Keanu Goes to Hell
It turns out the actor is plagued by demons on & off screen
by Louis B. Hobson
Keanu Reeves has grappled with his share of demons on and off camera. His philosophy is that "you have to believe that your personal trials make you a better person."
And he's definitely had his share of potential character-building traumas.
He was deeply affected by the death of his friend River Phoenix to a drug overdose in 1993. The two had met on Parenthood and reteamed for My Own Private Idaho.
Then, in 1988, Reeves crashed his motorcycle into a cliffside in Topanga Canyon and broke several ribs and ruptured his spleen.
He was purposely driving without the headlight on in what he has described as a "demon ride."
It didn't stop there: In 1999, his child with girlfriend Jennifer Syme was stillborn -- and, 18 months later, Syme was killed instantly in an automobile crash in Los Angeles.
On top of all this, for the past several years, Reeves has been the financial and emotional rock for his sister who is battling leukemia.
In such films as Little Buddha, the Matrix trilogy and now the dark comic-book adventure Constantine -- opening Friday -- Reeves has specialized in playing characters who embark on spiritual journeys.
He's eager to discuss those journeys -- but ask him about his own journey and he'll pass off the question with a joke or a plea. "Spirituality is something very personal that should be kept private," he says, refusing to elaborate, before adding slyly, "But let's just say that, in my art, I make up for what I do in my life.
"Movies are my penitence."
If this is the case, Reeves, 40, has been seeking some kind of personal salvation for the past 25 years. He was 15 and attending school in Toronto when he told his mother he wanted to be an actor. Luckily for him, the first of his three stepfathers was Paul Aaron, a film and stage director. "I worked as a gopher on several of his shows," says Reeves, who recalls one of his more memorable assignments was "bringing cold sodas to Lillian Gish.
"I knew that early I only wanted to act."
He struggled through disappointments, such as having most of his scenes cut from the 1986 Rob Lowe hockey movie Youngblood and getting labeled a space cadet on and off screen after starring in teen flicks like Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Then came Speed and the Matrix trilogy, which morphed him into a box-office titan.
"What I can honestly say is that I really love acting," Reeves says.
"Anthony Hopkins says that actors learn by doing and the box-office success of some of my films has given me that wonderful opportunity to act as much or as little as I like. Hopefully, this will continue."
In Constantine, Reeves plays a man who has been granted a reprieve from his damnation in Hell. He is hoping he can do as much good on Earth during this hiatus to have his sentence reversed.
Constantine's aim is to kill as many of the demons who are masquerading as humans as he can before Satan comes to reclaim his soul.
Constantine is based on the series of DC graphic novels. The character is a kind of rock-and-roll executioner.
"I had never read any of the books so I had no idea the character had been changed to a dark-haired American," insists Reeves, who says he received the script and offer to star in Constantine while he working on The Matrix Revolutions.
"I just liked the character and thought he was different enough from my Matrix character to warrant my saying yes."
Constantine reunites Reeves with Rachel Weisz, his leading lady from the 1996 espionage thriller Chain Reaction. Weisz says this time around, she and Reeves "are both a little older and wiser."
She says what impressed her most was that "fame has changed Keanu so little.
"He's still the same enigmatic, mysterious guy he was before the Matrix films. That image is not an act. That's who Keanu is. That's his personality."
Shia LaBeouf, who plays Constantine's sidekick Chas Chandler, knows "the fans of the comic books are going to have problems with our movie because the character is not blond or British or a rock star.
"Fans always feel the character is theirs but, as an actor, Keanu kicks butt on screen so it doesn't really matter what the character looks like."
Reeves' director, Francis Lawrence, insists the character of Constantine fits Reeves like a glove. But the actor prefers to think it's the character's coat that does it for him.
"It was not until I put on the jacket and shoes that I knew I was Constantine. It was such a comfortable and natural feel," he says. He adds, "It also helped that we filmed the big exorcism scene first. That really helped me get into character. I suddenly knew exactly what to do physically in that scene."
Reeves says Constantine is such a natural fit he would be excited about spinning the character off into a franchise as he did with The Matrix.
"My contract doesn't have a sequel in it but some of the producers and I fell in love with this guy. We have discussed the possibility of one or two more films but, ultimately, that's up to audiences."