Stars under pressure as Matrix is reloaded
Sci-fi cyber-rebels Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reveal the agony and the ecstasy of making The Matrix sequels to Michael McKenna in Los Angeles.
There is no hiding the relief on the faces of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss. "The Year of the Matrix" has arrived.
The hype has been huge, the ambition ground-breaking and for the stars of the cyber-myth trilogy, the endeavour almost too enormous to bear.
Reeves, who made his name with a panache for the puerile, and Moss, a comparative unknown actress of bad TV, were changed forever in 1999 when The Matrix exploded at the box office and revolutionised action film-making.
Both Canadians - he from Toronto, she from Vancouver - found themselves at the centre of a cultural phenomenon as their clothes, characters and the storyline subtleties were analysed in hundreds of websites and no less than six books.
With a hit like that, the experience was never going to end easy. Writer-directors Larry and Andy Wachowski wanted two sequels, not one, shot back to back with a more detailed plot and action that would surpass the original.
Much of the $475 plus million productions came down to Reeves and Moss.
Draining expectation, bone-breaking training and 18 months away, shooting in Australia, the actors are in the home straight of a journey that will give fans two sequels in the same year - Reloaded and Revolutions.
While both actors didn't even flinch at returning to their roles - Reeves as the cassocked hero, Neo and Moss as the latex-clad, cat-suited biker babe, Trinity - they are clearly happy the hard part of filming is over.
A six-months pregnant Moss last week joined Reeves to promote the world-wide release of Reloaded, on May 15, and conceded she will have no trouble turning her back on The Matrix.
The 36-year-old actress, who broke her leg in the motorcycle training, said while the films made her career, after wallowing in TV dramas like Baywatch, it was time to move on.
"I attribute The Matrix, completely, to the career that I have, the opportunities, that I make a living as an actor, a nice living and that I have choices," she said. "The first movie was painful for me when it was over… it took me months to let it go.
"But this time, it was two years and I made a conscious choice at the beginning to experience fully, completely and totally every day.
"There was a lot of pressure - I was scared about getting back on the bike and doing the freeway chase, I was scared about doing the love-scene - but I wanted to experience it.
"I did this really incredible movie, I am part of this incredible journey, but now its time to have my real life."
Reeves is less direct, but admits it was a tough job. Recovering from the death of his girlfriend Jennifer in a car accident in 2000, Reeves had to start months of martial arts training only to begin filming as one of his sisters suffered a recurrence of cancer.
But the 38-year-old actor, who now lives in LA, is renowned for his refusal to talk about his private life and will only say that he would never rely on work as a therapy. "It's not an answer, it's just a way of being," he said. "But the process of these two films was tough. It was hard. You miss friends and family and I spent my whole 37th year in Sydney. I liked how much it demanded. It's great to go through something like that and you feel something very strongly." Few movies have been greeted with as much hype as the Matrix sequels.
The Wachowski brothers forever changed movies with their use of "bullet time" cinematography and highly choreographed fight scenes.
The original sparked a wave of imitators - such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and more recently Daredevil - that only increased the self-imposed pressure on the Wachowskis to up-the-ante in the sequels.
Producer Joel Silver, who bank-rolled the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon movies, said the brothers worked for four years in an effort to outdo the original. "The Boys said, 'We have to make sure that we do visual effects and action for the sequels that can't ever be copied'," Silver said. The computer-generated special effects are light years ahead of the original's pioneering, slow-motion shots and have been specifically invented for the film.
The 14-minute long chase - one of the most spectacular ever seen in cinemas - took six months to complete and involved the $5 million construction of a freeway in the US.
The Wachowskis had the bankroll and the time do it. Warner Bros, which put up the money, wasn't exactly taking much of a punt - the original earned them more than $A800 million on less than a $A100-million budget.
With that confidence, the Wachowskis are not only releasing two sequels, they have expanded on the storyline with nine related animated short films, to be shown in the cinemas before other movies.
The brothers are, according to Reeves, 21st-century classic storytellers, inspired by greats like Homer, who just happen to use the medium of film.
"The first film was the birth of a hero; the second and third are the life of that hero," he said.
The original Matrix introduced the world of that hero, in his discovery of the virtual reality world of the human race that is created by machines in order to enslave them.
In Reloaded, Neo learns more about his super-heroic abilities. While the mythological debate rages over the prophecy about the "One", the stunts keep coming. Among the most spectacular is Neo's battles against a cloned army of his nemesis Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and the freeway chase involving Trinity and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne).
Moss said while she regards herself as one of the few female action stars, a moniker she hopes to pat to rest, Reeves was always the taskmaster. "Keanu would always make me feel like a lazy old blob," she said. "I'm having a child soon, so I think this will be it for me, I don't want to do action movies anymore."
As for Reeves, he's shooting for something way different - a new romantic comedy alongside Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton and Amanda Peet. A chance to show off the other side of an action man.
Matrix Reloaded opens in cinemas on Friday.