(Translated from French)
by J.A. Bondy
Friday, April 23, 1999, Miauhaus Studio on La Brea Ave. After a few uncertainties, Keanu Reeves suddenly appears on his motorcycle wearing a helmet and a grey three-piece suit. The bike, the same old black 70's Norton. His agent, who also handles public relations worldwide for Sharon Stone, Christian Ricci and a half a dozen of other clients, gives us exactly two hours to interview and photograph him. Therefore, the meeting will take place during his make-up session.
After turning down Speed 2 for The Devil's Advocate, Keanu Reeves totally disappeared from the media during a whole year. Thus, his name was no longer being associated with any of the multi-million-dollar Hollywood projects. He doesn't hide the fact that it was not only a choice... After a fourteen-year career, fatigue had accumulated even though his amazing face and look didn't show it. With a gross of 100 million dollars in only three weeks, The Matrix is the perfect movie for a comeback. If Keanu makes efforts to promote this film, he also knows how to remain a star : he only accepts only a few rare photo sessions. For the simple reason that he hates them (like three quarters of the actors, by the way).
Reeves doesn't seem to be aware of the endless transactions that preceded his arrival after a night spent rehearsing with his band Dogstar. "May I smoke?" he worries. "Of course! It's for the French Premiere!" In Hollywood, the French are the worst "smoking polluters". Reeves hasn't shaved and he wonders if he should. But he is not willing to do so at all. "Depends on the razor you propose..." After five minutes of intense reflection, we tell him that it's not that important and that his morning shadow suits him quite well. Which, suddenly, makes him want to shave absolutely. "Now that we tell you it's okay, you want to shave! You really do have a contradiction streak!" - "Yeah, that's me", he says with his mocking smile. He goes to the bathroom. During the lathering stage, we talk about motorcycles a bit : no, he's never driven with Johnny Depp for the simple reason that he doesn't know him ; he has a 70's Kawasaki 750, yes; otherwise, he's an ardent admirer of Nortons. We get back to make-up and questions.
Premiere - During film shoots, aren't you banned from riding motorcycles by insurance companies?
Keanu Reeves - Depends. Usually yes, but if the producers authorize it, it's okay. Nevertheless, I have a car for days when I'm exhausted.
You needed more than a year to choose The Matrix...
Right. A year since The Devil's Advocate. But "choose" is not the right term. It didn't exactly happen that way.
Which means that sometimes it's the actor who has to look for a job. You're interested in a script, but it happens that either the producers or the director don't want you. It doesn't depend entirely on you.
Where does your taste for physical parts come from?
It's funny, I was just wondering about that myself yesterday evening.. I don't only do those kinds of parts, but it seems that I actually accumulate them. What was I thinking exactly? Oh yeah! That in fact I'm a tragedian! Not in life, just in movies...
The Wachowski brothers said they needed a crazy guy for that part, and you were the man...
They were probably talking about the quasi-obsessional commitment that the part demanded. It's true that it was an enormous physical investment.
Which films of your childhood inspired you?
Peter O'Toole had a great impact on me in The Ruling Class [Peter Medak, 1972] and as Henry II in Becket [Peter Glenville, 1964]. I love his game and his vitality.
And action or kung-fu movies?
From my childhood I remember Five Fingers of Death [Cheng Chang Ho, 1973] and Enter the Dragon [Robert Clouse, 1973]. I vaguely remember Burt Reynolds' movies. But in fact, I don't see myself as an action guy. As a child, I liked swashbuckling movies.
More like Robin Hood.
Have you seen many kung-fu movies before?
Yeah, a lot. The Wachowski brothers made me watch a lot of them, but the one that inspired me the most is The Tai Chi Masters [Yuen Wo-Ping, 1993].. They showed me Fist of Legend [Gordon Chan, Yuen Wo-Ping, 1994], Once Upon a Time in China [Tsui Hark, 1991]. As a matter of fact, only movies with fights choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping who prepared The Matrix. That's how I met Jet Li [Lethal Weapon 4].
By the way, how was your first meeting with the master of kung-fu, Yuen Wo-Ping?
I had just had a surgery. Three months before, I had three cervical vertebras replaced and a disc removed, hence this scar [he shows a big dark spot on his throat]. So I had a collar the day we first met! Later, I sent my neck X-rays to the W. brothers so as to show them the plate screwed in my neck. Wo-Ping still wanted to start training me to kick. It goes without saying that that doctors followed me closely! We ended up postponing the fight scenes till the end of the shoot. We had to wait till the plate in my neck was correctly knit in my bones.
Was it from a motorcycle accident?
Not directly. It's a long series of events...
You were damned determined, weren't you?
[he laughs like a child proud of himself] Yeah, I guess that's why the brothers say I'm a crazy guy. But hey, you've got to do things properly!
Was it your first time at martial arts training?
Yes. It was the first time for all of the actors involved. We trained every day for three months.
You didn't hesitate to take that part even though it closely resembled that of Johnny Mnemonic which wasn't really a hit...
You can even say it was a huge flop! I didn't really have to worry about that because NOBODY went to see Johnny Mnemonic. Regardless, I still like that movie. Besides, both these films have nothing in common. As for the sci-fi genre, I love it, so I didn't hesitate a second. The themes of these two movies are so different.
The Matrix suggests an explanation to the forces that drive nature... What's the weirdest one you've ever thought of?
Why are we on this rock in the middle of space? [He thinks for a long time]. I really have no idea. Like everybody else, I ask myself the big question : "Why?" In fact, I have a new theory everyday. On good days, it's life and love ; on bad days, I really wonder what the hell we're doing here and I find everything absurd.
Do you practice a particular religion?
No oriental beliefs?
I was initiated to meditation during the making of Little Buddha [Bertolucci, 1992]. I did some on my own for a while and then I stopped. I meditate from time to time.
You're often presented as a man with no roots...
No, no, I'm very moral!
Yes, I have principles. [He understood "rules" instead of "roots"]
No, no, roots.
I don't know if I have deep roots, but I'm very close to my family and to this city, Los Angeles, where I've been living since I'm 14. But, okay, I have no house.
[embarrassed, then pensive] I don't know... I have an apartment in New York City. But here I live at my sister's right now.
Everybody says you live at the Château Marmont...
That was last year... Those who speak don't know anything about it. It's fiction. The making of the myth. [Ironical:] yeah, I'm a "bohemian who wanders from hotel to hotel".
What are the weirdest stories you've ever heard about yourself?
Let's see... I've been seen swimming in high seas with Sharon Stone.... I've been married to David Geffen, or I'd be his lover... I was told that on the Internet I'm either the new prophet or the Antichrist... All this is quite mediocre, in the end.
You give the image of a quite technologically-knowledgeable actor; do you surf a lot on the Net?
A little. But I don't even have a computer! [Everybody explodes with laughter.] That also made the directors laugh quite a lot. I'm supposed to be a genius at computers but I don't understand anything about them! I have more interest into those who control the machines than into the machines themselves.
And video games? Do you like them?
No! My pals play all those games, but I, bah... What I like on the Internet is the wealth of information sources.
We can also read that you would have said the following sentences :
[He reads from the paper we give him] "I'm a meathead... There are intelligent people and there are idiots and I belong to the latter group." [He goes on] "Forgive me if my existence is neither really noble neither really sublime". Yeah. [Amused :] Maybe it was last year? No comment!
Star Wars, are you also waiting for it to open?
I saw the trailer. Doesn't look too great, huh? I found the lighting [?] very very flat. The actors must be great but, I don't know... Did you notice : they used exactly the same sounds that they used twenty years ago? In the end, I found that very nostalgic. But I'll go see it of course. I loved the first two; the third, on the other hand [in French] : aoe, aoe, aoe! Too sentimental, a bit clumsy...
Are you sentimental yourself?
Yeah, but I hate it when Darth Vader takes off his mask. Suddenly he looks like my mailman. And that duck voice [He starts imitating it]. That was too much. But I still want to see the new one.
And Cannes, have you ever been there?
Once, yes. For Much Ado About Nothing [Branagh, 1993]. For me it was extraordinary : I had a very small part, so I stayed in the wings and it's the others who landed all the press. I was sipping champagne on the beach in the moonlight, I was strolling the streets and I was making the most of the shellfish in my plate. It was nice.
Otherwise, you go to France?
Yes. I have a friend in Paris. I go visit him as often as I can. I love Paris, really.
Any other favourite destinations?
[Pensive] I don't have any. Damn! That's right, I have to start traveling. I don't travel enough... No, I'm kidding.
The entire The Matrix shoot took place in Australia.
Sydney. I'm not sure you'll appreciate it. It depends on your sense of humor... I didn't see anything, actually. I was working all the time and my *diet* was quite severe ; so I couldn't go out. Except on Fridays. I realized I was seeing the city for the first time when I left it.
The marketing of The Matrix emphasizes the fact that you do your own stunts...
Yeah, it's ridiculous. I don't do stunts. By definition stuntmen do stunts. It's my point of view. It's true that I did much more that what's usually expected from an actor. For example, I hung by metallic cables for hours for the air fight scenes.
Were you hit a lot?
Yes. By Laurence Fishburne. He's very strong!
The Wachowski brothers wanted to use on you a "rocket camera" launched directly at you at a speed of 90 mph, but the legal consultants were scared that you would be required to stay on its trajectory...
Yes, they invented the "bullet camera". Nice... I love these guys! The legal consultants, yes...
What scared you the most?
Staying for hours and hours on the edge of the roof of a fifty-story skyscraper maybe... I was held back only by one rope. At the beginning I didn't feel at ease, but I ended up really liking it. Otherwise, I'd say also the forward and backward somersaults on cables. I needed a lot of training but at the end it was okay.
Do you sometimes watch yourself in some films and think you were bad in them?
I thought that when I saw myself again in Bram Stoker's Dracula [Francis Ford Coppola, 1992]. I didn't have much self-confidence at that time. Yet I had done some good work in I Love You to Death [Lawrence Kasdan, 1990] and Tune in Tomorrow [Jon Amiel, 1990]. But after that, I worked on three films back-to-back. After 77 days of shooting in the Hawaiian ocean for Point Break [Bigelow, 1991], I took 7 days off and then immediately started work on My Own Private Idaho [Gus Van Sant, 1991]. And, after that, only 14 days later, I began work on Bram Stoker's Dracula. The film was beautiful, I wasn't. My place would have been more appropriate in a hospital. I was so dead-tired, exhausted, worn out.
Chain Reaction [Andrew Davis, 1995] was quite bad too. Yet at the time you were defending it with conviction.
When I signed, my character had a wife, a kid and was much older... Suddenly, he became very different. That was a disappointment.
The W. brothers call those types of films "McMovies", don't they?
Those films that have exactly the same taste, like McDonald's? I don't know, but in their minds, the expression applies more to Armageddon. I found a political meaning to Chain Reaction. Can you kill a man for a bit of cheap power? That alone doesn't make it a McMovie, but you can find in it a kind of formula, I agree.
They are already talking about The Matrix 2. Will you sign on?
Yes, but they don't want to tell me what it's about.
Do they already have a script?
I don't know exactly. They don't even want to tell me. I don't even know if I'm in it. I hope I am... Actually, originally, the brothers wanted to shoot two other films at the same time.
So there would be three parts?
Yes, I think. They wanted to shoot everything together, which is totally crazy. They really are pushers, you know. Really! In their movie, they pushed each actor, each technician to the extreme limit. I find the final product better than the script I read, and that's rare.
Here you're selling your product...
No, really. In the first hour of the film, they set a tension that I had not perceived at the reading. I had not seen that duality good/evil in the character of Morpheus [Laurence Fishburne]. Their way of shooting, this tone... I had not felt this suspense before I saw it.
Are you really preparing an action comedy on football?
The Replacements [Vince McKewin]? Yeah, I know, it's crazy... I was at the gym the other day - I train a lot for this part - and I was thinking : wouldn't it be a great choice? I'd like it if we could get Gene Hackman for the part of the coach, but he hasn't given his answer yet. I'd like it really very much. Frankly, do you think it's a good idea?
Football, another physical part!
[Surprised] Yeah, I know! Isn't it incredible? Aoe aoe aoe! I just want to play a crazy street poet.
And you don't find a script?
I never see any! I want to act! I want to work! I haven't done anything for the last nine months and I'm going crazy. I try to find stories like that, though. But I'm too old to play Rimbaud!
Have you ever tried to write for yourself?
No. I'm not sure if it's a good idea. Just once maybe... After that, it often becomes pretentious, I think.
Maybe in the theater, yes. In ten years.
They talk about the W. brothers to take over the Batman series. Have you ever been offered the part?
I'd love to have the leading part in Batman!
When he was asked about it, Johnny Depp answered that he wasn't interested at all in seeing his face on McDonald cups. Would you mind?
For me, it's the movie that counts. If I like the director, the character and the story, I don't give a darn that they put it on a cup.
So you play the game...
No, it's not a question of "game". It's just about the movie. I don't want to be in a bad movie AND be on a cup, but if it's a good movie and they want to stick my face on packed lunches, fine, great! For example I did Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure [Stephen Herek, 1989], from which they made a Saturday morning cartoon series. I liked it, I took part in it for more than a year. As for the "game", I take part in it as much as my stomach can take it. Professionally. To be responsible. For the possibility of being an actor, of playing in Hollywood films.