'Hardball' star Keanu Reeves is a no-frills kind of guy
by Terry Lawson
TORONTO - The last time I saw Keanu Reeves in Toronto, he had returned to the city where he grew up to attend a screening of his third film, "The Prince of Pennsylvania." Arriving at a party at what was then the city's trendiest restaurant, he looked uncomfortable in a flannel shirt and jeans, standing alone near the bar, drinking a beer. Four hours later, I walked by the restaurant and there was Reeves, sprawled on a bench in front, apparently asleep and utterly unbothered.
Fifteen years later, Reeves is not likely to go unnoticed in public. While it seemed as if half the stars in Hollywood were encamped last weekend at midtown's Four Seasons Hotel, the crowd that had gathered outside was primarily hoping for a glimpse of Reeves, back to promote his new movie, "Hardball."
"Did you see him?" asked a woman in a tank top and navel ring, looking a few years past the Backstreet Boys age of stage-door vigil. "What was he was wearing? Was he with anybody?"
As to the latter question, it's one every inquiring - read nosy - mind's been trying to figure out for years; if there's a more private person in Hollywood than Reeves, he's not in the movie business. As to the former, he was wearing a smart black suit and a crisp black T-shirt, plus a pair of old brown clodhoppers with the clods seemingly still attached. His white socks barely made it to the top of the boots. Reeves, however, is not the kind of person you joke with about fashion confusion, or anything else, at least on the record. With journalists he's notoriously remote and businesslike. He comes to work.
The attempt to coax the restaurant-bench memory from him is fruitless: "I don't remember that," he says flatly, "but I'm not disputing your memory." Nor does he remember much about the two days he spent in Detroit last year filming "Hardball," in which he plays a ticket-scalper and sports bettor who gets so deep into bookies he has to take a job coaching a Little League team in Chicago's Cabrini Green, generally regarded as the toughest housing project in the United States.
In the film, Reeves is seen selling tickets outside a Bulls game, which is apparently being played at Cobo. When he takes his team for an outing at Wrigley, the famous field is played by Tiger Stadium, which is spending its retirement as a movie stand-in, having impersonated other ballparks in "For Love of the Game" and "61."
"When I'm working, I don't go out; I usually just stay in my room and prepare," says Reeves.
His preparation for "Hardball," which is to open nationwide Friday, extended to some research on his character's occupations.
"I had a friend who called a friend who hooked me up with this businessman who works out of a bar, and I spent the night with him and some of his customers, drinking and listening to some pretty incredible stories. And me and John Hawkes (who plays his scalping partner in the film) spent a night over at Wrigley, doing some business ourselves," he recalls.
"Oh, sure, I got busted (recognized), but after we went through all the movie stuff, then we'd haggle over the ticket prices. I got some people some pretty good seats for a fair price. It was capitalism at work. People got seats; Wrigley made money; I made money."
Like Wrigley, Cabrini Green had its own stand-in in "Hardball," a smaller, apparently safer project called Alma. But Reeves said he took a walk one night that unexpectedly led him to the real Cabrini, where residents were friendly enough to greet him with "Yo, Bill and Ted," and "Yo, Neo."
The first refers to "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," the film that made him a star and established his persona as dude. The latter refers to his character in "The Matrix," the film that made him an epic action star.
The day after this interview, Reeves was set to return to Australia, where he had been since July, to resume work in earnest on the two sequels to the 1999 surprise smash. The first of these, filming under the title "Matrix Reloaded," will be released in 2002.
Reeves says the next two "Matrix" chapters "are so beyond the first film it's unbelievable." Without revealing anything about the plot, he promises the films will be deeper and more elaborate in every way, especially in regard to story. "They're just a lot more layered.
"I never did think of 'The Matrix' as an action film," says Reeves. "To me it was science-fiction drama, and the special effects, as amazing as they were, are only part of the storytelling process. What the Wachowskis (brothers Andy and Larry, who co-directed and co-wrote) have done is synthesized everything that's going on emotionally, technologically and philosophically in movies in ways that made everything else look instantly old-fashioned. I mean, all you have to do is see the movies that came out in the last year to see the influence it had."
Reeves will be in Australia for nine months making the films, but he's not one of those movie stars who takes along a squad of assistants or a posse of pals for diversion. A guitar, some books and a good job, he says, are pretty much his only requirements.
"Nine months isn't that long when you have work to do and you're focused on it," says Reeves. "I think I'll survive it."