Keanu is Hollywood’s $75m 'chosen one'
by Richard Brooks
KEANU REEVES, star of The Matrix: Reloaded, is expected to sign a $75m (£46m) three-film deal with Warner Brothers, putting him into the top tier of Hollywood’s highest earners.
The possible contract, revealed by an industry insider at the Cannes film festival this weekend, would put the 38-year-old cult movie star on a par with Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks.
One film being talked about for Reeves is a new version of Salt of the Earth, first filmed in 1953, which told the story of a Mexican worker who moved to America, where he became involved in a mining strike against a cruel, racist management.
Warner Brothers is already celebrating a triumph with The Matrix: Reloaded, in which Reeves stars as Neo, the “chosen one” who must use his superhuman powers to save Zion, the last surviving enclave of mankind. When it opened in America last week the film took a record £26m on its first night, beating the previous highest opening takings of £24m for Spider-Man last year.
“The success of any movie is determined by its first weekend’s takings in the United States,” said a Hollywood source at Cannes. By the end of this weekend, The Matrix: Reloaded is expected to have taken almost £100m.
Last week Reeves attended a special screening of the film at Cannes. It has its British premiere on Wednesday.
In the film, Neo is manning the last outpost of humanity in the distant future, with only hours to save the world from final destruction. Although the film is light both on script and plot, its special effects are dazzling.
One scene features the so-called “brawl battle” between Neo and Agent Smith, played by the Australian stage actor Hugo Weaving, who is supported by 99 clones.
For another scene, a high-speed car chase that lasts for 17 minutes, the film makers spent £2m and took a year to build a two-mile motorway on a disused naval base in California. Special effects were superimposed on the filmed chase.
The cliffhanger ending is likely to ensure that fans flock back for the final film of the trilogy, The Matrix: Revolutions, which is due to be released in November. The two films together cost £185m to make and are expected to generate huge profits.
Reeves was born in Beirut to a British mother and a Hawaiian-Chinese father. His career has often been uneven since he first sprang to fame in films including River’s Edge and My Own Private Idaho.
The original film The Matrix was a surprising success in 1999 because it was made by two comparative unknowns, the brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski, and because their special effects were at the time untested. It cost only about £30m to make but took £280m worldwide.
Reeves was not the first choice for the role of Neo - both Ewan McGregor and Will Smith reportedly read the part and turned it down.
Unlike the Star Wars series, which will eventually see six films being released, the Wachowskis have decided to call it a day. “There will be no questions left unanswered at the end of the third and final film,” said Joel Silver, the producer, at Cannes last week.
While The Matrix: Reloaded was not being shown in any Cannes competition, it has been the talking point of this year’s festival. A party for the film on Thursday cost £1.9m, dwarfing the £620,000 spent two years ago at Cannes on a party to celebrate The Lord of the Rings.
The Matrix party was held in a special marquee that had taken two weeks to erect in the harbour area of Cannes. More than 5,000 fans turned up to get a glimpse of Reeves and other members of the cast, including Weaving, Laurence Fishburne, Jada Pinkett Smith and Monica Bellucci.
Also present was Will Smith, the star of the Men in Black films, who is married to Pinkett. With The Matrix: Reloaded breaking box office records it will be hard not to believe that Smith has some regrets about turning down the role of Neo.