Having a ball with Keanu Reeves
WHETHER HE'S STARRING AS A FOOTBALL QUARTERBACK IN HIS LATEST FILM, "THE REPLACEMENTS," OR PLAYING WITH HIS ROCK BAND, DOGSTAR, THIS BUSY ACTOR ALSWAYS SEEMS TO HAVE FUN ON THE JOB.
by Bonnie Steele
Keanu Reeves is the first to admit he's the movie critics whipping boy. Still, somehow, this 35-year-old actor has managed to build a career as one of Hollywood's most succesful leading men. From portraying an action hero in movies like "Speed" and "The Matrix" to starring in arthouse films like "The Last Time I Committed Suicide" and "My Own Private Idaho", Reeves has made some interesting role choices over the span of his 14-year film career and has worked with some of the industry's most respected directors.
"He's a much better actor than people know," says "The Replacements" director Howard Deutch. "I've worked with good actors. This guy's incredible. Underrated is the word I always use. He's misunderstood or something, maybe because he does a lot of action pictures, which are very difficult. Harrison Ford is Harrison Ford because he can pull that off. They don't get the credit that they deserve on action pictures because they are really tough to do."
Perhaps it's Reeves' diverse ability to play both the leading man and more obscure character roles that keeps his filming schedule jam-packed. While Reeves has been working non-stop for the last couple of years, he always manages to make time to play bass with his band, Dogstar. Whether he's in rock star or movie star mode, Reeves seems to have a genuine love for that what he does. After a quick flight in on the Concorde from London, Reeves recently had a chance to chat about his new film, "The Replacements," the phenomenal success of "The Matrix" and what he enjoys most about playing in a band.
Question: How fun was it playing a quarterback for a football team?
Answer: I didn't play football as a kid, so, to me, it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. It's a fun position. There was a part of me that wanted to be first on the field and last off the field. I really wanted to have an authenticity. I wanted to look like a quarterback. I felt it was really important for the film, for my character.
I was the first onboard for the picture. In working with Howard Deutch, there was a really collaborative environment. We worked a lot on the script. Then as the other actors came on board, I felt like I was on point. I was the actors' kind of collective voice to Howard, especially during rehearsal.
Q: So you were onboard before Gene Hackman?
A: Yeah, that was a really good day when he said yes to this picture. He brings a real base to the film. He allows the comedy to happen, because he's so real. It was great to work with him, and I think he's fantastic in the film. He just makes it better. He made everything better.
Q: Were you athletic when you were growing up?
A: Yeah, I grew up playing sports. Mostly icehockey. I grew up in Toronto, Canada, and we played a lot of hockey.
Q: You and the other actors went through football boot camp before filming began. What was that like?
A: A lot of the guys had played football, but for me, it was great because I'd never gone through that experience. You'd show up in the morning and have breakfast and get taped up. Ten, we'd have chalk talk, which meant talking abour themes of the day. We'd learn three to five plays. then, we'd grab our things and get on the field and start working on the plays, running drills first, then doing the plays. Then, we'd go get iced. Everyone was always looking for ice.
Q: How did you learn to throw a spiral?
A: You just have to finde the spot. Everyone has a different spot on the ball to throw. I'm a lefty, so I threw threequarters, I had some great teachers. I worked with a man named Bob Galliano, who played in the pros for 14 years. I trained before I went to camp. He was great. He taught me all the mechanics and was really generous with sharing stories about quarterbacking he's experienced in the NFL.
Q: Do you think you are more leading man or more character actor?
A: I really want to be able to do both. I did a film recently with Sam Raimi called "The Gift". I play a wife beater in it. That was a great opportunity for me, to not be the leading man character and to get to do some character work.
Q: Is that with Hilary Swank?
A: Yeah. It was fantastic to work with her. I play her husband, and I get to hit her.
Q: Was that tough?
A: Yes, but it was a really rewarding artistic experience. Hopefully, it will be a good film.
Q: You always seem to chose interesting parts. You've made so many smart decisions with your projects.
A: Like "Chain Reaction". That was a really wise decision. But I got to work with Morgan Freeman, which was fantastic, and Rachel Weisz.
Q: What draws you in to a script?
A: The story - how I feel about the story and how I feel about the character. I felt like that for "Chain Reaction", but then when I got there it was a different movie. Originally, I was married with a kid, and I did this research and didn't know that what I was researching has this effect, and someone got killed. Then, I was having regrets and I was trying to stop what they were chasing me. Then, all of the sudden, I turned into this 24-year-old machinist in Chicago. I turned to Andrew Davis and I was like, "What happened to the movie I said yes to? What happened to that script? Where did that go?" And he was like, "No, I have this great idea..." So I just kind of had to go with it.
Q: Were you surprised at what a phenomenon "The Matrix" was?
A: Yeah, it was fun to watch. I'm really proud of the film, so I'm glad that people got as much out of it as I did.
Q: You're goint to be filming the two "Matrix" sequels simultaneously. When are you going to start an that?
A: They are scheduled to start training in November and to begin filming in late March or April. I've read the second script. The third one is coming in a couple of months.
Q: What does it mean to you to have young kids looking to you as a hero?
A: Do they? I don't know. I know they look up to my character in "The Matrix". I'm honored by that.
Q: There's a lot of negativity in film today - too much violence, too much sex...
A: I know what you are saying in terms of gratuitous violence, but I think a soap opera is as violent as some kind of action picture, in terms of a corruption or a distortion of existence. I'm a fairly moral person. I don't want to go out and do a porno, but I want go through and show life. You have to show the dark side as well, but hopefully not too gratuitously.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I leave tonight to go to Chicago to start a picture called "Hardball". I'm playing a gambler/scalper in Chicago who's lost a big bet and he's trying to pay off the bookies. The only person who will lend him money is this one friend of his, but he won't lend him the whole sum. He'll only lend him $500 a week, if he coaches this young kids baseball team.
Q: You seem to be working constantly from one movie to the next. Don't you feel like you need a break?
A: After "The Matrix", I didn't work for seven or eight months, and that was a pretty long time. After "The Devil's Advocate", I didn't do "The Matrix" for almost 11 months. I want to act as much as I can, and I've been really lucky to be able to do it in such really great projects and to get to do different things. Sometimes it's hard to maintain the other parts of my life. In maintaining friendships, you can talk about what you've done, and I've kind of missed out on that sometimes.
Q: Do you still have that fear when you wrap a movie that you're not going to get other work?
A: Yeah, sure. It's that whole ambition, want-to-work engine.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
A: I went to my mother when I was 15, and I said I want to be an actor. And when I was even younger than that, when there were actors around in school or when they would do plays in English class, I was really drawn to it. I remember I did this scene in English class in grade 10, and it was Tybalt and Mercutio. I got to play Mercutio, and I was jumping around on this table, and I was like, "This is really fun." I enjoyed the Shakespeare, and then when people would laugh or enjoy that, I was like, "Wow, that's cool." And, of course, as an actor you always want to be liked. You want to be appreciated. Then there's the other part of just enjoying acting so much and having it feel like home, like it's what I should be doing.
Q: Through the years, you've taken some knocks. When you were struggling...
A: You mean like the Paula Abdul video, "Rush, Rush." I'm proud of that, by the way.
Q: ...How did you keep that momentum and not feel defeated.
A: Well, I want to act. I love it, so for me, I've been trying to persevere. I've had some good breaks. Hopefully, I'll do good work and good films.
Q: Do you feel like you are a better actor now?
A: Yeah. I've lived a little more, and I think that that helps your acting.
Q: Howard Deutch said he thinks you are really underrated as an actor. Do you feel that was, too?
A: I don't really think about it. I've never felt that from my peers.
Q: Your band Dogstar has a new CD out. How would you describe it?
A: The CD is called "Happy Ending". If I had to sum it up in words that people recognize, which I hate to do for music, I'd call it alternative pop.
Q: Would you rather have the top-selling movie or the the top-selling album?
A: Can't I have both? I'm an actor, so I would pick the film. But what are you really asking me? Do you not love your music? Do you not love your acting? I hate it, because I love them both. But I am an actor, so I'll make the distinction.
Q: What do you get out of being in a rock band?
A: It's a whole lot of fun. I like the cameradic of the band, I like writing music. I like touring. I like play shows. I love playing bass. I like being amplified. And, of course, free beer.
Q: Are the music groupies a lot different than your movie fans?
A: With acting, there's no one who really follows me around. I don't go on the street and all of the sudden people are shrieking and freaking out. In concerts, once in a while you get some bras thrown on the stage, which is really good. Keep throwing those bras.
Q: You've worked with amazing actors - Anthony Quinn, Al Pacino. They must be able to teach you so much.
A: Yes, I've learned a lot from the actors I've worked with. I've been very lucky. Even now, I walk down the hall and I see the movie poster for "The Replacements and I give my thanks.