English Journal (Jp), December 17, 2003
Interviewed by Jordan Riefe/Planet Syndication
Narrated by Brian Peck
Collaborative Art Form
EJ: He used to be a laughing-stock because of his acting skills, but thy're not laughing at Keanu Reeves anymore, as The Matrix saga is the number one franchise in the world right now. Here Reeves talks about his character, Neo, his long, strange trip as an actor, and the future of his band, Dogstar.
EJ: Carrie-Anne talked about the sense of completion. having gone through the whole process which is concluded in the third. Do you feel the same as Carrie-Anne, that there is a sense of completion?
Reeves: Yeah. Yes, there is. Yeah, sure.
EJ: You had to recreate the whole sensation of the first one when you got together again to do two and three ...
Reeves: When you mean "sensation," what do you mean?
EJ: Well, it became such a cult, such a phenomenon.
Reeves: Well, all of us were just hoping - I mean, the scripts are so, are fantastic. And so we all came to the project, first of all, loving the first one, loving the experience of making the first one. So we were all excited about performing and creating these characters and making these films, and being together again, and hopefully people will enjoy them as much as, as we do.
EJ: Was there a particular moment when you realized that Neo was an iconic character?
Reeves: I don't get that reaction, or I don't get that anything - nothing comes to me that is - I mean, I really feel like the... if anyone comes to me, it's about The Matrix. You know, it's always the film. And I think all of its characters are really just kind of part of this world of The Matrix that, you know, Larry and Andrew Wachowski have brought to us with their vision and, and their sensibilities and what they - we - hoped to create in this, you know, collaborative art form.
EJ: You are very soft-spoken and polite, but your character on screen has a badass, larger-than-life image. How do you get into character?
Reeves: As an actor, you have the role to play, and that aspect of... you know, you reacted to Neo in The Matrix as, you know, he's like an ass-kicking kind of guy. It's just, you know, finding that, that part of oneself and meeting it with the character and trying to play the role. So it's, you know, pretend. But it's also coming from a source of, from myself, yeah. Um, yeah, he's a fun guy to play.
The Matrix Style
EJ: In the notes it says you - it's your martial arts style. It's your style. Or is it Neo's?
Reeves: It's The Matrix style. I wanted to have a certain style of fighting in The Matrix. Because I wanted to have it feel physical and visceral, but at the same time to have a kind of style to it where, because it really isn't, something that's not physically happening. I wanted to have an otherness feeling to it, but that it still felt physical, you know, that there's still physical effort on his face and that there's physical impact.
But then I also wanted to have that kind of... I wanted to have a certain elegance to it, so that there was sometimes effort, but there s also the aspect of effortlessness to it at the same time. You know, so that was the kind of style that I was trying to create in my depiction or in my acting out of the choreography that was developed by the directors and Woo-Ping, as fight choreographer.
EJ: What about shooting both sequels simultaneously?
Reeves: And shooting both films? The films take place over a short amount of time. and so it really felt like one film, one story. So it just felt like a really - just one film. There wasn't really any distinction per se between the two.
So - and it wasn't like doing, you know, like a Chekov play, you know - "Four years later, and now it's winter." You know, there wasn't that kind of transformation to be jumping back and forth to in the pieces. You know, it's really, the timeline of the piece is very short. I believe it takes place over 72 hours, both films. So you're always very close to where you are. You don't have to kind of go. "Okay, I used to be 15 and now I'm 62." You know, there's nothing like that. So it felt like one film."
Love of Theater
EJ: When I was at UCSB, there was a ten-week course offered on the films of Keanu Reeves. The course shows the diversity of your work. Has that been a conscious, artistic decision to express yourself in these many different ways?
Reeves: I can't control, for the most part who hires me. And it's always been my hope as an actor to work in different genres and to play different characters. So, till, knock on wood, and gratefully I've had the chance to perform different roles in different genres.
EJ: What does theater mean to you? What about working in the theater?
Reeves: I need to do a play. I want to go do a play. Because I love it. I really want to, to play as an actor. Just to go through the process of doing a play. It's not short segments of acting, it's the whole experience. It's an actor's medium, to a certain extent, so it's just fun. It's just great to, to be able to act on stage and to go play like that. You know, the continuity aspect of it, the live aspect is really, for me, home. I love it.
EJ: You haven't done anything since Hamlet, have you?
Reeves: I haven't, no. So I want, I gotta do something. I've been doing sonnets. I've been learning sonnets.
EJ: Do you have a level of confidence as an actor that you didn't have ten years ago?
Reeves: On good days. No, well, I mean... you learn about acting by acting, you know. And I've had the good fortune to be able to earn my living as an actor and to work with some... like I'm working with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson right now and it's just amazing to see such great artists, you know, great actors just at their craft and to work with Laurcnce Fishburne and Hugo Weaving in The Matrix are just - those are some of the best actors I've ever worked with.
So "in all of that, it does give the a sense of... you know, I've been through some things and I've done some acting. And so I know, certainly, more about my craft and what works for me... you know, what tools and what things I need to do to perform a role for myself - you know, the questions to ask, the things I need to find out and then the way to do them, you know, the way to realize it.
EJ: You talk about finding something of yourself through expressing the different characters you play. Is it a little scary when you do something like Donnie Barksdale and you realize that, "OK. I can be this abusive husband, too?"
Reeves: It's one of the great things of working as an actor, as an artist. I think, is to find those things - find those things out and to express them. 'Cause I, you know, I didn't have to go out and wife-beat... you know, or to reveal or to experience some of that kind of animalistic aspect, or wounded animal aspect. It's almost kind of coming from a powerlessness, to become powerful and to take advantage of someone who's literally, physically weaker... um, and then the psychological implications, and then how the body kind of reacts to that. Um, you know. "Power! Ooh. I've got power!" Even though I have no power you know, how the person feels.
But anyway, so all those things. Um, yeah, so to have the opportunity to look into it, to feel that, to experience oneself to have things revealed; or to find out things that you have problems revealing, or things that you didn't know, and things that you do know... I mean, I recommend it for anybody. So if you got some acting classes, you want to go do some theater, you want to go out there and play. I recommend it for anybody.
New York and Dogstar
EJ: What do you love about New York and that city and that lifestyle?
Reeves: It is a great city. And it's a - one of the kind of pure cities. And I think that it's one of those cities where humans have come to a place that's post-agrarian and are comfortable. And that it brings out so much humanity in people that it's a celebration of a kind. And I love that about the city. I love the diversity and community all at the same time. I love the architecture. I love the way that it's always changing. I love the way that it stays the same. I love the scale of it. I love that in the middle of this crazy city you have a huge park. I love the adventures that you can take while you walk down the street. I love its mystery. I love how there's so much to do, there's so much life in that city to be lived. And I find that it's just a, again, just one of those true places that people come to and live in that, that feels natural.
EJ: What's the status of Dogstar, and why is your music important to you?
Reeves: We did some shows when I first got back from Australia, and we had a great time. We went to Japan and played a show in Bangkok, and that was great. Right now we're taking a little break. We'd been away from each other for so long, and so we're just right now kind of getting back together and trying to - we all had different things that we wanted to play, so we've got to kind of have a band meeting and say, "What do we want to do here?" You know. Uh, so that's where we are in that.
And its important to me, because it's - I love the friends that I've made and the friends that I make the music with and, and it's fun to create. You know. the fraternité, the chance to play live shows, to hang out, to write music, to play music is just a, a great experience.
EJ: Thank you.