Star of The Matrix stoked about trilogy’s second instalment
by Bruce Kirkland
HOLLYWOOD — The twin sequels to The Matrix are among the most eagerly awaited films in years.
Perhaps only Peter Jackson’s final instalment of The Lord Of The Rings — The Return Of The King is due in December — has its fans as wired, as weary of waiting and as eager.
But the mysterious Wachowski Brothers, co-writers and co-directors of all three Matrix films, have two sequels costing an astonishing $310 million ready to explode in quick succession in 2003.
The Matrix Reloaded is due May 15 and The Matrix Revolutions on Nov. 7. So it is easy to argue that, packaged together, this is the film event of the year.
Even the habitually wary actor Keanu Reeves — who is only slightly less reclusive than Andy and Larry Wachowski and often either deadpans or stumbles his way through interviews — is absolutely effusive about the pending release of The Matrix Reloaded.
“I’m very excited about it,” Reeves says in an interview deep in the heart of Stage 16 at Warner Bros. Studios, where set decorators have replicated the rebels’ computer command centre on board Morpheus’ inner-Earth space ship.
Being surrounded by the familiar from the films puts Reeves in a rare willing mood to talk to strangers, all of whom had to show passports or other picture ID to even access the Warner lot.
For Canadian journalists, it was easier to get into the United States on this trip than it was to get into the studio because of paranoid levels of security for the screening of The Matrix Reloaded and for the interviews.
“I can’t wait to see it,” Reeves continues.
“All my friends are excited and my folks are excited to see it. So it’s great to be a part of something like that. It was a great experience acting in them (all three Matrix movies) and to spend time with the great people and artists that I got to go through this with. And I’m stoked that my folks are excited about going to the movies to see The Matrix.”
The first film, The Matrix, was a shocking spectacle that galvanized audiences in 1999 with its heady and potent alchemy.
The Wachowskis blended unlikely elements such as the thoughts of Vancouver-based cyberpunk author William Gibson, Greek mythology, Christianity and the Bible, Eastern philosophies such as Zen Buddhism and Taoism, the fairytale story Alice In Wonderland, pop-culture cliches, science fiction, Hong Kong chop sockey and sophisticated wire work, plus ballet, Japanese anime, multi-culturalism, ironic humour and dazzling special effects.
The F/X included a new invention of “bullet time,” a camera trick to stutter-stop time during elaborate fight sequences.
The Matrix exploded at the box office, earned $460 million worldwide and even launched a Mensa-level lecture series at Harvard University.
The Matrix Reloaded has much more of the same — and lots of new tricks and extra layers of questions in the philosophical musings.
There is also substantially enough of Keanu Reeves embedded in Neo, his Christ-like cyber-human character in the trilogy, to turn a conversation about The Matrix Reloaded into an insight into the reclusive star.
“Well, the platform of the film itself lends itself to that,” Reeves says of finding the layers of meaning in the film, in the philosophical and mythology musings of the filmmakers, and perhaps within himself.
“So the project itself is about that. The platform of the piece itself lends itself to speaking about ideas. Thank God that there is something to talk about because, otherwise, what are they doing? Some other films don’t have that ambition.”
In The Matrix Reloaded, Neo continues his journey both as The One chosen to save what is left of mankind and in his awakening as a more complete human being. Says Reeves, “I think that Neo, in the beginning of Reloaded, is full of a lot of fear about what he has to do and about the responsibilities that the community is asking for.”
In the same vein, Reeves says Neo’s arc is “a development of the birth of a messiah” as well as an exploration of “the identity of a man.”
Reeves elaborates, while trying not to give away important plot details that might spoil the fun for audiences, “I don’t think the character is such — what’s the phrase? — a reluctant hero. He’s accepted it but I don’t think he’s accepted it without question.
"I think Neo is trying to find out, ‘What’s my life?’ And he’s not just taking it, ‘Oh, okay, I’m going to have to make this choice.’ I mean, he says, ‘What if I fail?’ Right? And it’s kind of cool what happens later on. I don’t want to give away the plot but the aspect of what Neo finds out about being The One, I love that!”
Reeves is asked how much he believes in the philosophical basis for the films, especially because the Wachowskis introduced him to a series of serious tomes exploring the “big questions,” such as the meaning of life.
“I don’t have my list in front of me,” Reeves says of what philosophies he believes in that are buried in the text of The Matrix films.
“I could probably make a list but then I’d be doing what The Brothers don’t want to be doing (themselves): ‘Here’s my literal thing.’ They don’t propose a finality to it. They don’t say, ‘Here’s the answer!’ They don’t do that except — and this will be revealed in Revolutions — they do come to something. And I think it sounds really goofy but it’s about love.”
Indeed, in Reloaded, there is more of the romantic-sexual connection between Reeves and his slick, Canadian-born co-star Carrie-Anne Moss. “It’s great,” Reeves says.
“It’s one of my favourite aspects of the piece because I get to love someone and I get to be loved by someone and share that.”
Reeves calls his romantic scenes with Moss “some of my best days working on that project, just because we love and trust each other and enjoy working together. It’s great to feel that. It’s great to be able to give over that loving feeling, that kind of respect and appreciation for somebody else.”
Reloaded is also a far sexier movie than The Matrix, which was more preoccupied with setting up the big picture saga that could be continued in Reloaded and finished off in Revolutions.
Reloaded has some joyous scenes set in the underground human city of Zion, which is fully realized in the new film.
Reeves agrees that Reloaded is sexy and sensual. “I do. I mean, I think (The Brothers) are interested in flesh and blood. They’re interested in the emotions ... of life and I think they exalt in it.”
Reloaded also ramps up the fighting. Reeves’ character Neo no longer needs training. He is the best there is. In one sequence, known on set as the “Burly Brawl,” Neo battles evil uber-agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and his 99 clones.
In another sequence, he rockets into the sky doing what another character teasingly calls “his Superman thing.” In many more scenes, including a spectacular L.A. freeway car-truck-motorcycle chase, Reeves pushed his body to the limit as he tried to do the majority of his own stunts.
“Recovering was a little harder,” Reeves says, comparing his work on the sequels (which were shot concurrently over an 18-month period) to his work on the original film.
“This one was a much longer time. I had fights interspersed over a long period of time so, in my time off, I was always training and learning another fight. I’ve done five fights for the second one and I have more moves in the fight with the Smiths than I did in the whole first movie. Probably twice over.”
The manner and ease in which Reeves speaks is surprising. In other interviews, stretching back to his early movie roles in the 1980s in fare such as Youngblood, River’s Edge and The Prince Of Pennsylvania, Reeves was monosyllabic, so restrained and awkward he could barely complete a sentence. For The Matrix Reloaded, he is generous with words.
The Sun asks whether his multi-cultural, multi-country background is crucial in playing an outsider-hero (while born in Beirut, Reeves grew up for a brief time in New York and then primarily in Toronto and still travels on a Canadian passport).
“I’m sure it’s influential, definitely,” Reeves says.
“But, I mean, it’s also my nature. Probably just my nature.”
As a young man, he says, “I didn’t have that perspective.” He has matured and is now 38 and more articulate.
“In my quiet,” Reeves says so quietly it is like a reverential hush, “I was working something out.”
THE KEANU REEVES FILE
BORN: Beirut, Lebanon, Sept. 2, 1964.
FIRST NAME: Said to mean “cool breeze over the mountains.”
CULTURAL HERITAGE: Chinese, Hawaiian, British.
FATHER: Samuel Nowlin Reeves, a geologist later jailed for cocaine possession; remains estranged.
MOTHER: Patricia Reeves, a one-time hippie showgirl who, after divorcing Reeves, ended up with director Paul Aaron in New York, then rock promoter Robert Miller and finally hair stylist & movie journalist Jack Bond in Toronto.
SISTERS: Kim & Karina Reeves.
SPORTS: Goaltender in house league midget hockey.
FILM BREAK: Support role in Rob Lowe’s made-in-Toronto hockey flick Youngblood (1986). Moved to Hollywood.
CRITICAL BREAKOUT: River’s Edge (1986).
STAR TURN: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989).
MOONLIGHTING: Bassist in “folk thrash” band Dogstar.
THE MATRIX: Enthusiastic over original script after Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith and Brad Pitt passed on the project.