"The Replacements" Kicking Keanu into Shape
In “The Replacements,” Keanu Reeves and a rag-tag bunch of scab football players are brought in during a football strike. The humorous band of players, led by a coach played by Gene Hackman, all add to the fun of the film, but the actors had to go through some serious hard knocks to prepare for their roles.
Despite his athletic prowess in past roles such as “The Matrix,” where he had to learn some martial arts, and “Point Break,” where he learned how to surf, Reeves says he never has had such a more physical role.
He did play former football player in “Point Break,” but this time he had to actually take the field in front of a full stadium. This time, the usually-internal actor, had to work on the outside just as much.
“You have to do your interior work as well as the physical work to play these parts,” says Reeves, comparing his ‘Matrix’ and ‘Replacements’ roles.
So, football coordinator Allan Graf, who worked on Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday,” coordinated a three-week training camp for the actors to whip them into believable football players who are subbing for the pros.
Reeves started six months before filming, getting himself into shape, bulking up a bit and acclimating himself to the East Coast cooler climate.
“Keanu is a real good athlete and worked long and hard on looking like a real quarterback,” Graf notes. “We put him together with T.J. Rubley, a former quarterback with the Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos, and they worked hard through the filming.”
Reeves and Rubley worked two hours a day in camp together, going through routine drills. Reeves also did a ton of research, studying football history and exercise techniques, as well as team playbooks.
Some of the other actors enjoyed the football camp. Others didn’t.
“We had ice packs after practice, we had bruises, we went through hell for three weeks,” says stand-up comedian Faizon Love.
But, as Reeves says in the line-up in the film, “Pain heals and chicks dig scars.”
Some of the other “Replacement” football players include:
Jon Favreau. “I bulked up and went to the gym because I had to play a linebacker,” says the actor from “Swingers” and “Deep Impact.”
Orlando Jones. The “Mad TV” star jumped into show biz while attending a South Carolina college just to impress an aspiring actress.
Faizon Love. A big (in size) stand-up comic who was convinced by an English teacher to pursue his love for acting.
Michael "Bear" Taliferro. The only former pro football player on the squad, he was with the Denver Gold, Arizona Outlaws and British Columbia Lions before landing parts in “The Last Boy Scout,” “Life” and “Bad Boys.”
Ace Yonamine. The large sumo wrestler makes a living as a plumber when he’s not taking small acting roles in his native Honolulu.
Rhys Ifans. He has another scene in his underwear where he reveals his short-comings just like he did in “Notting Hill.” It’s becoming a character trait for him, he admits.
The toughest part of the shoot was filming actual games, and much of that was done during down time at Maryland Stadium while the Ravens exhibition games were going on.
Other football movies have been filmed during halftimes, such as “Heaven Can Wait” and “The Program,” but it takes a lot of coordination. Graf rehearsed four complicated plays with 60 players and 90 extras, and they had nine minutes to do complete it all. The cast arrived in full costume and 500 crew members were ready to jump into the packed stadium to do the scene. Hackman took his place on the sidelines, Reeves and the cast ran into the stadium of cheering fans.
"It was the biggest high any of us have ever had," Graf recalls. And even Reeves claims it was one of his greatest moments facing that thunderous crowd.
But, the best present for Reeves, was working with an idol on his 35th birthday on Sept. 2, 1999.
“I got to act with Gene Hackman on my birthday, which was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” says Reeves.
Equally gushing with praise, Hackman says, “I like working with young actors, and he’s become one of the best. Keanu is hardworking, highly professional and always prepared."