Reeves follows his own beat
Shuns sequel for 'Suicide' art film.
The 1994 summer blockbuster "Speed" was Keanu Reeves' breakthrough movie, a testosterone-fueled ride that catapulted the young star into the rarefied atmosphere shared by such larger-than-life action heroes as Schwarzenegger, Willis and Stallone. It also transformed the 6-foot, sloe-eyed, 33-year-old actor into an international movie star and sex symbol.
It's three years later, and "Speed 2: Cruise Control" has rammed its way into movie houses as one of the big-event movies of this summer. But this time around, Mr. Reeves is missing in action. Instead, he's chosen to appear in "The Last Time I Committed Suicide" (which opens June 20), a small art film about Neal Cassady (Thomas Jane), the writer and icon of the Beat movement. And Mr. Reeves doesn't even play the lead -- just a cameo as Harry, Neal's boozy, womanizing buddy. Talk about committing suicide -- at least in terms of career.
But Mr. Reeves doesn't see it that way at all. "The career choices I'm making right now are highlighted, because these two films, by accident, are coming out at the same time," he notes. "But I've done things like that before, like 'Chain Reaction' and 'Feeling Minnesota' last year -- the big thriller action film and the smaller movie. And, hopefully, I'll get to do both types again."
Mr. Reeves is quick to dismiss recent comments from "Speed" director Jan De Bont, claiming that the actor turned down 'Speed 2' because he "doesn't want to be a big movie star."
"That's not true," Mr. Reeves states. "The reason was, I wasn't psychologically ready. I had just come off of another action picture, and the (script) itself wasn't quite up to speed. It was another film that didn't quite have a script, and though I know Jan De Bont knew what he wanted to do, I was just not physically or mentally prepared to jump in the water. I couldn't do it."
But Mr. Reeves was more than ready to play the seedy, overweight barfly character in "Suicide." "Right, yeah, I love it," he says and laughs. "And don't forget sweaty and greasy."
Is it a reaction to playing pretty-boy lead heroes? "Yeah, I would say it is a reaction, but not so pointed," he explains. "Just fun as an actor. These are fun parts. To not have vanity, to go there, is really fun. You get to do more stuff. There is more acting to be done, and it's much more interesting. You can really let go."
Indeed, Mr. Reeves' many fans will be shocked by the actor's puffed-up appearance in "Suicide." "How did I put on all that weight? I just got up and drank as much as I possibly could," he says. "Went straight to drinking, morning to night, and loved it. I had to make Harry convincing, and I think he looks comfortable in the bar. He looks like his friend. They're speaking 'that speak,' and they're connected."
The actor says that he's long been a fan of "that speak" and the writings of Cassady and Jack Kerouac. "I had read all of them, but never studied them in English class or anything like that," he recalls.
"I was a real fan of Kerouac's work, especially when I was a kid, and then Ginsberg recently, in the past few years. I thought they were great books, and I just loved the spirit that they spoke about. When I first read 'On the Road,' it was kind of a twin-edged sword in that it speaks about adventure and movement and being on the road, and yet I found the book very sad. It has a real kind of melancholy to it, and I think that it is something that Thom (Jane) has really captured in Neal. That fiery, mercurial wanting to explore and have adventure and just not have a care in the world -- yet also there is a kind of tragedy about it. Even he says in his letter (which Kerouac labeled "The Great Sex Letter") -- the basis of this film -- 'Well, that was the other time I committed suicide.'"
Impressionistic, rather than conventionally biographical, "Suicide" focuses on a few months in Cassady's life when he was just 20 years old and literally jumping with inner restlessness.
"It's a feeling I can relate to," the actor says. "And I guess that restlessness can be many things. In this version, 'The Last Time I Committed Suicide' aspect, it is that side of you that wants, like me, the girlfriend or house or wife and children, and then not to have all that -- just wanting not to have any responsibilities. Not to have anything set, no 'I don't have anywhere to be,' no 'there is nothing I have to do,' no 'there is no one I have to answer to.' It's that feeling of being free and on the road."
Ironically, it's Mr. Reeves's own freewheeling persona and image in the press that make him seem like a latter-day Beat character. After all, he happily admits to "having no home right now -- I prefer to live in a hotel and out of a suitcase." Not to mention that he also likes to wear black and ride motorcycles. Snapping his fingers to a pretend jazz soundtrack and laughing, he adds, "And I smoke. And I drink. And I am a bit of a loner at heart."
For while the Schwarzeneggers and Stallones eagerly embrace all the hype and publicity, whether it's for their latest shoot-'em-up or another restaurant opening, Mr. Reeves seems far happier keeping to himself and staying out of the headlines -- and the big-budget Hollywood action movies.
"I'm very proud of this movie, and I honestly have no regrets about not doing 'Speed 2,'" he sums up. "I'm still trying to work it out in terms of what sort of career I want. And what I've learned from working with older actors like Anthony Quinn and Al Pacino is it just never ends. You are always searching for another gig, for another great role, and you've always got to just keep working. So that is what I'm doing."