`Matrix' Star Keanu Reeves Has A Pattern Of Questioning
by Amy Longsdorf When Keanu Reeves signed up to play a paranoid computer hacker who saves the world in "The Matrix," he had to learn karate. He had to learn how to look like a whiz behind a keyboard. And he had to learn how to make pages of technobabble trip off his tongue.
The one thing he didn't need to take lessons in was paranoia. Reeves, by his own admission, is skeptical of almost everyone and everything. "I do a lot of questioning," he relates. "I feel like I'm always searching. If there's something wrong, I want to know what's going on. It's part of my nature to question things."
One of the things Reeves questions the most is the necessity of doing interviews. The 34-year-old actor is the first to admit he's suspicious of the press. "I'm only here today to support the movie," he says. "I really love this picture."
Ask Reeves what's the theme of the $60-million "Matrix" and he responds so enthusiastically he can barely get the words out fast enough.
"I think the movie asks the question, `What is truth?' I play a man who is skeptical about what's around him. I have a line that says, `There's something wrong with the world, but it's like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.' I think it's about faith. It's also about the pain of the knowledge. Do you know what I mean?"
Well, not really. But at least Reeves gives it his best shot.
As ebullient as Reeves is about "The Matrix," he switches gears when the focus shifts to him. He lets you know from the outset he won't discuss any aspect of his personal life.
"I can tell from the questions I get where you're coming from," he says with vague disapproval.
For this afternoon's interview, Reeves looks like he just came from taking a nap. His hair is standing up at odd angles, his chin boasts a couple days' worth of stubble and his fingernails are sporting chipped black polish.
Reeves loosens up when he's asked what computer program he'd most like to hack into. "I'd think I'd like to check out the Kama Sutra training program," he says laughing. "You can always improve yourself in that department."
In "The Matrix," Reeves plays an ordinary Joe who comes to suspect his entire world is a sham. Eventually, he's lured into an alternate futuristic universe to help a small band of revolutionaries save humanity from enslavement.
Directed by "Bound" helmers Andy and Larry Wachowski, "The Matrix" aims to be cutting edge. Featuring a soundtrack by Marilyn Manson, Prodigy and Rage Against The Machine, the movie has the look of a Japanese animated cartoon and the sensibility of a Clive Barker short story.
The fight scenes, in particular, break new ground. Reeves and co-stars Carrie Anne-Moss and Laurence Fishburne engage in hand-to-hand combat that literally has them bouncing off the walls. It was all done with wires, a technique pioneered by Asian fight coordinators.
First, the actors were hooked up by strong wires and then manipulated much the same way a puppeteer moves around marionettes. Because the speed and direction of the wires are controlled by the fight coordinators, the actors can be made to fly through the air and then land with graceful ease or run up walls and turn somersaults.
"Keanu was the first actor we spoke to who understood just how much of a commitment this would require," says Wachowski. "Most of the others just assumed they would have stunt doubles, but that defeats the whole purpose of wire-fighting, which is to have the actor do his own fighting."
Hong Kong stunt specialist Yeun Wo Ping, who has worked on such movies as Jackie Chan's "Drunken Master" and Michelle Yeoh's "Wing Chun," choreographed "The Matrix" and trained Reeves and Fishburne in the art of kung fu.
"There is no stunt work," says Wachowski. "Every move is Keanu and Laurence."
"Keanu was amazing," adds the movie's producer, Joel Silver. "He put his life and career on hold for four months to learn to do the fights in the movie. 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."
Reeves had no reservations about devoting so much time to one movie. He regularly takes long breaks from acting. This is the guy who turned down $12 million for "Speed 2" so he could go off and tour with his band Dogstar.
"Not doing `Speed 2' was my call," says the actor. "I just didn't want to do that script. My feeling is that if I want to tour with my band, I'll tour with my band. Touring actually helps my acting because the band is about going out and living life. Then I can go back to acting and playing life."
While Reeves' decision to turn down "Speed 2" was a sound one, since then he's made a habit of picking movies that don't connect with critics or fans. Since starring in the original "Speed," Reeves had toplined "Chain Reaction," "The Last Time I Committed Suicide" and "The Devil's Advocate."