by Noel de Souza
For an actor who actively resists fame, Keanu Reeves has become a reluctant movie star and has acquired a few trimmings to go with it.
Last week he put down the hefty sum of $7 million to purchase his first house in the Hollywood hills and now demands — and gets — a salary of $15 million per sequel of The Matrix films.
The Matrix and Keanu are synonymous; it is hard to imagine another actor in the role of Neo.
But all this does not mean that he has acquired a star attitude. To begin with he’s successfully cocooned his public image somewhere in a mist and therefore remains an enigma.
When answering personal questions by the press he’s learned the art of minimalism, not wanting to conjure up the demons of his past. When he was a child his father abandoned his family, for a long time Keanu carried the scars and pain of that event.
In 1994, his father served two years in prison for possession of large quantities of cocaine and heroin.
In 1988, when riding his motorcycle in the canyons of the hills off the coast of California, Keanu took a nasty spill that has left him with a scar on his stomach having had an operation to remove his spleen.
It’s not his first scar; that came on his leg in 1996. But the biggest pain struck him in 1999 when his girlfriend, who was expecting his child, revealed that at full term the baby was found dead in her womb. And the very next year she died.
Up until he bought the house, Reeves was rootless and showed no signs of settling down. He’s close to his mother and sister. The latter now has cancer. He’s getting on in years so wouldn’t he like a family of his own?
“Yes, it depends on the day. Some days you are sitting at home or are in bed or walking around and you’re like ‘I’m lonely’ and some days you are like ‘Thank God I’m alone’.”
The open road is where Keanu is most at peace; he has two vintage motorcycles, which he rides every day, alternating between them.
While on the subject of Speed, which co-starred Sandra Bullock and was a box office success, Reeves turned down a hefty paycheck to forego the sequel.
“It would have been more than $20 million by the end of it, but I have no regrets. My days have been for the most part blessed.”
Reeves was keen to do The Matrix for more reasons than just artistic sensibility. “The whole idea of questioning where you are and why you are is something I go through all the time. When you think you’ve taken one step forward but in actuality you’ve taken two steps back.
"Or in life when you think you’ve got it, you’re thrown a curve ball and everything is turned upside down.
"The Matrix is more about a beginning than an end; it’s a film about questioning, awakening, consciousness, and love. Support, faith, evolution, man’s relationship to machines.”
A heavy load for an actor to carry as a back-story.
Doing a Matrix film has its share of physicality, so Keanu has to go through a rigorous regime.
“I had four months of basic training which consisted of two hours of stretching in the morning and an hour to hour-and-a-half of kicking and specific exercises. I’d maybe focus on a spinning roundhouse kick or a jump sidekick or something and then I’d break for lunch.
"After lunch I’d warm back up and stretch a little more. Then if there was choreography to learn for the use of weapons, I’d do that and some more kicking and weight training at the end of the day. I spent a month working on the fight sequences and about three weeks with the stuntmen.”
The character Neo, played by Keanu Reeves in The Matrix films is almost Christ-like with an aura of mysticism surrounding him.
“It’s a film that utilises a lot of mystical, religious themes, it’s a synthesis of so many different things.
"It might be an aspect of rebirth, dying, of Christianity or freeing one’s mind in context, in a kind of Siddharthic aspect. The characters ask the questions.”
The Matrix Reloaded, in spite of its spectacular action sequences, is a thinking person’s film.
What you learn about Keanu Reeves at the end of an interview is that he’s a gentle, polite human being, that he’s book smart and that somewhere deep down is a soul that has been wounded and yearning to be free.
Matrix Reloaded opens on June 13