Catching up to Keanu
by Cindy Pearlman
NEW YORK--There are many excellent adventures to have in the city of Chicago. Keanu Reeves had one of the unscripted variety the day he wandered into Cabrini-Green.
The year was 1989. He was here to promote a little teen comedy about two lovable boneheads named Bill and Ted. Restless in his hotel suite, he decided to go out for a meandering walk through the city. And he got lost. Reeves found himself in the middle of an area not usually frequented by movie stars.
"It was a very strange moment in my life. My heart started beating a little faster because I saw all these really tough-looking kids. You could hear some gunfire in the background. I was a little upset," Reeves says.
He remembers freezing for a few moments to take it all in. And that's when things got a bit tense. A few punks started screaming for him to stop walking. "You, KEY-ON-NOO?" one bit out.
A dumbstruck Reeves could only nod.
A slow smile spread over the boys' faces. "Whoa! Excellent, dude," said the Chicagoans.
. . .
And now he is returning to Cabrini. It's a few hours before he catches a plane to Chicago to film the new movie "Hardball," about teaching kids how to play ball in the projects. Over breakfast, the exceedingly sweet, shy and persistently deep-thinking Reeves says that day taught him a lesson.
"That day in Cabrini, I felt the power of a movie," he says. "It really can unite the world in this weird, weird way."
Now it's fans of Reeves who are uniting. The grosses for "The Matrix" were real, not virtual. The sold-out shows this summer for his band Dogstar are further evidence.
It's Keanu Mania: Act II.
Some doubted he could go the distance. After all, Reeves is a favorite whipping boy of the critics. One wrote, "No one merely dislikes him. They either love him or ridicule him." Another opined, "People look at Reeves and see nothing going on." Still another described his "serene blankness."
Reeves prefers the term "laid-back."
It's difficult to pin down his appeal.
The actor of Chinese, Hawaiian and British descent says cheerfully, "In grade 12, I was picked by the science class to be class president. As a joke. But hey, I was a good class president," he says.
Reeves, 36, knows how to get hit and get back up again. It's like football, which is the subject of his new movie "The Replacements," opening Friday.
Reeves plays Shane, a down-on-his-luck former football player who blew the big college game. He's recruited as a punky QB replacement when the pro team in Washington goes on strike.
Reeves says, "He's a hard-luck guy who is severely underestimated."
Reeves can sympathize. "I never felt underestimated from my peers," he says. "But from critics I've read reviews that hurt."
For "The Replacements," Reeves checked into the Hotel of Pain. First, he bulked up from 180 pounds to 192.
"I never played football as a kid, so the training was tough for me. At night, I had these six ice packs in my freezer and I'd just sit down and wrap my arms around both knees and wince from the pain."
. . .
Keanu has the kind of bohemian past that goes with a free-spirited name.
He was born in Beirut, Lebanon, before bombings became a daily fact of life. His mother, Patricia, a former showgirl, split from his father, Samuel Nowlin Reeves (who is serving a sentence for cocaine possession), and moved Keanu and his little sister Kim to New York City. There Patricia married Paul Aaron, a Broadway and Hollywood director.
But the family split after relocating to Toronto, and Reeves called two more men "Stepdad"-- a rock promoter and a hair salon owner.
Meanwhile, Reeves' childhood obsessions were Shakespeare and hockey. He left high school to act. From the start, he garnered excellent reviews in Canadian plays and TV movies. The next stop was Hollywood, where Reeves won raves for his role as a troubled teen in 1986's "River's Edge." His followup was the box-office smash "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure."
He confounded critics with a series of eclectic movie roles: "Dangerous Liaisons," "Little Buddha," "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and "My Own Private Idaho." He drove home a higher payday with the $121 million-grossing "Speed."
Reeves is blitzing Hollywood these days. He is back on the A list, which doesn't exactly rock his world. "The industry's perception of me has changed," he says with a sigh. "I never considered myself anything but a working actor."
He is working. And working. And working.
He's filming "Hardball," directed by Brian Robbins, about inner-city baseball. Based on the Daniel Coyle book Hardball: A Season in the Projects, Reeves plays a directionless man whose drinking and gambling lifestyle is challenged by a friend who promises to loan him some money if he agrees to coach a boys' baseball team in Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing project.
"I meet these kids and my whole life comes together," explains Reeves.
Later this year, Reeves stars in "The Gift" with Hilary Swank.
In one of his first bad-guy roles, Reeves plays a wife beater who takes out his frustrations on Swank.
Was it hard to go to those places? "It's pretend," he says, slowly. "But in a way, exploring that horrible part of the psyche was revelatory. It was a chance to take a look in some very dark places. Was it fun for me in the end? No. Was it a learning experience? Yes."
Reeves will be sequestered in Australia next year to shoot "Matrix II" and "III." He'll reportedly be paid $30 million plus 15 percent of the gross for the 250-day shoot.
Scripted by Chicagoans Larry and Andy Wachowski--whom Reeves dubs "The Brothers"--he was the only choice to play the sensitive Neo. "Keanu was the first actor we spoke to who understood just how much of a commitment this would require. Most of the others just assumed they would have stunt doubles, but that defeats the whole purpose of wire fighting, which is to show the actor in action," says Andy.
"I love that the movie was about truth and a quest for truth," responds Reeves. "Questioning absolutely everything has always been a part of my nature. I'm not nearly as skeptical, but there is definitely a lot of Neo in me and lot of me in him."
. . .
Like Neo, Reeves lives like a nomad. He simply settles into different hotel rooms on shoots. He doesn't have much stuff, counting a motorcycle as his most prized possession. "I would like to have a happy home to put my belongings, but it hasn't quite worked out that way. So I work and I stay with family," he says.
Is a personal life missing? Reeves has laughed off speculation about his sexual orientation. He loves the rumor that he was once married to Dreamworks honcho David Geffen. "A good one, but untrue," he says.
For kicks, he likes to rock out with his band, Dogstar, which just released the CD "Happy Ending." "I just did a bit of touring with the band because I find it so personally fulfilling," Reeves says. "Sometimes it's nerve-racking walking onstage. Some nights, I walk out there relaxed. Others I'm quaking. I just hope I can put on a good show."
Now he has groupies of a different sort. "On a good night, I get the underwear, bras and hotel room keys thrown onstage. You start to think that you're Tom Jones," he says with a laugh.
Reeves says music is his escape. "You retreat to cope or figure out your life," he says. In his down time, "I basically tend to sit on my couch and stare out the window."
That's what he's doing right now, staring out the window into a foggy summer morning.
"It's still true that I am afraid of the dark, but I mean that in a real philosophical way," he says.
Yes, sometimes Keanu is really deep.
"Things are getting brighter all the time," he says, smiling.
Distributed by Big Picture News Inc.
Catching up to Keanu
by Jae-Ha Kim
If you think that cute guy you saw heading into Tempo last week looked a lot like Keanu Reeves, there's a good chance that it was.
Reeves has returned to Chicago to film "Hardball." He first made his presence in the Windy City known four years ago when he shot "Chain Reaction." You can bet that he'll be out and about in the city this time around, too.
Note: Keep your eyes peeled for announcements of his band Dogstar's performances. Wherever Reeves goes, the group follows.
Here are some of Reeves' favorite stomping grounds:
* The Four Seasons. Boul Mich. Home away from home for movie stars.
* Cabrini-Green. Where a good chunk of "Harball" is being shot.
* Metro. Wrigleyville. A big music fan, Reeves has headlined there and caught some bands.
* Raw Bar. Wrigleyville. Has been spotted there partying.
* Cubby Bear. Wrigleyville. Went there to hear bands.
* Double Door. Wicker Park. His band has played there.
* Park West. Lincoln Park. Ditto.
* Gibsons Steakhouse. Near North Side. A favorite dinner spot.
* Tempo. On Chestnut. Late-night spot. The regulars leave him alone.