Has success changed Keanu Reeves? The trifecta of Matrix movies made him a superstar and a rich man while they grossed more than $2 billion worldwide. Yet the tall, handsome and ever enigmatic actor is still polite, self-effacing and working on the role he's playing in real life. Reeves confesses that after turning 40 he finally bought a house, but he has no one to share it with - although he insists that he's ready to make a serious commitment to marriage and a family.
Recently reunited with Speed co-star Sandra Bullock in the passionately romantic The Lake House, Reeves is making his animated feature debut--sort of. He's starring in Richard Linklater's adaptation of the perennially popular Philip K. Dick sci-fi novel A Scanner Darkly, along with Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder. Linklater is reprising the rotoscope process he used in his groundbreaking Waking Life, shooting the entire film in live action and then animating every frame so that the actors appear as real-life paintings.
Reeves stars as Fred, a.k.a Bob Arctor, an undercover detective in Orange County, California, in the future who is so deep undercover he sometimes forgets who he is and becomes increasingly confused about time, place and identity, thanks to the mysterious hallucnogenic substance D
VEGAS: You had some experience in The Matrix movies dealing with alternate worlds, and then there was your recent time-tripping appearance in The Lake House. Did that make it any easier to play Fred in A Scanner Darkly, a narc who's so deeply undercover as Arctor he gets confused about his own identity?
KEANU REEVES: Not really. I got a little confused, even though the storry isn't time-tripping as much as mind-bending. It helped that Richard Linklater did a really great adaptation of the novel with his script. There is a clear line in the beginning where Fred understands that Arctor is not an alter ego. Then they start to come together in his head, and some days it was hard to figure out where Fred, a.k.a. Arctor, was going. But I liked the challenge. I love to get involved and get it right. That comes from my mother's side of the family, because she was always like that.
Did you read Philip K. Dick's novel?
During filming, I had it with me constantly. I would match each scene to the corresponding page in the book. Then I would write down certain comments that Dick had written about the character, like how he felt at a certain point. I would read it and feel it and try to match it in my performance until I got Arctor and Fred in the right place. So I really followed the book.
Among the stranger moments in the film is when Fred dons a scramble suit to disguise his identity.
Wearing the scramble suit was a little weird. That's when you really realized you were going to be animated because the suit changed how you looked. But you still had to concentrate on your performance and try to forget that it was all going to look different on the screen.
The underlying story of A Scanner Darkly is that everyone is under surveillance. Did you connect with that?
It does make you wonder. Something like 70 percent of your life is either on camera or being documented in terms of your transactions, from ATMs to gas stations. What does that do? What do you become? Who's behind the camera or the surveillance? What are they doing with the information? It has a lot of resonance for the world in which we live.
Ironically, you've sort of avoided the electronic world in which computers and the Internet have such an influence on us.
Well, I don't own a computer, and I don't e-mail. I've experienced a lot of people who e-mail who are like, 'You didn't e-mail me back.' I've seen people who have been freaked out by it. It's like they expect as soon as they send an e-mail to get an answer back, and if they don't it's like awful. Hopefully people won't totally lose the ability to write letters, because it's a good way to communicate.
Do you put pen to paper?
I tend to type on a real typewriter, an Olivetti Lettera 32. I like the contact of it. When I write, it kind of seems I try to be quasi-poetical--that is, unless I'm answering some kind of lawyer letter from the co-op--I hate those co-op lawyers. Anyway, I enjoy the sensation of settling down and taking time to think about what I want to say and then typing, which has a kind of physicalness to it as the imprint goes on the paper. It's also something that doesn't take batteries.
You've recently been quoted as saying that you're ready to settle down and have a family.
I'd like to have a family. I'm getting older, and I hope that experience can help me be the best that I can be to myself and to the person I'm with. You have to use communication and imagination in a relationship. It's an imaginative act. It's an act of creation. Someone said something I liked the other day--a relationship between an adult and a kid is unconditional, while the relationship between adults is often conditional in a sense, but that condition can be of the best kind.
Are you still playing with a band?
No, I'm not. Dogstar turned down the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I'm joking. Dogstar, the band I played with for nine years, and I kind of came to a place where we couldn't play music together anymore. But nine years is a good run. Then I played in this band for a year and a half called Becky. Let me tell you, Becky rocks. And then I kind of got in the band's way. They wanted to tour and do some things that I just couldn't commit to, so I stepped aside.
Do you miss it?
It was a whole lot of fun. I liked writing songs. I liked the camaraderie of the band. I liked touring. And there was always free beer.
Do you still play for fun?
I still play bass and jam with friends. I do some little Reeves riffs.
And you still ride your motorcycle in spite of some nasty spills?
Oh, sure. I love to get on my bike. I've done some silly things, like trying to find out how fast it will go. I've had a total of about six accidents.
Which was the worst?
There was one where I took a turn too fast and went down. I ruptured my spleen and crushed a couple of ribs, but I'm fine now except for the scar.
You've been acting for a long time. How would you describe the effect it has had on you?
I'm still trying to figure that out, because that's the nature of life. In acting, you're constantly discovering new feelings and thoughts and exposing yourself to them. It could be considered a kind of psychotherapy. As an actor, I can tell you a story and maybe it won't just entertain you; maybe it might also teach you something. Film has the power to change your life if you let it. I've supported myself by acting for a long time, and I want to keep it in perspective, because I really love what I do. It's the work and the opportunity. I don't care as long as I can pay my bills.
Picture caption: Above: Keanu Reeves plays an undercover narcotics agent who struggles to remember his identity in Philip K. Dick's dystopic A Scanner Darkly. Director Richard Linklater used a rotoscope method, which required shooting the film in live action and then animating every frame so the actors look like real-life paintings.