FiRST (Singapore), May 2003




Star of the eagerly anticipated sequels The Matrix Reloaded, and The Matrix Revolutions, Keanu Reeves, along with the original principal cast members, promises to shock, stun, and awe the audience who saw the original, genre-defining action blockbuster, FiRST cracks the code...

by Michele Manelis

The ideologies and philosophies behind the Matrix have been discussed ad naseum by both sci-fi geeks and film fans around the world. Reeves, 38, usually reluctant to do interviews, shares his view: "I don't believe that there is a formal Matrix philosophy. I just think that there is a perspective. There are elements that if you think a certain way, then you will see it that way. If you don't, hopefully, you will find another way," he says.

Famously mono-syllabic, Reeves is a different person today. He speaks animatedly and articulately. Evidently excited by this project, he says, "The Wachowskis are classically influenced as writers in their iconographs and with their symbols, such as the Key Makers, the Wise Men, the Messiah, the Warrior Women, these are all familiar if you have heard or read stories, you will be familiar with this lexicon. I think they have done a modern soup collage that is both Eastern and Western in its philosophies and religious ideas, so it is very relatable. You can get a lot from it. There is a lot of intention with the Brothers with every frame."

The hi-tech, effects-laden original Matrix relied heavily on its visual appeal. Fans of this world of hyper reality were more than happy to sit and ogle the view, some of whom watched it several times over without necessarily understanding its multi-layered plot. Co-star, Carrie-Anne Moss, offers, "I don't have to intellectually understand things to actually understand them with my heart. I just trusted what the Brothers wanted me to do, and that's all I needed to know. I think most people understood the movie on a certain level."

Reeves acknowledges the difficulties some viewers had in understanding the themes of the movie but feels it's up to each individual how the Matrix world is perceived. "Something is being communicated which is nice - it is not just spectacle. If you get it and enjoy it then you can look at it and identify it with your own life in terms of, What is reality? Who am I? What is the truth? Are you trying to find a reflective life? You can make it Christian or you can make it Buddhist, if you like, in terms of the birth of compassion. Or you can make it romantic or you can make it about feminism. You can even talk about the reorientation of the male in cinema. I also think you can talk about it in terms of the virtual camera and how cinema is changing and how storytelling is changing. If you want to go really in on yourself, you can talk about what is real and what is simulated."

Reeves continues at break-neck speed. "You have a character that is born in the Matrix who is asking, What is truth? He takes a red pill to see the truth. You have a film where you are seeing that character doing things in an artificial environment that is real and is simulated," he laughs. "I think the piece itself is about trying to balance life in a positive manner. It's saying, don't be alienated by the new technology. Don't be alienated by a difference in religion. Don't be alienated by expectation. Understand, have a point of view and have compassion," he says, as he sips mineral water in his Los Angeles hotel suite.

"These films are not anti-technology and not anti-human. As I said, it's not about spectacle for the sake of it. It is about your humanity but not just for personal entities but for the future. What will be your relationship to simulation and to your computer, to technology? This is not seeking to demolish or destroy but to have an evolution of a real life within it. Don't let that machine put a screen before your eyes. Use it to see clearer."

The cast went to driving school to learn how to flip cars and do some pretty ambiguous motorcycle stunts. Moss says, "The motorcycle stuff was a bit scary for me but having the metal of the car was cool. I loved doing the car stuff, smashing into cars with your car. When are you ever going to get a chance to do that in real life?" she laughs. Reeves adds, "There are some extraordinary car stunts. They used some great stunt drivers. There was one sequence in particular, where three cars went airborne at the same time with people in them."

In addition to the original cast, newcomers Jada Pinkett-Smith, who plays a former lover of Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Italian sex siren, Monica Bellucci, who plays a shady temptress who tries to seduce Neo (Reeves) have come onboard. Pop star Aaliyah, who had been cast in a supporting role, was killed in a plane crash and was replaced by Nona Gaye, Marvin Gaye's daughter.

Over the last four years, any movie goer has recognised elements of The Matrix in films ranging from animated family fare such as Shrek, to the kitschy Charlie's Angels, both of which used the effect referred to as 'Bullet Time' in which the actor's martial arts pose is frozen in mid air while the camera movies 360 degrees around him. Producer, Joel Silver, who popped his head in the door during the interview says, "In the beginning, we all thought it was cute and funny (to be imitated) but then it became de rigeur. It was like, if you're going to make a hard-edged action movie, then you had to include a bullet time shot. Even Daredevil took elements from it in their fight scenes, but wait 'till you see what we have now." He laughs. "The (Wachowski) brothers feel that this time they've made something that can't be copied. Actually, when I showed the Warner Bros. executives some Matrix stuff last week, two of the guys got really angry. They said, 'You really f**cked it up for us. How can we possibly follow this?'"

Although Reeves has become one of Hollywood's biggest earners (allegedly, he received US$30 million plus 15% of the gross for the Matrix sequels) he is certainly not of the blue-blooded variety. His chaotic upbringing was wrought with insecurity and disappointment.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, when the city was still associated for its beaches, rather than for its bombs, Keanu, whose name means 'cool breeze over the mountains' in Hawaiian, is the son of English-born mother, Patricia, a former showgirl and Hawaiian-born geologist, Samuel Nowlin Reeves. Their marriage didn't last long. Soon after, Patricia packed up Keanu when he was two years old, and his younger sister, Kim, and relocated to New York City where she remarried. But that union didn't endure more than twelve months, either. Meanwhile, his biological father served time in prison for cocaine possession, lost contact with Keanu when he was still a child. After the second marriage dissolved, the family moved again, this time to Toronto, Canada, where he attended high school and dropped out. In part due to dyslexia. Reeves has had three stepfathers: Jack Bond, a hair salon owner, Robert Miller, a rock promoter, and Paul Aaron. He also has one half step sister, Karina Miller. If nothing else, Reeves has certainly had a diverse background.

Reeves set his sights on acting after he landed a bit part in Youngblood when the production was filming in Toronto. He then made the leap to Los Angeles where his good looks landed him auditions. Not long after, he landed a role in River's Edge staring Dennis Hopper. He immediately followed with Dangerous Liaisons, Parenthood and struck gold in 1989's wacky comedy, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. He went on to star in numerous movies including My Own Private Idaho, Much Ado About Nothing and Little Buddha but never gained critical acclaim. In fact, his famed quote, "I am the critics' whipping boy," rang true. Many assumed that he was playing himself in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and as such, was treated as an airhead stoner. It was an association Reeves tried unsuccessfully to shake.

In the 1994 mega-hit Speed, Reeves' turn as a heroic L.A. police officer opposite Sandra Bullock, which raked in over US$121 million put him into the A list of Hollywood actors. The underrated actor's paycheck rose past the US$10 million mark and then stared in mediocre fare such as The Devil's Advocate, and Sweet November.

Reeves is tight-lipped about his personal life, but, apparently he's not currently in a relationship. And when he's not infront of the cameras, Reeves enjoys his other artistic endeavour - playing with his band Dogstar, who has toured internationally but is yet to make any great name for itself in the music industry. But, like anything else, Reeves doesn't seem bothered by how he's perceived. "That's nothing I can change. I love being part of a band, regardless of how commercially successful it may be."

Making the Matrix sequels (which reportedly cost US$300 million combined) meant that Reeves couldn't commit to any other project for nearly 18 months. "I wasn't nervous about being out of the way in Australia for that length of time. I thought I was doing one of the best things I ever could in life. In spending time in that role and trying to realise the hopes and dreams and vision of the directors, for all of us they wrote some very rich characters and some extraordinary stories. It was a lot of hard work but that enriches what I feel was the experience of a lifetime. To be in another country for a year away from home and to play Neo was amazing. So many people have hopes for this film and can relate to it - so being an artist it is great to have people excited about what you are doing - and so that makes me excited about what I am doing. Personally, I have never experienced anything remotely like this," he says. "I'm pretty sure it will never happen again."


Article Focus:

Matrix Reloaded, The , Matrix Revolutions, The


Matrix, The , Matrix Reloaded, The , Matrix Revolutions, The , Animatrix, The , Youngblood , River's Edge , Dangerous Liaisons , Parenthood , Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure , My Own Private Idaho , Much Ado About Nothing , Little Buddha , Speed , Devil's Advocate, The , Sweet November , Dogstar

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