Downey Jr., Reeves relate to drug abuse
by Bruce Kirkland
Robert Downey Jr., right, and Keanu Reeves ham it up at a press conference for their film A Scanner Darkly at the 59th International film festival in Cannes. (AP photo)
CANNES -- Keanu Reeves and Robert Downey Jr., together in Richard Linklater's bleak, bold animated thriller, A Scanner Darkly, are together again at the 59th Cannes Film Festival, goofing off like old pals.
But, in the crevices between the jokes, the beaming smiles, the bursts of camaraderie, are the insights into lives lived too often on the edge, too many times into the abyss.
"Too much of a good thing is always too much of a good thing," Reeves told yesterday's press conference for the film, which screened at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section, which is reserved for films off the beaten track.
A Scanner Darkly was shot as live action but then processed into rotoscope animation in the same manner as Linklater's Waking Life. The new film, based on a 1977 work by future shock novelist Philip K. Dick, chronicles how people become locked into a drug-addicted nightmare in the near future while the government and drug companies spy on them, exercising fascistic control of their lives.
Reeves and Downey hint at their own drug nightmares in the near past. Asked to connect the film with his own experiences, Reeves said he preferred to connect with the work:
"The novel, and the film, ends with a memoriam for Philip K. Dick of the friends that he lost. At the same time, what does he say? He says he wanted to let them play. They just wanted to have fun and they paid a price. Too big a price for what they were doing. At the same time, all of the characters go through some sort of self-revelation when they become conscious of what the drug is and what the drug is doing or what drugs do. So it's a double-edged sword. Hopefully you don't fall on it or hurt other people."
Downey was more revealing of the paranoia that comes with drug use: "Sometimes there really are people in the closet," he said.
Later, he tried to explain his preparation for his role as a paranoid schizophrenic trying to inform on his friends, the users played by Reeves and Woody Harrelson.
"I had these little fuzzy slippers," Downey said of his process. "I had these slippers. Because I've seen a couple 'tweakers' in my life (he doesn't explain but it sounds bad) and oftentimes, as long as you aren't going to be leaving the house for two weeks, you might as well put on some slippers. So that really helped me dig into my character, aside from the 25 years of drug research I've been doing."
"Life research!" Reeves interjected.
"I stand corrected," Downey said, grinning.
Downey was equally bizarre talking about his salary and his acting style: "I had to cut my price in half to $35 a day. And I had one question for Mr. Linklater and that was, 'If I chew up the scenery, can you just animate it back in later?' "
Dick's visionary novel makes more sense now than it did when it was published, Linklater said.
"I think it's the ultimate statement about how he saw the future when you can read something from 30 years ago and, by and large, think it is your present, which is how I feel about A Scanner Darkly. I think he saw the future pretty clearly about how governments and corporations use power, how that can alienate people from one another and themselves. He saw it very, very clearly. When this book came out in '77, it was seen as conspiracy or paranoia. But I would say conspiracy, paranoia, crazy ideas from the margins that you think are schizophrenic or something, plus a generation, equals reality. I think that's where we are now, really. This is a science fiction movie but we all looked and around and said, 'Well, we're living in science fiction right now.' This is it, we're in it."