Playing the hero
by Steven Chean
Keanu Reeves literally battles his demons in the comic book movie Constantine
Keanu Reeves is 40 and he's still one of the sexiest men in showbiz. Following The Matrix trilogy he's now playing a demon-fighting supernatural detective in Constantine, which is based on the Hellblazer comics. New Idea caught up with him to see if he's always drawn to characters on a mission.
Were you familiar with the comic?
I wasn't familiar with the character before. When I familiarised myself with the work I saw the essence of John Constantine and we worked hard to keep it. He's a hard-edged, hard-boiled, world-weary, cynical, fatalistic, nihilistic, self-interested guy, with a heart. I hope fans of the comic don't feel we sabotaged something so loved.
How much did your character have to smoke in this film?
Too much, too much. It's kind of a character trait. I guess he's dealing with a lot and it's a tool to numb himself.
How deeply do you believe in the spiritual aspects of this film?
I think of it as a sort of secular religiosity. It uses icons and a platform of a kind of Catholic heaven and hell, with God and the devil fighting for human souls.
The journey of this particular hero is hopefully relatable even though there are fantastical characters and situations. It's still about a man trying to figure it all out.
At what point did you know you had a grasp on his essence?
In terms of embodying the character, I was working with a costumer. She had a rack of clothes and choices and shoes and stuff. So I was trying things on. There was a concept for the movie and clothes fit into that.
I tried the hat on. I remember putting on the jacket and the shoes and I felt a certain way.
I was like: 'Yeah, this is Constantine.'
And what about the non-kissing scenes with Rachel Weisz, who plays sceptical cop Angela Dodson?
It's more fun. You can see for this couple... it's not the time or place. But I think that's part of the enjoyment of the movie. There's something with what they're going through. They can't kiss. They want to kiss, but they can't kiss. And at the end of the film they say they have an interest in seeing each other.
What was it about the character that made you want to dedicate a year of your life to him?
I first came across the script when I was working on The Matrix in Sydney. I read it and really enjoyed it. In terms of making choices it's about trying to have a variety of genre and characters. But I said yes to it while making The Matrix because I didn't think I was repeating myself. Constantine is a very extroverted role. So much about it is different from the experience I was having then. It's a great script, great idea and a great character.
What do you get out of acting?
It's my craft. When I was 15 I went up to my mother and said: 'I'm an actor.' She said: 'Whatever you want, Keanu.' Within three weeks I was enrolled in acting class. It's like painting, I'd imagine. The more you do it the more you know it.
A good day on the set involves creating a work, a piece, a collaboration. The expression is great. I've been fortunate to do different kinds of films on different scales, different genres, different roles.
Sometimes you don't want to play the hero and that's something I've been trying to do. There's joy in the diversity of roles. It's something I like to do if I can.
What made you want to be an actor?
People often see a fireman, policeman or a fighter pilot and go: 'I want to be that.'
I remember this teacher and two actors and they came to do a class with the second graders just to do theatre games. I was looking up at them and going: 'I want to do that.'
Did you watch lots of movies as a kid?
Yeah, I did. Sometimes I did that instead of school. The first year I went to the Toronto International Film Festival was in 1983. I'd write down all the films I saw. I think it was like 76 films.
I remember summer nights just riding my bike and locking it up and going into a movie and I didn't even know what it was. But I'd just go and they had salty popcorn and I'd just chill out in there.
And your next project?
I'm working with Sandra Bullock (who he starred with in Speed) on an adaptation of Il Mare. It's a straight out romance.