The reluctant superstar
Action-packed blockbuster 'The Matrix' revived Keanu Reeves's fortunes on the big screen. But the Hollywood sex symbol would much rather be on the road with his rock band
by Garth Pearce
Keanu Reeves is back where he hates to be – in the spotlight. Despite fame, wealth, good looks and a career that is riding high again, he suffers from a private shyness which does not sit easily with Hollywood tradition.
'The Matrix', winner of four Oscars, has brought him renewed success. Reeves plays Neo, a computer hacker who discovers that his 20th-century world is the creation of a giant computer, the Matrix. He and others are allowed to believe it is still 1999 but, in reality, it is 200 years in the future. Earth has been taken over by machines of advanced cyber intelligence that want to keep humans as slaves. Are you with it so far?
Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) has been searching for a 'chosen one' to destroy the Matrix and Neo fits the bill. He is joined by Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in the fight to overthrow the machines and reclaim our world.
Nonsense? Perhaps. But the film, with stunning special effects created in the new Twentieth Century Fox studios in Sydney, Australia, worked so well that it became last year's surprise hit. After a succession of flops, Reeves, 35, chose well.
'I just felt that if the special effects and on-screen graphics could match the sort of thing described in the script, we would have something that could capture the imagination,' he says. 'It was also a clever idea. Are we always going to be in control of computers – or will they take over our lives?'
It came at a point for Reeves when hits such as Bram Stoker's Dracula were becoming a distant memory. Instead he had delivered flops like 'Johnny Mnemonic' and 'Feeling Minnesota'. Also, who could forget his awful performance, amid such British brilliance, in Kenneth Branagh's 'Much Ado About Nothing'?
However, Reeves obviously knew what he was doing. He rejected 'Speed 2' – to the amazement of Hollywood – opting to tour with his rock band, Dogstar. A wise choice. The sequel virtually killed Jason Patric's film career and even Sandra Bullock couldn't save the terrible script.
So what is it like being back? He's not sure. 'I have tried to steer clear of gossip columns, have purposely avoided photographs with girlfriends and have kept my private life to myself,' he says. 'It is getting easier. I live a dull life away from the bright lights and parties. The dangers in my life have been limited to a couple of motorbike crashes and a fall from a tree, when I was a kid.'
After starring in only a handful of films during the last four years, including 'The Matrix', Reeves will be releasing four during the coming year: 'The Gift', 'Driven', 'The Replacements' and 'Sweet November'. He is also due to start work on 'The Matrix 2' very soon.
'I enjoyed the time away from so-called success,' he explains. 'The truth is that I would prefer to be a full-time musician rather than act. I am just not so successful at it. But to play a bass guitar on stage and create music gives me such a kick.'
Reeves, wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt, cuts a simple figure. 'I do have a problem with this whole showbusiness thing,' he says. 'It is thought to be unusual for an actor, but I think it is more general than people realise.
'I feel more comfortable in the role I am playing, rather than anything on the outside. I like to think I am a free spirit. A lot of us think like that – even though we don't talk about it.'
It runs in the family. Reeves was brought up by his mother, Patricia, who had left her Essex home in the Sixties and met his father, Sam, a Chinese-Hawaiian, while travelling the world. Keanu (pronounced Kee-an-oo, which means 'cool breeze over the mountains') was born in Beirut, spent time in Australia and New York and then lived from the age of seven with his mother and sister, Kim, in Toronto, Canada.
His father walked out of the family at this time. The two of them have not met in years. Reeves tells me: 'I do not want to talk about it. There has been so much rubbish written about our relationship in recent years, I do not want to add to it.'
One untrue allegation which has dogged him is that he does not like women. The rumours are an example of how Hollywood can turn if it feels one of its anointed stars isn't playing the game.
Although he does not wish to discuss it, he has recently split up with his girlfriend, Jennifer Syme. 'I have not been seen around with a woman, because I don't always go to the right receptions, parties and restaurants,' says Reeves. 'It's just that I don't go out – period.
'The things I do for fun would bore most people. I love looking at the ocean or desert, going on long hikes in the mountains, and I work on my Shakespeare. Any vices? I like red wine, but I never took refuge in it. And I've experimented with drugs – [but] never as a lifestyle. That's the difference between me and others. It is not in my nature to get hooked on anything.'
A count of Reeves's appearances on the big-screen reveals the surprising fact he has been in more than 30 films; including 'Dangerous Liaisons', 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure' and 'Point Break', which gave him his high profile in the first place.
It is good to see him back. He speaks real sense in the wake of The Matrix. 'I don't use a computer because I don't trust them,' he explains. 'An expert hacker can tap into any system and get anything out of it.
'We are just developing problems for ourselves in the future, since our lives will be in the hands of a comparatively small number of people.'