Back in the game
NEW YORK -- Thanks to The Matrix, Keanu Reeves' career is back up to speed. Since he arrived in Hollywood in 1986, Reeves has flirted with fame and success, enjoying a charmed if somewhat inconsistent career.
His performance in River's Edge brought him to the attention of studio heads who quickly cast him in such prestige projects as Dangerous Liaisons, The Prince of Pennsylvania and Parenthood.
The roles were good, but as far as audiences were concerned, he was just another of Hollywood’s young guns.
Then in 1989, he starred opposite Alex Winter in the low-budget teen comedy Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure that quickly turned into a cult hit.
It spawned the sequel Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey and gave Reeves much better roles in films such as Point Break, I Love You to Death, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Little Buddha and My Own Private Idaho.
Directors wanted to work with him, but he was still considered a supporting player.
That all changed in 1994 when Reeves starred opposite Sandra Bullock in the action comedy Speed.
The film was the summer’s runaway hit and a sexy, bulked up Reeves became a teen heartthrob.
Instead of basking in his new-found glory, Reeves opted to star in a string of prestige independent films such as A Walk in the Clouds, Feeling Minnesota and The Last Time I Committed Suicide.
He returned to studio films for Chain Reaction and Johnny Mnemonic, both of which died quick box-office deaths.
It looked as if Reeves' star was fading until he starred in 1999's mega hit The Matrix.
It revitalized his image and his career.
He's now commanding upwards of $12 million US for his studio pictures, though he is willing to work for less in smaller independent films.
Reeves' first post Matrix film is the football comedy The Replacements in which he plays a washed-up quarterback who is given a second chance when a league team goes on strike.
"I thought the script was really funny and I liked the challenge the project presented me."
"For the movie to work, I would have to convince audiences that Shane Falco, and therefore Keanu Reeves, was a quarterback," explains Reeves.
To that end, Reeves gained 15 lbs. and trained for two months -- and then attended a football camp with the other actors from the film.
"I was always athletic, but I never played on a football team. Hockey was my team sport."
"The training was a killer. My entire body ached. I had six icepacks in my freezer to alternate on my shoulders and knees."
"Even my feet got injured from people stepping on them with their cleats."
Exhausting and painful as this football training proved, Reeves admits it wasn't as demanding as his four-month crash course in kung fu for The Matrix two years ago.
"Both demand physical dedication, but my kung fu boot camp was tougher because it was a less familiar discipline. Even though I never played on a football team, I grew up throwing a ball."
Reeves will begin training in November for the two Matrix sequels he starts filming in March of 2001.
"We're going to film the two sequels simultaneously to save money. Logistically it will just be like shooting any film out of sequence but on a much grander scale."
Reeves says in the first Matrix sequel "audiences will get to meet the world of Zion. I think that's all I'm allowed to say."
Before resuming his kung fu training, Reeves will shoot the drama Hardball in Chicago.
"I play a gambler who gets caught scalping tickets. To pay back his debt, he agrees to coach an inner-city little league baseball team."
"Diane Lane will play my love interest but I haven't heard who else has been cast."
The first Matrix sequel is scheduled for a 2002 release, but Reeves' fans won't have to wait that long to see him.
He's already completed work on Sam Raimi's dark drama The Gift, in which he plays Hilary Swank's abusive husband.
Reeves also filmed a remake of the 1968 Sandy Dennis/Anthony Newley weeper Sweet November with his Devil’s Advocate co-star Charlize Theron.
"I've had some really great fortune this past couple of years. I'm so grateful because I love acting more and more. It would hurt not to be getting offers. And in this job, time off is often imposed on you and that is so frustrating."
Reeves' band Dogstar is also enjoying success.
It has just released a new album and completed a successful tour to Japan, New York, Boston and L.A. to support it.
"We've been to Japan four times now. We have a very faithful following there. They sing the lyrics with us. It's the first place that ever happened."
Reeves says he takes time off from filming to tour with his band because "the experience is invigorating. It's like doing live theatre, where I got my beginnings (in Toronto)."
All this success in his career has helped Reeves rebound from his personal tragedy in December.
His child with girlfriend Jennifer Syme was stillborn on Christmas Eve.