Catch Him if You Can
When Kate Spicer Went to Interview Keanu Reeves on Tour with his Band Dogstar, She Hadn't Reckoned on a Five-Day Odyssey to Track Down the World's Most Elusive Rock Star
Go out and chase Keanu Reeves, they said. Get an interview. 'Hey hey. No problem.' Two days later, after desperate calls to the RCA press office in London, it became clear an interview was not on. 'We don't know why they aren't co-operating.' Apparently, Dogstar were keeping themselves to themselves and weren't even mixing with other bands. On top of that, they were only talking to four hand-picked members of the more masculine elements of the 'serious' music press. This is clearly man stuff, not to be wasted on girlies who don't know their Pearl Jam from their Rimmell Shimmer Pink. The band want to be taken seriously for the music not for the bass player. Hmm.
SATURDAY, SUNDAY, GLASGOW... 'Course,' said the showbiz correspondent of the Daily Record, 'he'll fly in ahead, be staying at a top hotel. I'm pretty wise on what these guys are up to.'
Keanu Reeves arrived in Glasgow with his band late on Saturday morning after 14 hours on the tour bus from Belgium. 'They arrived and immediately complained about the size of their rooms,' one hotel worker commented. Later, after the band had left town, the obliging, slightly excited manager of the four-star Forte Post House showed me the recently vacated Reeves cubbyhole. Two single beds, trouser press, the usual sachets of corrosive toiletries. Tiny. 'Just a normal guy. A nice polite man,' the manager said. 'I don't know why he always acts like a space cadet in interviews.' This nice, polite man has a habit of being really nice and polite to his fans. Later I'll hear how he has 'a different line for everyone.' But all the time he's being courteous you can tell he's conserving his energy for something else, something he cares about. He's no winking people-pleaser, though. None of your 'if it wasn't for all those people out there watching my movies' tears-in-the-eye kind of stuff. Which is all very refreshing, but such noble demeanour tends to go hand in hand with not talking to the press.
And because he doesn't pander to the whims of the media, his presence in town inevitably triggers a cascade of Keanu trivia for the curious. The Daily Record reported not only a meal Reeves ate at a local Indian, but the fact that he had been greedy, picking at his friend's plate, too. Most of the gossip revolves around his looks: 'He's got fat, he's unshaven, he's scruffy, he's... a disappointment,' was reported everywhere from the teenie mags to the tabloids to the Sunday Times.
While in Europe, Reeves and the band manager, Kenny Funk, had dropped a whole rack of publicity they had been scheduled to do, including big stuff like Top of the Pops. The record company, with three months of intense preparation behind them for the short European tour and the imminent single, in turn announced that it wouldn't be releasing the single here at the end of July as originally planned. Kind of a 'Fuck you.' 'No, fuck you' thing.
After an afternoon at T in the Park, where everyone except me seemed to spot Reeves dancing, Reeves eating a hot dog, Reeves playing Twister with Richard Nixon and Zsa Zsa Gabor, I spent Saturday night chasing my tail around Glasgow while Keanu sat eating a curry with his mates. An event so boring even the hack from the Sun left before the bill arrived.
Still, I got to hold my camera up along with a thousand other girlies at the gig in the NME tent the next day. Every movement or sound sends the girls off in a volley of half-screams. Boyfriends are mere stepladders; they cling on to their girls jealously and are delighted to tell me that the band is 'crap, wank, rubbish'. All this before the first note is even played. On stage Reeves doesn't even have a mike. He plays looking down. When he does look up he wears an embarrassed and bemused expression. He dances a jig when there is no music, but during the songs he just plays intently. He's still limping after a bike accident six weeks previously and his leg clearly frustrates him when he attempts one of his random hyperactive jumps.
MONDAY, LONDON... 'There he is.' The paparazzi are out of the car in a second. I run to the door of the coach to await the descent of 'Mr. Reeves, Mr. Reeves. This way Mr. Reeves', as he is to the photographers. I wait, then spot the the band's lead singer. I race up to him, heart pounding...and call him Greg. I call Bret Domrose, the (trying not to be completely inconspicuous in the shadow of his bass player) lead singer of Dogstar, Greg. Domrose doesn't even look me in the eye. He just says, 'Actually, my name's Dale.' And he runs off up the steps into Blakes Hotel. I turns and catch the manager, the bro' by da name o' Mister Kenny Funk. Mr. Funky turned out to be a diminutive honky, a stressed Emilio Estevez, Michael J. Fox, Huckleberry Hound hybrid. I lean over the railing and, trying not to whine like a toddler, ask, 'Would the band possibly be able to spare a few minutes to talk to British ELLE?'
'Perhaps the band would like to explain why the single isn't being released then?'
He scowls and implies - I think - that it has something to do with the media. I persist in the same vein for about five minutes before Funk just turns away. I've got one man's name wrong - and rubbed the manager not only up the wrong way, but over a cheesegrater as well. This whole thing's a joke. Bleurgh.
The paparazzi laugh at me. 'Where were ya girl? Didn't ya see Keanu getting out the other side of the coach? Bit slow, aren't ya?' I shrug, only slightly annoyed, really. The stakeout at the band's London hangout, the exotic Blakes Hotel, has been my most successful yet. However, the chances of getting any real time with the band are now looking slim, seeing as they'd pretty much all seen me lolloping around the entrance to the hotel like an errant newspuppy, yet to be trained.
Then... the autograph hunters rush forward again. Experts at playing the waiting game, they can smell the imminent arrival of a celebrity a mile off and nervously jiggle photographs in readiness for him to sign. I slink behind the ornamental bay trees and, as Keanu walks down the steps, duck up beside him and hold my tape recorder out. 'Mr. Reeves? British ELLE. I was wondering whether you could spare me a little time for an interview?'
When I finally manage to collar him he keeps his head down. Our exchange goes something like this:
ELLE: What's been the best date so far?
Reeves: T in the Park.
ELLE: How are you looking forward to playing London?
Reeves: (totally sarcastic) Well, it's pretty exciting isn't it?
ELLE: You don't appear to be very happy. What's getting to you about this tour?
Reeves: (a growl) Uuuurgh....long story.
ELLE: Is it the media?
(someone starts dropping the old 'No more questions now' line).
I move forward to shake his hand, which he takes like he's done a million times before. But he just can't help being polite to these bimbos. Then he adds as an afterthought, 'It's nice to be playing here eventually.'
And with that, Keanu is gone... closely followed by me and the photographer. We chase the coach to the Shepherds Bush Empire running red lights and laughing in the faces of tutting women in Peugeot 205s. There, the infamous British snappers are on priceless form, fearlessly pushing their way towards him, flies desperate to land on the celebrity cheesecake. It's obscene - an orgiastic frenzy of lusting teenage flesh, buzzing paparazzi high on the thrill of the chase, and a rigid scaffold of meatheads trying to keep them all away from the cool, indifferent core. Within moments he's gone, shut behind the stagedoor. A girl who touched his arm spontaneously combusts into tears.
In a recent interview, Björk summed up the circus of hero worship: 'I think it's crap. People are humiliating themselves in front of me and that's embarrassing.' What does this do to the subject of such hysteria, what does it do to your head if you've been getting this kind of treatment for a while?
I stand watching the band, feeling a strange sense of familiarity with the whole thing. His attempts at ordinariness are, in some ways, successful. The band is incredibly ordinary.
TUESDAY, AYLESBURY.... An American in a lurid shirt talks to a couple of young fans. He has a pass dangling round his neck. It says, 'Dan Thomsen. Dogstar'. He's doing PR and merchandise for the band. I say: 'PR? PR? But you aren't doing any press.'
'Yeah, well,' he says, 'people keep trying to equate Keanu Reeves the movie star with the band. Nothing is going to be as big as a movie star. We've been getting really annoyed with promoters who put Keanu Reeves on the billboard.'
Fine, but the band on their own merit are not that good - they're kind of topflight school band plays a combination of Bryan Adams and Nirvana. Without his name, who's gonna turn up? 'OK, it opens doors, but the press, the press, they are the worst here. Man, they shouldn't make up that shit like Keanu's gay and stuff. The guys are upset, OK?' Reeves seems miserable, I venture. 'Hey, he's not miserable. He's just drinking and having a laugh. Keanu just wants to play music loud.' He goes on to tell me how all the band and crew have been friends for years. 'We play hockey and we ride bikes fast.' And like suburban barbecues, everyone brings something to the party.
Dan's the merchandise and fan-club promotion man. Then there's Greg [sic], who writes and sings. Rob, on drums, acts dumb and shy. There are others, helping out, joining in, keeping Other People away from their buddy Keanu. Some of them admit that they don't really know him, as in understand him.
I try again: 'Interview?' 'No way,' says Dan. 'Just hang out with us though, that sounds pretty cool.' As long as my journalistic tools are out of sight I can, like, get to look at Keanu Reeves and pretend I'm not interested in finding out what he ate for breakfast. I throw away my list of serious questions along with any intentions of getting any kind of scoop.
Lighting a fag, I lean against a table in the bar of the Civic Centre, Aylesbury. Any minute now, everyone who witnessed my bubble-headed attempts outside the hotel yesterday will be in the room. 'Hey, beautiful ladies don't smoke.' (Dan and the rest of the Keanu entourage are either fairly dumb or, like Reeves, pretty good at affecting the mannerisms of a himbo when it suits.) The only stick I get is the repetitive refrain of, 'Hey it's the ELLE girl.' They are fundamentally friendly, boisterous, slightly naive and very American. The sound-check man is frosty, though. So is Reeves' half sister, Karina, and the anxious Mr. Funk who look at me with a disdainful, 'Who let that in?' stare. None of the men have had sex for a while, apparently. I point to a bunch of girls jumping up and down expectantly outside the window. What, nothing available? 'Oh but we're nice guys, we can't do that.' Domrose and Mailhouse sign promo posters. Reeves' face remains autograph-free. He's on the tour bus. Tired, conserving energy, resting his gammy limb.
We climb on the bus, which is decorated with the thoughts of the hopeful girls waiting beside it. The loopy teenage print is in pink lipstick and says things like, 'Do Speed II or else,' and, 'We [drawing of heart] U Keanu, from Tracey, Dawn and Melissa'. They stand looking up to the smoky glass. 'I'm sure I can see him, he's looking at me,' says one of the girls outside. Meanwhile, I'm offered a beer and the comfi-deluxe bus starts rumbling London-wards. Reeves sits on the sofa, stroking a girl's arm. She has period pains. 'So she says,' someone comments, wryly. I'm shown round the bunks. A gay porn mag I spotted earlier is thrown across the bus. Its owner is unclear, but a lot of laddish appropriating of ownership is thrown about. 'Hey... it's a joke. Like, a joke,' someone says and they all laugh at me. It's good to jeer at someone else's expense for a change. Dan, not for the first time, nervously checks me over for any signs of excessive scrutiny.
It's unusual for Reeves to join in the conversation but he does thoughtful things like hand over a Marlboro red, unprompted. He's more relaxed here than out on the street. A game of backgammon is played somewhat drunkenly. Reeves, silent for the most part, sits watching the game. Suddenly he pipes up. 'Throw the dice properly. Play by the rules.' Keanu's premenstrual 'friend' - acting by this stage like more than just his friend - is a pretty brunette, skinny, not tall, ordinary. She looks pained. Karina is unsympathetic. When we get off the coach she is upset, uttering something about 'My brother'. Any approaches from me are given short shrift.
Reeves goes straight to bed with Premenstrual as soon as we get back. 'Keanu's a pretty private guy. He spends most of his time in his room alone,' says Dan. The other members of the entourage goof around, play football in the small, elegant lobby and then peel off to bed. Dan and Bret talk to me while drinking bourbon and water. 'Rob [Dogstar's drummer] isn't Keanu's boyfriend. Who told you that?' Bret likes talking. He apologises for being rude outside the hotel the day before. He's pissed off that he gets no recognition for writing the songs. He could complain about the downside of having Keanu Reeves as his bass player. 'But, basically, I'm just glad I'm not waiting on tables. It's a break, man. Just look at this place,' he says, pointing to the oriental lacquered opulence of Blakes' bar.
In the public's eye, Reeves will always be first and foremost Keanu Reeves the sex god and Hollywood movie star. The man who can afford to upgrade himself and his whole entourage from a tourist hotel off Oxford Street to the luxury of Blakes Hotel, SW7. The privileged type who can change the rules if he so wishes. The boy who makes the girls cry. But he's trying really hard to keep life normal, you know, do the thing just as any other unknown band would, by sticking to the mid-range hotels like the one in Glasgow.
But the real Keanu is the bloke who likes to ride his motorbikes fast, who wants to play in a rock band, who struggles to master Shakespeare and the bass guitar, who smokes and eats burgers in a grungy Aylesbury pub. The 'Cool, huh?' Keanu.
After five days of trailing Keanu all over the country, I finally managed to get on the Dogstar coach. The idea had been to find the real Keanu. I probably got as close as anyone. And even that wasn't close enough, because no one gets close to Keanu Reeves unless he wants them to. At the end of the day, what I found was a bunch of pretty ordinary, middle-class, well-behaved guys who like playing rock music. And one of them just happens to be Keanu Reeves.