Keanu Reeves a hero for all ages in The Matrix
by Shep Morgan
"I think a little head scratch at the end of a film is a good thing," muses Keanu Reeves about The Matrix, "a story that leaves the audience wondering and thinking about what they've seen." Of course, many could sum up their initial reaction to his part in the movie much the same way.
Myth. Fairy tale. Religion. It's not exactly what comes to mind with Reeves - an undeserved residual from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, dude. But if you think about his heroic turns in Speed, Devil's Advocate and, more importantly, his messianic role as Siddhartha in Little Buddha, then, ah, enlightenment.
In The Matrix, Reeves portrays Thomas A. Anderson, better known as "Neo," a man who is shown the reality behind the world in which he lives - to wit, a virtual-reality creation where man has been enslaved by machines and where a mystic warrior (Laurence Fishburne) and faithful female companion (Carrie Anne Moss) believe he is the chosen one who will let his people go, as it were.
"It opens up your mind to consider [that] what you believe [to be] real may actually not be," explains the 35-year-old actor. "Then there's the idea of machines gaining control over humanity - that fear that maybe we've created a monster with our technological progress. It definitely makes you think.
"Neo was on a real search for identity and meaning," Reeves continues. "That's something that speaks to me as a person in my own life. And," he adds rather impishly, "you also get to fly through the air and fight and be a hero."
Reeves' biggest challenge came in the form of the cutting-edge special-effects sequences, which ranged from super-slow motion (bringing bullets to a virtual halt) to mind-boggling fight scenes (which utilized the style of John Woo's Hong Kong action pics as well as the highly stylized techniques that require actors to be suspended by wires).
"[The cast] went through over four months of martial arts training," Reeves recalls. "Even with computer effects you have to be able to kick that high and punch that fast or you lose the grace and beauty of it. We wanted to have real punches and kicks in there without hurting anybody. But," Reeves admits with a rueful grin, "I felt some pain. I couldn't walk a couple of times at the end of the day. The toughest thing was a triple kick. That took a lot out of me. It was all worth it, though, because I loved the physical intensity and I loved flying on those wires."
Reeves was also a fan of the innovative slow-motion process pioneered by the brother team of Larry and Andy Wachowski, whose debut film was the noirish Bound. "They called it 'Flow-Mo,'" he explains. "You'd walk on the set and they had a hundred still cameras plus five motion-pictures cameras. You'd be suspended on wires, reacting to bullets flying at you. It really felt like you were in some sort of virtual reality. I had no idea how amazing it was until I saw myself literally dodging bullets on the screen."
One challenge in this computer-age thriller, though, proved to be even bigger than dodging bullets and throwing punches. "I don't own a computer," reveals Reeves, who was called upon to hack away on-screen. "The Wachowskis were laughing at me. 'You're playing a computer genius and you don't even have one!'"