An ordinary Joe
"I miss writing songs and performing at rock shows."
by Faridul Anwar Farinordin
Despite being an object of desire of women the world over, Keanu Reeves hardly looks like a burnished Hollywood sex symbol. FARIDUL ANWAR FARINORDIN meets the man who discards his long black coat from the Matrix trilogy to play a wacko messiah.
FOR someone who earned US$15 million (RM57 million) in his last movie, The Matrix Revolutions, (plus 15 per cent of the film’s total gross), Lebanon-born Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves doesn’t come across as a multi-millionaire movie star.
Sure, the suit he was wearing probably costs my month’s salary, but one look at him and you could tell that it was not really his style — there was a faded T-shirt underneath the jacket and the shoes were so salah (wrong). For all I know, the suit was probably bought by his minders for this promotional event.
Reeves was in Hong Kong for the world premiere of his latest movie Constantine, a supernatural / action / sci-fi / thriller which opens in Malaysia tomorrow. Directed by Francis Lawrence, who was also present during the three-day promo tour, the story was adapted from a popular DC Comic series, Hellblazer. The movie also stars Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton and Gavin Rossdale.
From the looks of it, he probably hadn’t shaved. But he looked good anyway. The stubble actually went well with his tousled hair look courtesy of the make-up artiste whom I saw scurrying into his room just minutes before. Groovy, dude.
Reeves doesn’t have the dazzling white smile typical of Hollywood celebrities and I don’t think he gives a hoot. In the not-so-many occasions that he smiled during this round-table interview, it was clear that coffee/tobacco stain was all part of the "unpolished" look of a surfer-dude rock star.
Although he will turn 41 in September, this once-named 50 Most Beautiful People in the World (1995’s People magazine) is not going to play the role of a father anytime soon. In fact, he still reminded me of Ted Logan in the 1989 screwball comedy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures — minus the bowl-cut hairdo.
On his left wrist there was no fancy watch — just a simple plastic-strapped one like the ones I used to wear during primary school. A golden string raised our interest. "Oh, a friend of mine ... she puts it on ... it’s just for fun," he said. Clearly, he didn’t want to elaborate.
In Constantine, he stars as John Constantine, the chain-smoking dude who sees not only dead people but angels and demons as well. Now damned to hell after surviving an attempted suicide as a child, he hopes to earn his way to salvation by saving mankind from evil on Earth.
He chants in Latin to ward off demons in various guises, performs exorcisms on unsuspected victims and arms himself with holy gadgets that include "dragon’s breath", among others. A selfish messiah, sceptical renegade and a reluctant anti-hero, he later finds himself in on a journey of self-redemption.
The character in the comic books is a blonde-haired Brit from Liverpool, but Reeves said what’s important is for the film adaptation to "capture the essence of the character".
"Whatever influence I have from the script is a true representation of Constantine. I tried to keep the Constantinian attitude and hopefully, I was successful, although I don't have the same hair colour or the same costume (as in the comic book)," he said, big, brown eyes looking back at you intently.
Word has it that he was still finishing The Matrix Revolutions, the last installation of the smashing trilogy in Australia, when he took this project from giant studio Warner Brothers.
"I actually had over a year between The Matrix Revolutions and Constantine. I had plenty of time to research the role. I was so eager to do this character — to me, it is one of the best I have played so far."
Describing his character, Reeves said: "He’s complicated. As a hero, he’s flawed. He’s damned to hell, trapped, dying, cursed and doesn’t like the way the world works. He doesn’t always do the right thing the right way, but that’s okay. Because of this, we can follow his journey and relate to him."
Does he see himself in the character?
"Um, no, except that I play the role so there’s a part of me there. The journey I took was to understand him through his gestures, behaviour, and the way he moves. To be him, I lowered my voice register a little bit and changed my speech patterns and rhythms." Breathy, brooding and moody.
He loves the character so much that he wouldn’t think twice about reprising the role in the future, should there be a sequel — or a prequel. "Yeah, I’d do it. I love the character. But I would only do it if Francis (Lawrence) agreed to do it."
Reeves was also one of the people who decided to hire Lawrence as the movie director. "The producers, Warner Brothers, had given me that ability to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the directors (who were shortlisted for the project)."
He liked Lawrence’s initial ideas for the movie.
"He's a great collaborator with a great vision. When I saw his conceptual ideas for the movie, and later spoke to him about the filming process, I just knew that he was the man. He wanted to bring out the human aspect. His goal was to make a film that people could relate to, and not another cartoon-ish comic book adaptation."
Constantine marks Lawrence’s directorial debut for a motion picture. Known as a music video director, his past works include Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me A River, Shakira’s Suerte and Will Smith’s Black Suits Coming.
"I had seen his work before but I didn’t know that they were his," Reeves said, adding that he later "got hold of his videos and familiarised myself with his style. To me, he has a narrative impulse, a sense of telling stories. So when I saw those, I was very interested in meeting him."
Reeves is no stranger to the tales of the paranormal, of demons and devils, ghouls and ghosts. In 1992, he starred in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and followed with The Devil’s Advocate five years later.
And yes, he believes in the mystery of paranormal. He recalled a hair-raising experience in an apartment in Toronto which he was renting while making a movie.
"I tried to go to sleep in the bedroom but I just couldn’t. So I dragged the mattress out and slept outside. I felt it — these bad vibes — I didn’t know what was going on in there and I didn't want to share it ... so I split. I don’t know if I’m crazy or not, but I felt it."
It was reported that Reeves almost drowned his co-star Weisz (playing police detective Angela Dodson) in a bathtub during one of the nail-biting scenes in Constantine.
"I didn’t make it so easy for her to get out of the water," Reeves admitted. "She’s a very strong girl so I had to try very hard."
He later said that there was no real danger as "we had good safety precautions" but "if she said I held her down there for a little longer than she thought necessary, I would say I’m guilty."
We also asked him about his three-member band Dogstar, of which Reeves is the bassist (the other members are Bret Dormrose on guitar/vocals and Robert Mailhouse on drums).
"There’s no more Dogstar," he said with a hint of sadness, adding "We couldn’t write together anymore. The story has ended for us. Everyone wanted to play different kinds of music so there’s no unity. We knew we were done."
Reeves said he joined another band called Becky for about a year, "but not anymore".
Now, he said, he missed the fraternity. "I miss writing songs and performing at rock shows."
But he can look forward to more big-screen roles after this.
His upcoming performances include an independent romance-comedy Il Mare (The Lakehouse), directed by Alejandro Agresti, and a big-screen adaptation of Philip K. Dick's sci-fi novel A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater.
"I have had the opportunity to work on two films and do different kinds of roles. You know, I’m just trying to find good roles and good material. I don’t want to do the same thing all the time," he said, adding that The Lakehouse will be filmed in Chicago.
"The year is starting off good," he said on the chance to reunite with Sandra Bullock for The Lakehouse and Winona Ryder for A Scanner Darkly. (Bullock starred with him in the 1994 actioner Speed while Ryder joined him in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula).