London Evening Standard (UK), September 11, 2000
Angry Keanu cheated by a friend
by Ian Markham-Smith and Tom Sykes
When an old friend asked Keanu Reeves to play a small part in his debut movie, the Hollywood heart-throb was only too happy to help.
The 36-year-old star agreed to play the role of a deceptively charming serial killer in The Watcher to help director Joe Charbanic, 34, get his first movie break because they both played in the same amateur ice hockey team in Los Angeles.
The work would only take him a few days, and Keanu was so keen to help that he even settled by for the actor's union standard minimum pay rate of £425 a day. Given that the star of The Matrix and Speed usually commands $15 million a movie, this was a big favour. It was not to be repaid. Barely had the ink dried on the contract when the devious producers flew to Europe, raised $30 million, expanded the film and turned Keanu into one of the lead characters. To add insult to injury, the saving on Keanu's fee enabled them to hire other stars for much larger salaries.
When Reeves found out he was furious and wanted to pull out of the project but was warned by his lawyers that his contract, which he signed without consulting his management team, contained no clause which would allow him to wriggle free.
Keanu was told that if he withdrew, he faced the same fate as Kim Basinger, who was ordered to pay $8 million to film makers after she pulled out of the disastrous movie Boxing Helena. The court case broke her and she was forced to file for bankruptcy.
Reeves decided to swallow his pride and reluctantly went ahead with playing the killer even though he had to work far longer than he had expected, 14 days, and earned only £6,000 while his co-stars, James Spader, Ernie Hudson and Marisa Tomei, were paid $1 million each.
The film opens today in America, but Keanu has refused to help promote it, preferring to play down any connection with the movie.
To try to ease the situation Universal studio executives have been busily making concessions. They have agreed that his name will appear below the title in print advertising and posters. Normally the name of such a huge star would be in big letters above the movie title. They also agreed that he will not appear in more than 30 per cent of any advertising trailers and they are understood to be trying to reach a financial settlement with him, offering him a cut of the profits, rather than risk him publicly disowning the film.
Keanu is to make two new Matrix movies at Fox Studios in Australia and Universal executives do not want to anger him in case he refuses to work for them again. Director Charbanic said: "The script did change. It got bigger than Keanu wanted. He wanted it to be a little boutique film. He read the original script and liked it. He always wanted to play a bad guy."
Nevertheless, Keanu is still choked at having agreed to play strangler David Griffin, a role that is being described as his darkest yet, where he targets lonely young women and is pursued by the FBI.
And the row has certainly affected Keanu's 10-year friendship with his hockey buddy.
Charbanic said: "I think we were both a little mad at each other. Every time friends get in business together, it doesn't go well. And I went in a little naive because it was my first film."
Early indications are that the movie will not be a hit. A review of an advance screening features on the website aint-it-cool.com.
"It sucked," writes the reviewer. "It was a bad, bad serial killer movie. I know why Keanu Reeves didn't want to do this. This, as I cannot stress more, is bad."