Keanu Reeves is Constantine
by Tim Nasson
Los Angeles – It’s hard to believe that six years has gone by since Neo took the world by storm in the first Matrix movie, and two subsequent sequels. What might be harder to comprehend is that it has been nearly twenty years since the now forty-one year old Keanu Reeves graced the movie-loving world with his bravura performance as the only decent character in a group of kids, one who has killed his girlfriend and proudly shows off the corpse on The River’s Edge.
It was 1989 that the world got the look of the comedic side of Keanu when he played opposite Bill, in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and as one of the brood of kids in Ron Howard’s Parenthood.
With the exception of those films, Reeves remained a monotone, unfunny actor, appearing in forgettable films, until Speed, in 1994, and then fell, again, into less than stellar roles in films such as Johnny Mnemonic, A Walk In the Clouds, Feeling Minnesota and The Devil’s Advocate.
The first time I sat with Reeves was at an impromptu interview that Warner Bros. set up for me while I was in LA covering another movie, Pushing Tin. Their first Matrix was coming out in a couple of weeks, and since I and a few of my colleagues were there, they decided, what the hell? Let’s set up some interviews for The Matrix, I hadn’t even seen the movie when I interviewed Reeves, but was intrigued by him and his decision to star in a movie by the directors of Bound, a lesbian murder mystery. The scruffy Reeves, back then, in 1999, walked into the suite at The Ritz Carlton in Pasedena wearing a suit, shirt, no tie, and sported a pair of fingernails painted in black polish. I left the interview thinking, this dude has probably made his last film and will never work in Hollywood again.
Who would have guessed that The Matrix, especially after arriving on DVD, would become one of the most talked about movies of the 1990s and turn Reeves into an international superstar?
Fast forward to the present. The second Matrix did very well, the third did fair, at the theatrical box office, (to this day I have not seen any of them in their entirety), yet Keanu is still an A-list actor.
Where did he come from, though, you may ask? “I was born in Lebanon,” he answers, when I ask where he was born. Come to find out, his mother was a showgirl, his father a geologist. His parents’ marriage dissolved and it was off to NYC, for him and his mother, and after that, Toronto. All before he was out of high school. It’s hard to imagine Reeves not hitting it big.
“I had a strange upbringing,” he says, “But, really, who hasn’t? Who has had the perfect childhood? It’s all what you make of your life that matters,” he says.
His newest movie, a sort of combination of two of his previous films, The Devil’s Advocate and The Matrix series, is Constantine. He plays the title character. John Constantine. A man with visions. Half exorcist, half rebel. The devil wants him in hell, but he wants to go to heaven. What a dilemma.
His character in Constantine is a chain smoker. “I guess he smokes too much. Yeah, it's kind of a — I guess it's a character trait that the character has, and I guess he's dealing with a lot and it's a kind of tool to help him numb himself.”
Unlike some actors, such as Matt Damon, or Colin Farrell who couldn’t care les about anti-smoking laws in Los Angeles, New York and Boston, Keanu does not light up in the hotel. “Yes, I smoke, but I don’t always need a cigarette in my mouth,” he laughs.
Constantine is based on a British comic, yet Reeves explains how he wasn’t forced to use an accent. “I wasn't familiar with the character before I read the script, and when the script came to me, that aspect of the character — being based in London and being English — had changed already. So I wasn't aware of that. When I read the script and then familiarized myself with the work, I saw that what was important was really the essence of Constantine, and we worked really hard to keep that aspect of it, because it's really what it's all about. That kind of hard-edged, hard-boiled, world-weary cynical, fatalistic, nihilistic, self-interested — with a heart. And I think we did. I mean I hope so. I hope that fans of the comic don't feel that we sabotaged something that is so well loved.”
Reeves goes on to explain the philosophical aspects of many of his films, when pressed. “I'll start with Constantine. The aspect for me — I think of it as a kind of secular religiosity. The piece itself is using icons and a platform in a kind of Catholic heaven-and-hell, god-and-the-devil, human souls, fighting for those. But I find that the piece itself — Constantine because of the fact that he knows — and I was hoping that these concepts could become a platform that are humanistic, that the journey of this particular hero is hopefully relatable to — even though they're such fantastic characters and situations — that it's still a man trying to figure it out. In terms of the other roles, I hope ultimately — not only are they interesting — I think that those kinds of journeys, a hero journey, or Siddartha — these are all kind of seeking aspects of hopefully — that have something of value in terms of — to our lives — that we can take with us — and hopefully in the works that are entertaining and — these kinds of journeys that I think all of us — especially in western traditions — relate to. I think these motifs of seekers, messiahs, of anti-heroes, heroes — all of these aspects are journeys that I think deal with things that we deal with in our day-to-day in a way, and are entertaining. They offer up — coming from where do you come from, what are you fighting for . . . and coming into a kind of — I don't mean it in a facile way but into a kind of life. I think they're worthwhile, and if we can make them all kinds of stories, story-telling, that is always couched in this kind of engaging entertaining manner, whether it is a shadow play, a circle, a storyteller, our literature . . . the mediums that we communicate these things often times.”
About acting, he reminisces, “I really love it. it's my craft. When I was 15, I went up to my mother and said, is it okay if I'm an actor? She was like — whatever you want, dear. In three weeks I was enrolled in an acting class doing Uta Hagen's Respect For Acting. And acting itself? I think of it as kind of like — and I've heard Anthony Hopkins say this — you learn about doing it, and it's like painting, I would imagine. The craft of it, the skill of it, the way that you work the paint, the way that you can act. The more you do it, the more you know it, and for me, it's what I love. A good day on the set, creating the work, the piece, the collaboration, expression, is a hoot. I love it. I love it. And hopefully it will continue.”
How bout another trilogy? “Trilogy,” he laughs. “Why stop there? We could have Son of Constantine. And I’ll play him too. CGI. No, but it’s a character just as how it exists in the graphic novel, so I would love to play him again. Who knows? I mean, February 18th, probably by the 30th we’ll know whether there will be a sequel.”