Personal Pull Out
Before they were famous
by Karen Hardy-Bystedt
Between 1987 and 1993 photographer and author Karen Hardy-Bystedt befriended straggling young actors and actresses, who posed for her camera and spoke to her at length. In 1998, many of them are huge stars, and Karen has published her interviews and pictures in a fascinating new book, Before They Were Famous. Here are the pictures and those early dreams ... in their own words.
Keanu Reeves – September 1987, aged 23
I’ve just finished a film called Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s cool because there’s no swearing and hardly any violence. I hope it’s funny. That was an experience of having fun and working and trying to do it and hopefully succeeding.
I jumped into this thing (acting) without an ultimate goal. It was something I wanted to do, and it’s been just recently that I’ve realised if I don’t have the goals then people are going to mess me around and I really hate that.
I grew up mostly with my mother in Toronto. There was a time when we didn't have any money but somehow we ate and maintained a lifestyle that was OK. I went to four different high schools, then auditioned for Performing Arts School and got it. I was happy and then I got kicked out because I was a little too rambunctious and shot my mouth off and was not generally the most well-oiled machine part in the school. I wasn't really a loner.
All through high school, I was always in plays and in the basketball team and in the chess club. Deciding to become an actor really didn't happen until I was 17 or 18 and I started taking classes at night.
Now my goal is to do good work. I figure in the scheme of being in Hollywood now, with my life as it is, I would like to play a very neurotic, crazy, mean, evil character. I'd like to play someone who's just ugly. Oh, in general, I’d like to get better at the bass. I picked it up a year and a half ago.
Most scripts I read are bad. Hollywood's a strange place. It's a very specific market. A lot of what you're going to see is quasi-literal entertainment. It's hard to bring in really new ideas when they're out to make money.
What do I look for in a script? I totally want to be enlightened; interesting stories, interesting people, characters, development, ideas being proposed, clash, conflict, hate, love, work, death, success, fame, failure, redemption, death, hell, sin, good food, bad food, smells, nice colours and big breasts.
What roles am I looking for? Someone really evil, dark and ugly. Most of the characters I've played so far have been very good people. They all have a certain innocence and naivete and I think I'd like to sort of exploit some other stuff.
What kind of preparation do I do? It's so abstract. For every role it's just so different.
All I can say is that I try to give and I try to learn.
Do I do preparation? No, I treat it lightly. I just basically look over what I have to do the day before and if I don't have time, like if I have to vacuum or something, I do that instead. Me vacuum? Of course. How can you not?
I would only do a nude scene if it was a good nude scene. I won't do superfluous nudity. If you're asking whether or not I'm embarrassed about my body, sometimes I am. I would take my clothes off in front of a camera if I was comfortable with it.
One thing that's cool about being in Hollywood and doing movies is that somehow, if you happen to be in a film that makes a lot of money, you get power. I don't want too much power, man.
I don't want to be like Eddie Murphy, being so far out there that it is no longer feasible to be an actor. But I would like to have enough things so that people would be curious. I'd like to have my say and not be screaming at the walls. I guess I'm successful in that I'm getting a chance to do what I want to do.
What sacrifices have I made to do that? I don't know if they are sacrifices because I have got to do what I want to do. Privacy is not a major thing for me. I haven't experienced fame yet. My sacrifices are still pretty much in my small world. I'm not really out there yet. Life hasn't really been affected by that. I've been recognised on the street about 12 times. How does my image differ from who I am? I’d like to say that I’m not at all naive, but I am. And I’d like to say that I’m not that innocent but I am. In terms of misconceptions about me, probably that I’m clean or that I’m short.
The heaviest thing actually happened to me two days ago. I met this kid, who's about 17, who looks just like Matt (Keanu's character in River's Edge), and he said, "Whoa man, you're my idol," and he gave me all this free food at the restaurant he worked at. That was cool.
Who would I like to play on screen? The young part of me would like to play Rimbaud (the French poet). Imagine, someone who's writing sonnets in Latin at 17, telling his teachers that they're useless.
By 20, he's totally disillusioned and he leads a life of debauchery and dies in the gutter. That sort of appeals to my artistic cool deep side. There are others. Rimbaud just came out of the top of my head.
I'd rather laugh than be in a corner crying. There's a poem by Walt Whitman that goes, "In my youth I thought long long thoughts..." I am sort of a sensory hound ever since I can remember.
I used to live my life out of a basket. I would make money from a TV commercial and I'd put it all in a basket.
First I'd go to the bank with the cheque and say, "I'd like to cash this check for £3,000." They'd go, "Wouldn't you like to open a current account or a savings account?" I'd say, "No man, just give me the money."
For the next year I'd live my life out of the basket. But things got complicated. And when things get complicated I bail out. Even when I was poor, I had accountants do my taxes. I have no idea and no interest in paying attention to money matters. I live very simply and that is something I want to do. I'm basically a pretty rudimentary fellow.
Which actress would I like to sleep with the most? Meryl Streep, because even if I wasn't good, she would fake it the best.
No, I haven't slept with most of my leading women. I'm practically a celibate monk.
This is what I think is happening with actors in Hollywood. A lot of people I've worked with have a sense of darkness and sticking to their guns with their point of view of acting.
I think that there are a lot of heavy actors who are going to surprise people. They are sincere and smart about what they are doing.
We are getting more theatrical in our acting styles in the sense that we are taking more risks.
How do I fit in? I guess I’m just doing what I’m doing, trying at least.
Didn’t he do well....Keanu in 1998, age 33.
Soon after this interview, Keanu’s career took off when box office hits Dangerous Liaisons and Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure were realised in 1988. He went on to star in Point Break, Dracula and Speed, most recently working with screen giant Al Pacino in Devil’s Advocate last year.
Has he been true to his ambitions?
He has been well known to prepare meticulously for roles, including going under cover as a homeless person for River’s Edge in 1987 and visiting Eton College before Dracula to perfect a plummy English accent.
Keanu plays bass regularly with his rock band Dogstar in Southern California bars, but as he is now one of Hollywood’s highest earners, he certainly isn’t doing for the money. Or the kudos – critics routinely savage the band.
The closest Keanu has got to play a villain was in My Own Private Idaho, where he deserted old friends, including River Phoenix, for riches. Industry insiders say he will find it very hard to get cast as an ugly character.
Meryl Streep has evaded his acting path so far – poor Keanu has had to make do with slinky on-screen liaisons (often in the nude) with Glenn Close, Sandra Bullock and Uma Thurman.
And none of the many rumours surrounding his mysterious private life indicates that he is anything like a celibate monk.