by Ethan Alter
The latest about the "Matrix" sequels -- As filming begins, we tell you what's true -- and what isn't -- about Keanu's next movie
Reeves will work on the "Matrix" sequels through September 2002
After months of speculation, production on the two sequels to 1999's $171 million grossing "The Matrix" is finally getting under way. "Filming starts late in March in Oakland," says star Keanu Reeves, who'll reprise his role as hacker messiah Neo. "I've read both scripts and they're fantastic." Unfortunately for "Matrix" fans, few besides Reeves and the directing duo of Andy and Larry Wachowski know what the sequels (which will be filmed back to back) are about -- and they're not telling. Some details ARE known, however, like the fact that original cast members Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity) and Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus) will return. And the Internet is rife with daily rumors about the films. Trinity gets kidnapped? Neo meets a challenger as powerful as he is? We finally see Zion, the computer free promised land alluded to in the first movie?
EW.com cuts through the gossip to offer you the truth (well, at least some of it) behind these highly anticipated films.
WHO'S IN IT
In addition to Reeves, Fishburne, and Moss, Hugo Weaving -- who played the villainous, supercomputer-generated Agent Smith -- is also scheduled to return, even though his character appeared to die at the end of the first "Matrix." New faces will include Jada Pinkett Smith, playing a love interest for Morpheus named Niobi; R&B singer Aaliyah as Zee, who'll be introduced in the first sequel and go on to play a larger role in "Matrix" 3; and buxom Italian beauty Monica Bellucci ("Malena").
The biggest "Matrix" casting story is about the ones who got away. Last April, Hong Kong martial arts superstar Jet Li, fresh off the success of "Romeo Must Die" (which costarred Aaliyah), reportedly became interested in the "Matrix" follow ups, much to the delight of the Wachowski brothers. But Variety reported in December that after months of negotiations Li turned down the project, most likely due to disputes over his paycheck. According to Variety, the part was then offered to Malaysian born martial arts star Michelle Yeoh ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). She declined the role to pursue projects in Asia. Since then, there have been no official announcements about other contenders for that part.
"The Matrix" hinted at a future romance between Reeves' and Moss' characters
The biggest challenge facing the Wachowskis this time out is topping the first film's action sequences. "There are some weapons now," Reeves hints. Okay Neo, can you be a bit more specific? "Before, all the fights were one on one and now there's going to be more multifighting." Ah, that's better. Still, we wanna know: What does multifighting look like in the Wachowskis' universe?
Perhaps the answer is connected to a popular Internet rumor: that one of the sequels will feature an aerial battle sequence. Reeves himself alluded to this possibility in an interview published last summer in Rolling Stone: "There's going to be much more wire work (in the sequels) because the characters can fly. With this one I'll fight in the sky." Another clue can be found at the end of the first film; the last shot features Neo rocketing into the sky, perhaps to do battle with multiple agents.
Filming is scheduled to last more than 200 days and might be lengthened by the possible actors' strike in July. Indeed, the decision to begin production in California rather than Australia (where the first film was shot) was part of the producers' strike contingency plan. The sequels will shoot for 12 weeks in California and then shut down in anticipation of a strike. Because postproduction efforts that don't involve actors can continue during the strike, editors and special effects people will go to work on the completed footage. Afterward, filming will resume at Warner Bros. facilities in Australia.
The longstanding assumption is that the sequels will hit cineplexes in the summer and fall of 2002, respectively (putting "The Matrix" 2 head to head with the George Lucas juggernaut "Star Wars: Episode II"). Warner Bros., which is producing the "Matrix" trilogy, won't confirm these release dates, and Neo himself seems uncertain about when audiences will be able to enter the Matrix again. "From what I've heard, I'm working until September 2002," Reeves says, sounding surprisingly chipper for someone facing such a long production schedule. "I'm going out to sea for awhile and I hope when I come back I'm bearing great gifts." Spoken like a true hero.