Q & A with Keanu Reeves
On being Beat, ignoring critics, playing in a band--and looking for work
by Ken Neville
If it's all the same to you, Keanu Reeves would just as soon take the bus.
And not the runaway, bomb-laden RTD vehicle favored by Reeves' Jack Traven during the wild thrill ride of Speed. No, these days, the 33-year-old Toronto native prefers the slower and safer--though not necessarily saner--tour bus used by his band, Dogstar, for their series of summer dates.
Reeves, you see, doesn't want to be just another Hollywood action hero. That's one of the reasons he passed on Speed 2. And it's a big reason his summer film this year is the microbudgeted The Last Time I Committed Suicide, a story based on Beat hero Neal Cassady. Reeves doesn't even play the lead; his character is merely Cassady's drinking buddy.
And that's just fine with Keanu. Playing a sideman, whether in a small independent film or as a bass player in a three-piece alternative rock band, gives Reeves a chance to step outside the often harsh glare of the spotlight for a while.
Of course, he has always been attracted to riskier, offbeat fare, even though he's starred in big-budget action flicks like Chain Reaction and Johnny Mnemonic--and can be seen this fall opposite Al Pacino in Devil's Advocate.
In person, Reeves is friendly, gracious and surprisingly frank about both himself and Hollywood. And if you need it, he might even have exact change for the bus.
You make a lot of action movies, but you've also made a lot of very smart films, like Much Ado About Nothing, Dangerous Liaisons, Parenthood--
Yeah. Directed by Ron Howard. Good characters. That was one of his last really good pictures.
So, having done these good films, how do you deal with the things people say about some of your other work?
Alka-Seltzer. [Laughs.] You know, some people like what I do, some don't. There's not really much I can do about it. I'm trying, you know? I'm not the best actor in the world; I know that. But I'm trying. That doesn't mean anything, I guess--just to try.
Do the critics bother you?
It's like they have a separate rating--the Reevesian view. "Okay, here's this Reeves guy again. What can we say about him now?"
Maybe part of that comes from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
A beautiful film. Well written. Really great spirit.
Still, it's the sort of thing that gives your critics ammunition. What film would you point to and say, "Yeah, but..."?
I'd start with Little Buddha, then go to Feeling Minnesota and maybe My Own Private Idaho--in terms of going off of that color. And Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, even.
The novel that became Tune in Tomorrow with Barbara Hershey?
And Peter Falk. I loved that movie. I thought that was a really good film. And it showed a relationship between a man and a woman you don't often see--people who enjoy each other's company but who also want to fuck.
Is it odd seeing all the hype about Speed 2? After all, it was your magic with Sandra Bullock that created that franchise.
Yeah, she's great. It's not odd at all. I expect Jason Patric will be good in it.
Do you know him?
Not at all. I've seen his work. I find him to be a very interesting actor. His reticence will hopefully translate well to the piece. They hired me to do it; they can hire someone else to do it. That's the business.
On the subject of business, there are so many big-budget movies around right now.
Yeah, this year, Fox alone has Titanic and Speed 2, with combined budgets of $350 million. Talk about sink or swim. There's not going to be as many movies made next year. There's such a glut in the market, there's no time for a film to be in theaters.
So, here you are with a $1 million film.
I think they've really picked a good time to bring this out--in the summer against Batman. [Laughs.] Stephen Kay [the director] and I both feel it should have come out in the fall, that it's a real fall picture. Know what I mean? It's 50 degrees in New York, you want to go see a picture. The Last Time I Committed Suicide, Neal Cassady...why not?
And it's not a leading role. That's a departure.
I loved it. When you're not playing the hero in a piece, you don't have such a linear obligation. You generally get to do more stuff--stuff being character things. Actors always look to play the villain, because there's more to do.
How did you get involved with this project?
I knew Stephen. He had written this script about Neal Cassady. I told him I dug it. "I dug it, brother"--one of the most fun things about the piece was calling everybody "brother." I love that fraternity. "Hey, brother." "Hey, brother, man."--and a couple of months down the road, Stephen asked if I was interested in playing Harry. I'm not an obvious choice for Harry. I said, "Shouldn't you get Steve Buscemi?" And he said, "We'll put a mask on you."
Have you always been a Neal Cassady fan?
Yeah. When I was in my late teens, I was reading On the Road, Dharma Bums and getting into Ginsberg. I guess I really connected with the spirit of this character--his restlessness, his search, his joie de vivre.
To me, these writers represented the epic language they used invoking the Greek and Roman gods. That Bacchus and Dionysian aspect resonated with me, and I used that to try and read my life and break out of myself, search for new sensations--living the moment, staying up late, traveling, experiencing. But also I've always found it sort of melancholy on the road; there's a sadness to it.
Searching for something, but not necessarily finding it?
And this was prior to coming to Hollywood?
Well, yeah. But I'm still doing it. Now, I'm a little older, so I have to pick my times. Cassady was the guy these writers focused on and used in their lives and writing for their own explosions.
And Last Time chronicles that?
Yeah, there's a constant struggle in the film between settling down in a house with a white picket fence and going off to explore the world. It depicts a real human state--that torment between being committed to a relationship and then always wanting to have the escape hatch. And I think Thomas Jane [the actor who plays Cassady] did a remarkable job of showing those jitters.
There's a moment where he and his girl begin to talk about the future, and he says, "I've got to get my suit. I can't go to that job interview looking like this. I've got to get the suit." It's that thing--"I've got to go out. I've got to go." And he leaves her. It's tragic. I saw the film with some girls, and it made them so sad, because they've experienced that with men--being there, trying to commit, that rush of love. Everything's there and all-consuming, and then--where did it go?
And as Cassady's lover, Clare Forlani plays right into that.
What's cool about her character is she has her own demons. It's not just this woman who's looking at Neal. She's slitting her wrists. Neal has to take care of her. It's not just about him, and he knows it.
These are really relevant themes--things everybody has to look into: responsibility, commitment and your own desire to run away from all of it and be a free agent. You have those battles every day, and I think that's what the film is about. He leaves her [dying in the hospital]. And she lives. Imagine what that felt like.
Is there a side to you that wants to live the settled-down, white-picket-fence, happily-ever-after life?
I went through a phase last year, but I'm over it.
That was quick.
Yeah. I'm sure it's something that'll keep coming around, but I'm kind of over it right now.
So, when you just need to escape, where do you go?
Sometimes, I just sit on my couch and think or read or play chess. I get to do it a little bit with the band I play in. We've been on the road for the past couple of summers. That's really doing it--going on the road, playing music, drinking, going out for laughs.
And you're doing it again this summer?
Yeah, in a bus. We're going to sell our record at the shows. I think we're doing 50 shows in 65 days.
And you'll write the Kerouac-esque story of it all--On the Road with Dogstar?
I don't know what I'm going to do. Right now, I'm thinking I'm going to work on my chess and maybe my Shakespeare a little bit. Last year, I brought all these books, and I maybe read a page. Other than that, I just kind of sat and drank and talked and played bass.
And when the tour's over, you've got another movie opening.
Yeah, Devil's Advocate this fall with Al Pacino. He's the best. He's the man.
And Charlize Theron?
Oooh. She's incredible--a movie star.
What else is going on?
I'm looking for a job.
Anything happening romantically?
No, nothing going on there. I'm looking for work and looking for love, hopefully not in all the wrong places.
I'll put the word out.