels. I just wanted to see what would happen. I was just searching, looking for something else as an actor, and luckily I found it in this new part I'm doing for (director) Taylor Hackford in Devil's Advocate. Ironically, largely because of the success of Speed, I could afford to say no to Speed 2. If I was broke, and I was desperate to take care of my rent or my other responsibilities, then I probably wouldn't have turned it down and would've taken care of business.
So bigger isn't always better, right?
I just want to act. I want to be a good actor. I want to give some good performances in some good films. Speed was such a ridiculous movie, and I mean that in a positive sense. (Director) Jan De Bont had such an enthusiasm and a vision for the piece. It was a lot of fun, and it didn't insult your intelligence by trying to ask the audience to suspend too much of their disbelief. I was sure that doing the sequel would be a great ride, very entertaining, but I would've just been miserable playing the action hero again.
What kind of impact did the success of that film make on your career?
You know, the reason Speed was such a big hit is that it's a really good movie, regardless of anything that I had to do with it. I'm not so sure I've got any more clout now than I did before. I've been in one hit movie, and if the next one doesn't do any better than the last one did, then it probably won't be much of an issue anyway, and I can go back to just thinking about the work.
What's Devil's Advocate?
It's a horror picture, really, a kind of moral allegory about a young lawyer who's representing a child molester and sets him free, and about how from that moment on, the lawyer's life becomes more and more morally corrupt, until he finally makes a bargain with the Devil. I hear Al Pacino turned it down. Hopefully, it'll be quite cinematic, fun and scary at the same time, in the tradition of Rosemary's Baby or Jacob's Ladder.
You appear to be a lot more relaxed doing interviews than in the past. It seems this part of the job is getting easier for you.
Then I guess I'm a really good actor. Easier? Not really. They say that's the price of fame, but the loss of your privacy is never easy, and sometimes the expectations other people have of you are a little too much. I hate being interrupted in the middle of a private conversation with, "Hey, it's the guy from Speed!"
And the tabloids?
It's totally ridiculous, and you're powerless to really do anything about it. It's like being punched in the face and not being able to punch back. It's one thing to come here and talk to you about the new film I happen to be very proud of, but it's something else entirely to pick up one of those rags and read some fabricated story about how I'm a heroin addict, or that I'm gay, or that I never bathe. It's so unfair and in such bad taste, and it's none of their business, anyway. Does anybody really care about any of that stuff?
You'd be surprised.
I doubt it.