Playing 'Hardball' with city
by Cindy Pearlman
TORONTO--Keanu Reeves doesn't mind playing hardball with Chicago's Mayor Daley.
When asked how he felt when the Chicago politico spoke out last year against the language in Reeves' new inner-city baseball drama "Hardball," Reeves frowns and mentions how such controversies usually make a film studio give the city that's beefing some perks.
"Maybe your mayor [spoke out] because he wanted some free TVs for the Board of Education. I think he got a few of them, too," Reeves says.
"Hardball" is based on Daniel Coyle's book Hardball: A Season in the Projects and centers on the story of a down-on-his-luck gambler (played by Reeves) who is forced to coach youth baseball in Chicago's Cabrini-Green public housing complex.
Last year, Daley and several protesters were upset because the children in the film regularly swear, repeatedly using the word b- - - -.
During filming in the Abla Homes project in Chicago, it sparked a small protest from residents who didn't think the language painted their children in a good light. Daley finally spoke out. To which Reeves responds, "It's good politics, I guess."
Reeves says the situation was blown out of proportion. "The community we filmed in was very supportive. There was only one day when a couple of people protested the set because of the language. I went over to them and talked it out. I said to them, 'Look, have you read a script?' It's a movie about helping kids through sports with the real language of the streets.
"Many churches in Chicago were sent the script and they had no problem with it," he says. "Later on, I found that the protesters were paid to protest."
When asked who paid them, Reeves clammed up and said, "That's all I want to say."
The film's director, Brian Robbins, says, "Many people in the community read the script and loved it--language and all. We had the approval of the Chicago Housing Authority. We put a lot of people to work in Chicago as extras and crew people.
"Then things got blown out of proportion because your mayor is telling the press in Chicago: 'Keanu, clean up your movie.' We were in the news every single day in Chicago, and frankly I didn't like it. It was a distraction and it really pissed me off.
"Here I was doing the most pure and positive movie about the weight and importance of helping out kids, and people were trying to ruin it," Robbins says.
As for the language in the film, the f-word has been removed entirely to secure a PG-13 rating. "Kids might not speak that way in front of their parents and teacher, but they speak that way to each other, which is what we show in the movie," Robbins says. ". . . But if you read the script or see the movie, you would know that when the kids begin to embrace sports they change. They stop talking that way all the time."
West Sider Michael Perkins, 15, plays young baseball whiz Kofi in the film. He says he didn't mind using harsh language in the film.
"Come on. Every kid speaks that way. It's a kid being a kid," he says. "I think those swears are what make the movie good. If we didn't have the swears, it would be some fake Hollywood movie that would be bogus. This movie is real life."
He says the protesters bothered him, too. "Most of the people protesting kept saying, 'Our kids don't talk with swears.' Yeah, right. I'm sure these parents don't use swears either. I guess these people just didn't want to see it on the big screen."
Perkins sighs and says, "I guess if their kids were picked for the movie, they wouldn't be complaining so loudly."