Keanu Reeves: "I have learned to meditate."
by Noemia Young
For the requirements of the Little Buddha shoot, in 1993, Keanu Reeves traveled to Nepal. There he discovered a lot of things about spirituality which have enabled him to understand the laws of happiness.
Keanu explains to us certain life principals that he was taught during his stay in the Himalayas. At 34 years of age, this actor usually very reserved (although he does make a few jokes during this interview) admits to having difficulty implementing these teachings...
Keanu, does the movie The Matrix have any bearing on your own spiritual quest?
Yes, and I like that. I like huge productions however I do not like to spend two hours watching a movie in a theater to leave asking myself: "Why?" I do not want to make people waste their time. Therefore, I try to avoid, as much as possible, to take part in films which do not have a message to convey.
What role does spirituality have in your life, in your work?
During the Little Buddha shoot with Bertolucci, I took some of my time off to talk with Buddhists in Kathmandu and in Patan, in Nepal. Over there, I have learned to meditate; I have also discovered aspects of suffering, of identity, as well as the significance of the phrase "phenomenal existence". The personal experiences that I learned from meditation have helped to change the way I live my life by modifying my perception of myself and of others. What I remember most, is that we must conquer our fears. I've been trying to do that ever since. During our lifetime, we always ask ourselves the same questions, up until the time we face them and then overcome them. It is only by opening oneself up and saying yes to life that we can know joy, goodness, sharing. Otherwise, we remain alone in our corner waiting to die or to be hit by a truck.
You're saying that it is better to die than to avoid concurring our fears...
That's right, otherwise, we are dominated by them and we no longer live. Sometimes, violence and pain are a good thing, at least we can hope they are. What is the lesson that I have learned from Buddhism? That our worst enemies are our best masters. Let's hope, however, that they are not too evil... But I'm sorry to have interrupted you...
Where are you, today?
I am 34 years old and I am in a pitiful state. I try my hardest to overcome my fears; however, some days, just as I think I've won, I let myself go.
Which theme do you think is The Matrix based on?
There are aspects of awakening, conscience, love, loyalty, faith, evolution and also of the rapport between man and machine. These are universal themes. It is a film about kung fu, in the modern sense of the word, in which we find mythical figures: a hero, a sage, warriors, guides, a prophet, a messiah...
We also find in it a metaphor: that of the red pill and the blue pill. (In the film the blue pill enables the characters to live in a dream world, which they believe to be real, and the red pill enables them to learn about truth.) Have you ever had to choose between the two?
I do it every day! This metaphor represents in some way the fork in the road; you have to decide if you prefer to live with your eyes closed or fully awake.
We are all fascinated by the power to fly. The characters in The Matrix can do it. How did you feel when you were suspended by wires in mid air?
When everything went well, I felt great. For training, I would wear a harness. This harness was attached to four cables, which were removed one at a time till only two remained. I worked with a choreographer and a specialized team employed by the producer. It was like a circus. I learned to do front and back flips, walk on walls, do kicks... I had a lot of fun. I must say that I enjoy physical exercise. When I would do the movements correctly, I had the impression of flying. It gave me such an a wonderful sense of freedom. It was a lot of fun.
How did you prepare for these scenes?
I worked with the team responsible for the cables and, with Yuen Wo Ping's team to learn kung fu basics. We would start with two hours of stretching, then we would practice kicks, punches and blocks. Then, we would practice the choreography and we would practice cable work. On top of that, I would do cardiovascular exercises, I lifted weights and I dieted.
Did you lose a lot of weight?
About 20 pounds. At the start of my training, I weighed 196 pounds; at the end, I weighed around 175 pounds.
Were you injured?
I had one or two cuts, a few bruises and sometimes my arms and legs were sore. I like when it hurts a bit...
Will you continue kung fu training?
The kung fun training that we learned is only good for films. If someone asks me to do a kung fu move for the camera, then, I can do it but not in the street. I could maybe block a punch but that's about it.
There was a long period between your last film, The Matrix, and the one before, Devil's Advocate, that came out in 1997. Are you picky when it comes to choosing film roles?
I spent over a year in Australia to work on The Matrix: three or four months to prepare and eight months to shoot. As for choosing roles, I try to be as selective as I can permit myself to be.
After Speed, you were considered as one of the five most popular actors in the world. What is your assessment of your career?
I wanted to be an actor, to do Hollywood films and to participate in projects that I was passionate about.
Do you regret turning down the $20 million dollars that were offered to do Speed 2? With this kind of money, you could have retired from the business.
It would have been more than $20 million. Do I regret it? No. Up until now I have nearly always been satisfied. I had the opportunity to work on Devil's Advocate and in The Last Time I Committed Suicide, which was for me an exceptional professional experience. So, I do not have any regrets. If they decide to do part three and that the script is good... (he laughs). (We must remember that Speed 2 was a disappointment.)
Did you feel cut off by reality when you became famous?
Yes. It always occurs when you step from being a complete unknown to a public figure. As for me, I have never hoped to become a celebrity. If it is part of my life, it isn't really part of who I am.
What about your private life? You have said once that you would like to have children. Are you happy to be single?
You know, it depends on the day. Sometimes, I am lying in bed or riding around and I feel alone; and other times, I think: "Thank God, I'm alone." That's about it.
What is the best advice you were given?
(Long sigh) Concerning what? My life? Are you talking about advice on bread making? Let the dough rise! (He's joking.) Wait, I'll tell you. Are you ready? (He laughs, faints hesitation, starts again.) You have to follow your heart; I think that's good advice, don't you?