An Interview With Keanu Reeves
by Dimitri Apessos
It's 9 a.m. in a midtown hotel room and Keanu Reeves should be in bed. Not just because of the neck brace that he's been wearing since his recent surgery, or because he looks like he's spent the night under a bar stool, but because Reeves is just not the kind of person who should be doing anything that early in the day. Walking in wearing a black jacket and T-shirt, and sporting a scruffy beard, he rubs his eyes and goofily asks, "Isn't it too early to talk about film?" The show must go on, however, so he sits down, removes the neck brace and starts talking about his new film, Devil's Advocate. That's exactly what interviewing Reeves is - a show.
Within the confines of 30 minutes he manages to scream sarcastically several times, dish out on every one of Hollywood's shortcomings, and impersonate everyone from Speed director Jan de Bont to his own Bill and Ted persona. Don't forget, he's been doing this since his first started acting in films 11 years ago. After all this time, could he possibly still be excited by the film industry?
Keanu Reeves: On this particular project, yeah. It's kind of exciting. (fakes an excited whisper, as if to convey the industry buzz) "It's opening on the 17th! What's it going to be? Twenty-five walkouts [from the test-screenings]! Is that good or bad? I don't know. We want the film to be challenging and controversial, but do we want twenty-five people to walk out? What's going to happen?" So, yes. I have a lot of enthusiasm for it.
But I walk out of films a lot now. I used to just sit through it and now I'm like (makes a loud beeping noise) "Ok, bye!" And now I believe in art crimes. That you actually literally have to pay fines or go to to jail! I know it's subjective and it would have to be really kind of a weird court but. . . oooh! Peacemaker! Art crime! Someone has to pay for that! "Let's use Bosnia as the backdrop for a battle of the sexes ... with a nuclear bomb!" Get out of here! (sarcastically) That's really entertaining. I love America. Art crime!
Spectator: This seems like a risky role, because your character in Devil's Advocate spends so much of the film doing horrible things and ignoring his wife's needs in order to satisfy his own ego. Were you afraid that the audience may not sympathize with him?
Reeves: I think Taylor [Hackford, the director] was actually worried about that. No. I know it's kind of audacious, right? My character comes out [in the first scene] and starts screaming at a 12-year-old girl who's been molested. (At this point Reeves cracks up laughing loudly, amused by his own character's maliciousness.) I love that! And he gets away with it.
Spectator: Devil's Advocate is largely about a man defeated by his own ego. It does this by exploring the legal profession, but how does this relate to the egos you've met in Hollywood?
Reeves: I don't know; I really haven't had much [experience with Hollywood egos]. I have a business manager who does the business. I usually run up against that when I meet people in meetings or after the project's done, or if there's creative battles. And that's something that only recently - the past couple of years - I've even been allowed to get into. Now I'm kind of starting to have more contact with the business side of it, just in terms of that's really where the artistic battle is fought. A lot of the times there's recuts and reshoots and rewrites. The studio wants it this way, or they want it that way, and that's really why I started to get into it. In terms of egos, if you want my opinion of it, there's a lot of cock fights; pissing fights. You know: I want this, they want that and it's just... but so what?
[As for lawyers,] I don't envy their jobs. It depends on the courts. I got to see courts in Los Angeles; I got to see courts in New York City. I got to see courts in Jacksonville, courts in Gainesville. It was really cool to see the different East Coast-West Coast styles - the way they dressed; their demeanors and approaches. It's really theater and they talk about it as theater. I mean some of it is really dramatic. (He impersonates a loud, lawyer, pointing accusatively at an imaginary defendant.) "He was there! And he was there then!" It's really aggressive.
It's a real combative deal. When you really get at them, the defenders say "It's my job to defend the guilty. It's our duty so we have to force the law to prove it!" Also, the other thing they say is "It's not important [whether or not the defendant is guilty]. It's not what you've done; it's what they say you have done!"
Spectator: You've played the Buddha and now you've also played the devil's advocate. I know nothing about your personal spirituality, but how did you relate to the biblical aspect of the film?
Reeves: What do you mean? You mean in playing the part or the themes of the piece?
Spectator: The themes of the piece. Like when your character discusses free will. . .
Reeves: I don't practice any one organized religion, so I don't have anything to react to against that. So, for me I guess, it was just - and I'm going to use a dumb word - interesting. It was a kind of new devil, which was cool! The question is not a new one, of having your morality in conflict or even in contradiction with your ethics. One of the themes in the film that kind of got downplayed was that he says "I'm out on parole for time served," about being religious and going to church. His mother is quite ardent. So he's kind of rejected the church - he didn't get to know his father - he's trying to get away from his mother. So I guess I kind of took that point of view. "I know it, but it's not what I'm doing. I want my own life."
I was trying to think about it yesterday. It's like you want a one-on-one relationship with God; that's all in Christianity and Jesus. And this was you kind of get your own devil. (laughs) Which I guess has always been the case with free will.