More Than Meets the Eye
Is Keanu Reeves as amiable in real life as he is on screen? MUMTAJ BEGUM emphatically says yes.
IT IS time to set the record straight - Keanu Reeves is more intelligent than he lets on. While most of us were (or still are) scratching our heads over The Architect's speech at the end of The Matrix Reloaded, Reeves thought it a challenging concept. Ergo, he knew then, it was a crucial scene in the trilogy.
During a 15-minute interview with Reeves in Sydney he tells how he found the three books - Simulcra and Simulation, Out of Control and Evolutionary Psychology (which he was asked to read by the Wachowski brothers before playing Thomas Anderson a.k.a. Neo a.k.a. The One in The Matrix trilogy) to be helpful in different ways.
"I would say, in terms of the acting part of it, it'd probably be Simulcra and Simulation. And the one that was kind of disturbing was Evolutionary Psychology. The whole idea of detachment of emotions like 'What is friendship?' except what do they call it? "Reciprocal altruism," says Reeves in disbelief. "And to understand the film and the evolution of what occurs in the films; Why the system starts to have this organic development? Why certain programs left alone would develop certain traits, almost Darwinist survival traits? Anomalies that pop out of nowhere, why does that happen? What goes in terms of the evolution of nature, even if it's inorganic?
"I mean Neo ultimately meets programs who talk about love. And the machines, they're just fighting for survival. It's almost not personal, it's just, you know, they create the Matrix so that their crops of humans don't die."
Having acknowledged the fact, it's also true that Reeves lives up to that all-American habit (although technically Reeves is Canadian) of using the words "you know" as a form of punctuation and every once in a while he falls into Ted-mode (of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) ending his sentences with "man" or "yeah".
Then magically again he switches to a completely poker-faced expression - which critics have dismissed as wooden acting - making it hard to read what he's really thinking. Despite an "inability" to talk about himself (he'll only offer a short sentence or two), he has lots to say about films. And he's affable enough for one to conclude that he is humble and polite.
Coming face to face with him one realizes just how strikingly handsome he is, more so in person than on screen if that is possible. Even his fatigue cannot disguise his pan-ethnic good looks, revealed in his Asian (light brown) eyes, and Caucasian square-jaw. Dressed simply and in dark colors (black jacket, brown shirt), Reeves looks all the more fetching because of the stubble on this face and just-out-of-bed hairstyle.
There is something sweetly refreshing about a movie star who promptly brushes off the question if he was the first choice to play Neo, the role that ultimately placed him in Hollywood's A-list. He jokes that he is actually the directors' 33rd choice to play Neo, but the truth is he was the only one who could make sense of the Wachowski brothers' mind-blowing vision.
"All I can say is when I met them in 1996, and they showed me the script and I read it, and they showed me some of the materials, painting, drawings, you know, what they had in mind. Also from the script we had a real kind of..." he pauses. "Erm, we liked the same things in terms of graphic artists like Frank Miller and writer Philip K. Dick. We had things in common and I think that helped in terms of the way I can speak of their project. They were like, 'He gets it.'
"I think they were surprised too when I came in with (research) notes. I had questions like what it meant, what they were hoping for. We got along," he says simplifying his role in The Matrix.
Dig a bit deeper and you find out just how dedicated Reeves was in bringing the brothers' vision onto the big screen. He would turn up everyday for the martial arts training even though he had just undergone neck surgery (back in 1997 when the training for The Matrix commenced) that restricted his movements. Shooting long hours, he'd have fights that would take three weeks (or more) to complete.
Hugo Weaving, his co-star in The Matrix trilogy, notes the amount of training they went through, "It was fantastic to get healthy and fit. That was great. The other side of it is waking up everyday feeling exhausted. The way I was exhausted was nothing like the way Keanu was exhausted. The amount of work Keanu put into this is absolutely amazing."
At one point Reeves apparently had to sit in a bathtub full of ice. But all he says is, "It was all very good fun, but very hard work as well. And painful - ice is your friend."
Not surprisingly, Reeves expresses interest in doing a couple more kung fu films even when he's not interested in pursuing martial arts outside films.
"Movie kung fu is fun. It's like fake fights. It's like going out and playing Cowboys and Indians. It's a sense of play. Everyone's in a big fight between good and evil. And it's beautiful, even when it's brutal, there's something beautiful about it.
"But the movie would have to have the right story though. I don't want to just go out and start doing cheesy chop-socky movies."
Indeed the care Reeves shows in picking projects could be due to the fact that his life has been balanced by both good and bad. Born on Sept 2, 1964 in Beirut, Lebanon, Reeves is the son of a half-Chinese, half-Hawaiian father and an English mother. His name means "cool breeze over the mountains" in Hawaiian. After his parents divorced, his mother moved him and his sister a few times to finally settle down in Toronto, Canada. Here Reeves found his two passions - ice hockey and acting. Quitting school to become an actor, he started off by appearing in commercials at the age of 16 in Canada. He then moved to Los Angeles and over the years he has appeared in several movies: River's Edge, My Own Private Idaho, Little Buddha, Much Ado About Nothing, Devil's Advocate, Dangerous Liaisons, Speed, The Gift and The Replacements, never staying long enough to play the same role twice. Reeves also has had his share of life's brutal realities - one of Reeves's two sisters has been battling leukaemia for over a decade, the baby he was to have with his then girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, was stillborn and a year later, Syme was killed in a car accident. He himself has been in more than one accident and has the scars - on his leg, abdomen, above his lip and left eyebrow - to prove it.
With this in mind, it is sometimes easy to understand why Reeves doesn't care much when he becomes the target of harsh (and sometimes unwarranted) criticism. Walking the path he has paved, he remains compassionate about people, as proven recently when he gave away part of his salary to The Matrix crew.
When asked whether he is a serious bloke, he protests with a "No, no no."
"Well, I'm serious about my work for sure," he finally agrees. "When it's time to go to work or my application to what I do in acting, my responsibilities to film, that's what I'm really serious about. Definitely."
Just like the reluctant hero he plays in The Matrix, Reeves often downplays his talent in real life.
On the night of the interview, he dutifully turns up for the premiere of The Matrix Revolutions at the Sydney Opera House. His appearance on the black carpet is accompanied by deafening screams from his fans, females and males alike, who have been steadily growing in numbers despite having to stand out in the cold wind and rain for more than four hours.
A little uncomfortable with the attention paid to him, especially by the photographers, Reeves nonetheless turns to greet his fans with polite waves, autographs and handshakes.
But there is no disguising the fact that the star is looking for an exit to do what he loves best - be a regular guy.