Keanu Reeves Discusses Football and Getting Back-to-Back into the Sequels of Matrix
Jeff Bond, Jenny Peters
Whoa! It seems like only yesterday that critics were singing the death knells of Keanu Reeves' career after he appeared in the limp CHAIN REACTION. Then came box office powerhouse THE MATRIX and suddenly everything's Keanu all over again. Reeves makes his triumphant post-MATRIX return to the big screen in THE REPLACEMENTS, playing Shane Falco, an over-the-hill football player called in to replace the real pros during a strike.
"I thought that it was funny, and I really responded to Shane Falco," Reeves says. "He's a hard luck guy who gets a second chance to put his life back together."
Sound familiar? Reeves has had his own career upturns and downturns, during which he's fallen back on his alternate career as a singer and ducked out of the movies for a while.
"You know, you retreat just to try to either cope or figure it out," Reeves says. "Sometimes, as an actor, it's imposed on you because you try to get a job, and it doesn't work out. I tend to sit on my couch and sit on the window when that happens."
While Reeves may have drawn on his experiences with success and failure while working on THE REPLACEMENTS, he couldn't draw on any prior football experiences.
"I never played football," the actor admits. "I trained for about, in total, I think it was about two months. I had six ice packs in my freezer that I would sit down, and wrap around my arm and wrap both my knees, and, sometimes, my feet because they get stepped on. There is a thing that if you don't come out of the center quick enough once the snap happens, and the ball is snapped, if your feet don't retreat quickly enough from the defensive line, they're backing up to protect you. They call it the washing machine. It was basically that you get stepped on. So, I had my two hundred-and-forty-pound lineman with his cleats on my feet."
Reeves is no stranger to physical training for his movies, having trained in kung fu for THE MATRIX.
"If I had to put them on the effort scale, the Kung Fu was probably longer, it was four months, and that was probably a little tougher," he says. "It was just less familiar. I grew up throwing balls, and playing sports, and a lot of the gestures and movements that one has to do in a Kung Fu film, I never really did. So, it was less familiar. But it's all involving coordination and learning the system, and physical dedication. I really wanted for people to believe that that guy, Shane Falco, was the quarterback, and to learn the football, and to go to training camp was a way for me to learn my character because I didn't play ball, and I didn't know what it was like. So, at camp, I started to learn the dynamics of the team at breakfast, chalk talk, who sits where, how you go to the field, who gets taped up, how do people warm up on the field, what are the dynamics between all the different players, offense, defense, who are the leaders, and then practicing."
While Keanu was surrounded by some stellar comic actors including MAD TV and 7-Up pitchman Orlando Jones, he didn't get to do much comedy himself.
"I feel like I am the straight man in the film, and I feel like I have the responsibility of the narrative of the story," he says. "So, I really couldn't improvise, and change it. I felt like Shane was the center of the kind of stillness, and that everyone else could kind of orbit off of and around and, react around. He kind of watches everything."
Next up for the actor is Sam Raimi's THE GIFT, which features a much darker role for Reeves.
"I play a character named Donnie Barksdale who is married to Hilary Swank, who is a fantastic actress and person, and yeah, I'm the ugly engine dragon in the film," he says. "I play a wife beater."
Reeves says playing a vicious character like Barksdale offers no great psychological burdens for him: "It wasn't hard, and it's pretend, and that aspect, to explore that part of my psyche was revelatory. Was it fun in the end? Yeah, yeah."
With THE MATRIX one of the biggest DVD sellers yet produced, Reeves points out the relatable nature of his character as a key point in the film's appeal.
"I think that because the character in the film, Thomas Anderson, is looking for answers in his life," he explains. "He's the medium, and I think that it poses good questions about our lives. What are your choices? Do you want to stay in the rabbit hole? Do you want to get out? What truth is a good question and trying to understand ones life and the choices that you make, and you can go to sleep, and then wake up. I mean, I think that he goes to sleep, and wakes up in the film, I think, like seven times."
Reeves begins training in November for parts two and three of the Wachowski Bros. trilogy, which will begin filming next spring.
"I think that they are going to shoot two and three where like one day, it will be two, and the next day, it will be three," he says. "It's just a grander scale of shooting out of sequence in a normal film."
Reeves is intentionally vague about what is going to happen in MATRIX 2 & 3, however.
"You get Zion in the beginning, and you get to meet the world of Zion. Then, the story unfolds," he laughs.
With the MATRIX sequels coming along, it may be easy to forget Reeves' humble beginnings in the BILL AND TED time travel movies, but Keanu's fans haven't forgotten -- he still hears about the two movies from his public.
"I love that, I love it," Reeves says. "I think that it's great. I loved those guys. I loved that part, and I loved those films." Reeves even worked on a BILL AND TED animated series. "I did the voice of Ted for one year. That was fun. Alex and I would show up on Saturdays and do a cartoon. Alex and I always spoke about doing Bill and Ted when we were 40. We always pictured them at some like peripheral Vegas hotel bar with like two guitars, sitting down, and kind of drunk and fat."
For now, Reeves is happy to be doing THE REPLACEMENTS, a movie set in the present day and the real world.
"I thought that that this film had a nice -- that all the characters had a... what do I say? People that I know have been speaking about heart," Reeves says. "There was real, what I like to call, authenticity. Like, these guys felt real, these people felt real, they all felt like they all came from a situation of loss, and that they had a reality to them that I related to, and I think that the comedy came out of that. So, even though it jumps into clichés like the underdog team, the misfits, the bar fight, there is a jail dance scene, the girl and the guy look at each other, and fall in love, music swoons.... I felt when I was watching everyone do their performances, I didn't think that they were just effects. I didn't think like, 'Oh, here's the funny guy.' I felt like there was a person there, and that the comedy was coming out of their humanity."