Keanu's dark future
Reeves plays a deep thinker (who also fights and flies) in Matrix
by Louis B. Hobson
PASADENA -- He flies through the air with the greatest of ease, defying gravity at every turn.
He's faster than a speeding bullet -- or slower than molasses.
No, it's not Superman, Rocketman or even Peter Pan.
It's Keanu Reeves.
In the new science-fiction adventure Matrix, Reeves plays Thomas Anderson, an ordinary computer analyst who discovers his entire universe may be a sham.
He is lured into an alternate futuristic universe in order to help a small band of revolutionaries save humanity from enslavement.
Matrix, which opens Friday, is the brainchild of Chicago film-makers Andy and Larry Wachowski, the brothers who created the cult thriller Bound. They insist they wrote the Sylvester Stallone action drama Assassins and directed Bound to prove they were capable of helming a $60-million US science-fiction adventure.
"We got our start drawing comic books, so we were able to draw the entire movie," says Larry. "It was the only way we could make people understand what we wanted to do."
What the brothers wanted to do was "break new ground by introducing the Asian cinematic technique of wire-fighting into an American action film."
This entails hooking the actors up to wires and then manipulating them in much the same way a puppeteer does his marionettes. The wires are erased in the editing room with computers.
Because the speed and direction of the wires are controlled by the handlers, the actors can be made to zoom up into the air and then land with graceful ease or run up walls, glide through the air and even turn somersaults.
"Keanu was the first actor we spoke to who understood just how much of a commitment this would require. Most of the others just assumed they would have stunt doubles, but that defeats the whole purpose of wire-fighting, which is to show the actor in action," says Andy.
Reeves and fellow actors Laurence Fishburn, Carrie-Anne Moss and Hugo Weaving trained for four months with Yuen Wo Ping, a Hong Kong stunt director who specializes in wire work and kung fu. In addition to instructing Reeves and Fishburn in wire techniques, he choreographed them in an elaborate kung fu battle sequence.
"There is no stunt work. Every move is Keanu and Laurence," says Larry.
Joel Silver, who produced Matrix, says "Keanu was amazing. He put his life and career on hold for four months to learn to do the fights in Matrix.
"Even after intense training and with all the precautions, the actors would hurt their wrists and ribs on a daily basis. Keanu never once complained or played the prima donna."
After four months hooked up to wires, Reeves felt "a little like Peter Pan. For the first while it's a bit scary, but during the initial training we were in a room with padded walls and floors to soften the impact."
This is Reeves' first film since the demonic thriller The Devil's Advocate. There were rumours he'd given up acting to travel with his rock band Dog Star.
"I did a bit of touring with the band because I find it so personally fulfilling, but I had to devote 14 months to the preparation and making of Matrix. That's why I was seemingly out of the scene for so long."
He adds that he has "no intention of giving up acting. It's my life's work. Like many actors, I get involved in other activities because I need a life and because you never know where your next gig is coming from."
Movies like Speed, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and A Walk in the Clouds turned Reeves from an actor into a star.
"It was just the industry's perception of me that changed," he says. "I never considered myself anything but a working actor."
That's why Reeves turned down projects like Speed 2 in favour of appearing in a Winnipeg production of Hamlet and in such low-budget films as My Own Private Idaho, Feeling Minnesota and The Last Time I Committed Suicide.
Many people in Hollywood felt Reeves was committing career suicide.
"I enjoy working in big studio pictures if it's a piece I connect with. Matrix is a big-budget film, but it was the themes that attracted me.
"I loved that this movie is about truth and a quest for the truth.
"Questioning absolutely everything has always been a part of my nature, so I understood where Thomas Anderson was coming from.
"I'm not nearly as skeptical as Thomas, but there is definitely a lot of him in me and a lot of me in him."