Hollywood heartthrob and leading man Keanu Reeves
The enigmatic actor tells why he doesn't see himself as a man of mystery
by Gabrielle Donnelly
'I'm a normal guy, I lead a normal life - I'm not that famous and I get to be very private and hang out with my friends'
Keanu Reeves is talking about perfectionism. "I don't think I'm a perfectionist," he begins mildly. Then, slyly sending himself up, he brushes obsessively at imaginary crumbs on the white cloth in the posh hotel restaurant.
Having finished one side of the table, he leans over to attack the rest. "Some people obsess about it, but - my God, do these people ever clean the tables? - I just do the best I can. Sometimes, there comes a point where..." He dusts off his palms and sits back in mock satisfaction. "...you have to let it go."
As an off-the-cuff performance, it is impressively nuanced and very funny; but for the handsome actor with the wary dark eyes, it gives away, perhaps, more than he's aware. Joke about it or not, Keanu has earned a reputation for being someone whose fierce dedication to his craft borders on the obsessive. And as he's known to shy away from personal questions, it's little surprise that his instinct is to answer a question not with a direct reply but a piece of impromptu theatre.
Friends say he's relaxed and warm in private, painfully shy in public. Co-stars use words like "mysterious" or "enigmatic".
"Me - mysterious?" He bursts out laughing. "I'm not mysterious! I'm a normal guy, I lead a normal life - I'm not that famous and I get to be very private and hang out with my friends. If people I've worked with tell you I'm mysterious - well, maybe they're mysterious to me, too. We're all mysterious to people who don't know us, aren't we?"
Possibly we are. So here, for the record, is what we know about Keanu.
He was born in 1964, in Beirut, where his British-born mother, Patricia Taylor, was appearing as a showgirl and his father, part-Chinese-part-Hawaiian American Samuel Nowlin Reeves, was working as a geologist. His parents separated when he was small - in part, possibly because of his father's drug habit which sent him to jail for two years in the 1990s - and Keanu was raised mostly by his mother, between Australia, New York and Toronto, where he developed his enduring love of ice-hockey.
He dropped out of high school to be an actor, making his debut in 1979 on the Canadian TV show Hanging In. But it was his role as dim-witted Ted in cult 1989 comedy Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which brought him to the public's attention.
Lately, he has been making films with a darkly fantastic edge, such as The Matrix trilogy and now thriller Constantine, based on comic book character John Constantine, the supernatural detective who has, literally, been to hell and back.
"I'm attracted to such films because of their dramatic, metaphorical opportunities. The idea of searching, striving, redemption. Constantine and The Matrix are drenched in the classic hero story - they go to unknown lands, meet exotic creatures, search for elements of their personality. To me that's very interesting."
It's also more than possible it echoes some themes that reverberate in his own life. He has, for instance, at 40, and after years of rented flats, hotel rooms and living out of suitcases, just bought a house, of which he's quietly proud. Though it may well take some time for him to get used to having a home. "It's in LA, and when I first moved in I wasn't working. Then when I started Constantine, which was filmed in town, I wanted to check into a hotel because so many movies are shot on location that I wasn't used to living at home and going to work! I was like, 'Help - how do I eat? What do I do?' I'm more used to it now and it's lovely to have a place to come back to at the end of the day. I still can't cook, although I'm working on assembling a sandwich.
"What's great about the house is I have a great kitchen. Friends say they love to cook there. They cook. I clean. We eat. We drink a little Bordeaux. It's great."
Home life notwithstanding, he's famously reticent to talk about his personal life. He doesn't - ever - talk about his relationship with Autumn MacIntosh, the actress he has been dating since April 2004, and to whom he's rumoured to be engaged. He also doesn't talk about his alleged recent previous relationships with actress Amanda de Cadenet or Matrix co-star Carrie-Anne Moss. And he certainly doesn't talk about the life he once planned with film assistant Jennifer Syme, whose baby, fathered by Keanu, was stillborn in 1999, and who herself – by then just good friends with Keanu - was killed in a car crash just over a year later at 29.
There are other things Keanu won't talk about. The death of close pal River Phoenix from a drug overdose at 23; or sister Kim, stricken with leukaemia, whom he has been quietly taking care of for years. He'll admit, if asked tactfully, that he has been through a tough time or two. But, he adds quickly, he feels he's a strong person, a survivor.
"That's something I learned from my mum. She ran away from home when very young and the way she raised my two sisters and me was to foster independence. She supported whatever choices we made. My father's strong, too." He flickers a kicked grin. "He's gone his own way, shall we say? So it's in both sides of my family. I guess it's part of my nature."
And romance? All he'll say on the matter is, "I'm not a loner and I'm not introverted. What do I find romantic? Hmm. The thing that comes to me right now is it's so lovely to spend time in the morning with someone in bed when you just kind of like play with your feet, you're hanging out and you look at each other and spend time talking and laughing in bed... Yeah. That's a great time."
He starts to smile, and, just for a second, you almost catch a glimpse of the real, warm, intensely private man behind the carefully crafted mask.