Guardian (UK), March 3, 2001
He used to be such a nice boy
by Bob Strauss
Keanu Reeves is bad, very bad in The Gift. But intentionally, and quite effectively. As a wife-beating redneck who threatens Cate Blanchett's small-town psychic, Reeves revels in a nasty performance that couldn't be further from the sweet-tempered stoners of his Bill & Ted period or the iconic action hero that he's more recently developed into. Now preparing for the massive, 16-month simultaneous shoot of the Wachowski Brothers' two sequels to The Matrix, the 36-year-old Reeves is more anxious than ever to be taken seriously as an actor. A few more performances like the one in The Gift might scare critics into offering the kind of respect that's so far eluded him...
For a Canadian-Hawaiian you make a pretty convincing Southerner.
Thanks. I went to Georgia for three weeks before filming. I found some rednecks and just hung out with them. Just going to bars, talking to people about what it was like to grow up in this locale.
Although he's pretty hateful, you don't play him like a standard, two-dimensional villain.
I wanted to make him human. All of these people are trying to understand something that's happened to them. They've been victimised by circumstance or events in their lives, and they've got to see Cate Blanchett's character to try and understand themselves. And through not understanding, this violence occurs. I wanted to understand what happened to Donnie through that. He's a damaged man... and, hopefully, he's not just a special effect.
But since you usually play sweet or heroic guys, was it cool to just vent on everybody Donnie came in contact with?
Yeah, confronting everyone, in the character, was kind of fun for me. And, in an odd way, liberating, in that this guy knows what he's feeling, knows what he's thinking and he's acting upon it. There's no confusion on his part, though he's ultimately misguided.
So are you looking forward to making the Matrix sequels?
I hope that they make incredible demands of me. I know that, while in the first film, the fights were one-on-one, now they're going to have multi-fights, and there are some cool weapons involved.
Any more you can tell us?
It's the continued unfolding of the story of trying to save Zion and answering the question of what is the Matrix. Lots of surprises, and really just an ambition to continue to reinvent cinema to the potential of what actors and what the camera can do. They've done a lot of, and are continuing to do, research and development with new ways for the camera to capture the action. What kind of training did you do to prepare?
It was four months, officially from 10 to 4 every day. But I was there until 5:30, lifting weights.
And your band, Dogstar - with all the other work you're involved in, will you still have time to nurture your music?
Hopefully. I'm committed to it as long as we're interested in writing together and playing. For me, it's a great experience when I'm not working, 'cause there's kind of a carefree aspect to it that I cherish. It's a different kind of good time. I hope that my band brothers will keep enjoying it and get along. It's hard to keep a band together, but we're working on it.