Keanu Reeves Gets Ugly in this Role
by Mike Szymanski
Keanu Reeves is pretty ugly, he admits. Oh, no, not the fresh-faced, spiky-haired, red-cheeked actor who’s now training for both Matrix sequels. No, he’s pretty ugly as the bearded redneck Donnie in the chilling movie The Gift directed by renown horror-movie director Sam Raimi.
“I guess that’s a compliment, I guess I’ve done my job, and so did Sam,” smiles Reeves, 36, his sleeves rolled up, looking intently at the questioner as he gets a bit serious. “I’ve never had the chance to play a wife-beater.”
His wife that he’s beating in the movie is played by Best Actress Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank from Boys Don’t Cry, and the other woman he’s threatening is the small backwater Southern town’s resident psychic who’s played by Elizabeth starlet (and Best Actress nominee), Cate Blanchett.
“I’ve never had the chance to play a part like this, and I loved the script, I loved working with Cate,” says Reeves.
And Blanchett winces as she recalls working with Reeves, who scared her during their scenes. “It was not pleasant being yelled at by anyone like that and I was worried that the children (of her character, Annie), would get scared of him, too, but they were always reminded that it was acting.”
Blanchett helps solve a murder in the small town and points the finger at Reeves’ explosive character. The movie also stars Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, Michael Jeter and Giovanni Ribisi. The incredible A-list cast did the small $9 million film because of the director, the script and the chance to work with Blanchett.
“I was amazed frankly that Keanu wanted to do the film, and I was dreading the meeting with him at first because I didn’t know what to tell him,” laughs Raimi. “I said he must be crazy, but he wasn’t like what I expected.”
He wasn’t the same dumb kid from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as Raimi expected.
“He’s dedicated to his acting and intelligent, I mean, I was fooled, you know it’s like when you watch Kevin Costner, everyone thinks he’s a swell guy--”
(Raimi is known for having a bit of a falling out with Costner after they did the film For Love the Game together.)
Reeves is a bit surprised that people still think of him from the Bill and Ted days from a movie he did in 1989.
“I thought that was over with by now, but that’s what people think, I keep telling Alex Winter, who played Bill that we should do a sequel when we’re 40,” Reeves muses. “It always surprises me when people think I’m like the characters I play. They now think I’m really like Neo (from The Matrix), too.”
Reeves brings a sensuality to the brutal character of Donnie that the director didn’t see at first in this script written by actor/director Billy Bob Thornton who won an Oscar for writing Sling Blade. “I realized that he could be a sexual criminal and this sexuality makes Katie Holmes’ character attracted to him, and it became very exciting and believable.”
To make it more believable, Reeves went three weeks early to Savannah, Ga. To talk to experts on spousal abuse, and then he found a bar to hang out in, and grew a beard to hide his looks a bit.
“I’d start hanging out in a place I thought my character would be at and if people came up and said I looked like, I’d say ‘yeah’ and they’d buy me a beer and I’d just hang out,” Reeves says. “I had to see what kind of dynamics and insecurities and desires this guy would have.”
What he realizes he is surprised he found was “the intoxication of physical power” in the role. Tapping his long fingers on the table in front him during the chat with Zap2it, Reeves isn’t too concerned his fans will turn their back on him for playing such a nasty character. And if they are, well, he’s playing other roles in upcoming films, such as a gambler who coaches Little League in Hardball, which Reeves says “in a gross analogy is like Bad News Bears” and a hardworking executive who falls for Charlize Theron in Sweet November.
“You know, I look at us as a couple in Devil’s Advocate and I think that couple rocks,” Reeves says, shaking his head. “We get along really well, though we’re not, well we’re friends, but something happens to us when we act together that is f-----g hot. You think that that couple just has to be together.”
Reeves believes in psychic experiences, but he didn’t have the spooky times that Raimi did in a haunted house in Savannah where doors slammed and stomping was going on when no one was upstairs. Candles lit on their own and Raimi found out that a disturbing portrait of a woman in an upstairs room is the woman who built the house. The director says she died in the room where noises were being heard.
“I’ve had great experiences with tarot and that was therapeutic for me,” Reeves admits.
And as for Blanchett, well, she says she went to a lot of psychics to prepare for her role and they told her a lot of stuff, but she figures, “It was basically what they read in the trades.”