Sun Media (Ca), April 6, 2008
Keanu Reeves on 'Street Kings'
Although he'll always be known for The Matrix, Keanu's still pushing himself in different directions
LOS ANGELES -- Forget the red pill. Whatever Keanu Reeves does, he'll probably never escape The Matrix.
That much became evident during auditions for Reeves' new L.A. cop thriller Street Kings. Try as he might to find a young male actor to work opposite the 43-year-old superstar, director David Ayer kept head-butting the same problem.
"As soon as we would read them against Keanu they would, I won't say fall apart, but they'd get pretty nervous," he tells Sun Media.
"I thought, 'What's going on here?' Then one of the producers said, 'Look, these guys were 10 or 11 years old when The Matrix came out, it's like you meeting Clint Eastwood.' "
Asked about this later during a news conference at a Beverly Hills hotel, Reeves downplays the notion of his own cultural iconicity -- or that it could unnerve potential co-stars.
"I doubt it was that. I think it was me being the older guy. Maybe it's working with an actor who they've seen before."
Or maybe, almost a decade after the groundbreaking science-fiction thriller bent minds with its dazzling effects and reality-warping plot, The Matrix is simply embedded in the pop-consciousness, as is Reeves' black-coated, kung fu messiah Neo.
Indeed, when the topic of the franchise-that-won't-go-away arises, it's all Reeves can do to flatten his voice and joke, "I am the ambassador of The Matrix trilogy. My operating hours are ..."
At least we think he's kidding.
But for an actor whose credits and creative ambitions run the gamut from Shakespeare to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure to such actions thrillers as Speed, the prospect of being forever Neo probably doesn't seem all that funny.
"I'm hoping to be able to do different genres and play different roles," he explains. "You want to feel challenged and stretched and hopefully able to explore all we can do as artists."
Says Ayer, "It's interesting. I can't remember who said the quote, I think it was Stephen King, but 'What fans think actors are is fiction.' Any perception of an actor is fiction unless you know that individual personally. And I think we maybe all have an idea who Keanu is and what kind of a guy he is. But when I met him in person, he was very thoughtful, very intelligent -- a very kind warm, charismatic guy. And he's also a little bit shy.
"So what I realized is what he's been doing over the course of his career has been very shrewd. It's a very shrewd persona. Is it who he is? Absolutely not. So I thought, 'He's a smart guy. He knows what he's doing, so let's see if I can push him down a different road.' And he was a joy to work with. The guy has an astounding work ethic."
So who exactly is the real Keanu?
"You'd call me a hippie, wouldn't you, David?" Reeves asks his director.
"That's correct," Ayer says.
This as much as anything seemingly explains why Reeves wanted to play Tom Ludlow, the soul-sick cop at the centre of Ayer's morality play.
"The director's calling me a hippie and I get to kill eight people in this movie, so it was a good role. It was fun or kind of fun to be pushed to go to a place I don't normally live in."
But will his fans -- presumably many of them female -- want to be pushed into the blood-soaked urban battle-zone envisioned by noir author James Ellroy and Ayer, whose credits include Harsh Times and Training Day (which he wrote).
Even Reeves isn't sure how audiences or critics will receive the movie, which also features Forest Whitaker, Jay Mohr, John Corbett, Hugh Laurie, Common, Cedric the Entertainer and The Game.
"I'm nervous about the film opening because you want people to like it. That's what you hope for."
As for the aforementioned role of Reeves' onscreen sparring partner, it ended up going to Fantastic Four's Chris Evans.
"When you stand up to Keanu, you almost feel like he might knock you out," Evans says. "He's an intense dude -- not just as an actor, but in life. He's very uncompromising. You know on this movie you're with comedians and rappers, so it's easy to start telling jokes and pretending you're a comedian, too. But Keanu is who he is. I don't think a lot of people can say that about themselves. He's just Keanu. And it's infectious. It's an attractive quality to be yourself all the time."