All about Reeves
From Bill & Ted to the Beat generation - Keanu Reeves excellent adventures in Hollywood.
by Marianne Gray
There's a formality about Keanu Reeves that's oddly touching. He's exotically good-looking, of course, with his dark slanting eyes and freeze-packed testosterone, but the thing you come away with after meeting him is how extraordinarily polite he is. The word is decorum.
At first, in his 'young, dumb and full of cum' Point Break days, he was all bouncy laidbackness. But now there's something terse, thoughtful, clean-cut about him. He clearly thinks before he speaks - softly, and with some quite interesting answers.
In fact, after interviewing him three times over the years, I now think Keanu Reeves has succeeded in pulling a fast one on us. He's built his reputation on coming across all spaced-out/peachy-boy/cool-dude, but he's actually 'shared' very little - thus brilliantly maintaining an effective blackout on the truth about Reeves.
In Tinseltown, that's clever.
This time he seems stronger, tougher, less electric, more elusive. The testosterone is still there alright but what's gone is the young-Brando rebel trip. 'Hell, maybe I've just gotten older,' says Reeves, a lanky, boyish man of 34 who looks, unlike many actors, exactly as he does on screen. 'But I prefer to think that it is because I've never played the Hollywood game. I've always kept my distance, stayed a bit off the patch.'
This policy is now paying huge dividends. A cross-gender, cross-generational heart-throb (ie, both the girls and the boys on Blind Date like him - so does Cilla), he gets the big bucks to do studio films such as the recent Devil's Advocate and the upcoming science-fictioner Matrix ($10 million, reportedly). He takes the money, does the job and then drops out to hit the road playing bass with his (not exactly U2) rock band Dog Star or to make an indie movie for less than scale.
His new film, The Last Time I Committed Suicide, is one of those 'lunch-money' projects. It's about Beat writer Neal Cassady. Reeves, who's always been a fan, asked to do it. 'I knew I wasn't right to play Neal, so I asked to play Harry, his barfly buddy and accomplice in picking up girls. I had to gain 30lb, so I just started drinking and eating to get big and crazy-looking. I spent a lot of time working out to get back into shape.
'Harry was fun to play. He's a good-hearted drunk and I had to do one vomiting scene. I think my throwing-up scene is the best on celluloid. We did two versions, one with him wiping his mouth, chewing some gum and going back into the bar. In the other I cleaned my teeth with a bar of soap - but it ended up on the cutting room floor, which I think was a real shame. That was real acting.' Bill, or rather Ted, would have made this sound gross but Reeves's politesse smoothly segues on.
'Cassady spent most of his life "on the road", was friends with Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey and Allen Ginsberg, all the literary figures of the Fifties and Sixties. The story is very representative of Neal's restlessness, which is something a lot of people have to deal with, including me. When I feel restless I go out on my motorbike. I have two British-made Seventies Nortons. I'm an awful driver but I love biking. Scrambling in the mountains or cruising the boulevards in the early hours of the morning is my On The Road.'
'If I could find gloriously offbeat and talky small-budget films as well written as this one I would do them all the time. I want to do good movies and whatever form that comes in, it comes in. My acting journey is my personal journey.'
His personal journey began with Keanu (it's Hawaiian for 'cool breeze over the mountains') being born in Beirut to a Hawaiian-Chinese geologist father (the family fortune came from a Canadian children's edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica) and an English bohemian mother (who made stage costumes for Dolly Parton, among others). His parents split while Keanu and his younger sister, Kim, were small. He hasn't seen his father in recent years - he's serving a ten-year prison sentence in Hawaii for cocaine possession.
The family lived in Australia and New York before settling in Toronto, where Keanu spent his teenage years. Alice 'School's Out' Cooper, who stayed with the family while recording in Toronto, recalls him as a 'cute little black-haired kid' who hung around for hours on end at the studios.
Reeves's mother was briefly married to a theatre director named Paul Aaron. Keanu used to visit him in Los Angeles and get involved in theatre work. By 16, not having exactly shone at his Catholic high school, he'd decided to try acting. He auditioned for bit parts in US movies being shot in Canada, and the break came when film director Steven Stern paid his way to Los Angeles to screen-test for Disney. In 1986 he moved to LA.
'I'm not one of those actors who is forever reading screenplays and optioning stories to be made by their own production company,' Reeves says now. 'I don't sit around talking acting. Perhaps I talk to a couple of friends about how I'm approaching my role but mostly I look to the director. I like to be guided. I hope by now word has got round that I study for my parts. I could never be one of those actors who shows up on the set not knowing his lines.
'I don't want to be a superstar like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise. I'm more interested in variety than stardom.' Exhibit one: his rejecting $11 million to make Speed 2 in favour of taking $200,000 to make Feeling Minnesota with Cameron Diaz. 'Of course money and power are important, but as long as I can afford to have the luxury of not having to work for money, I do whatever I want to do. Unless you can't pay your rent, acting is not about the money.'
Reeves's rent money goes to hotels, famously the Chateau Marmont. 'It's great. Your bed gets made for you and your room's cleaned every day. I've got it pretty pruned down now to just one single suitcase of gear.'
Apart from the usual tabloid rumours - that he married former wild child and Brit yoof-TV presenter Amanda de Cadenet last June, that he was a best buddy of the late River Phoenix - there's not a lot on Reeves. He meditates and says he's not part of the La-La-Land party scene and seldom gets invitations to premieres or events. 'People always ask me how I handle fame. I don't. The word fame comes from the Latin word fama, which means rumour. It's just gossip. All I can do is hope that I get work and that people enjoy what I do. Above and beyond that, I don't really concern myself.'
This attitude is plainly working. He's made nearly 30 films, most notably River's Edge, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, My Own Private Idaho, Little Buddha and Bram Stoker's Dracula. And he's no slouch when it comes to Shakespeare (Brits may be blase about the Bard but Americans are dead impressed): Ken Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing (dubbed Much Adude About Nothing), a well-received Hamlet on stage in Winnipeg. He says he'd like to try Edgar in King Lear, or Antony in Antony And Cleopatra.
'And I'm always up for Macbeth,' he adds sheepishly, giving those good manners a twist before strolling off with his slightly pigeon-toed gait.
The Last Time I Committed Suicide opens Friday 19 June.