The Matrix Man on Breaking Bones, Throwing Bombs and Catching Bras
by Jeanne Wolf
The first time Keanu Reeves broke the box office as a hero, he saved a busload of passengers in Speed. Now he's trying to save a football team in The Replacements. Reeves plays washed-up quarterback Shane Falco, who calls the shots for a mixed bag of scabs taking over for striking NFL players. Reeves has always played the Hollywood game his own way. Though his most recent film, The Matrix, was a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, he has frequently starred in indie productions. And he often seems as committed to his rock band, Dogstar, as he is to movies. When it comes to his personal life, Reeves remains the prince of enigma. He used to stonewall the press by giving terrible interviews, but he became more forthcoming after outrageous stories about him surfaced in the tabloids. Still, he doesn't share any details of his private life beyond avowing that he currently has no special woman. Sporting a spiky haircut for his next film, Reeves has shed some of the muscular pounds he gained for The Replacements, which also stars Gene Hackman as a cantankerous coach. He's pleasant and even funny as he talks about conquering the gridiron, playing bass and what guides his career choices.
What's up with the hair?
It's my porcupine cut. Actually, I'm thinking about it for the character I'm playing in Hardball, in which I become a baseball coach for a bunch of inner-city kids. So, I'm just kind of living with it and seeing how it goes. Somebody said I look like a bad version of Don King.
The cast and crew, not to mention some pro players who worked on the film, were very impressed with the way you perfected your throwing technique. Are you ready for Monday Night Football?
No way. But I knew if you didn't believe me as a quarterback, then you wouldn't be able to enjoy the film.
You pumped up for the part, didn't you?
I gained about 23 pounds through changing my diet and lifting weights. I'm six-foot-one, and I ended up weighing about 192 pounds, so I think I sort of had the body of a quarterback.
Are you a fan of the NFL?
I am. I grew up watching football, even though I never played it as a kid. I was into ice hockey. I always wanted to play for Canada and be an Olympic goalie. But I love the game of football. Actually, I watched a lot of NFL game films and video compilations to get ready for my role.
Was there a moment when you felt like a real pro?
When I walked to the line of scrimmage, I found myself doing that helmet thing where you kind of give it a little smack. And then when you're calling signals, you suddenly find you have this quarterback voice. Actually, there was a time when I finally felt I was being accepted as a quarterback by the men around me. When I first started to pass, I'd throw the ball and miss, and the guys would go, "Good try, man. You'll get it." Then, about a month down the road, we did a scene where I threw a pass way behind the receiver. I did it three times and just missed every time. Suddenly, I realized I wasn't hearing, "Yo, man, it's okay." In fact, no one talked to me at all. I came off the field and said to the guy who was coaching me, "What's going on? What did I do?" He said, "Nobody's talking to you because you didn't make the pass. You should take that as a sign of respect. They're treating you like a quarterback. That's what happens when you come off the field and you don't execute. No one talks to you."
Did that help you understand the pressure your character was feeling?
Yeah. It was a cool lesson, because I realized the responsibility that rests on a team leader like Falco. If the quarterback doesn't execute, the guys don't win, and it could have a big effect on the team's future. You feel the weight of becoming the guy who can make [the team] a winner or a loser.
Was everybody faking the tackles, or was there some real pain out there?
I now have such respect for the sacrifice guys make to play that game. Just even in our film, where we're acting, some guys got broken bones. I'd end up sitting in an ice tub for half an hour. Ice was my friend.
Did you ever get seriously injured?
Not really. Everyone around me was great about protecting me. I remember one player, JC, said, "Okay, man, when I tackle you, don't tuck the ball against your chest." And I'm like, "Why?" And he goes, "Because I'm going to drive you into the ground, and the ball will break your ribs."
What was it like having Gene Hackman for a coach?
He's a very funny man with a very dry sense of humor. When he shows up on the set, he's ready to go. He's like, "Let's shoot." He makes it look so easy, but he works so hard. Laurence Fishburne is like that, too. He calls acting swinging. He'll say, "It's time to swing." And he comes on the set and he swings, man. He's relaxed, in command, just doing his thing.
Your band, Dogstar, has just released a new CD. Tell us about it.
It's called Happy Ending. If I had to sum it up in words, which I hate to do for music, I would call it alternative pop. It's got melody--there's a lot of melody in it, but yet there's a lot of distorted guitar and drums.
What do you get out of performing with a live band?
It's a whole lot of fun. I like writing songs. I like the camaraderie of the band. I like touring. I love playing bass and being amplified. And then there's free beer.
How would you compare rock groupies to your female movie fans?
I don't have that many problems being recognized for my movies. There is no one who really follows me around. I don't go in the street and all of a sudden people are shrieking and freaking out. At concerts once in a while you get some bras thrown on the stage, which is really good. Keep throwing those bras.
You'll soon start the Matrix sequels. That's a gigantic commitment.
We're just doing two movies, and we'll shoot scenes for both simultaneously. I'm going to be in Australia in November. We're going to train for four months and then film for about a year. I've read the scripts, but I'm sworn to secrecy. Almost everybody will be back, including Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss.
How much of yourself do you put into the characters you play?
I'm still trying to figure that out, because that's the nature of life. In acting, you're constantly discovering new feelings and thoughts and exposing yourself to them. I guess it could be considered a kind of psychotherapy. As an actor, I can tell you a story you'll listen to. And maybe it won't just entertain you; it might also teach you something. I think film has the power to change your life if you want to let it. I've supported myself as an actor for a long time, and I want to keep that in perspective because I really love what I do.
Are you coming to terms with the success you've achieved as a star?
It can still be very surreal. It's easy to become very self-critical when you're an actor. Then you get critiqued by the critics. Whether you agree with them or not, people are passing judgment on you. That can be tough. The fans I meet are mostly nice to me and seem to like my work. But as far as the critics are concerned, I've often been their whipping boy.
It's been interesting to watch you change and, apparently, come to terms with the fact that giving up a little of yourself in interviews is part of being a movie star.
In the beginning of my career, I wasn't used to being asked personal questions, and I didn't respond very well. After suffering through a lot of gossip and tabloid lies, I learned that if you don't make yourself available, the press can develop a certain animosity toward you. I realized I have to give up some of my privacy. Otherwise, a lot of wild stories will be written to fill the vacuum.