Interview: Keanu Reeves
by Antony Teofilo
They say The Hero has a thousand faces.
First there was Gilgamesh. Then Ulysses underwent his Odyssey, then a spoiled rich kid named Siddhartha Gotama gave it all up to become the Buddha. A little while later, the Bible tells us about a poor carpenter who left the farm and found out he was Jesus Christ.
The Matrix has Keanu Reeves.
Or more succinctly, Neo. In the world of The Matrix: Reloaded, Reeves finds himself as the savior with the plan, The One poised to set an entire world on its ear simply by following his heart.
It's the dream of many storytellers to create a myth that brings a twist to that most classic of stories: underdog saves the world. In their ever-expanding trilogy, Larry and Andy Wachowski aim to create just such a new myth for our times, with Keanu Reeves at its messianic epicenter.
Like the savior he portrays, Reeves has paid a dear price to follow his journey through the Matrix to its conclusion, especially physically. Neo is now a master of the Matrix; his ability to fight is amplified almost infinitely. As a result, Reeves learned more movies for one large scale fight scene (in which he takes on a legion of Agent Smith clones) than he was required to perform in the entirety of the first movie. Handling fight duties normally prescribed only to professional stuntmen, Reeves was known to spend hours in a tub of ice after a day's shoot had finished. He also took a lot more hits this time around, but the work and the bruises pay off. The frenetic, pulse-pounding battles are like nothing that has ever been seen on the silver screen.
Notoriously protective of his privacy, Keanu Reeves seems to take a certain amount of pleasure in remaining an enigma to those he meets. When he sits down to talk, he is evasive and reserved, tossing out one-word answers to many questions. If you can get him talking about the world he's helping the Wachowski Brothers create, however, you'll find he's just as excited as most of the folks eagerly anticipating The Matrix: Reloaded.
Q: How do you feel about all the rabid fan debates and discussions that revolve around the world of the Matrix?
A: It's great. That's one of the great things about film. It's a public medium. The sharing of ideas and points of view are one of the things that I love about film. The project itself is about [discussion and debate] so thank God there is something to talk about. Most other films don't have that ambition. With lines like "What truth?", and "Do you believe in fate?", this movie is about speaking about ideas.
Q: Do you feel any pressure from fans, who have such high expectations for The Matrix: Reloaded?
A: I'm just trying to live up to what [writers and directors] Andrew and Larry Wachowski, want. I'm trying to realize their dream. The only pressure I felt was to be able to do what they wanted me to do.
Q: For the first movie, the Wachowskis gave you a stack of philosophical books to consult. Did you have a reading list for this movie?
A: I didn't get any books this time, but they said if I wanted to look at what they were doing, I should look at some Schopenhauer, and some Hume, and their old pal Neitzche.
Q: Your character's costume is similar to a monk's. Is that an overt effort to portray you as a holy man?
A: The film itself and what the Wachowskis do is such a synthesis of different perspectives and philosophies, I suppose you could read it like that, but there is not one specific perspective. The brothers do have their points of view on it, but I don't think that scene is like a battle between a Jehovah's Witness and a heathen [Laughs], though you could riff on that. That's part of the fun of it.
Q: How rough was this movie for you physically?
A: Recovering was much harder. This movie took place over a much longer time. In my time off, I was often times training and learning another fight. I have five fights in the second one, and I have more kung fu movements in the fight with the Smiths than I do in the whole first movie.
Q: How would you describe Neo's growth in this film?
A: It's the development of a messiah, who's trying to find his identity as a man.
Q: What do you think Neo feels about who and what he is?
A: Neo is full of a lot of fear about what he has to do, and the responsibilities that the community is asking of him.
Q: Has Neo accepted the fact that he's The One?
A: I think he's accepted it, but I don't think he's accepted it without question. Neo is still trying to find out what his life is. He asks The Oracle, "What if I fail?", and it's kind of cool what happens later on. What Neo finds out about being The One, I love that.
Q: Like the first movie, there's a lot of biblical symbolism in this movie.
A: There's also Apollo, and Dionysius, and Nature, something man made, something from the psyche, and the relationship between the two [we examine] why your life is the sum an unequal equation.
Q: Do you think the meaning behind these movies is important?
A: The brothers don't propose finality, they don't say, "Here's the answer." This will be revealed more in Revolutions. The answers do come to something. It sounds really goofy, but it's about love.
Q: We get to see Neo and Trinity and their relationship. Was that important?
A: It's one of my favorite aspects of the piece. I get to love someone, and get to be loved by someone. The relationship between Neo and Trinity are some of my favorite days. To work with Carrie Anne [Moss] is great because we love and trust each other and enjoy working together.
Q: And there's a whole new thematic journey that opens up in Reloaded in examining the sensuality of that world it's a very sexy movie.
A: The directors would love to hear that. It's not salacious, but I think the Wachowskis are interested in flesh and blood. They're interested in emotion, and they exult in it. They love to show the beauty and power of union, and the strength of that union, whether it's individuals or individuals coming into a community.
Q: In Zion, there's a huge scene involving hundreds of people in a very passionate, rhythm driven expression of courage and sensual joy.
A: The kids who came out, some days there were like seven hundred, but there was one day where it was closer to a thousand. These kids just came out with so much affection. They had a male tent and a female tent that went right out the window. There were drum circles. There were people banging on drums, hanging out everywhere. They'd put the music on and then when they would shoot those scenes, it was insane. Lawrence came out to start his speech as Morpheus [where he addresses the throng], and he didn't even start speaking. He just stood there, and the kids just screamed for three minutes. There was a really good primal energy.
Q: In the first movie, the Oracle tells Neo that he's not The One, which brings about a crisis of faith for the character. Is that crisis of faith important in unwinding the character for you now?
A: I don't believe the character Thomas Anderson had a specific religious belief...
Q: I mean, he's having a crisis of faith in himself.
A: He even brings that up when he says, "I'm not the One." And the Oracle says, "Well kiddo, it looks like you've got the gift, but you gotta die first." And that's what happens. I think that Neo doesn't want something else to be controlling him. Morpheus asks him whether he believes in fate, and I think Neo relates being The One to something outside of him that he doesn't want, and yet responds to. He takes it on, but for himself, and to find out what's happening in his own life.