'Coach' Keanu Plays Hardball
Hollywood hunk Keanu Reeves gets tough as a baseball coach in his new flick, while working up a sci-fi storm Down Under on The Matrix sequels.
by Anke Hofmann
The dreamy Keanu Reeves is one of Hollywood's most private movie stars. "I don't like to talk about personal things to people I don't know," admits the 37-year-old Canadian-bred actor.
Besides, the celebrity believes the interest in his persona is fickle. "It rises when a film comes out and leaves when you're not working."
So his only revelation about the very highly-anticipated sequels to sci-fi success The Matrix is that they're "so beyond the first film it's unbelievable!" However, Aussie fans may be comforted by glimpses of Reeves while he's here filming the second and third instalments of the blockbuster.
The handsome actor has set his heart on Australia – even starting to call Down Under home since his arrival last September.
Reeves chose acting profession at age 15, simply because it made him happy. He notched up noteworthy performances in River's Edge, Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, My Own Private Idaho, Speed and The Devil's Advocate. Then there were some less worthy adventures: Dangerous Liaisons, Point Break, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Little Buddha, A Walk In The Clouds and Chain Reaction.
For the past two years, he seems to have been in front of the cameras non-stop, working on movies The Replacements, The Gift, Sweet November and The Watcher.
Reeves says his choices have never been motivated by the size of the pay packet or the amount of prestige, but rather by "the story and how I feel about the character.
"I know that I want to have truthful acting," he says. "Maybe that can turn into a truthful life."
His generosity reflects this attitude. According to the Wall Street Journal, the star donated his profit-sharing points for the two Matrix sequels – which could amount to millions of dollars – to the special effects and costume design crews!
"I'd rather people didn't know that," Reeves says humbly. "It was something at the time that I could afford to do, hopefully, and it's a worthwhile thing."
In his latest big-screen outing, Hardball, Reeves portrays Conor O'Neill, a sleazy ticket scalper who becomes an inspirational Little League baseball coach for a team of foul-mouthed, good-hearted kids in Chicago's Cabrini Green. The area generally is regarded as the toughest housing project in the United States. Director Brian Robbins (Varsity Blues) handpicked the actor.
Robbins says: "Keanu Reeves, the person, has a void.
"He's a guy sort of looking for something, like the character in the movie. I thought it was a good fit."
With a bit of coaching experience in ice hockey and some Shakespeare workshops under his belt, Reeves felt equipped for the job.
It involved working with a mix of child actors and non-professionals picked off the street.
"I really had a great experience acting with these kids. I haven't been the older guy (on the set) that often in my life, so that was fun," he smiles.
"What really impressed me was their spontaneity of being.
"It's something that I've been taught about in acting and that I strive for, but it was really neat just to see it so pure."
Off-screen, Reeves likes to keep to himself. Linked previously to actresses Amanda De Cadenet and Carrie-Anne Moss, his only public relationship was with the late Jennifer Syme. Reeves and Syme (a former assistant to David Lynch) had a still-born daughter, Eva, in December, 1999.
Syme died tragically on April 2 last year.
Even with his other love, music, Reeves stays in the background. He plays bass with the alternative-pop trio Dogstar, giving frontman Bret Domrose and drummer Rob Mailhouse their own time in the spotlight.
He says he loves both music and acting, "but I'm an actor". So if he had to choose between having a number one movie and a number one album?
"I would pick the film."
Considering his deep commitment, it's no surprise that Reeves happily works out for hundreds of hours, and spend weeks learning fight scenes, to reprise his role as Neo in The Matrix Reloaded and the tentatively-titled Matrix 3.
"Matrix Reloaded carves a continuation of Neo's journey and his quest to find out the truth," Reeves says. "It's more about the conflict with the machines and the humans.
"Many fans of the first movie named the film's ground-breaking special effects and fight scenes as two of the things they liked best, which means the cast (Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss) and filmmakers (brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski) of the sequels have to work extra hard to try and top the latter.
"Before it was like, 'Can you do two kicks?' Now, 'Can you do three kicks with a jumping backspin hook-kick?' It's like, 'You have learned to walk – now can you fly?'"
Although Reeves is "so grateful to be working on something I love," he does hope that "by the end of my career I'll be defined by five or six films, not just The Matrix."