Agreeing to disagree
'Lake House' co-stars and friends have an easy rapport, even when butting heads
by Bob Strauss
Before "Speed" made them a bigtime action hero and one of America's movie sweethearts, respectively, Keanu Reeves was mainly known for playing stoner dudes and Sandra Bullock was a perky presence in movies few people saw.
So you'd think that the duo couldn't wait to get back together again or at least producers would want to reteam the superstars. But even though they've remained friends for the last dozen years, it's taken that long to get Bullock and Reeves into the same movie.
And even then, just barely.
"The Lake House," opening Friday, is a romantic fantasy that keeps its lovers at a long temporal distance. Bullock is a doctor and Reeves is an architect who occupy the glass-walled title structure two years apart, yet somehow can communicate with each other via a magic mailbox. Their letters lead to a profound connection, but hooking up across a two-year span proves pretty problematic.
Brought together for an interview, Reeves and Bullock act as if they never got off that bus in the first place. Their easy, comic chemistry feels like a long-practiced stand-up act: She's all excitable, opinionated stream-of-consciousness, he's about carefully chosen, placating words delivered with just enough irony to signal that he's not really the pushover he's pretending to be.
"If you don't write, 'She said that sarcastically,' we'll be forced to come to your home and destroy your landscaping," Bullock cautions. Jokingly, we're pretty sure. But for the sake of our azaleas, we urge readers to keep that warning in mind.
So, we ask, after all these years, was it frustrating to hardly have any scenes together in their new movie?
"I wish we would have had more time in rehearsal," says Reeves, looking casually elegant in a pinstriped suit and satiny T-shirt. "I think we probably would have benefited from that."
"I disagree," Bullock, her hair cut in a shortish shag like it's worn in the movie, ripostes. "I think the things that made it a little nervous and uncomfortable and not so familiar were what I needed."
"Well, then, I'm glad we didn't have it," Reeves self-corrects.
"Well, I'm glad that you are glad," she says. Sincerely. Maybe.
They've kept in touch over the years, sharing dinners and drinks when their schedules permitted. The basis of their bond?
"Food," Bullock asserts.
"Nice, good food," he elaborates.
"For him," she cracks.
Are they always like this?
"We enjoy each other's company," Reeves professes. "We usually agree, but we come at it in different ways. When we butt heads, I find out later that we weren't arguing, but saying exactly the same thing using different language," Bullock, shockingly, agrees. "I think that might be a great template for men and women in general. It always ends up OK. There's no hard feelings."
OK, so they understand that they don't understand each other. That's a pretty solid basis for any friendship. But we figure that even the closest pals do things that really bother their buds.
We could be wrong, though.
"I wouldn't change a thing," Reeves says of Bullock, wearing his best dodged-a-bullet smile.
"I would've changed your kitchen," she returns, laughing. "The thing I like best about Keanu is that I've never seen him or heard of him compromising what he thinks. Someone could come up with the most asinine comment and he's like, 'If that's what you want to think, then that's OK for you.'
"It's on a level of such understanding of himself that it makes me envious," she continues. "I have Tourette's when someone comes at me with a question that reeks of pushing my buttons. He's better with the deflection; I need to jump out and eat its face off."
The gentleman gently suggests that his lady friend misperceives his profound sensitivity.
"I take it home and cry," Reeves says, chuckling. "You deal with it right now, you're right in the moment. I'm in therapy, but you've taken care of it already and moved on."
"You're assuming," she volleys back. "You're assuming! Don't assume about me, don't assume you know me. You don't know me."
"I don't," he concedes. "I love Sandra's mystery."
Now's a good time to refresh that they're-being-sarcastic notion. But seriously, each of them must have noticed changes in the other over the years, as their careers skyrocketed and their lives evolved.
Like y'know, her finally getting married last year, to "Monster Garage" custom vehicle maestro Jesse James.
"Keanu, how has it changed me?" she asks rhetorically.
"That's a good one," he says, then takes a really long time to come up with a safe answer. "You haven't changed at all."
"I'm not more complete? I'm not, just, more of a woman now because I've been married?"
"You've always been more of a woman." You can tell that Reeves is proud of that one.
But folks, remember? We started this exchange with the word seriously.
"I hope I'm doing it right," says Bullock, who's famously declared in the past that she only intended to marry once in her life. "I'm going to do my damnedest to be a good partner. That's my priority. My priority has shifted.
"You have to be malleable," she expands. "I'm learning to be a little bit less of a control freak."
Reeves certainly approves of his friend's union. An avid motorcyclist, he prizes the custom bike James made for him.
"God bless you, Jesse," he says. "Thank you."
Back to the topic of true love, Reeves is wary of taking the plunge. He'll vaguely commit to the concept of settling down. Ask Bullock - at your own risk - if she's making any matchmaking effort.
"OK, first of all, that term 'settling down," she sneers. "To settle; why is it important?"
Reeves tries to explain.
"Well, going back historically..."
"No! I don't want to go back historically."
"... It means that when two people would get together," he continues unfazed, "they would buy a house and settle down together."
"But the way it's being said nowadays, is that the way it's meant?"
"Oh, because now it means to stop playing the field?"
"Yes. It's like, 'You just have to calm down, stop living life this way. You need to just be as nice as everybody else.' Arrgh."
This from one of the nicest women in the movie business (really, everybody says so). And one of the most generous. Though she's loath to make a big deal out of it, Bullock was the first major celebrity to donate $1 million to the Red Cross after 9/11, and another million bucks to the Indian Ocean tsunami relief effort.
She just really can't abide by the thought of living one's life according to society's traditional expectations. That's one of the reasons why Bullock found "The Lake House," which is based on the South Korean film "Il Mare," so refreshing.
"In life, the template for the relationship is the Perfect Couple," she says disapprovingly. "What is that? How do you aspire to that? Perfect Couple comes with preconceived rules and looks, and, a lot of times, love stories on film perpetuate that. This is a fantasy, but the nice thing about this is, yes, there's a magical element to it, but there are also the imperfections of life. The anger and the frustrations are not covered up. It's not, oh, she's a goofy, wacky this and he's a charming dashing commitment-phobe. ...It nicely shows the male and female side."
Reeves was equally attracted to the realistic qualities behind the film's supernatural concept.
"It's a dramatic romantic fantasy, and what made it different was I felt like we got to know the two characters in a different way than we usually do characters who are involved in romances," he says. "We get to really know them personally and apart."
OK, sounds special. But did they have to wait this long to find something worth doing together?
"We never really actively pursued a project," Reeves says.
"I can name a couple," Bullock says to the contrary.
"Yes, but it was more to the Fates," he Zens her right back.
Of course, it wasn't fate that made him say no to the most obvious reunion possibility, "Speed 2: Cruise Control."
"He was smart then," says Bullock, who did star in the sequel. "He had good people surrounding him at the time going, 'Not a good idea. "Speed" on a boat going 10 knots, it looks like it's pretty much standing still.'
"And you never called to say, 'Don't do it!' " she concludes, still bitter. "Yeah, you never called!"
Any friendship that can survive that has got to be forever