Can-do Keanu: Director impressed with star's skills, work ethic
by Angela Dawson
HOLLYWOOD - Director David Ayer, who wrote the Denzel Washington police drama Training Day, calls Keanu Reeves, the star of Street Kings, his latest depiction of police corruption, an enigma. "We all have a certain idea of who Keanu is or what kind of guy he is," says Ayer, a Navy submariner turned filmmaker. "To paraphrase Stephen King, what fans think actors are is fiction." Ayer found Reeves to be quite different from his image. "When I met him in person, I discovered a thoughtful, intelligent, deep thinker," he says. "He's also a kind, warm, charismatic guy - and a little bit shy."
Determined and committed
Ayer recalls that Reeves was a determined and committed actor. For example, he points to one cold, rainy day during pre-production when they were at a police shooting range practicing weapons training for the film, which opens Friday.
"I was ready to punch out," Ayer says with a laugh. "But he was like, 'No, no, no.' He wasn't going to quit. So we kept shooting in the rain for hours."
Reeves' determination to look - not just act - the part of a seasoned LAPD detective was par for the course. He plays the role of Detective Tom Ludlow, part of an elite unit of vice-squad officers. His job is to crack down on the city's most dangerous drug dealers. Under the wing of the unit's rising-star captain, the unit sometimes dispenses its own brand of justice.
Despite this tight fraternity, Ludlow's personal life is in shambles after his wife's death. He drinks, even on duty. Only when he's working - knocking around bad guys, sometimes going over the line - can he escape his personal demons. Of course, playing outside the rules can be risky, particularly when his brothers-in-blue are hiding their own secrets.
The flawed character reinvents Reeves, primarily known for heroic, leading man roles.
"It was fun to be pushed into a place I don't normally live in," says the youthful looking 43-year-old. "He's a good guy. You just don't want to get on his wrong side."
As for the commitment he demonstrated during training, Reeves shrugs it off as part of his preparation process.
"I wasn't very good and I just wanted to be able to look like I knew what I was doing," he says.
Co-star Chris Evans (Fantastic Four), who plays a young internal-affairs investigator, describes Reeves as a perfectionist. Evans, 26, counts himself among Reeves' fans, dating back to one of his earliest performances in the 1989 comedy Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
The right balance
Although Reeves' fame and intensity may have intimidated some actors during auditions, Ayer observed that Evans struck the right balance with him.
"He was able to stand up to Keanu and have a sort of dignity and strength, and at the same time have a sense of innocence," he recalls.
John Corbett, who plays another member of the special vice unit, recalls shooting one particularly hairy scene with Reeves.
"Keanu is in the backseat (of a squad car) and I'm driving," the former Sex and the City star recalls. "We're actually driving through the streets of LA in a choreographed stunt with real cars coming at us. A couple of times we smacked off the side of a bus, and there are really no special effects. We're flying about 50 mph for almost a mile and a half and Keanu has a handcuff in my mouth. ... It was pretty intense."
Reeves says that although some of the officers depicted in Street Kings are corrupt, he has nothing but deep respect for law enforcement.
"It's not only life on the job; it's the life outside the job," he says of the pressures officers face. "It's not easy and it comes home with you."
Jay Mohr, who plays another member of the vice squad, says Reeves' intensity was only matched by that of Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, who plays their protective police captain.
"The only time I've been taken out of my game in rehearsals was when (Forest's character) was yelling at Keanu's," Mohr recalls with a laugh. "Then I thought, 'Say something.' I blurted out what I thought the line was but it wasn't even close."
Reeves say he, too, was awed by Whitaker's performance.