by Shane Minkin
NEW YORK - "There are so many kinds of hell," says Keanu Reeves, who is clearly in pain.
Facing a roomful of reporters, who are peppering him with questions about stardom, rock 'n' roll and Speed, this scene may qualify as Keanu's Most Excellent Adventure in Hell.
Add to this, the fact that the 33 year-old Canadian-born actor is still recovering from recent cervical surgery, it's safe to say that these studio-sponsored interviews for his latest film, the Devil's Advocate, are giving Keanu a real pain in the neck.
He discreetly removes a neck brace prior to his arrival, a faint scar visible under surgical tape on his neck. He's not acting when he grimaces in pain while turning to face a reporter.
Keanu denies the surgery was related to an on-set accident; he chocks it up to "just life."
The pain seems to disappear when he's asked about working with screen legend Al Pacino.
"He's the man," Reeves says reverentially.
"When I found out (I was going to be working with Pacino) I got kind of light-headed and my blood tickled. I just couldn't believe it. And he's perfect for the part."
"He's a consumate actor. I'm a real fan of his. He was really cool," Reeves says, gushing like the young girls who staked out the Manitoba Theatre Centre two years ago when Keanu played Hamlet.
In fact, Reeves says he'd love to return to the MTC stage soon-in another Shakespearean work-if only his hectic film and rock 'n' roll schedule would allow it.
"There were thoughts about doing something on stage, but during the past year I haven't really had any time," he said, adding cryptically, "but you never know what's going to happen."
And that's especially true regarding Devil's Advocate, which opened yesterday, where Reeves plays a hot-shot lawyer - who's never lost a case - and is being tempted by a powerful New York law firm headed by the demonic Pacino.
Before you can say John Grisham, Reeves signs away his soul, so to speak, and Pacino's devilish fun begins.
According to director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman, Dolores Claiborne) there was only ever one choice for the part of the devil.
"Al Pacino was the first actor I thought of for the role of John Milton," Hackford says. "I told him what I wanted at the beginning, he bought the vision and then started coming up with his own ideas and the character of John Milton really blossomed."
Pacino, truth be told, turned down the role at least three times over the years, Hackford admitted. "The original script was not very interesting. We rewrote it a lot. It didn't have a moral core before. We turned it into a social satire that had relevance to our society at the millennium."
Hackford continues: "At this point in the millennium, I wanted to make a righteous satire and the legal profession is ripe for satiric treatment. They control lock, stock and barrel our entire society and they're never going to change the playing field and they're the only ones who can. So they're ripe for some treatment."
"The courtroom has become the gladiator's arena of the late 20th century," he says. "Following the progress of a sensational trial is a spectator sport; you're watching something that's part melodrama, part vaudeville and part cold-blooded calculation. And now that people have seen televised trials, they realize that morality and justice have very little to do with the outcomes. The winners are the lawyers who will stop at nothing. I thought it would be interesting to put that behaviour into a larger context of right and wrong.
Loss of cherished anonymity gives Pacino devil of a time
"The characters in the story who get into trouble," Hackford says, referring to Reeves and his wife, Charlize Theron (2 Days In the Valley), "are people who have made certain choices.
"I don't believe in blaming the devil for these terrible events; when people have the opportunity to exercise their free will, they choose to damn themselves nine times out of 10. I wanted to show that you make your own choices in life, the devil is merely the impulse inside of us to choose what we know is ethically wrong.
"It's not some guy with a forked tail: we ourselves are responsible."
Pacino, obviously, needs no devilish props such as a forked tail, horns and pitchfork. "I wanted to bring forth a sort of more modern devil," Pacino said. "What was gratifying was being able to play a character who can do anything."
If there's a deal with [the devil, Pacino] would like to make it anonymity back.
"Celebrity and fame have never been an easy thing for me," he says. "You find a way to separate yourself. It's something you don't have anything to do with. You keep in touch with who you are and what you believe in.
Pacino describes how difficult it is for him go anywhere in public without being mobbed by fans, then he quickly corrects himself: "When you start talking like this, the woes of being a celebrity and we know that it's definitely a tiny, tiny 'w' there. Because there are so many perks there, so many great things about it that it outweighs the woes. If you want to talk about the disadvantages about fame, (loss of anonymity) would be the main one, especially for an actor who likes to blend in.
"We all take for granted anonymity and we don't understand anonymity until it's taken from you."
Reeves, on the other hand, says while he misses his privacy, he remains somewhat amused by the trappings of celebrityhood.
"When my band Dogstar was in Atlanta," Reeves says, "this woman called a radio station and said she had sex with Keanu Reeves and I was like 'who, what, where,' and the rest of the band was giving me a hard time over this. It was actually really funny."