Keanu keeps going
by Mike Szymanski
KEANU Reeves comes across as mysterious even to the people who know him well.
Rachel Weisz got to know him when they co-starred in the 1996 film Chain Reaction, so she half expected there would be a bit of a shorthand with him when they filmed new thriller Constantine.
"He's still a very mysterious and enigmatic guy but he's the same one," Weisz says, explaining she half expected him to have a lot of attitude after his Matrix hits.
"He isn't trying to be mysterious, he just is. It's probably what makes him this gigantic star."
When he walks into a press conference wearing an all black tux and shirt, and sporting a thick beard and moustache like his evil character in The Gift, the 40-year-old baby-faced Reeves appears as confident as his comic book character who chases demons, John Constantine.
Yet he's not facing demons from hell, only the press.
And when pressed about how he contributed to the script of the dark film noir character, he says he added the lines:
"He works his works in mysterious ways. Some people like it, some people don't," Reeves smiles.
"That's mine. That to me was the ground for where Constantine ends up."
He wasn't looking for another superhero film franchise but the script based on the popular British Hellblazer comics came to Reeves while he was making the Matrix sequels. And although the stylish outfits and subtle humour may seem reminiscent of Neo, Reeves sees Constantine as a very different, more adult character.
"Constantine is a very extroverted role on the whole. So much about it is very different from the experience that I was having then (with Neo)," Reeves says.
Nevertheless, he seems drawn to spiritual-themed films like Little Buddha, The Devil's Advocate and the Matrix series.
Even Bill & Ted visited hell in one of their excellent adventures. But he really doesn't want to talk about his own spiritual beliefs.
"Please don't, really, no, it's something that I take very personally and it's something that is private," Reeves says.
But the film is steeped in Catholicism. "The piece is using icons and a platform from a kind of Catholic heaven and hell, God and the devil.
I think that these motifs of seekers and messiahs, anti-heroes and heroes, are journeys that we deal with in our day-to-day ways."
Constantine has supernatural powers that he doesn't understand at first but he's an anti-hero.
"He's very connected to God, he just doesn't understand what's happening. His whole life is intertwined with God."
But his character is killing himself by smoking a lot, and Reeves admits he does that in real life.
"Too much, too much," Reeves says about his smoking. "It's a character trait the character has.
I guess he's dealing with a lot and it's a tool to kind of numb himself."
Reeves says he doesn't want everyone to be aware of him as a star, which is why he stays private.
"Hopefully, the film is engaging enough that for the two hours and six minutes, they're not going, 'Wasn't he wearing a stethoscope before?'," says Reeves, referring to his role as a doctor in the comedy Something's Gotta Give.
"I've been really fortunate to be able to do different kinds of films on different scales, different genres," he says, pointing out that an independent film he's in, Thumbsucker, played at the Sundance Film Festival recently.
For now, he's happy playing a character who has enough nerve to address the devil as Lu.
"He's a hard-edged, hardboiled, world-weary, cynical, fatalistic, nihilistic, self-interested guy with a heart," he laughs.
"I hope that fans of the comic don't feel that we sabotaged something that is so well-loved."
At first, Reeves turned down director Francis Lawrence, whose biggest claim to fame was Justin Timberlake's music video Cry Me A River, but admits he was wrong.
"That came out of an uneducated bias," Reeves says.
Then he saw some of Lawrence's videos, and when they met they talked for two hours. They connected so well that Reeves doesn't want to do a sequel unless it's with the same team.
"My contract didn't have a second film in it but I certainly fell in love with the guy," Reeves says about doing a follow-up.
"I had one of the best times that I've ever had working on a film, working on this particular project.
"So we would talk about what happens to Constantine.
What could we do next? Maybe he's a heroin addict in Morocco. Or he's killing people and he's trying not to kill people so he's knocking himself out. Ultimately, though, it is up to the audience."