Street Kings - Keanu Reeves interview
by Jack Foley
KEANU Reeves discusses his role as a corrupt, violent cop seeking redemption in Street Kings, as well as the extensive research he carried out. The interview was conducted in Los Angeles.
Q: What did you like about this role and story?
Keanu Reeves: I liked Tom Ludlow. I liked his complexity. I liked his violence. For an actor it was a nice stretch portraying someone very different from myself. So that had an attraction for me.
Q: What is the fascination of playing a violent character?
Keanu Reeves: First of all, we have to say that I’m dealing with pretend violence here so it is not real. It’s interesting because violence within the context of policing has a sense of control and power to it, whether it is dominance, getting what you want, or acting out of emotion. At the same time, it is not ultimately satisfying and Ludlow is trapped in the cycle. I was intrigued by the level of violence surrounding him all the time. He can be viewed as either someone who kills in the name of the law or someone who delivers justice. Dramatically, that’s a high price to pay and I was interested in how that would play out and what the cost would be to him as a human being.
Q: He seems like a sad or tragic man. He has lost his wife but we don’t hear much about her…
Keanu Reeves: You can tell how he has suffered in his response to people who die in the movie in terms of the way he is with his ex-partner in the force and others. The grief of losing his wife is seen in his bond and communication with the guys close to him. It’s a brotherhood and they are here with him. In a way, they are surrogates. He’s transferring some of his grief and wishing that it was different and wanting to be present. So when he is with them he is with his wife, in a way.
Q: What is the difference between this film and other cop thrillers? This one is very gritty and intense isn’t it?
Keanu Reeves: David Ayer created a film that has a lot of different voices and they’re all allowed to keep their voices. There are events seen from my perspective, Wander’s perspective [Forest Whitaker], James Biggs’ perspective [Hugh Laurie], Paul Diskant’s perspective [Chris Evans]… All the cops are allowed to be and exist without anyone either judging them or guiding them in any direction. They have outcomes though. We find out what happens to Wander and to Ludlow and Detective Diskant but I think David Ayer allows the complexity with all the different characters and threads to remain, rather than just having one milieu as there was in films such as Serpico and LA Confidential. There are often archetypes in movies when it is a matter of ‘us and them’ but this film has a lot of gray areas and I think is very sophisticated.
Q: What reaction have you had from the police to the film?
Keanu Reeves: A couple of cops have seen it and they don’t mind it at all. They think it’s pretty good. The plot is exaggerated and heightened for Hollywood but I’ve heard from a couple of people who think it spoke well about the behavior of people in the unit to each other and they think it captured some of the humor, the communication and dynamics. I have had a positive response.
Q: Do you think it is justified when American police officers act outside the law as we see in this film?
Keanu Reeves: I don’t know. I think it all comes down to checks and balances. I think you have to have those checks in police forces. Without them, it seems that abuses happen.
Q: Do you think violence is sometimes a solution to crime? And what do you think about people owning guns?
Keanu Reeves: I do think violence is sometimes a very practical solution but I don’t think it is the ultimate solution. Owning a gun is not OK for me. But I could argue both sides. Why shouldn’t people own them? I’m not fundamentally against citizens having access to a weapon but I think it has complications. It’s probably not the wisest idea. Obviously, it has consequences. Personally, I do not own a weapon.
Q: When did you get involved with Street Kings?
Keanu Reeves: I worked on the script for a while before the director David Ayer came onto the project. And then we worked together on the script and the dialogue.
Q: How do you handle a gun in a film like this?
Keanu Reeves: With respect. It is a powerful weapon.
Q: What kind of gun training did you do?
Keanu Reeves: My training included simulation, basic timing techniques, double-tap citing, movement and entering rooms. We had something called a ‘shoot or don’t shoot simulator’. You would have your own perspective. You would enter a house and look around and maybe someone would jump up and he might have a knife or no weapon and you have to address the situation, the threat, and say ‘shoot’ or ‘don’t shoot’. It was interesting because I’m a pretty good shot but I started out as a long-haired hippy who did not want to shoot anything while my director, David Ayer, was killing everything that moved. I was “don’t shoot”, he was “shoot”, so we had a pretty good balance.
Q: How much did you have to work out?
Keanu Reeves: I don’t know if I had to work out beyond what I normally do but it was specific to the role. I wanted Ludlow to have a heft to him. I wanted him to be thicker and look like he trained hard. I wanted him to look physical, to have a strong presence. So I lifted weights and trained a lot.
Q: What was it like filming in LA?
Keanu Reeves: I had never been to a lot of the places where we filmed so that was cool and it was interesting to see new parts of LA.
Q: Do you prefer filming LA or being away?
Keanu Reeves: Probably both. I wouldn’t want too much of one thing. I like to work in LA but wouldn’t want to work here all the time. It is interesting filming in other locations.
Q: Has it given you a better understanding of the police?
Keanu Reeves: “Yes it has. I relate to them more, I have more of an idea of the man or woman in uniform and what they go through than I did before, absolutely.
Q: What was it like spending time with them?
Keanu Reeves: I got to spend time and ride along with a couple of guys. They were very generous, explaining what happens to them in their job. One of them in particular was really helpful, telling me what it was like to go home after work. He gave me a book about what they call ‘hyper vigilance’. It’s a state that a lot of people in law enforcement have to deal with, which basically involves always being in a ‘fight or flight’ mode. Your adrenaline is up and your job has placed you in a heightened world and then you have to come home and the book looks at how to deal with that. So, this gentleman was telling me how he did and didn’t deal with it himself.
Q: Given the intensity of the role, how did you spend your time when you weren’t filming?
Keanu Reeves: On this film it was just about getting ready for the next day because it was a really intense shoot. We did not have a lot of time so they were long hard days, 15, 17, 18 hour days and I was in every shot of the movie.
Q: How do the police treat you? Do you get ‘special’ treatment?
Keanu Reeves: Generally, I’m treated the same as anybody else. I have actually never really had a bad experience with the police – well that’s not true! I was in handcuffs once. But that incident was probably my own fault. I just didn’t say, “yes sir, no sir” quickly enough.
Q: How do you select your roles these days?
Keanu Reeves: I care about every movie I work on. At the start of a career I guess, it is not really up to you. You audition for every role. There are still roles I audition for and I take meetings so that has somewhat changed, but not completely. I don’t mind though. I like meeting directors. It can be helpful because sometimes when you meet filmmakers you find out if you like them and if they like you, and that is important in terms of considering a role. Choosing a role is all about whether I relate to the role and the story really. That’s the criteria.
Q: Would you say that you are drawn to flawed characters, anti-heroes?
Keanu Reeves: Yes I am, they are good roles to play. The anti-hero or hero usually has a journey or quest so they are interesting as you find out what’s going to happen, what they are looking for. What are they trying to do? Sometimes what they do is heroic or comes with a price or sacrifice or maybe the way they do things isn’t so great and that’s when they become anti-heroes. But the journey of an anti-hero combined with a good story done well is always worthwhile.
Q: Did you ever consider becoming a career in the police as a child?
Keanu Reeves: No I didn’t. When I was kid I never considered that at all. I wanted to be a racecar driver, an inventor, a conductor of an orchestra or a nuclear physicist. Those were my dreams.
Q: How passionate are you about acting?
Keanu Reeves: It’s not the same as it was when I started but when it works, it is still really rewarding and fun. I enjoy it very much, I am still curious because it always changes.