Never work with children? Keanu Reeves didn't mind(published on September 15 as a much longer version under the title 'This one's for the team: Reeves loved working with poor kids to make Hardball')
by John Griffin
Keanu Reeves and I talked last weekend, before the U.S. airplane hijackings made such conversations seem even more contrived and superficial than normal. It can be said, however, that Hardball -- his new movie -- is a more worthy subject than most to see the light of production day in Hollywood.
"I don't consider Hardball a baseball movie," says Reeves. "It's about the concept of play. My character wants to foster a more positive environment for his kids. As they feel safer, their language shifts. There is less swearing and less aggression because there's less anger. The process becomes a positive, affirming experience."
Many of the boys on the team come from the Chicago projects. All were athletic, few had ever acted, and all had attitude to spare. Adoration of the fantastic martial arts world of The Matrix was their common bond, and they hounded Reeves unmercifully to duplicate the stunts from the movie, most of which were either done by a stunt double or generated by computer.
Despite the ribbing, he discounted the old line about never working with children or animals. "They're wrong. Working with kids was great."
The community got behind Hardball, too. Director Brian Robbins, whose earlier work has included the sports movies Varsity Blues and Summer Catch, resolved to shoot his film in a convincing urban setting, and settled on Chicago's ALBA Housing Project.
"We went in and said 'This is the situation. This is how we want to do it.' " Reeves recalls. "The community got comfortable with it and got involved."
Many worked as extras, and all now enjoy a playground built for the production and left behind. It also helped that Reeves' character is no "white knight" riding in to save the poor black folks from themselves. He's a mess who needs the kids even more than they need him.
Reeves' rock group, Dogstar, is still active -- "We finally got out of our old label contract and have finished a four-track EP that's due soon." -- but it will be a while before they do any serious woodshedding. He started shooting The Matrix 2 and 3 simultaneously in November, and, with a few brief breaks, continues until June.