Keanu Reeves: A Regular Guy
From party dude to martial arts-expert computer hacker, Keanu Reeves knows how to make waves
by Sarah Milstein
Keanu Reeves has come a long way since his 1989 breakthrough with Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Known for box-office hits like Speed and The Matrix, he has recently received critical acclaim for his serious role in The Gift and gave fans a taste of his tender side when he played the romantic lead in Sweet November, a drama costarring Charlize Theron. With more than 30 films to his credit, Reeves is a versatile star with a sexy combination of boyish good looks and a mysterious persona.
In person, Reeves seems more like a regular guy than a major sex symbol. He shows up for our New York interview wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and runs his hands through his dark hair. When asked why he chose to work on Sweet November, he says, "I was looking for a romance" (referring to movies and not, unfortunately, real life). "I hadn't done a romance since A Walk in the Clouds , and I had a feeling that that's what I wanted to do."
Although fans tend to identify Reeves with his goofy Ted Logan character, those who know him say he's actually quite reserved. "Keanu is shy, and he is very focused," says Theron. She and Reeves worked together on Devil's Advocate (1997), and she welcomed their reuniting for Sweet November. "I knew I was going to work with somebody who was going to be fearless to go with me," she explains.
Jason Isaacs, who has a supporting role in Sweet November, also calls Reeves shy. But he points out a professional benefit to this trait: "He has secrets. And the camera loves people who have secrets. It makes you as an audience crane forward when you really want to know what's going on inside somebody's head."
In Sweet November, Reeves plays an advertising executive driven by his career. To prepare for the role, he interviewed admen and really connected with their intense work ethic. "There's something great about being so obsessed," he says
But Reeves has a soft side. Sweet November includes several scenes in which he and Theron are nude together. The producers, however, cut two of the more risqué bits so that the film could receive a PG-13 rating. Reeves has taken issue with the producers' decision, arguing that the cuts reduced the sense of intimacy between the characters.
"I'm still happy with the film. But I wish that the producers hadn't gone for PG-13, because there are certain moments in the film where the nudity -- mine and hers -- makes the characters much more vulnerable. And I think in romance and in life that is important."
Reeves also reveals his soft side when he talks about working with child actor Liam Aiken, in Sweet November. "It was really nice," Reeves recalls. "There was this scene that's not in the film now. Charlize and I are in bed sleeping, and he comes into the apartment to show us some toys that he made. And I remember being a kid his age and walking into my mother's room. And I was the guy that that kid saw, and it was just a funny moment. It made me kind of realize that I'm a man, I could be a father. I could be that role."
Asked if he wants to have kids, Reeves lights up: "Oh yeah, sure!"
Reeves also gets excited when he discusses Dogstar, his rock band. Although he grew up wanting to be an actor (he has worked on-screen since he was 15), Reeves taught himself to play bass at 22. He says that performing as a musician is completely different from performing on a movie set, and he appreciates the contrast. "It's just good, clean fun."
For the past couple of years, Reeves has been working especially hard, filming more than seven movies, including The Matrix, since 1999. Less than a year ago, he began training for the two sequels to The Matrix, which are being filmed simultaneously. He finds it hard to get balance in his life and says that maybe after the sequels are made he'll relax a little.
In the meantime, he doesn't regret his demanding schedule. "I've had the opportunity, especially in the last year and a half, to do some acting. I love it more and more." In fact, he found himself channeling his momentum into the Matrix series.
In the Matrix series, Reeves plays a gifted computer programmer, which is a stretch for him: The actor doesn't even own a computer. "It makes the directors of Matrix laugh," he says. Then he puts on a stoner voice and pretends to be one of the film's directors: "You're supposed to be like the ultimate, you know, hacker, and you don't even have a computer!" Back in his own voice Reeves says with satisfaction, "That's why they call it acting."