The Matrix Reloads: Back In Black
Ready To Rage Against The Machines? Next Month The Second Installment Of 'The Matrix' Will Storm Into Theaters--And Launch A High-Flying Season At The Movies
by Devin Gordon
Once upon a time, "The Godfather, Part II" was the only sequel that didn't stink. This summer, fortunately, is full of promising franchise pictures, none more hotly anticipated (by us, anyway) than "The Matrix Reloaded." Writers-directors-brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski originally dreamed up their landmark sci-fi head trip as a trilogy, but back in 1999, when "The Matrix" still sounded like a "Johnny Mnemonic" knockoff, they never thought they'd actually get a chance to film parts two and three. On May 15, we'll finally get our chance to see what they've long had in mind. The story so far: in the original, a hacker named Neo (Keanu Reeves) discovers that it's up to him to save humanity from enslavement by a race of machines. In "Reloaded," which will be followed in November by the series capper, "Revolutions," the fight continues. As the machines threaten to destroy Zion, the last human city, Neo learns that his destiny could come at a steep price. NEWSWEEK spoke with the saga's trio of heroes--Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and Laurence Fishburne.
Keanu Reeves: Neo, man's last hope
Were you surprised by how much the first "Matrix" influenced pop culture?
Yes, but what I really love is the excitement and enthusiasm and fondness people have for the movie. People seem almost grateful that they actually saw a film they liked. The [Wachowski] brothers made it refreshing to go to the movies.
Your martial-arts repertoire keeps growing. In the sequels, you're using a sword?
I actually use four different weapons. I get to use a scythe, two sticks—one big stick called a kun—and a sword. They were all tricky, but the kun was really tough because you twirl it. And if you don't twirl it correctly, it'll hit you in the head.
Your producer, Joel Silver, has made movies with Jet Li and claims that you've equaled Jet's martial-arts abilities. Your thoughts?
No. No way. I mean, Jet Li—he's far beyond my skill. He's been studying martial arts since he was 4 years old. How very kind of Joel to say that. But it's not true.
Did you ever think that you'd come back to this character?
No, I didn't. During the last couple weeks on the first movie, the brothers talked about some images that they thought might occur if they ever did another one. I would always say, "Wow, that's cool." And I knew that they had written a trilogy originally. But they never shared it with me. When Warner Brothers wanted to do it and Larry and Andrew wanted to do it, I wanted to do it.
You've said that, for Neo, "Reloaded" is about choices. How do you feel about how the character is evolving?
I love Neo. I find Neo to be a beautiful man. I love his dignity, his love for Trinity, his search. Playing him is like playing the best parts of us. I like that he's a man who, in the Matrix, has this superhuman ability but also has this incredible responsibility. And in "Reloaded" you'll see that he also has empathy for the machine entities.
You spent almost a year in Australia while you were shooting the sequels. Did you get an apartment?
I stayed in a hotel in Sydney that had apartments, so I had a kitchen and laundry.
Did you bring along any personal touches?
I had a couch made. The couch is very important. To sit on. To make it home, sweet home. It was red velvet, very deep, very high. That was my resting place for the entire year.
Your costars Aaliyah and Gloria Foster died early in the shoot. You also were dealing with family crises, weren't you? Your sister's leukemia relapsed?
[Reeves looks down and is silent for several seconds, then he smiles.]
If you want to change the subject, just tell me.
I think I just did.
In retrospect, do you regret being away from home for so long?
No, I was grateful to be there. I liked the demands of these films. I liked the intensity. I liked the journey. It was like crossing an ocean.
Silver chose slightly more rugged imagery. He compared it to the Crusades.
Ah, Joel. [Laughs] Well, I'm going to stick with "crossing an ocean."
Carrie-Anne Moss: Trinity, Babe with Bite
Your costars say the martial-arts training was considerably more intense this time.
The first time around I didn't know what to expect—and it was really hard, but ignorance was bliss. This time it was brutal. I broke my leg the first week of training.
I don't know, exactly. I know that I was on a wire and my landing was too hard and I ended up with a broken leg. I'm a very strong person. But I will never do another kung fu movie again. [Laughs] It's too stressful. It's stressful on the body and on the spirit. I mean, I loved it and it was great to have a challenge like that—no, you know what? I didn't love it. I love that I did it, but I didn't love it. It was really hard for me.
Did you find that your skills from the first movie had diminished??
Hmm. I don't think I have much skill, to be honest.
So right now you couldn't just beat up someone off the street?
Oh no, I probably could.
What did you do the day after you finished working on the sequels?
I did another movie—like, the day after. Isn't that insane? But it was good, because it helped me get right into something else. After the first "Matrix," I grieved for months. Really. I was so sad for months not to be part of that film anymore. This time, I really did love every day that I was on that set, but I was ready to say goodbye and say hello to my life.
Tell me about the Wachowskis. Joel Silver calls them "the boys."
Yeah, the boys. It's funny, I never call them that. It makes me feel old, you know? [Laughs] What can I say? They are two of the neatest men you'll ever meet. I guess that's a bad word—neatest. I absolutely adore them. I really love being able to trust my director, and you can't always, you know? I trust those guys 100 percent.
Are you into any of the things they're into? Comic books?
No. They'd hand them to me and I'd be like, "Mmm, no." It's a guy thing. Every guy I know likes comic books.
When did they give you the new scripts?
About seven months before shooting began. And nothing changed. Nothing. Not one of my lines. They just know exactly what they want. They sent me the scripts and after I read them, I immediately wrote them a fax because I was so blown away. I was weeping.
How is the aftermath not a letdown? What do you do next?
Well, you know, you live your life. I've had an experience that most actors, most people, will never have. I mean, we're talking an intense experience. I was away from my husband for a long time. We lost Aaliyah. We lost Gloria. September 11 happened and we were far from home. It was brutal.
Did you ever feel jinxed?
No, I never felt that. I refuse to even go there. I don't believe in that.
Laurence Fishburne: Morpheus, Wise Man
Is this your first experience with nutso megafan culture?
This is my first experience with a real bona fide, worldwide, super-insanity and everything that comes with that. What's nice is, between now and May 15, we all have a minute to get ourselves together, to deal with what inevitably will come. This movie's going to be huge. We're all really lucky to be a part of it, but we will get a lot of attention—and maybe not all of it's going to be positive. [Laughs]
And it'll keep going all year.
That's right, this will go on, man. And I reckon that sometime between July and the end of the year, it's going to be really f—ing intense.
That's a beautiful suit you're wearing in the "Reloaded" posters. It must've been fun getting dressed for work every day.
Yeah, I loved my clothes.
Did you make any requests about your wardrobe this time around?
I made some demands. [Laughs] You might not notice, but in the freeway chase, when I take off my jacket, I have those sleeve garters on. That's all me. See, I've always thought Morpheus was a barber when he was in the Matrix—you know, before he woke up.
A barber? Really?
Yeah, that's just my own stupid f—ing character-background thing. [Laughs] My feeling is that he was a barber and that he used to have nightmares about cutting people's throats.
So he was a well-dressed barber.
I wanted him to have a little bit of an old-timey 1930s Chicago look. To me, Morpheus is like an old rotary phone.
In that freeway chase, there's a bit where you're fighting an agent on the roof of a speeding 18-wheeler. Obviously some of that is CGI, but was there a point where you were actually atop a moving truck?
Oh yeah, definitely. It was incredible. Larry and Andy were deliberately trying to make the most elaborate car-chase sequence ever filmed, and I believe they've done that. Kudos to them for having the f—ing courage. Now, for my money, the car chase in "Bullitt" is always going to be the car chase, - cause Steve [McQueen] did his own driving.
Morpheus has gone from an unknown figure to a movie icon. Was it harder to play him this time?
My approach didn't change at all. Larry and Andy made me the custodian of a man called Morpheus. He's mine. And he only comes out if I let him. [Laughs.]
How do you make sure you're not typecast as this guy for the rest of your career?
Well, I'm talking to people who have had this experience.
Like Clint Eastwood.
What was his advice?
Well, I can't tell you that. [Laughs] But I've already taken care of it. Listen, for a lot of people, that's how it is: I'm going to be remembered as that guy. But that's OK. If I gotta be remembered as somebody, Morpheus is a good cat to be, you know what I'm sayin'?