Welcome back, Keanu
Reeves steps into the spotlight again in sci-fi thriller The Matrix
by Bob Thompson
HOLLYWOOD -- Some figured Keanu Reeves enrolled in a witness protection program after testifying against fame. Others suggested his disappearing act reflected a blatant career death wish.
As an answer to the where'd-you-go-question, an unshaven, casually dressed Reeves merely shrugs as he sits in a Pasadena hotel room.
Wherever he was, the 34-year-old actor is back. He's featured in the big-budget sci-fi thriller The Matrix, which opens Wednesday.
In the picture, Reeves plays a computer hacker enlisted by global revolutionaries who hope he is "the chosen leader." Reeves' enigmatic character fights kung fu style while trying to uncover the cyber truth in a strange virtual reality world.
Carping cynics might say that fits a description of Reeves after the action film, Speed, made him an in-denial movie star. That would be the same Reeves who turned down $12 million to be in Speed 2.
As an alternative to the hooray-for-Hollywood high profile, he toured with a group called Dogstar and performed Hamlet in Winnipeg. There were major parts in Chain Reaction and The Devil's Advocate, but mostly he remained secluded.
Filming The Matrix in Australia for over a year seemed like another Reeves way to hide in plain sight. His 'gone-missing' story is less mysterious.
"You give over so much time and energy to acting," says Reeves, "that you have to replenish yourself. You have to live life to talk about life."
Live it he certainly did for his role in The Matrix, also starring Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss. Reeves took martial arts instruction for four months before working out on the Sydney, Australia, soundstage, sometimes going toe-to-toe, fist-to-fist.
One harrowing sequence had him fighting intermittently for 14 days straight on a subway set. Reeves had bruises and aches, but didn't need hospitalization.
"Y'know, it's more the fantasy of fake fighting, like cowboys and Indians," he responds when asked if he's experienced at defending himself.
"What could I do now if I was confronted in a parking lot? I could pay the valet," adds Reeves, smiling at his own joke.
He's a joker, all right. Rather than sulk about another silly Matrix-themed question concerning what downloaded program he'd wish to have installed in him, Keanu gets playful. "I think I'd like the Kama Sutra training session. You can always learn."
But he gets annoyed later on. Especially with Speed references. He also gets impatient when he's grilled about giving up the money and the glamour, then told that he'll need The Matrix to be a hit if he wants to go on.
"What are you saying?" he blurts out. "Do I want a big box-office for The Matrix?
"No," he continues sarcastically, "I don't want anyone to see this film. I don't want anyone to go."
More diplomatically, Reeves adds: "Let's face it, you never know where your next gig is coming from. You work and you finish and you wait. That feeling doesn't go away.
"Most of the time I really enjoy working in studio pictures, but that's not the only thing."
So what's next? "I'm looking for work," says Reeves.
Just as when he was that obsessive Toronto teenager back in 1982. He gets earnest, recalling those nobody-knows-me days.
"I was cast in a play called Wolf Boy," he says of a Toronto theatrical production. "On the way home, I remember that there was a fence across the Rosedale subway station. To this day I don't remember jumping over it, but I did."
To this day, some things changed for Reeves. Some things didn't.