THE LAST TIME I TURNED DOWN 11 MILLION
by Robert Hofler
KEANU REEVES was such a brilliant airhead in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure that image stuck. Despite other fine performances in River's Edge, My Own Private Idaho, and Speed, he's been labeled a no-talent. (Admittedly he was awful in Bram Stoker's Dracula and Chain Reaction, but everyone has bad days....) A couple of years ago, gossip columnists reported that Reeves had married David Geffen in a Mexican wedding - though the two men had never actually met - making him the butt of still more jokes. And last year, the 32-year-old actor made history when he turned down $11 million for the Speed sequel to tour with his rock band, Dogstar. Call him brave or call him dumb, Keanu is traveling to the beat of his own drum, as his role in the indie Beat Generation film The Last Time I Committed Suicide attests. For more insights, Buzz Weekly's ROBERT HOFLER gets up close and personal with Reeves.
HOW DO YOU RELATE TO THE BEATS OR DON'T YOU?
Theirs is a battle everybody is familiar with. Do I settle down? Am I missing something? I want the ideal, but the ideal is false in the end: You know how much it takes to have a house, a relationship, and kids. it's work, but for some, like Neal Cassady, it's an ideal, and his tragedy is that he can't do it.
WHERE ARE YOU ON THAT CONTINUUM?
Depends on the day. Right now I don't want any kids, but who knows?
DO YOU HAVE A MASTER PLAN, GOING FROM SMALL MOVIES TO BIG MOVIES?
Who has a plan? I'm just trying to work. Only Disney has a master plan. Let's just say I didn't try to act in bombs. It happened.
DID CHAIN REACTION SOUR YOU ON BIG ACTION FILMS?
No - it just soured me on not having the script. I had read one script, which was to be rewritten. Then after I did Hamlet, I got this other script. I went, "Hmmm." It was a different film. What I should have had was a fax machine in my room and stayed ... on top of the script. I trusted the process.
BUT IF YOU REWRITE THE SCRIPT, PEOPLE WILL SAY YOU'RE DIFFICULT.
Right. But you know, I'd rather have that than make a bad film.
YOU'RE A LOT HEAVIER IN SUICIDE. DID YOU PUT THE WEIGHT ON AFTER YOUR MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT?
No, we filmed this before the accident. I just drank. Which is the most fun I've had in preparing for a film in a long time! I did it right after Chain Reaction, and in that film everyone was underused and it was underwritten. So this film was like spring water after coming out of the desert.
HOW FAT DID YOU GET?
Two hundred pounds. I guess I'm 168 now.
DID YOU DRINK ALCOHOL TO GET IN THE MOOD?
I drank a lot - just to be on that edge, so I'd have that thing. I didn't want to do it completely straight. If I would have I done it straight, I probably would have had more fear.
YOU WERE DRUNK?
No, not drunk, but buzzed.
I'VE HEARD FROM ACTORS THAT THAT DOESN'T WORK.
Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. I went for it.
IN SUICIDE, WHY DIDN'T YOU PLAY THE LEAD, NEAL CASSADY?
Because I didn't look like him. There's something about the camera that draws out your essence. It's much more intimate; it's who you are - to an extent. I wasn't a Neal; I would have been miscast. I think I could do it on stage, but not in film.
YOU'VE TAKEN SOME REAL CHANCES - LIKE DOING HAMLET ONSTAGE. ARE YOU FEARLESS?
No - if anything I'm full of fear. Opening night of Hamlet, I was terrified. And because of that, I jumped into it - if that makes any sense.
DID YOU EVER THINK OF DOING SOMETHING LESS CHALLENGING BEFORE TRYING HAMLET?
No, it was the right time. I've done enough training with Shakespeare to understand how to work on the part. My first acting experience onstage was in The Tempest. Could I have been better? Of course; we had only four-and-a-half weeks to rehearse.
But by the last week of the run, it was good. I had one matinee where I really hit "To be or not to be." That was an incredible sensation. Tears were falling. It was such a trapped feeling, a searching - Then I found it. I got it once out of 36 performances. So am I fearless? Al Pacino is that way.
He takes chances. He changes it every time. He's always searching. He's still connected to his impulse, so he's spontaneous. And he fights for what he believes in.
I WAS SURPRISED THAT IN ANOTHER INTERVIEW YOU MENTIONED GETTING BOOED AT A DOGSTAR PERFORMANCE.
That was three years ago. We were playing a Metal-Fest, so we shouldn't have been there. But it was really funny that they were throwing things at us. It's enjoyable for the crowd to hate something like that. We were into the spirit of that.
YOU ENJOYED A CROWD HATING YOU?
Yeah, but there have also been great shows since then where everything was going our way.
SOME CRITICS FIND YOUR MOVIE PERFORMANCES ERRATIC.
I guess you could say I'm inconsistent. Some people like my style and some people don't.
DID YOU EVER MEET DAVID GEFFEN?
I finally met him at his theater [Geffen Playhouse] at the Steve Martin play, Picasso at Lapin Agile. He was going to meet someone who was sitting beside me, and he passed by me.
WHAT DID YOU SAY?
"Hey, how's it going?" And he said, "Hey, how's it going?"
WAS THAT THE WILDEST FIRESTORM OF NONSENSE YOU'VE ENCOUNTERED?
Yeah, it came out of the blue. And then it became just a thing: People would ask, "Are you gay or are you not gay?" I'd say, "None of your business." And then my manager was, "You gotta do this and you gotta do that." And I said, "Why?"
WHAT DID HE THINK YOU SHOULD DO?
He wanted me to address it. I guess putting stuff out there that I'm not. Eventually, Out magazine put out an issue with me on the cover. I spoke to their writer.
THAT WAS COOL. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN COOLER?
WHEN YOU APPEARED AT THE OSCARS, YOU COULD HAVE PARAPHRASED FROM "A STAR IS BORN" AND SAID, "HELLO, EVERYBODY - I'M NOT MRS. DAVID GEFFEN!
Oh my God!!! Yeah!! That would have been very strong. Very strong. That's Sandra Bernhard-strong.
WHERE'S HOME FOR YOU?
Home is where my couch is. I have a home. I just don't have a home-home.
YOU'RE STILL DOING THAT HOTEL THING?
Yeah, but L.A. is my home. My friends are here. I've been here almost 13 years now.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU TRIED TO COMMIT SUICIDE?
Oh God! [Laughs] Sometimes you have that extinction impulse. And then something happens and you feel like you're going to die, and then you know you're just kidding yourself. You get sick and you can't breathe and you're fighting for life like a lunatic. Then you can't look at anything the same way.
IS THAT HOW YOU FELT AFTER THE MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT?
Yeah, I've had quite a few.
WERE THEY MINOR?
Not the last one. Getting hit broadside by a car going 40 miles an hour?
DID THAT PUT THE FEAR OF DEATH IN YOU?
Yeah. A friend was riding with me recently and she said, "You're riding different now. You're riding scared." I'll see a car coming to a stop sign and my body will clench, my body temperature will change. I still ride, but I have a car now too.
WHAT KIND OF CAR?
I have a 1996 Carrera Porsche. It's the closest car to a motorcycle I could get.
HAVE YOU GOTTEN PICKED UP BY THE COPS?
I got a ticket on a trip to Santa Fe. I had to go to traffic school.
WAS HE NICE TO YOU?
He did that cop thing: "I could take you to jail."
HOW FAST WERE YOU GOING?
I don't now. At the time, I thought, "I'm one of five cars in the middle of nowhere. I'm in a high-performance motor vehicle. Who's going to give me a speeding ticket?"
DID THE COP RECOGNIZE YOU?
Yeah, he asked if I was that Speed guy.
DIRECTOR JAN DE BONT SAID YOU MADE A MISTAKE NOT DOING SPEED?
Who knows? I probably did make a mistake. Can I plead the fifth here?