How Keanu beat the Speed trap
Avoiding the fast bucks of a big-budget sequel, Keanu Reeves chose an arthouse movie 'with heart'
In a decision that stunned Hollywood moguls and his legion of adoring fans, Keanu Reeves turned down a multi-million dollar paycheck last year to reprise his star vehicle role in Speed as sensitive action-man Jack Traven. Instead, Reeves accepted a few challenging parts in small, arthouse movies. 'It was about not wanting to repeat myself.' he says simply. 'The decision was easy.'
One of those low-budget movies was A Walk in the Clouds, Monday’s Movie Channel premiere. A love story set in California’s Napa Valley after World War Two, the film stars Reeves as Paul Sutton, a newly demobbed soldier selling candy door-to-door. When he meets the beautiful Victoria (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), whose boyfriend got her pregnant and ditched her, he’s touched by her plight and offers to pose as Victoria’s husband to help her face her domineering father, a vineyard owner. Eventually, Paul and Victoria fall in love.
‘This is the antithesis of my last two films (Speed and Johnny Mnemonic),’ Reeves says. ‘I wanted to do a romance, something that concerned itself more with heart and sensuality.’
Director Alfonso Arau, who must have thanked his lucky stars for landing such a bankable leading man, was aware that Reeves chose his film to flex his acting muscles. ‘The role was tough test for Keanu,’ Arau says. ‘He was stressed and insecure about it. But he’s devoted to his craft.’
Despite the actor’s admirable decision to turn down big bucks in favour of challenging roles, few of his post-Speed arthouse endeavours, like Feeling Minnesota, have been critical or box office hits. Then there was his widely panned 1995 stage rendition of Hamlet in Canada and the bigger-budget flops Johnny Mnemonic and Chain Reaction. Critics blame both acting and choice of roles, and worry that his career has veered as wildly off course as the runaway bus in Speed.
‘I think I have a certain detachment sometimes, which people take for bad acting,’ Reeves admits. ‘But I really am the critics’ whipping boy. All I know is I want to work with passionate people, with a script that has something to say. I don’t want to be struck in a Hollywood kind of product machine.’
It’s not only Reeves’ career choices that are puzzling. Details of his personal life also cause confusion. He has never been known to have a serious relationship and has faced endless speculation about his sexuality, with newspapers even linking him to music mogul David Geffen. While some claim that Keanu most closely resembles the air-head dippy dude he played in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, others refer to his monk-like seriousness and his hidden depths. Reeves himself seems contenl to let people make up their own minds. 'Fans would probably find me pretty boring and serious.' he says. 'I lead a very simple and small life.
Whatever the truth about his private life, there's no doubting Reeves' star quality. Critics may call his acting stiff, but both his spiritual air and exotic features, from a Chinese-Hawaiian father and British mother, are enough to make female fans go week at the knees. The camera loves him and heavyweight movie directors from Bertolucci to Coppola want to work with him. Couple that with his pop star street cred (as bassist for folk-thrash and Dogstar), grungy clothes and dogged reluctance to be a movie star, and Keanu Reeves begins to look like a most excellent icon.