The Star (Malaysia), December 5, 2003
He may be the newly-crowned highest-paid actor in Hollywood, but Keanu Reeves can teach us all a humble life lesson or two, LYNETTE MOEY writes.
AT ANY point in his career, Keanu Reeves has always been the centre of wild speculation. In his mid-20s, mostly because he had played lovable airheads in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Parenthood, everyone speculated he was dumb. In his late 20s, he made a movie called Speed and, suddenly, everyone was heralding the dawn of the new metrosexual action hero. Many have credited Keanu for paving the way for sensitive actors like Tobey Maguire and Christian Bale to be cast in traditional he-man roles like Spiderman and Batman.
Then came the inevitable gay speculations, which he made no effort to dispel. After a series of flops, everyone was predicting he would vanish. But in his mid-30s, Keanu made a movie called The Matrix. And today, the chief speculation around Hollywood seems to be about his money. His loads and loads of money.
Just how much is Keanu making off the Matrix sequels?
He's not telling but, a few days ago, Variety's editor Peter Bart wrote in an open editorial to him: "According to my calculations, you (Keanu) emerge with the most astonishing take-home pay in the history of the movie industry. Indeed, you may shortly become history's richest actor.
"The final two 'Matrixes' released this year could together reach a total world gross of US$1.5bil (RM5.7bil). That means you, Keanu, as a major gross participant could pocket well north of US$150mil (RM570mil). Indeed, with (Matrix: Revolutions) opening recently ... your piece of the pie from the first weekend alone could exceed Tom Cruise's total upfront paycheck."
When it comes to money - and he makes loads and loads of it - Keanu Reeves has no qualms about spreading it around, repaying those who have looked after him and even taking a pay cut to help others. His percentage of the worldwide box-office gross, including DVDs and tie-ins, is also subject to speculation. Forbes believes he's taking US$30mil (RM114mil) plus 7.5% of the Matrix sequels' gross but other trade magazines like Hollywood Reporter and Variety attest it is more like 15%, which makes perfect sense because he took 10% of the original Matrix gross in 1999, and is still reaping from the DVDs which have sold 30 million copies so far. He has also become the subject of money programmes like BBC's Liquid Assets which projects his current worth to be around US$400mil (RM1.5bil), four times the worth of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Not bad for an actor whom, many believe, made his career almost entirely on his exotic Chinese-Hawaiian-English looks and Zen-like passive screen persona.
Which brings us to the subject of this article: what can we learn from Keanu?
Lesson No.1: Money does not buy happiness
Keanu will be the first to tell you that. Like his character Neo, he appears to be surrounded by death. One of his best friends, River Phoenix (Joaquin Phoenix's older brother, for those who are too young to remember), died from a drug overdose in 1993. Keanu's daughter with a girlfriend, whom they had named Ava, was stillborn on Christmas Eve 1999.
One and the half years later, that very same girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, died in a car crash. Her obituary in the LA Times read that she was leaving behind "the love of her life – Keanu Reeves." And now his beloved sister, Kim, who has been combating chronic leukemia for years, has taken a turn for the worse and many believe she doesn't have long to live.
Again, the speculation is that this has all led to his depression. When you quote "Money doesn't buy happiness" to Keanu, he laughs it off with a "No. But you can get a good bottle of wine and a steak ... so it helps."
Lesson No.2: When you have money, spread it around
There is no Hollywood star who has more resembled the paragon of philanthropy than Keanu. He felt so guilty he had insisted on take after take with Hugo Weaving's 12 stuntmen while filming the fight with the 100 Agent Smiths in Matrix: Reloaded that he bought them all a Harley Davidson each.
"Some of the toughest guys had tears in their eyes," chief stuntman Chad Stahelski declared.
Then of course, The Wall Street Journal reported he had given up some of his Matrix sequels gross profit points to create a pool for the special effects and costume department, people who normally don't see much money. When asked about it, he intones warily, "I'd rather people didn't know about that."
Liquid Assets believes he has donated US$17mil (RM65mil) to charity, and will continue to actively support cancer research.
Lesson No.3: When you've grown up, repay those who've looked after you
Certainly many Asian parents will echo this. Many believe Keanu had paid for the palatial Hollywood villa his mother lives in, where she throws diamonds-and-champagne pre-Oscar parties, as well as his sister's house and stable of horses. He spends lavishly on his family, taking them to exotic holiday retreats and insisting on nothing but the best.
He himself owns only two pieces of property: a US$5mil (RM19mil) "modest" house in Hollywood next to neighbours Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire and a New York apartment. He hasn't furnished his new house either. He told Arena, "I've got rented furniture, I've bought a bed."
Lesson No.4: If you believe in your craft, take a pay cut
The karmic wheel dictates good fortune will come to those who don't care about money, and it seems to be true in Keanu's case.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) reported he had given up US$34mil towards the special effects (the sequence that comes to mind is of course the dazzling mecha-battle in Revolutions, a part of the movie he's not even in). He had lowered his salary significantly in the past so that his movies would be able to pay for co-stars like Al Pacino and Gene Hackman. To work with Jack Nicholson on the upcoming Something's Gotta Give, he agreed to take the third lead. To help his friends, like the director of the 2004 movie Thumbsucker, he worked for almost nothing.
Good lessons from someone the critics have always labelled a monosyllabic meathead.