Keanu fires up
Career speeds ahead, but at his own pace
by Peter Howell
Keanu Reeves is the anti-Christ.
It says so on the Internet, on a Web site titled The Keanu Report. It's one of dozens of sites devoted to all things Keanu.
The cybergeek who runs The Keanu Report seems to have a serious hate on for Reeves. He writes: "It is the firmly-held belief that Keanu Reeves, wooden actor and wannabe rockstar, is the anti-Christ, the son of Satan.''
Obviously, this guy has seen The Devil's Advocate, Reeves' current hit movie in which he's the protégé (and more) of Ol' Nick himself, played by Al Pacino. Maybe the geek also saw Reeves play bass in his roving rock band, Dogstar. But Reeves, 33, who considers himself just a regular hockey-loving Toronto hoser who made really good, isn't taking the geek's word for it that he's Satan's spawn.
"Well, let's hear some proof!'' he says from the City of Angels. "Let's hear some rambling proof. You can't just declare that.''
Well, the cybergeek claims "Keanu'' spells out something devilish, according to Biblical prophecy. And further anti-Christ evidence can be found in Reeves' love of Cheez-It snacks ("the anti-manna''), his left-handedness and his band's name, Dogstar, which means "the false prophet.''
"The false prophet?'' Reeves snorts. "That's a very male perspective of a female fertility star.''
You can practically hear the wheels grinding in Reeves' brain. He's thinking about his other supernatural movie roles: He was a deity in Little Buddha, a vampire fighter in Bram Stoker's Dracula and he did make the devil's salute in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey.
Then there's his general status as all-round movie icon, rock demi-god and leather-clad motorcycle hellraiser. He likes to go on "demon rides'' - no headlights at night - in the Left Coast's Topanga Canyon. Not to mention that bushy new black beard he's been sporting lately, which makes him look vaguely threatening.
Maybe the geek is on to something.
"I've been Buddha, I'm God and now I'm the anti-God,'' Reeves says, laughing. "I haven't heard the anti-Christ angle before.'' He audibly shrugs. Whatever.
But the idea of satanic involvement in the affairs of mortals does intrigue him, which is why he took the role of tempted lawyer Kevin Lomax in The Devil's Advocate, turning down the sequel megadollars offered him to reprise his hero cop Jack Traven, from his 1994 blockbuster Speed.
"I think there's some interesting, different turns in the movie,'' he says. "For one, the Devil doesn't make you do anything, which is a new idea.
"The moral of the story is about having free will and taking responsibility for your choices. Thinking about what you're doing, and seeing temptation, even if you have an instinct about it, a gut feeling.
"What do you do? How do you deal with it and be honest with yourself?''
Taking responsibility for your choices is Reeves' creed. He made the tough decision not to do Speed 2, which moved the thriller from a city bus to a cruise liner. He's been living with that decision ever since.
He says the furious movie company, 20th Century Fox, put out "propaganda'' against him, claiming he was more interested in touring with Dogstar than making movies.
"Not doing Speed 2 had nothing to do with the band,'' he says. "What happened was I had just done a picture called Chain Reaction, which was really unsatisfying. I had to do a lot of running and action and it was disappointing.
"So then they wanted to get me on the boat. But the script wasn't great, and I just wasn't ready to mentally and physically do that picture. I said 'No.' I could afford to say no, because I could pay my rent.''
The producers went ahead without him, using Jason Patric instead. Speed 2 beached faster than the Minnow in Gilligan's Island.
Just how smug is Reeves about this?
"I'm not smug at all,'' he says, sounding way too zen-like to be the anti-Christ.
"I did The Devil's Advocate instead of Speed 2. They were filming at the same time.''
It took little persuasion to get him to take a role that had originally been planned for Brad Pitt. Reeves signed on to play Lomax even before he knew Al Pacino was co-starring, because he liked director Taylor Hackford (An Officer And A Gentleman) and he loved the script.
"I had never seen language like this, such conversations as this, in a film,'' he says. "It's not an obviously plot-driven piece. It starts a moral and ethical conflict and you don't know how far it's going to go.
"It has a sense of horror, of psychological drama, but it's also very funny, such as (Pacino's) line about God being 'an absentee landlord.' Just great lines.''
If the gods of Fate had pushed Reeves another way, he could have ended up a professional hockey player, a goalie.
When he lived in Toronto, from the mid-1970s to 1985, the Beirut-born Reeves played on AA-level teams. At North Toronto Arena, there's a photo of a team, jerseys emblazoned with the Mr. Submarine logo, that's become a shrine of sorts for awestruck players.
It shows Reeves in the goalie pads of his North Toronto Minor Midget house league team. He looks serious and he was serious. He received a tryout from the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League before quitting the game and moving to Los Angeles for an acting career in 1985.
Acting had been his other passion. School certainly wasn't - Reeves dropped out of four Toronto high schools, but kept at his night school acting classes.
Reeves landed roles in TV (including CBC's Hangin' In, Disney's Young Again and a Coke commercial), local stage (the 1984 Theatre Passe Muraille production Wolf Boy) and Canadian film (Flying) before relocating to L.A.
Unlike comedian Mike Myers, another hockey-loving Toronto expatriate living in Los Angeles, Reeves doesn't wax nostalgic about his Hogtown past. He simply observes that he's now lived in L.A. longer than he did in Toronto.
What does get him fired up is talk of his band Dogstar, which toured this past summer, including a stop at Toronto's The Guvernment club.
He's been with the band for four years and is determined to get the group to the point where people come to see it to hear music, not to gawk at him.
"We had rehearsal a couple of nights ago,'' he enthuses. "We were writing some new songs. We're trying to do some demos and get signed. I like our new material. We're going to do some rock shows. We're getting along good.''
Dogstar may join a touring rock festival next summer, something like the alternative rock day out called Lollapalooza.
"But only if they put us on the third stage,'' Reeves says, referring to Lolla's backwoods venue.
"We wouldn't go on the main stage. Weird s--t happens when you do that. It's just not in balance, and trouble just happens.''
But why would a millionaire movie star want to be hanging around sweaty stages and smelly dressing rooms, playing tiny halls with terrible sound?
Reeves takes this question as devil talk. He can't imagine why people wouldn't want to be in a rock band.
"You get to play music, original music that's your own, and you're in a band with your friends,'' he says, explaining his motivation.
"Hopefully, you're bringing in enough people that they give you some free beer.''
So Dogstar remains a going concern, but Reeves is equally intense about his acting. He searches for interesting roles in interesting movies and plays, and they don't have to involve Hollywood or Broadway.
He's very proud of his work in The Last Time I Committed Suicide, a recent small film in which he played a Jack Kerouac-type figure, a friend to Beat-era wildman Neal Cassady. He also enjoyed playing the title role in Hamlet, in a 1995 stage series at Winnipeg's Manitoba Theatre Centre.
After the success of The Devil's Advocate, Reeves star is once again on the rise, and he's gaining some respect for his oft-maligned acting skills. The October issue of British movie magazine Empire ranks him No. 23 on its list The Top 100 Movie Stars Of All Time.
"Really?'' he says, just finding out about the Empire chart. "That's crazy. I don't know what that means, but hopefully people like the films.
"I just keep on working,'' he continues. "I love to work and I love acting more and more. But you know, I'm just making it up as I go along.''
His next role is probably as a hero, in a science fiction picture called The Matrix. But Reeves would like to stretch in another direction. Maybe there's something to this anti-Christ business, after all.
"I have to get into a villain one day,'' he says. "I know I've got to play a psychopath.''
And he laughs in a very devilish way.