The Mr. Showbiz Interview
Speed 2 sails without Keanu Reeves, who's out of the spotlight but very much in the fast lane
by Michael Szymanski
IT would be so easy to say that Keanu Reeves is in career hell. After all, conspicuously absent from his summer '97 filmography is the $140 million sequel to the movie that made him an action star, and in its place is a supporting role in a low-budget, low-profile indie called The Last Time I Committed Suicide. The title doesn't refer to Reeves' decision to opt out of Speed 2: Cruise Control; rather, it's excerpted from a letter from Suicide's protagonist, Neal Cassady, to fellow Beat icon Jack Kerouac.
Reeves, thirty-two, admits that turning down Speed 2 might have been a mistake, but he's ready to move on: "There'll be other movies," he shrugs. Other movies, and other speed thrills: this is a guy who eased off from motorcycle riding after a 1996 wreck that broke his ankle, but was recently sent to traffic school after driving his new Porsche 120 miles per hour through the Arizona desert.
Reeves is keeping busy this summer touring with his rock band, Dogstar (he plays bass), and looking for a new movie, possibly a sci-fi flick. His next high-profile screen outing is the recently wrapped thriller Devil's Advocate, in which he plays a young lawyer opposite Al Pacino's Beelzebub, a senior partner in his firm. Until then, he's content with limited screen time as Cassady's bloated, bar-dwelling pal in The Last Time I Committed Suicide, which opens June 20 in limited release.
Truth be told, Keanu seems to be enjoying his time on the sidelines of the summer action wars. He got to pack on the pounds and drink heavily to prepare for his scenes in Suicide; almost as satisfying is the fact that he only has to spend one short afternoon explaining to interviewers why he doesn't consider himself a latter-day Beat. Meanwhile, Jason Patric is the guy who has to tell an endless string of media types about the artistic nuances of his waterlogged action flick. Career hell, indeed.
You've had your hits, your bombs, you turned down Speed 2, and now you've got a supporting role in a much smaller-scale film, The Last Time I Committed Suicide. Do you have a "master plan" for your career?
Who has a master plan? Disney has a master plan. I don't try to model myself after someone. I just try to work. I didn't try to act in bombs. But, uh, it happens. I didn't try to commit suicide.
Did you ever feel like actually committing suicide?
Sometimes you have that extinction impulse and then something happens and you think you're going to die, but you know you're really just kidding yourself. Arrrgh. Then, when it really happens and you can't breathe or whatever, you're fighting for life like a lunatic. You just can't look at anything the same way.
Did your serious motorcycle wreck last year change your outlook on life at all?
Actually, after the wreck, a friend of mine would say, "You ride different now--you're riding scared." And I did, because my body would get tense. I would be driving and see a car come out and my body would clench and the temperature would change and the adrenaline rush would happen. That's kind of gone away now.
Do you drive a car now?
I have a 1996 Carrera Four black-on-black Porsche. It's the closest car I can get to a motorcycle.
Do you drive it fast?
Sometimes. I got it mostly so I could relax after the accident. Sometimes, you know, you have friends and they don't want to ride, or it's raining, and I play sports and you have to lug your equipment and you want to bring stuff somewhere. I'm tired, I'm an old man now, so now I have a car to rest. I hadn't had a car in six years.
Have you ever had a ticket?
Yeah, I got a speeding ticket when I took a trip to Santa Fe and I got a ticket and I went to traffic school.
How did the cop treat you?
He did that cop thing where he's like, "I could take you to jail for criminal speeding." I was driving something like 120 [mph]. He was cool, really. I'm in the middle of Arizona, I'm one of five cars in the middle of nowhere, I can't even see the end of the highway either behind me or in front of me. I'm in a high-performance motor vehicle, there's no one around, and he gives me a speeding ticket. Why? I asked him where he was hiding, because I didn't see him. He kind of got that look on his face, like "Yeah, I was on the exit ramp."
Did he recognize you?
He recognized me, he was cool, it was fine. He said, "Oh, you're the Speed guy," and I said "That film is three years old, gosh."
You could have said if the car slowed down it would have exploded.
Hoo-hoo! [Laughs.] No, if I would have said that I would have taken me to jail. I would have shot me!
Director Jan DeBont said he thought it was a mistake that you didn't do Speed 2.
I know it--everyone says I made a mistake and I probably did. Who knows?
Do you really think you have, or is this something that was behind you and really you didn't want to go back there?
Um, can I plead the fifth?
Do you plan on seeing it?
Yeah, of course. I plan on seeing it and paying my eight bucks.
Was there ever a time you wanted to quit acting?
Sometimes yeah, but it's a passing phase.
Yeah, sometimes I get frustrated with process of it. When you're trying to do a film and trying to do good work but because of the time limitations you can't. You try to do your work and with the time limitations you can't do things the way you'd like to do them.
Did your bad experience on Chain Reaction change your attitude about the business? Did that sour you on the process?
No, it soured me about not having a script. It also taught me to be more involved. I had seen a script and I agreed to do a story line that was going to be rewritten but [they told me], "This is going to be kind of the story line and this is the direction and Andrew Davis is directing." I said, "Cool, I know Andrew, I like the story," and then I went off and did Hamlet. I got back and got the script and it was a different film. It was just a case of me trusting the process when I should have more of a say.
You're sometimes identified as a sort of modern-day Beat person, the perception being that you live out of your suitcases and the only thing you take along with you is your motorcycle.
Uh? Huh, oh yeah. [Snaps fingers.] And I smoke and I drink.
In that view, your role in The Last Time I Committed Suicide seems to fit. But you don't feel like you're an extension of these guys?
Not at all, not at all.
Have you studied Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac?
Studied? I've read. I haven't taken an English class or anything like that. I've never studied him. I've read a bit of Kerouac and Ginsberg; I wasn't that familiar with Burroughs or anything like that. I've read a bit of Neal Cassady's work. I was a real fan especially of Kerouac's work when I was a kid, and more of Ginsberg recently in these past few years. I thought they were great books, just the spirit of what they spoke about. When I first read On the Road, it was kind of a twin-edged sword because it speaks about adventure and movement, being on the road, and yet I felt the book was very sad, there was a kind of melancholy to it. I think that's something that [director] Stephen [Kay] has really captured in Neal Cassady--that fiery, mercurial, wanting-to-explore feeling and have adventure and not having a care in the world. And there's a kind of a tragedy about it. He even says it in his letter, "Well that was the other time I committed suicide."
Did you ever get to meet Ginsberg?
No, I heard Ginsberg read once about three years ago, so I was really glad that I got to hear that before he passed on.
There's something that seems indulgent in Neal Cassady and the Beats, from what I know of his life. He seems hopelessly indulgent and the writing doesn't seem disciplined--
Really, I wouldn't say indulgent; I'd say more self-reverential. I think [Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg] were in love with each other. I really look at it as if they were kind of . . . like, when you're in love you tend to gush. The nature of the form itself was epic. They were really breaking out in their metaphors and in the way that they looked at life as exploratory and searching. Theirs was a fiery and maybe extravagant and exorbitant way of expression. They were all fucking each other and fucking everyone and doing everything and going everywhere. Wow, what a time.
So in your creative life have you ever had a group like this that you've felt this close to?
Yeah, I've had flashes of it, flashes of it. I remember about eight years ago there were a bunch of actors and a bunch of writers, and we'd get together and do scenes. It was workshop stuff and improv, that kind of deal. When I was in Canada I was working with a writer named Kate Ford, who ended up writing for Family Ties, and we'd do a couple of one-act plays with her and another actress, and put them on at cafés at night, after midnight. That always happens with friends when you find you have a specific lingo going on and you have a specific sense of humor and you kind of have your own thing.
But the movie business is so fragmenting, because you go and have good or bad experiences and then everyone's gone. Gone! Have you ever been on the set when it's the last day and a set is wrapped? It's one of the most miraculous sights--it's really like watching a carnival. You could have fifteen trucks and 120 people, and within four hours it's gone like nothing was ever there. Creak, creak--the sign is swinging in the wind. It's really incredible. I do like it but there's also a melancholy about it. But out of these films I've made some really good friends, something staying.
How was your experience on Devil's Advocate, the thriller you recently shot with Al Pacino?
Good--I think it was good. We didn't have a lot of time, but I think we did good. It was pretty rushed. I think we shot for eighty days. Yeah, that was rushed. It was amazing working with Al. I didn't know he was that good. I mean, I knew he was amazing, but I didn't know he was that amazing. He's really one of the finest actors I ever met.
Did you guys hang out?
No, not at all.
No social events?
No, not at all. None of that.
Did you chat with him on the set?
No, not really.
Did you even meet him?
Yeah, kinda. The last scene that we have together, I don't know how long it will be in the film, but when we shot it, it was about fifteen to twenty minutes long, mano a mano. So when we went through that we started to speak a little more because, you know, we had been through something. Other than that he would shoot and then split, shoot and then split. This one scene we were rehearsing and shooting and got to rub shoulders more. And we'd just talk Shakespeare. He's just so good about his craft and he's so good about investigating the part and understanding the part with his mind and his heart. With the way he acts in-between lines and his behavior and the way he highlights what's important in the scene and what he's doing, he's just unparalleled. With his facility with language, he can do anything. He's the man.
What's next for you?
I'm out of work. I've been reading.
You're out of work right now?
I have a meeting this afternoon for a science-fiction film. Hopefully that would work out--I haven't been in one for quite a while. I'm going to go off and do that.
They're surging in popularity again.
They should be; they're really great. This one is fun. Virtual-reality machines have supposedly taken over the world and there's what's real and what's not. It's sounding great. This one's really good.
Speaking of sci-fi, have you seen The Fifth Element?
I have seen it, I thought it was terrible, but it was pleasant. None of the technology looked like it worked: the gun didn't work, the monsters didn't work, his T-shirt didn't work, it was too Gaultier, I think. And the story! There were images, but I thought it was just too much.
At thirty-two, you're no longer the young dude from Bill and Ted's. Do you still feel a connection with the kids out there?
I have no idea if I have any connection to youth. Some kids on the streets said hello to me the other day, and that was cool. And I said, "What's up dude, what's up?" That was cool.