Keanu's busy maturity
He replaces grief with work, music
by Claudia Puig
At 35, Keanu Reeves is no longer just a duuuude.
He has matured into his dark-eyed good looks and has assumed an aura of grown-up intensity. But he still looks younger than his years. Though, as he's quick to point out, "my body doesn't feel younger than 35."
That might have something to do with the beating he took while filming The Replacements (opening Friday), in which Reeves plays a has-been football star called on to fill in at quarterback during an NFL strike.
He and his co-stars played a lot of football, a game Reeves liked to watch as a kid (second only to hockey, the Beirut-born, Toronto-raised actor's favorite sport).
But he didn't bank on getting as banged up as he did. "I ran into someone and ended up losing feeling in my head and arms for a while," he says. "I hurt my neck. But I just had to take a lot of anti-inflammatories and ice it."
The Replacements director Howard Deutch was impressed that the actor gave it his all. "I had to tear him off the football field," Deutch says. "He would practice 12 hours a day. He would get hit, but he felt if he allowed himself to get hit, then that is what a real football player is: He didn't want to just act it. He wanted to be it."
It was more than admiration for the sport that attracted Reeves to the film. "As well as having laughs," he says, "it's a real heartwarming, positive film."
But that doesn't mean Reeves has gone soft. He'll be seen as a wife-beater in The Gift and a serial killer in The Watcher, both due this year. He's an ad exec in the just-completed Sweet November, and next comes Hardball, in which he is a compulsive gambler who works off a debt by coaching an inner-city baseball team. Then there are two sequels to The Matrix.
"My hope is always to be able to act as different characters and in different genres," he says. "I've been trying to do that my whole career."
The 22 movies Reeves has done since age 16 reveal choices that are anything but predictable, including the crowd-pleasing (Speed, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) and the quirky (My Own Private Idaho, River's Edge, Little Buddha). But he surprised Hollywood when he turned down a high-profile -- and highly profitable -- role in Speed 2.
"It's not easy to turn down something like that," Deutch says. "He's brave. And he's fierce in his acting. He will never walk away from a scene unless he feels he's captured the spirit of what he's going after. He seems more comfortable with himself than ever."
That maturity and growth have not come without struggle. This year his girlfriend was pregnant with his child, but the infant was stillborn. Reeves will not discuss the matter, but losing himself in hard work -- seven pictures in a little over a year -- seems to have sustained him.
"Work is good, knock on wood," he says. "I put all my emotion into my work, most definitely."
So much emotion and man-hours have gone into work lately that Reeves may have only a couple of weeks off this year. After Hardball, he goes directly into training for the physically demanding Matrix movies, to be shot back to back.
When he isn't acting, he's recording and taking "little baby tours" with his band, Dogstar. The group released an album in July, Happy Ending, and recently returned from gigs in Japan and Europe. (It played New York, Boston and Los Angeles last month.)
"Acting comes first, most certainly," bass player Reeves says. "But I love playing music. I love the fraternity of the band. I love touring. I love writing songs. I love rock shows."
The band just finished its fourth tour of Japan, where it has a substantial following. But Reeves also likes more informal road trips: "We've done tours in California where we just jump in the van."
Even touring has its physical demands and drama. When Dogstar played in England recently, band members were pelted with apples and oranges (and even the occasional bottle). But the flying objects didn't faze Reeves.
"I got hit with some apples; it didn't stop me from playing the song," he says. "I just rocked on."
Photo caption: Speed racer: Actor Keanu Reeves arrives for the premier his latest movie 'The Replacements' in Los Angeles. (AP)