In the blockbuster trilogy The Matrix, He plays Neo, The One, She plays Trinity, Neo’s chosen one. Dagmar Dunlevy meets Carrie-Anne Moss and Keanu Reeves Canada’s superstars. Illustration by Pablo
Sometimes, I just don’t know how they do it — keeping up their spirits while enduring these gruelling press rounds, pretending that the question they are hearing is fresh and original and that they haven’t been answering it all day. The fact is, they can’t. Some just hide their contempt and loathing better than others. And you don’t expect them to really act like they’re enjoying this, do you?
The them I’m referring to are actors, of course. Not for a minute does it come to mind that these celluloid darlings are paid millions to pretend — and that it is often a requirement of their contractual obligations to promote the films they’re in — whether they’re pleased with the result or not. Yet, there you are, with trusty recorder, pen and pad in hand, doing your part to make the interview, observation and subsequent interpretation as pleasant as possible for them. Somehow, you just feel obligated. So, to keep them alert, happy and open, you look for the perfect approach that will let, in this case, Carrie-Anne Moss and Keanu Reeves — the stars of this month’s much anticipated The Matrix Revolutions (Warner Bros.) — be themselves so that a glimmer of who they really are shines through, in order to duly document that “snapshot” into words. I’m hell-bent on trying anyway.
I’ve spoken with Moss and Reeves on several occasion, and the level on the “outgoing meter” is a good gauge of how happy stars are with the final product. If it’s a great film, it’s hard to stop them talking. If it’s lousy, they usually talk about anything but the film, and if it’s so-so, it’s anyone’s call. In order to circumvent any possible irritants and start off in calm waters, the angel I find is Canada, since Reeves was raised in Toronto and Moss hails from Vancouver.
We meet briefly over the course of two days during Matrix press rounds in May. Day 1 focuses on capturing the perfect photo to grace this issue’s cover and Day 2 sends me diving for those pearls of wisdom during the interviews. Thankfully, I find both Moss and Reeves in full-talk mode.
TAKE 1: Good Luck, I say to myself as I enter the Warner Bros. Pictures studios in Burbank, Calif., where the security is tight, the bag and body search thorough and the soundstage dark. Outside, the heavens threaten rain, but inside we’ve created a sunny makeshift studio, set up by photographer David Jakle and his trusty assistant, Jared Raskind. FLARE’s fashion director, Adrienne Shoom, has flown in from Toronto with the clothing for our cover shoot. After telling me how she endured the “SARS stares” thrown at passengers deplaning from Toronto, she shows me the wardrobe: a classic Boss Hugo Boss suit for Reeves and silver Elsa Peretti drop earrings from Tiffany & Co. for Moss. Bringing a taste of home for her fellow Canucks. Shoom has loot from Roots — envy-evoking leather bags, hoodies and even a baby hoodie for Moss’s bundle of joy, born at the end of this past summer.
TAKE 2: Reeves steps through the massive steel doorframe of the soundstage 36. With the harsh backlight outlining his frame, he stands straight and tall, exuding an aura of something slightly otherworldly — or maybe we just have The Matrix on our minds. He is an imposing figure as he strides purposefully through the dark soundstage and toward our temporary photo studio. With the light umbrellas sprouting mushrooms, the artful backdrops and the array of high-tech camera equipment in a warm and welcoming light. Reeves is flanked by his handlers. He is wearing a fall-inspired clothing: a moss-coloured suit with a shirt and shoes in harmonizing tones of earthy autumn. He is also wearing his “stony face.” This is great when playing poker, but it’s impossible to gauge where on my mood-o-meter he is set for today. In all fairness to the gifted actor, Reeves has always been hard to read. This has caused much speculation and often given him ink that he didn’t appreciate. Surely, speculation about one’s sexual orientation and intelligence becomes mundane once the sting of an unjust portrayal subsides. At this point, Reeves must be practically numb to it. A moment later, Moss arrives (also with handlers in tow), absolutely glowing. Her pregnancy agrees with her beautifully. Her skin is luminous, set off by the black dress she is wearing. Her smile is radiant as she greets Reeves. Embracing warmly, they speak in hushed tones for a moment and share an intimate laugh. It’s obvious that their friendship has grown deeply over the years. We get an unguarded glimpse as we watch them together. He seems protective. She seems trusting.
They are both professional and very conscious of where the camera is at all times, and it shows. Blessed with the faces that the camera loves, they hit their marks, look deeply into Jakle’s lens and the shutter starts snapping. Within minutes, Jakle and Shoom have got what they need and ask the Matrix beauty if she could pose alone. Jakle gets back to work and, as quickly as it started, the shoot is a wrap.
TAKE 1: The interview sessions with Moss and Reeves are done separately. The 36-year-old Moss is up first. The Matrix trilogy provides a vast array of topics to discuss. The gruelling schedule and the fitness requirements demanded that the stars be focused on their work. In fact, after breaking her leg during the early stages of the Matrix Reloaded shoot, Moss did have a moment of trepidation. “It gave me fear about getting back on the wire,” she admits. “It took about 6-8 weeks for my leg to heal and then I started to favour the weak leg. I didn’t want to break it again.”
Moss says the Matrix series demanded that she look at the choices we make. “At this time in the world, it’s very relevant to ask ourselves the kinds of question that this film asks,” she says. “I feel like working is life and life is work and if you’re not going to learn about yourself and the world through your work, then where are you going to learn about yourself?”
There seems to be no struggle between career and motherhood either. “Life is about choices. Next to my bed, I have a stack of scripts and a stack of baby books. I feel like I deserve to be absorbed in that [child-rearing] world because I just worked my ass off for two years, so I’m letting myself have that shift. My career is not a big priority right now. I plan to stay home for awhile and then I’d like to be a full-time mother who works occasionally.”
Before that reprieve takes hold Moss talks about another film she just wrapped. “I did Suspect Zero with Sir Ben Kingsley and Aaron Eckhart, two very fine actors. My God, what a joy it was to work with those two men.” She gives a rundown. “The movie is about serial killers and I’m an FBI agent. It’s a dark movie [Laughing] And I liked it. I liked that she was a strong woman.
“Being an actor, you have that freedom. You can bring your child to work with you.” She hesitates, then smiles, “But what I hear from parents is that you make a plan and it’s one you can’t necessary count on.”
I ask whether she might raise her child in Canada.
“As soon as I got pregnant, I kind of was, like, ‘I think I need to move back to Canada!’” she laughs. “Maybe this happens when you start having children — you want to go back to where you came from. I will spend more time in Canada because I think it’s important for [my child] and for me to spend more time with family. I grew up with a lot of cousins and every weekend [we’d get together]. But my career has not allowed that of me.”
Maybe that will change, too. During a visit to Vancouver during her pregnancy, Moss enjoyed walks around the seawall and Granville Island.
“I come from a place where people look you in the eye and say, ‘Hi, How are you?’ I like that. It’s really affected who I am as a person — just that kind of friendliness. I feel lucky to have grown up in Canada, but I am not sure my child will. I really think it comes down to parenting and the people you surround your life with.”
We talk about the love scenes between her and Reeves. Many have compared what comes across on the screen as something close to a spiritual experience, but I wanted to get more to the point: is Reeves a good kisser, and what does a kiss mean to her?
“I never kiss and tell — ever,” Moss smiles. “What does a kiss mean for me? Everything. It’s beautiful and can be really beautiful — or not! Hopefully, you’re married to someone or you’re with someone you love kissing. I happen to be, so I’m lucky.”
When moviemaking takes them on location, Mr. and Mrs. Steven Roy (she married the Canadian actor in November 1999) connect the old-fashioned way: by telephone.
“When you have a really good bond with somebody and you’re on the phone and you’re committed, I felt like I was right there,” says Moss. “I think as women, it’s easier for us to be working and have a relationship. Even when I was able gone for extended periods, I was able to keep all of my relationships with my friends and my family really fluid. I think women are good at that multitasking thing.”
And, just like that, we come back to the film. Moss adds that this is the message of the Matrix series: love. How far would she go for love?
“All the way,” she says without hesitation. “I think there’s nothing more important and I don’t think you can ever have too much love. I love that The Matrix is all about love and that love transforms everything. I do believe that.”
TAKE 2: It has become obvious over the course of several encounters with the 39-year-old actor that there are two view points on who Keanu Reeves actually is. One camp steadfastly insists that he is painfully shy and highly intelligent to the point of genius. Don’t let his checkered educational background fool you. (He reportedly had trouble in high school in Toronto, although his 12 months at De La Salle College earned him a most valuable player honour as the hockey team’s goalie. Reeves’s stint at Second City improve classes, also in Toronto, was another success.) He is a well-read and well-traveled individual who devours anything and everything of an education nature. Camp two of the Who is Keanu Reeves? Sector believes him to be one of the luckiest SOBs ever to hit Hollywood. And that the only reason he plays his parts so well is that he’s an empty vessel who wouldn’t know what to do unless it were laid out before him like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail.
Dagmar Dunlevy: GQ magazine referred to you as an “accidental superstar.” Do you agree?
Keanu Reeves: What is accidental? I guess so. I don’t know. Accidents. It’s a tricky word, but would I agree with it? I don’t know if I agree or disagree.
The only thing the two camps do agree on is that Reeves is a handsome and well-mannered man. He has a reputation for being agreeable with the production crews on every film he makes. He hangs out with them and shows a genuine interest in their work. He is also very generous (after The Matrix Reloaded, his wrap gift to his eight stuntmen included top-of-the-line motorcycles). He is vague, however, when asked what they talk about specifically. “Most of the time, it’s about ‘What are you building here? How’s it going for you?’ Not really talking about the plot or the meaning of the film. It’s generally more about making it.”
He greets everyone with “sir” or “madam.” For some, even this politeness raises eyebrows. Bless this mess called Hollywood. Personally, I think he could be either extremely complex or it may be that, if he finds someone is not up to his level of awareness, he just doesn’t want to waste his time — or theirs.
But this godlike, Pied Piper following that Reeves’s Matrix character, the reluctant hero Neo, has unwillingly recruited, most notably, Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus, continued to garner loyalists in Reloaded. The reverence he senses from the masses of refuge of Zion is inescapable and there is an air of mysticism that is quite prevalent through the trilogy. How does Reeves see all this, and did his directors, the Wachowski brothers, Andy and Larry, get specific as to how they wanted him to come across?
“It’s a film that sometimes utilizes a lot of mythic and religious themes. That’s inherent in the piece itself, so for me, it was just trying to play the role,” he says. “Because it’s a synthesis of so may different things, it’s not specifically one thing. It might be an aspect of the birth, dying and being reborn of the Christianity or freeing one’s mind in context in a Siddharthic kind of aspect. I was just trying to answer and ask the questions that the character asks and plays a part in the piece.”
I press on: can he be more specific as to how he was directed? Reeves looks a bit bored with a twist of annoyance and a dash of perplexity. My mood-o-meter is not getting a clear reading. After a substantial pause, he answers.
“They gave me certain things in the beginning — if I wanted to look at some Schopenhauer, go ahead, or some Hume or go back to Nietzsche or whatever — but otherwise it was just be in the moment. These things that you’re speaking about, they were interesting also for this character to go through on this journey.”
People remark not only about the beauty of the very deep connection the Neo and Trinity characters have but that there is a religious undertone throughout their lovemaking scenes.
DD: Is there a connection between spirituality and sexuality?
KR: There’s a great humanity in the piece. It’s the humanness investigation of humanity and that’s the union or the love that two people can have for each other. Specifically; with Neo and Trinity; that was an important part of it and I think they wanted to convey that. It was a strong motif in the piece.
DD: And what about love?
KR: The film has a lot of orientation about love, and so, because of that, they tried to show the beauty of it — the love of these two people and their union. Again, it’s for those two characters and if that turns into something else for other people, if you want to say it’s mystical, that’s there for you.
It’s difficult getting Reeves to open up about himself, so we steer back to the films, the connection between love and death and how as Neo makes love he has dreams — and fears. “Right, which is very connected to humanity. That’s the aspect of our life and dying.”
Has he experienced those themes?
“Not to be afraid and to be very afraid and to be afraid, Yeah.”
What about the fear of machinery?
“Well, I don’t know I love my motorcycle.” He says with what could best be described as a semi-smile. Perhaps it comes from the fact he’s had a number of serious motorcycle accidents.
When asked if his motorcycle should be consider the most sophisticated piece of equipment he has, Reeves almost blasts back, “Oh, and sophistication is a model for that? Is more sophisticated better? I don’t really have many sophisticated apparatus around me, I got a lot of ones and zeros in my life as well, so I don’t know.”
The Matrix has spawned many a good thing. In Hollywood and in filmmaking, the groundbreaking martial arts choreography, high-risk stunts and cutting-edge camera work are just a few of its contributions.
“In terms of experience, Hollywood is a place that can generate great resources for filmmakers, which can allow them to create worlds,” Reeves opines. “For me, it’s been a great experience to be able to play in that world and of the vision that the Wachowski brothers had and that Warner Bros. and other producers could generate the resources to help us create that world. That, to me is the great aspect of Hollywood.”
But he still feels nostalgia for the raw edge of his early L.A. days. “If anything, I think the nature of moviemaking, being on the set, had a much more kind of pirate aspect to it — certainly that gypsy-renegade feel was there when I first started in Los Angeles in 1986.” Fittingly, his acting debut came in Youngblood, alongside Rob Lowe, as a hockey player.
Like the theme of choice, destiny is a thread throughout The Matrix. What does the concept of destiny mean to him?
“Destiny?” Reeves echoes. “The Matrix films have a lot of fate. Destiny is one of those tricky works. It’s one of those aspects that are like a particle in a wave. Maybe the wave has a destination, but the particle doesn’t quite know what the destination is and, yet, it’s making itself a part of that wave.”
Which brings us to physics and Reeves’s interest in it. So, what does he know about physics? “I can’t draw you anything, but probably next to nothing. In terms of how down you view the future when you’re in your present and what choices do you make and what is destiny…is it an outside force?” The mood-o-meter is detecting interest in this line of questioning. “Is it an interior force?” he continues. “It’s one of those Mobius strip kind of things. Does it have an end? Does it have a beginning? What is it? And, if you do have your choice, then what is free will?”
DD: Most of the time you were in Sydney, you were working. What did you do when you weren’t filming?
KR: Go out to dinner.
DD: Anything else?
KR: Work hard. Play hard. I met some great people, made some good friends. I jumped in the ocean a couple of times, but I didn’t travel much. I went up north for Christmas, out by Port Douglas, but in Sydney it was just seeing some plays and concerts, going out to dinner, drinking some wine and hanging out.
When I tell Reeves that Matrix producer Joel Silver said Reeves became so good at martial arts that he could beat Jet Li, Reeves shakes his head. “Jet Li would throw me around like a rag doll. He and I would talk, we’d sit down, have a beer and a good laugh.”
Will he continue with martial arts?
“I don’t know. I enjoy it. It’s a real elemental sense of play. It’s like cowboys and Indians. It’s like playing with a ball and in the yard — primal fun.”
DD: So, is it easy; both personally and professionally; to make choices?
KR: I don’t think Neo regrets any of his choices.
DD: What about Keanu?
KR: I regret, sometimes, some of the things I’ve done, but in terms of career and things like that, I don’t. Choices? It depends if it’s an easy one or not.
Before all the spiritual stuff, there was just Neo, the lonely computer hacker, oblivious to computers. “I personally don’t have one yet” he says, unapologetically “but I always ask friends who do if they could look something up for me and if they could use it on my behalf. So I just need to find some time to get one.”
What about change? When Reeves speaks of world affairs, his voice becomes passionate.
“Oftentimes sitting in Los Angeles the past few months has been politically frustrating, scary, just wishing that there was more concord between people and that there was a more realistic representation of what was going on for the reason of why they were happening. What is the true intent of the conflict? Not getting an answer that I really trusted and feeling very imposed upon by a propagandic aspect and wishing for more international collaboration of sorts. I remember feeling that, in the early ‘90s, there seemed to be a real sense of the global village and the global community. There were certain things happening—perestroika, the wall coming down—there seemed to be a kind of harmonizing going on. Now, it seems like in the past seven years there was someone who felt this doesn’t work for us and now there seems to be a real cycle of discord and readjustment going on. Change is oftentimes scary, but sometimes welcome. But, right now, I don’t understand it.”
Having been a citizen of the world for so long, does he ever entertain the notion of going back to Canada and just be Keanu?
“Just be Keanu,” he says slowly with a wry smile. “I can hopefully do that wherever I am.”
Dagmar Dunlevy is the chairman of the board of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and is our girl in Hollywood