Planet Hollywood (US), January 23, 2001
Keanu Reeves. The Bully
It's not easy stifling your better instincts in order to not be a gentleman according to Keanu Reeves, even if it is only a movie. Reeves was talking about getting into the wrong mood to play a character who bullies women in Sam Raimi's occult thriller, The Gift. And since we were already on the subject of prophetic powers, PlanetHollywood.com asked Reeves to direct any psychic talents on hand in our direction for a minute, in order to get a future glimpse at what's up with the The Matrix 2 and 3 that he'll be working on...
PLANET HOLLYWOOD: How do you identify with such a bad character like Donnie Barksdale in The Gift, and find something human in him to play?
KEANU REEVES: Well...that generally makes it more fun! You know, to learn your character, and to participate in it. But I had an emotional back story to get to feelings. I didn't write down things like, when I was nine I was abused. But I did look look at what it would be like to be abused, and maybe what that would create in an adult.
PH: Did you do any research into how to be a bad guy?
KR: I went to Savannah three weeks early, basically on a search for Donnie Barksdale. When I got there, I arranged to meet with a couple who deals with spousal abuse. I wanted to find out clinically about some of the defining things in spousal abuse.
So I did that. And then I got a truck, changed my clothes a bit, and started to hang out. And for me, as well as trying to find Donnie Barksdale, I was trying to find an authenticity to the character, and a locality. So I went and hung out there, and that's where I found Donnie Barksdale.
PH: I hear that Cate Blanchett kind of gave you permission to go as far as you wanted, with abusing her. Did that, well, liberate you or have the opposite effect?
KR: Yeah, punching her in the stomach was really hard. The sequences with Hilary Swank, there were safety devices when I pulled her up by the hair. There was this handle that I could grab inside her wig, so I was playing in the statement of violence. And I when I had to walk up to Cate, I had to punch her.
KR: Hey, it was a stage punch! But still, I was ostensibly hitting a woman in the womb. And that psychologically, was just a hard barrier to pass. But we got the shot! And that's just one of the great things about Cate is like, 'Let's go there, let's do this.' And to make that okay, you know?
PH: The place where you were filming seemed really creepy. Was it?
KR: I actually kind of liked it. But no, the place is definitely haunted. I didn't have any otherworldly experiences there, if that's what you're getting at.
PH: Then you do believe in ghosts?
KR: Most certainly, sure.
PH: Have you ever seen one?
KR: I have never seen an apparition, but I've certainly had feelings of places where I've felt that. You know, rooms that got cold, and feelings of, like 'Was that where I left it?' Those kinds of things. And in terms of the psychic phenomenon, that I most certainly have had experiences with, that are much more concrete...and Tarot card readings as well.
PH: Is The Gift more about the supernatural, or is it just good intuition?
KR: Well, I think from what happens in the picture, that it's something obviously beyond empathy. I think! In terms of accepting it as real or not real, I feel that's one of the issues in the piece, is coming to terms with that gift, or what it is.
I think Annie has it in the picture. But it's about coming to terms with it. And I think part of the film is so much about repressed feelings and frustrated feelings and not being able to say what you want, or feel what you want.
The way into that in the picture, is Annie's card reading. You know, she can see into it, but she can't quite see it, because she hasn't really accepted her gift. And with Giovanni's character, she can almost see it, but she can't quite see it yet.
And when you can see it, another cathartic, catastrophic event comes. But through that repression or harm comes the violence in the picture, I think.
PH: Are you a fan of Sam Raimi?
KR: Yeah, definitely! I was introduced to his work through the Evil Dead series a while back. As a director, he's provocative. Sam sets up a great environment for everyone to act in. He gives that challenge to every actor, that he wants you to do the best work that you've done, and that 'I'm gonna help you with that.'
Like he'll say, 'Don't move your face so much, just have a thought.' Sam told me, 'You're going to have to go deep inside, and find this guy. You have to find the Donnie in you.' And he's got a nice respect for people in his films, the way he treated the crew, and the way he treated me. So all of these things Sam sees, he's got a great eye. And he's a really good communicator. He...directs!
PH: You almost make him sound like he's got the 'gift' too! Was it ever disturbing at any time to find the Donnie in you?
KR: Yeah. Physical violence is not something that I... practice! It's very complicated, and I don't know if I can encapsulate it all. I do know that the power is intoxicating and the physical power that a man can have sometimes over a woman can be... scary. Hey, it's a movie, we're acting, but to get in touch with that and to see that...
And always, there's that line. You know, every person has all those characters within themselves, all those human traits. Whether it's been quiet, or if it's up front, the potential is all there.
PH: What are the positives for you in playing a bad guy?
KR: There was a nice vitality to Donnie Barksdale, and a real freedom to it. I think he's the only character who is uncensored. He's definitely damaged as a person, but he's saying what he thinks, and what he feels.
PH: What actors inspire you?
KR: Many. I guess starting back with River's Edge, and meeting Dennis Hopper. I'm a great fan of his. Then working in Dangerous Liaisons with John Malkovich and Glenn Close. And on Dracula, working with Anthony Hopkins.
PH: Then do you get star struck, even though you're a star yourself?
KR: Yeah, sure, Of course! Certainly in the beginning when I was starting out, much more so, but then as I've had more experiences, it's not so strong. But I still get butterflies in the stomach when I go to the first rehearsal with like Al Pacino.
PH: Were you blown away by the huge popularity of The Matrix?
KR: I had no expectation, so I don't really have anything to react to. I was just glad that people enjoyed it as much as I did. You know, I think it's a really good film. It's a really fun film, and it has some cool action.
PH: What's it like returning to that character after leaving him behind?
KR: Well, I've read the two scripts and it's exciting as a part. There's lots of questions, and lots of conflict. I have some great scenes and dialogue, but I said that even though we've had this experience before, we haven't had the one that we're about to have.
So you have to come in with a new mind. Don't delete or not listen to your past experiences, but also be open to it. Don't try to prejudice what you feel like you might know. Ask again, ask in the present. So that's exciting!
PH: Is it a mixed blessing to have such a big hit like The Matrix and become a curiosity to people, in terms of keeping your own life private?
KR: Yeah, sometimes. It kind of arises when a big film of yours comes out, and then leaves when you're not working, but I always find it surreal that strangers ask me personal questions.
I mean, I don't mind speaking about work, but that stuff like, 'Who are you and did you?' .....Like, get out of here! Remember what Al Pacino says in And Justice For All?...'You're outta line!'
PH: Will you bite my head off if I ask a personal question, like what you do when you're not making movies?
KR: Well, I play in a band. So I do that. But right now we're going to work on The Matrix for about a year and a half.
PH: What about those disputes you had with the filmmakers on The Watcher?
KR: Oh, it's a long, horrible story of pain and woe, and of deception and deceit! I haven't seen the picture, so I don't know. But I read the script, and yech! Sorry about that. But I got to work with some great actors. James Spader and Marisa Tomei, that was a great part of that experience. But I don't think I'm legally allowed to talk about it.
PH: I hear you! Do you ever get peeved about what's written about you?
KR: It's just kind of frustrating sometimes.
PH: But then again, if people underestimate you, it makes it even more impressive when you shine in a role.
KR: Hey, that's a good spin!