THE REAWAKENING OF KEANU REEVES(also published on July 12, 2001 as a shorter version under the title 'Painful loss belies November's sweet smiles')
by Ann Kelly
Actor Keanu Reeves may not be feeling very romantic after the tragic death of former girlfriend Jennifer Syme three months ago, but the Matrix star is putting his private grief behind him to take on his most passionate role ever.
In his latest role, in the love story Sweet November which opens at cinemas on Friday, July 13, Reeves plays a self-absorbed workaholic who is insensitive and successful until he meets a woman, played by Charlize Theron, who offers to turn his life around in a month.
Reeves had agreed to the film three years ago while things were going well with Syme, but then tragedy struck. In December 1999 she suffered a miscarriage - an event which signalled the end of the couple's relationship. Then last April, Syme, who was suffering from depression following the loss of the couple's child, was killed when she crashed her Jeep into several parked cars. Reeves has never spoken about the accident but was clearly devastated by the loss of his former girlfriend and acted as a coffin-bearer at her funeral. The actor has failed to form another relationship since and has been keeping a low profile on the Hollywood showbiz circuit.
On-screen, however, Reeves's romantic profile has never been higher and the 36-year-old actor admits that he deliberately chose the film because it was a love story.
"I hadn't done one since A Walk In The Clouds and I felt it was time to put a little romance into my career," he says. "At the time I was actively looking for a romantic comedy."
In Sweet November, a re-working of the 1968 film which starred Anthony Newley and Sandy Dennis, Reeves pairs up with South African-born Theron, with whom he starred in The Devil's Advocate.
In the film she plays a klutzy animal activist who offers to open up his heart and turn his life around in the process. Although they inevitably fall in love, she has a secret which results in Reeves's character having to make some tough choices of his own.
Reeves admits he wanted Theron for the role because of their successful pairing in The Devil's Advocate. "We already had a comfort level with each other that I knew would allow us to bring an authentic investment to the love story," he explains. "Because we're actors we can pretend and fake it, but I'd rather the intimate investment was authentic."
Theron was thrilled Reeves wanted her for the part, particularly as her character was an unglamorous alternative to the glitzy female roles the star is used to playing.
"It's not the kind of character that Hollywood usually thinks of me for," she smiles. "I love that she wears chunky shoes and baggy pants, it's much more who I really am."
The movie was also a departure for Reeves who is keen to resist a purely Hollywood sex symbol tag and has explored a variety of roles throughout his career.
In the harrowing film The Gift, he played a wife-beating murder suspect. At the time his remarks about women finding violent men attractive earned him severe criticism from women's groups, but he now insists his remarks were never about glorifying violence against women.
"For a man there's that physical power you have and it can become a cycle of abuse," he says. "It's very strong and the male can become very controlling. Some men also shut down their emotional life as a way to try to control things. They don't know how to express themselves so they try to get power that they don't have."
Reeves is keen to explore all the different aspects of human nature, but insists he never has a problem separating fact from fiction. "Movies are my way of distancing myself from life. In the past I've tended to let my work allow me to forget my worries.
"I've always tried to do different kinds of parts and to be cast in different genres. I've gone from My Own Private Idaho to Speed and then to Little Buddha. Now I've done a sweetly romantic film," he smiles.