The Boston Globe (US), April 6, 2008
Reeves grows into man of few words, many roles
by Lynda Gorov
LOS ANGELES - Keanu Reeves has a familiar look on his face. It's a little smirky, a little spacey. He's like one of his movie characters come to life, or maybe it's the other way around. Outwardly, there's the days-old stubble and spiky hair. Then there's the self-deprecation punctuated by long periods of silence. Keanu Reeves keeps his own counsel, or maybe he just has nothing to say except about the subject at hand.
That subject would be "Street Kings," his first movie since the romance fantasy "The Lake House" with Sandra Bullock in 2006. But even after his sabbatical, some of it intentional, some imposed by the caliber of material that came his way, Reeves is recalcitrant. The hard sell isn't him. Ask and he'll answer, if only in so many words.
But volunteered specifics? Forget it. Anecdotes honed for their entertainment value? No chance. Told that he seems almost pained by the interview process, given that he's been in the business of giving them for almost a quarter century - yes, that's right, Keanu Reeves turns 44 this year - he says, "I'm sorry you have that perception." And then he smirks. And goes all quiet again. For one second, two, three, four . . . 10 and counting.
His stoicism is nothing if not reminiscent of Tom Ludlow, the sanctioned rule-breaking cop who handles what needs to be handled for the LAPD and uncovers the department's own dirt along the way in "Street Kings," which opens Friday in Boston. His Ludlow character's not above murder, and his pain is no mystery: recently deceased wife, tendency toward the bottle, ugliness all around. Reeves says he wanted his body to reflect that, and he set about to remake it via weight and weapons training.
"I wanted him to have some density to him; I didn't want to look like he came from the gym," said Reeves. "I wanted him to look like a guy who drinks but who obviously trains for his job. I wanted him to be this mixture of broken but ready, to look like a guy who you wouldn't want to mess with in a weird way. He's got some miles on him, but he also looks capable."
Reeves could be describing himself. Though he stands nearly 6-foot-2 he's still boyish - but hardly the boyish virgin he played in 1988's "Dangerous Liaisons." He's not the goofball of the following year's "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," either. Same for his Neo in the "Matrix" movies, in which just years ago he was playing a reluctant hero with an eye more toward the future than the past.
Reeves has grown up, and he's done it in front of an audience. He's acted alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood in their day, and outlasted more than a few of them without ever appearing to embrace his celebrity. His screen image may seem indelible, but in fact he's played every sort of role imaginable. Out next is a remake of the sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still." ("I get a pretty broad spectrum of work to look at, so . . . I'm not locked into one genre," he said. Does he have a preference? "Not really.")
So he's been pursuer and pursued in romantic comedies. He's been action hero and historical character. For someone with such a singularly straightforward voice (when it hasn't had a surfer's inflections), and a strong similarity in acting style from movie to movie, he's avoided typecasting. The only thing his characters might have in common is that, no surprise, none of them talk much.
"I was thinking about this the other day: I'm 43 now, it's the end of certain kinds of roles," Reeves said. "When you start out as a virgin - yeah, literally - and then to the boyfriend to the husband to the ex-husband . . . I'm still in my husband, but not the virgin, range anymore. But yeah I have four or five more years, and then it will shift again and change. I'll be the ex-husband and the dad. Maybe I'll be a grandfather.
"Yeah," he added, "I probably shouldn't play Romeo anymore."
This time an actual laugh accompanies the smirk, which, it has to be said, seems to be more the result of awkwardness than any self-satisfaction. Unlike the intense Tom Ludlow, Reeves is laid back in the extreme. He famously played bass guitar in rock bands Dogstar and, more recently, Becky, until work commitments forced him to quit.
Born in Lebanon and raised in New York City and then Toronto, he practices Buddhism. But ask him to name hobbies and he says, "None." Political causes? He insists he has none, although he did star in 1993's "Little Buddha," playing Siddhartha himself, and has put in appearances at events for the Dalai Lama and a free Tibet. He does have a nonprofit foundation that contributes to conservation and health-care causes, among others. But he doesn't seem inclined to elaborate on those, either.
That makes it all the more surprising when Forest Whitaker, who costars as the police boss and pal who betrays Reeves in "Street Kings," describes how they met for the first time at the house of director David Ayer (who wrote "Training Day") to rehearse and improvise. Together, they talked through their roles and molded the men they would play, although Academy Award-winner Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland") is only slightly more verbose than Reeves.
"Most of the time I can get the chemistry pretty well, but some of the time you realize people are aloof," Whitaker said. "Sometimes people think of me like that because I'm in my character, but it doesn't mean we won't connect when we do the scene. But me and Keanu, I feel like we connected right away. We started talking about the world of the characters right away and we even started improvising."
Reeves says he was attracted to the intensity of the role, which he took home with him, along with a prop gun for practice. Imagine Reeves stalking the hallways of his house, hot in pursuit of an imaginary bad guy. He actually did that, disappointed only that the movie folks wouldn't allow him the real thing. Reeves, who dropped out of high school to pursue acting, can and will (briefly) discuss craft, from putting on a British accent (or an American one, as Brit Hugh Laurie does in "Street Kings") to carrying a fake cup of coffee.
Eventually, however, the real Reeves kicks in. Explaining how he shakes off a role, particularly one as tortured as Tom Ludlow, he says it's often more about returning to his own life than discarding a cinematic one. "You're away, and you come back," he said. And then, with a theatrical tone, "Maybe," he said, drawing out the word, "a relatable example could be summer camp." He's making fun and being funny. He's almost trying.
When Reeves isn't working on a film set he says he's working on developing films with a friend who's also a producing partner. One project is a dramatic comedy, the other a love story. He's also slated to play a supporting role in Rebecca Miller's "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee," starting in May in Connecticut.
In the meantime, he's hanging out with friends and family, and getting reacquainted with life in Los Angeles. He's not, as he puts it, collecting stamps or racing cars. He's not worrying about being recognized (or not being recognized). He says he doesn't Google himself on the Internet, ever.
Told it would inform him that he's allegedly dating Parker Posey ("Best in Show," "Superman Returns"), or at least cuddling up with her in public, he says, "Fantastic. Good choice. She's amazing. She's great."
And that's all he has to say on that subject. No confirmation, no denial, no chance at conversation about his private life, which has included its share of drama, tragedy, and loss. Keanu Reeves - big surprise - isn't talking.