"I learnt from The Matrix that you have to face your fears"
Fame, fortune and good looks: surely Keanu Reeves has it all? But personal tragedies - includings the loss of his child and his sister's battle with cancer - have taught the A-lister that there's more to life than the Hollywood game.
by Jenny Cooney Carillo
Keanu Reeves turned 40 on 2 September, but you probably didn't read about it. That's because the star of Speed and The Matrix Reloaded - which premieres on Sky Movies this month - doesn't go clubbing with mates Tobey [Maguire] and Leo [DiCaprio], and doesn't date a supermodel. "I've worked hard to have a pretty normal life." Keanu says, "I get to be very private, and most of the time my life is not impacted by anything outside of it."
In fact, the actor is notoriously tight-lipped during interviews and avoids the limelight, but we've learnt just enough about him over the years to know he's an enigma. A multi-millionaire, he lived in hotels until only recently and prefers an old motorbike to a new sports car. He's also one of the most popular stars in Hollywood, but his personal life has been marred by tragedy: an estranged father jailed for drug possession: a stillborn baby with his girlfriend Jennifer Syme, who later died in a car accident: and his sister Kim's ongoing struggle with cancer.
But of course, you'll hear none of this from Keanu himself. Polite and soft-spoken, he talks only about The Matrix Reloaded, the second chapter of the top-grossing trilogy written and directed by the Wachowski brothers. Andy and Larry.
Ewan McGregor and Will Smith both turned down the role of Neo before it went to Keanu. Good job, too, as it's difficult to see how anyone could have brought the same intensity to the role that he did. And Keanu feels blessed he's been part of such a cinematic classic.
"It was really nice to be involved in something you believe in and be proud of the way it turned out," he ays. "I think what the Wachowskis have achieved on these films is extraordinary and I just feel grateful to have been a part of it."
In The Matrix Reloaded, Neo continues to defend Zion - the last city in the Real World - against the machines, joined by the rest of the crew, including Morpheus [Laurence Fishburne] and Neo's girlfriend Trinity [Carrie-Ann Moss], Neo learns more about his heroic abilites and how best to use them in the epic war. The film is chock-full of amazing martial arts-inspired fight sequences. For authenticity, Keanu trained intensively for five months with master wire-work specialist Yuen Woo Ping. "The more I could do, the more they pushed me," he recalls. "It was good fun, but hard work - and painful. Ice becomes your friend and some days I'd sit in a bathtub full of it!"
Keanu is aware of the many explanations given by fans on the meaning behind The Matrix movies, but he prefers to keep an open mind. "The films are science-fiction, but influenced by many movie genres, plus classic western and eastern mythology. You could even throw in King Arthur and Christ," he says. "But for me playing the role, I can only portray that guy and make that journey as him. It's about Neo, who loves Trinity and wishes he could be home hanging out with her instead of being this big hero."
Asked if he identifies with Neo, Keanu hesitates. "He's a beautiful man to play and I really love his love for Trinity. He's a strong, positive, moral man he's doing the best he can, so in terms of playing him, he's a better man than me, but I try!"
When filming finished on the trilogy, Keanu left the Australian set and headed back to LA to begin shooting his next blockbuster, Constantine, due out next year. It's based on the comic book Hellblazer, and in it he plays supernatural detective John Constantine, who has literally been to hell and back. "I finally bought a house in LA," he confesses. "But it was weird. For the first few weeks I wanted to check back into a hotel because I just wasn't used to living in a home - like, how do you eat, what do you do with the laundry?" he laughs.
Given that he's a movie star and a rock star - he plays bass in his bands Dogstar and Becky - it's hard to understand why Keanu hasn't dated a string of beautiful women. He's most public relationship was with Jennifer Syme, a former assistant to director David Lynch. The couple suffered heartache when Jennifer gave birth to a stillborn baby girl in 1999. Two years later, after they had separated, Jennifer died in a car crash.
Keanu stayed close to Jennifer's mother, but the tragedy took its toll on him emotionally and he says he isn't sure if he's ready for love again. "It depends on the day," he explains. "Some days, you're sitting at home and you're like, 'I'm lonely', and some days you're like, 'Thank God I'm alone!'"
However, those close to him claim he has hooked up again with the little-known actress Autumn Macintosh, whom he dated in the early 1990s. It's even been rumoured that he has proposed and she has said yes.
Whether the rumours are true or not, the Matrix experience has certainly made an impact on all areas of Keanu's life. "I learnt [from The Matrix] that you have to face your fears, and I try to do that," he says. "That whole thing of opening yourself up, of saying yes, is the only way you can experience life."