For love of the game
by Bruce Kirkland
Keanu Reeves puts up with fame so he can act
NEW YORK -- Team player, good guy, no guff, miraculously attitude-free, hard-working, a total professional.
These accolades for Keanu Reeves come from fellow actors in The Replacements, a new summer sports movie that opens Friday.
Orlando Jones, the Mad TV star who plays one of Reeves' strike-breaking team members in The Replacements, offers this tribute: "I'll tell you, Keanu's a completely different cat than what people see on film. When I see him in interviews, he always talks reserved, as if he's clawing for his privacy.
"In person, he tends to be sort of gregarious and kind of funny. His perspective on life, it's not at all what you'd expect from a guy who is a movie star. I found him to be a lot more of a regular guy."
Brett Cullen, who plays the villain whom Reeves replaces as quarterback for the Washington Sentinels, says Reeves is "one of the sweetest guys I've ever worked with ... His work ethic was impeccable. I think he's great. He's a wonderful guy."
Welshman Rhys Ifans -- who played Spike, Hugh Grant's slovenly roommate in Notting Hill -- says Reeves impresses him for his egalitarian ways.
"Keanu was definitely a team player ... I always thought he was kind of cool, a bit of a surfer, and he is. He's a cool guy and he works very hard."
Reeves was so cool that when The Replacements started shooting under Pretty In Pink director Howard Deutch on location in Baltimore and the surrounding area, Reeves quietly let his co-stars know where he and they stood. An enormous trailer was hauled in for Reeves' use. He never moved in. Reeves quietly talked with the crew and the superstar trailer was hauled away, replaced by a modest one exactly the same as the trailers for everyone else.
"Well," Reeves says, playing it humble now, "generally I don't need much space. Just give me a room, give me some water, maybe some fruit in the morning, give me some breakfast. So I generally don't need that much."
As symbolic gestures go, Reeves scored a touchdown with his fellow actors from the get-go. It helped the movie's final outcome, too, Reeves believes.
"In the spirit of the film, us coming together as actors and working on the piece really did mirror what occurred on screen (in the story) and I think that benefited the film."
The trailer incident, and the accolades of his co-stars, run deeper than The Replacements, too. Reeves' laid-back personality and idiosyncratic career serve as a template for how to have a satisfying life, a lasting career and a good personality in Hollywood.
Reeves, after all, is not one of the greedy superstars who has deliberately gone out of his way to grab the big bucks. He passed on a role with Pacino & De Niro in the cops-and-robbers thriller Heat to do his own Hamlet in Winnipeg. He turned down $11 million for the Speed sequel to go out on the road with his bar band, Dogstar. Artistically, that was smart. The sequel stunk. All it cost Reeves was money.
Eventually, Hollywood insiders were publicly doubting his star power: "If an actor has nine lives," said one pundit in 1999, "Keanu Reeves certainly is working his way down the list."
Then came The Matrix, a megahit last year, and Reeves was hot again. The Replacements is his first role since.
"Keanu's a whole other animal," enthuses Jon Favreau, a writer, director and actor who took a small role as a crazed player in The Replacements just to be in the same movie as Reeves and Gene Hackman, who plays the team's coach.
"He doesn't want to be famous, I think. He just loves acting and he loves the life of the filmmaker. But, when it came to going out at night, it was very hard to get him to do anything social because he didn't want to have to deal with that. He didn't want to be out in the bars, out in the streets, and be mobbed by people. He's been famous all his adult life and it's not a novelty to him."
Fame, says Reeves (who was born in Beirut and raised largely in Toronto), is just the price an actor pays if he wants the opportunities that he cherishes.
"I want to work in Hollywood," he says. "The experiences I've had have been some of the best in my life, and I want to act. So, if a film is successful and that has other kinds of consequences, then I'm willing to go through that. Sometimes, it's fun."
The worst part, though, is no surprise. "The loss of privacy sometimes is frustrating," says the intensely private Reeves. He fights to keep his private life private. "Of course, of course." Asked how he succeeds in staying so private, he gives up one of those Keanu classics that makes it clear the subject is closed. "Because I'm so private."
So no one really knows who he dates and whether his unnamed girlfriend really was pregnant last year, as the press reported during the filming of The Replacements.
What is public is Reeves' love of the game -- of acting.
He also happens to be an enthusiastic National Football League fan, although, as a youngster growing up in Toronto, he never dreamed about playing football. Instead, he fantasized about what he now calls "ice hockey" for the benefit of Americans who might think mere "hockey" is played on roller blades and not a sheet of glistening frozen water.
"I always wanted to play for Canada in the Olympics," he remembers. "I always wanted to be an Olympic goalie when I was playing the game."
Reeves played diligently until he left Toronto permanently in 1985 for an acting career in Hollywood. He was good enough to get a tryout from the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League.
The 6-foot-1 Reeves still plays casually in Los Angeles. But his dedication runs to finding authenticity in his acting roles. So, for The Replacements, that meant bulking up by 23 pounds to a playing weight of 192 for his football scenes.
"It was important to me to be believable as a quarterback," he says, "so I did all I could to achieve that, and part of that was to have the body and embody it."
It's part of his own game plan. "My ambition is to hopefully play different types of characters and to do different kinds of films in style and scope. I guess it's just me wanting to act and not wanting to be just one thing."