Keanu just a 'big kid'(also published on September 15 as a shorter version entitled 'Keanu's got game")
"They loved getting him to dodge imaginary bullets in the way he did in (Matrix)."
by Louis B. Hobson
Keanu Reeves is jet-lagged, tired, testy and sore.
He's flown in from Australia, where he's filming two Matrix sequels, to promote his feel-good, sports movie Hardball, which opens today.
At various times during the day he'll tell journalists he made the journey and the effort because he believes in the movie, is honouring his contract with Paramount Pictures, or takes every opportunity he can to spend time in Toronto.
He's not particularly effusive, but then that's never been his style.
He is jovial, cracking jokes and deflecting a few made at his expense.
In Hardball, Reeves plays Connor O'Neill, a compulsive gambler who agrees to coach a Chicago inner-city little league baseball team to help pay off a gambling debt.
Many of Reeves' pint-sized co-stars in Hardball are actual little league ball players.
In their interviews, Michael Perkins, DeWayne Warren and Bryan Hearne claim baseball is not Reeves' forte and that he's just a big kid himself.
Before he can even sit down, Reeves learns how the kids have evaluated him.
"You know kids love to lie and tease. I think you may have been treated to some of that at my expense."
He doesn't comment on his 'big kid' status, but later director Brian Robbins sheds some light on the origin of these observations.
"At every opportunity they could, the kids would get Keanu to talk about The Matrix. They'd bombard him with questions and they impressed him because they knew whole scenes almost by heart," recalls Robbins.
"They loved getting him to dodge imaginary bullets in the way he did in the movie. They couldn't hear enough about The Matrix. They wanted desperately to know details about the Matrix sequels he's shooting."
Reeves met with the same kind of prying from the journalists -- who had ostensibly come to chat about Hardball but really had a Matrix agenda.
"If you want specifics, I'll tell you what I told the kids. No comment. No comment. No comment."
What Reeves was willing to divulge is that he'll be filming until January, shooting both sequels simultaneously.
"I just think of what I'm doing as one very big movie that's going to be edited into two separate films," he said. "I never try to decide if the scene we're working on is from Matrix 2 or Matrix 3."
Reeves says the training for these new films "is more physically demanding than it was for the original movie. Trust me, you wouldn't want to be my knees in the morning before I start limbering up."
Reeves stresses he and his co-stars aren't the only ones working double duty on the new Matrix project.
"The expectations for these next two films are so great that we know we all have to work to maximum capability.
"It's more ambitious for me physically but it's the same for (filmmakers) Andy and Larry Wachowski. They're really pushing themselves creatively and technically."
His daily eight-hour training sessions might be exhausting, but they're not as hard as the few days Reeves spent filming Hardball last year in Chicago.
Hardball is based on Daniel Coyle's book about his experiences coaching a youth baseball team in Chicago's notorious Cabrini-Green Housing Project, an inner city area where gangs and mayhem ruled.
"One night we had to shut down production and go home because we heard shots being fired just 50 yards away from our set," recalls Reeves.
"It became evident to all of us that what we were doing was important. Hardball is a movie about second chances and hope, and not surrendering to adversity."
Reeves and the Hardball cast and crew received another dose of reality when pickets disrupted filming on several days and Mayor Richard Daley publicly urged, "Keanu, clean up your movie."
Word had leaked out that the kids in the film used the saltiest of street language and there were those in Chicago who feared this would cast a bad light on the city.
Reeves says he spoke to the protesters and learned "they had been paid to protest. They hadn't read the screenplay."
Paramount Pictures placated the mayor by donating dozens of computers to underprivileged schools.
Reeves says he was attracted to Hardball because he has always known how important sports can be in a young person's life.
"I was raised in Toronto from the time I was six years old. I learned very quickly that if you don't know how to play hockey in Canada your peers can make life miserable for you. It's a lesson I'm grateful for."
Hockey not only became his life-long passion, but it was his ticket into movies.
He was a struggling 20-year-old actor in Toronto when the film Youngblood was being shot. When the producers sent out word they needed actors who could play hockey, Reeves stepped up and won the role of a goalie in the film.
What he didn't have was the French-Canadian accent required of the character. "I got into my car and drove to a small town near Montreal and hung out there for a couple of weeks."
When Youngblood wrapped up its Canadian shoot and headed back to Los Angeles, Reeves packed up his car and followed suit.
Within months he nabbed a role in the teen drama River's Edge, which lead to his breakout role in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Thanks to blockbuster films like Speed and The Matrix, Reeves has been enjoying his own excellent adventure.