KEANU REEVES: Devil's Advocate
DEVIL OF A KEANU
There's more to Keanu Reeves than meets the eye, as PAUL FISCHER discovered when he met the Hollywood star in New York, where the actor was keen to talk about everything from devils to Shakespeare to the elusiveness of stardom.
Keanu Reeves is the kind of actor who comes to an interview with plenty of baggage attached. Is he really the monosyllabic bore who has nothing much to say? This is the guy who reads complex philosophical studies, whose favourite author is 50’s guru Jack Kerouak, who savours the words of Shakespeare and who takes his work seriously. Reeves might be a man of few words, but he's also strikingly intelligent, perceptive and, it seems, far happier with himself and the way he relates to the press, than a few years ago when doing an interview was akin to a visit to the dentist.
"I liked it, so I went for it."
"In the early days, I wasn't used to being asked personal questions; and most of the questions don't pertain to work. To a certain degree, I was not leading an examined existence, even internally, so I was unable to speak about what I was thinking or feeling. I was just being. So I think that inability to express my thoughts about feelings and being unable to categorise and put things in context was amusing, especially for journalists. So they made fun of the monkey."
They don't now, one reflects, as Reeves, sporting a grungy beard, seems to have what it takes for Hollywood stardom, that elusive quality and high intellect that create a quizzical package. As comfortable with low-budget oddities as My Own Private Idaho and the as yet unreleased The Last Time I Committed Suicide, as he is with the more mainstream Speed and the thriller, The Devil's Advocate. One thing's for sure, he doesn't go after something for the money. He was offered a packet to do Speed 2, but he obviously knew better. "I'd finished Chain Reaction, then they were looking to start work on Speed 2. They gave me the script, which I read and didn't respond to; I didn't want to do it. It was that simple." Rumour had it, he turned it down because he was touring with his Dogstar band; the truth is, he simply hated the script. "I then went out looking for work, and my manager stumbled across Devil's Advocate; I liked it, so I went for it."
"To play someone like that was a challenge and fun."
In The Devil's Advocate, Reeves does his best work to date as Florida defence attorney Kevin Lomax, who has begun to value winning more than what's right. After winning a touchy child molestation case, he is recruited to join the powerful New York firm of Milton, Chadwick and Waters, a move he doesn’t think twice about, and moves himself and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) to the Big Apple. There, Kevin meets senior partner John Milton (Pacino), who hands his new employee the defence of a client (Craig T. Nelson) who may be guilty as sin. Meanwhile, Mary Ann begins to notice what Kevin doesn't: there's something decidedly diabolical about the doings at Milton, Chadwick and Waters. Milton in particular.
Reeves set about immersing himself in the morality of the law, undertaking some serious research for two months prior to shooting. "I spent a lot of time going to court, and for the physicality of the piece, went to the gym and took movement classes. I met with a lot of defence attorneys to study more about technique, and trying to implement those techniques in the scenes." Apart from that practical research, he also recalls doing "a lot of interior work. The guy's a shark, as well as someone who's in conflict. That was one of the things Taylor Hackford [director] wanted to get through: he was both light and dark, not to mention aggressive. To play someone like that was a challenge and fun." He sees Lomax as a good lawyer who'd gone from prosecutor to defence attorney, and now is into fame, money and status. Perhaps some interesting parallels for the actor here. "Sure, man, I'll take money, status and fame; I'm not going to turn them away. For an actor they're good things, as they are for lawyers, but you don't want to sacrifice other things. In our movie, Kevin stops loving his wife, and stops listening to a part of himself, and I think when you do that for long, you lose that capability to love and the power to feel."
"It's a very important and honourable profession" - on criminal law
Lawyers have continued to attract the often satiric and maligned attention of movie makers since time immemorial, but Reeves is full of praise for this tarnished of professions. "I was just doing criminal law, which is so difficult from stuff like insurance or contract law, so in that sense, I don't envy their work. I think in the end, it's a very important and honourable profession. I agree that the burden of proof should be on the prosecution and accuser, and I think that's an incredible system."
The world of high-powered lawyers and Hollywood stardom is a long way from Reeves' humble beginnings. He was born in Lebanon to an English mother and a Chinese-Hawaiian father. By the time he was two, Reeves had been in virtually every country in the world, including Australia. He ended up in Canada as a teenager, where he briefly attended Toronto's High School for the Performing Arts, then studied at Second City. His first paid appearance was on a Canadian TV show; and made an impressive film debut in 1986's The River's Edge. Reeves rocketed to stardom as the air-headed, air-guitar-playing teenager in the amiable comedy/fantasy Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989). He could have remained in this zoned-out vein for the rest of his career, but Reeves was determined to prove his versatility - which he did time and again, with diverse performances in Dangerous Liaisons (1989), Point Break (1991) and the Kenneth Branagh version of Much Ado About Nothing (1992). Nothing could have been farther from the amiable teen in the Bill and Ted pictures than Reeves' compelling portrayal of a gay hustler in My Own Private Idaho (1989). In 1994, Keanu Reeves, rather unexpectedly, became a pumped-up action star in the runaway hit Speed - unexpected, that is, to those who were unaware that Reeves had been a high-school hockey jock. Reeves' film career has included such distinct works as Feeling Minnesota (1996), Chain Reaction (1996), A Walk in the Clouds (1995), Johnny Mnemonic (1995) and Little Buddha (1994).
"We've got some new songs, and we're sounding pretty good" - on his band, Dogstar
While it's clear he loves his acting, music is not far behind. His band, Dogstar, toured last year, and he hopes to hit the road again after filming in Australia early next year. "Yeah, we're going back on tour next year again across America, anywhere that'll hear us, from nightclubs to an Indian Reservation. I'm still getting a kick out of it, plus we've got some new songs, and we're sounding pretty good." But he's not planning to leave the movie camera for the guitar permanently. "No way, acting is still in my blood."
Reeves is bound for Australia in March 1998, to begin shooting Warner Bros. big budget sci-fi thriller, Matrix. "I can hardly wait - I never get tired of Australia."