He worked, worked out for this film(also published on August 9 as an edited version under the title 'No easy way to read Keanu')
by Ron Dicker
Film: Money and fame may come and go, but in this actor's mind, there is no replacement for privacy.
NEW YORK - With the bearing of a cosmic beach boy, Keanu Reeves has attracted a huge fan base, even though some critics describe his acting in adjectives that could be applied to a surfboard: lightweight and stiff. His dark good looks and his willingness to show up for work are often the only attributes he gets credit for.
But the box office knows best, and Reeves continues to thrive. After an unexpected hit with "The Matrix" and a pair of sequels already in the works, Reeves has taken his action-star status to new heights. He's winning converts, too.
"He is such a different human on camera than off camera, that it's the only time I've ever realized he's acting," said Orlando Jones, who appears with Reeves in the made-in-Baltimore football comedy "The Replacements," opening Friday.
Reeves, who turns 36 Sept. 4, plays a quarterback who choked in college, but gets a chance to lead a scab team in the pros when the players go on strike. Think "Major League" with pigskin.
Reeves was a stickler for reality, and practiced with the eagerness of a free-agent rookie. He put 15 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame with weight lifting. And he watched film of his favorite quarterbacks, including his idol, former Denver Bronco John Elway. We can tell you that Reeves wins the game and gets the girl. But an earnest Reeves wants you to believe that he could.
Trying for authenticity
"Everyone came with the feeling of wanting to have authentic, well-rounded characters, and to have the comedy spring from that," Reeves says recently at a New York hotel. "The comic events in the film, you feel like you're not just watching a device, you're watching people."
And he scored points in "The Replacements" in more ways than one.
"He has a surprising sense of truth. In no way is he shut down," said Howard Deutch, who directed the film.
Reeves feels no need to silence his critics. Nor does he worry about continuing his momentum. "It's not something I can really control except by acting and trying to make a good film," he says.
In a roomful of reporters, Reeves emanates a force field that repels curiosity. Wearing a dark sports jacket, spiked hair that has receded slightly, and two weeks of beard, he has a scruffy menace.
Some fans creep him out by believing they have a relationship with him, but that doesn't deter him. "If a film is successful and it has other kinds of consequences," he says, "I'm willing to go through that."
He doesn't talk the Hollywood game of wanting privacy. He is able to live it, he says pointedly, "because I am so private."
He is friendlier and less guarded among peers, going out of his way to be just another guy on the set. To emphasize the team aspect on and off the set of "The Replacements," Reeves traded in his star-sized trailer for a smaller one.
"He doesn't want to be famous," said Jon Favreau, who plays a psychotic linebacker. "I think he loves acting, and the life of a filmmaker. I never heard him complain."
But Favreau added that whenever the cast suggested a night out, Reeves would politely beg off.
The more Reeves has tugged at his privacy, the more fans and media have tugged back. He recently had dinner with Winona Ryder in Manhattan, and it made the city tabloids the next day. He has been mentioned with a woman named Jennifer Syme. Rumors once persisted that he was gay. Who knows?
Reeves' mystique is fueled by an exotic past in which the blanks have not been filled in. His mother was working as a showgirl in Beirut, and his dad was a geologist there when they met. They had Keanu and were divorced soon after. Reeves' mother remarried three times, and settled in Toronto.
An aspiring hockey goaltender, Reeves attended four high schools before dropping out. A bit part in "Youngblood," a 1986 hockey movie featuring Rob Lowe, convinced him to move to Los Angeles to pursue acting.
Keanu means "breeze over the mountains" in Hawaiian, and initially, he seemed to float over the show-biz landscape on a cloud of youthful exuberance. He cultivated a hey-dude persona in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1988) and "Parenthood" (1989). Then he went macho in "Point Break" (1991) and in his signature movie, "Speed" (1994), which earned a robust $121 million at the box office.
Lots to do
For a guy who's only skill supposedly is showing up, Reeves has been awfully busy.
In movies scheduled for fall release, he plays an uptight ad executive who meets a free-spirited woman in "Sweet November," and he is a wife-beater in "The Gift." Now he is about to devote 17 months to the "Matrix" sequels, which will be shot simultaneously and for which he will reportedly earn upward of $20 million.
The money wasn't the only reason Reeves didn't hesitate to take on the project. His experience in making the special-effects-jazzed original, about a man who realizes that computers have enslaved humans, surprised him.
"When I saw it," he says, "it was better than the film I thought I'd made."
Training for the sequels begins in November and shooting starts early next year. In his down time, Reeves has appeared with his band Dogstar in Japan and in isolated gigs stateside. Partly out of necessity, he lives in hotels.
To relax, Reeves half-jokes that he likes to sit on the couch and look out the window. But part of Reeves' appeal is that it's probably true.
The laid-back child is in him. It's just hidden behind emotional armor.