Keanu Reeves Reflects On His Eclectic Career
Hollywood’s most excellent action star saves the world-again-in The Day The Earth Stood Still. But not before explaining why Hamlet has nothing on Neo.
by Allison Glock
You’ve played a lot of characters who’ve become cultural touchstones. which one do people associate you with most?
Neo from the Matrix trilogy. Even now. And that came out in 1999. Man, I’ve got to get some new stuff going. I feel like that film was iconic in a way, but I don’t feel like an icon myself. An icon is, like, John Wayne and the American West. I don’t feel like John Wayne.
But guys have spent entire weekends getting stoned and watching Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
[Laughs] You know, I was talking to a friend and he was like, “Listen, man, if it’s a Saturday afternoon and Speed comes on cable, I’m watching it to the end.” Some movies are just like that. For me it’s something like ‘Apocalypse Now. If that comes on, I’m watching it. Hell, that’s one I’m actually putting into the DVD player.
Do you ever worry about being seen as a character by the public?
After Bill & Ted there were some people who took that character as me. And I was always like, “Actually, no. Actually. No."
Did you care?
It depends on the exchange. If people reduce you that way, it’s a drag.
Maybe people didn’t get that you were just being funny.
Am I funny? Do I make you laugh, like a clown? I have a sense of humor. As I kid I loved George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison. I like story tellers. And a good pratfall now and again.
You’re better known for your average-guy-confronted-by-darkness roles.
You don’t think Jack Traven in Speed is funny?
Well, maybe. Not as funny as Little Buddha.
You’ve got me there.
If you could play only one part again, which would it be?
Can I pick one I wish I didn’t do? Well, I don’t want to disparage anyone. I wish I’d had a chance to do a second Constantine film. I loved playing him. He was hard-boiled. Broads and demons. He was delightfully bleak.
Who else did you like?
I really enjoyed Kevin Lomax in The Devil’s Advocate and Prince Siddhartha in Little Buddha. Then, of course, you’ve got Bill and Ted.
That’s up there for you?
Yeah, it is. I’m proud of it. I think it’s excellent.
Do any of your films make you nostalgic? The way songs do?
Sometimes I look back on a film, way back, like River’s Edge, and I remember who I was then. Even Point Break...I look at that movie and think, I was young.
Do you wish you were still that young?
I don’t. Maybe my knees do.
You're only 44.
Yeah, but I’ve done a couple of action movies. There is some wear and tear from all the running and jumping I did with abandon.
What was the hardest part you ever did?
The Matrix. We were away from home for 16 months in Australia. That was challenging. But the trilogy was so great I was happy to submit. I recently did this film Street Kings that was also really tough. Day after day, playing this fucking cop. It was intense being in his psychology all the time. But, I mean, it’s not carrying bricks, right? You know what was challenging? Playing Hamlet onstage in 1995. When I was filming Speed, I was learning the lines. I’d go back to my trailer and memorize a soliloquy. It was kind of perfect: I’d read Shakespeare, then go out and jump over shit.
What has been your biggest adventure so far?
Life is a continual adventure. Isn’t that the whole point of life? I mean, isn’t living the adventure? You know, leaving Toronto in 1985 and getting in my car and driving to Hollywood. That was a big one for me. My car was this 1969 British racing green Volvo. The seats were held up by bricks. Newspapers covered holes in the floorboards. It eventually blew up, but I made it across the country. I was 20 years old. I’d wanted to be an actor since I was 15. I had the courage of youth. It’s worked out so far.
Do you feel satisfied now?
Careers are tough. I’ve been developing a couple of scripts for a few years. So, to answer the question, no. I want the drive. I want other stuff to do. But I can look back fondly at what I’ve done. I wouldn’t like to be doing anything else. I get to do all these things as an actor. “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Who wants to be anything forever? I don’t even want to be alive forever. But I wouldn’t mind being around for a really, really long time.
Was this the life you imagined when you drove your car to Los Angeles?
No. I had no idea. I was hoping to get some auditions. I remember when I first started to get recognized. It was kind of weird. One time I was going into this Westwood icecream shop with my girlfriend, and I get to the counter to pay, and the guy says, “It’s OK, man,” and he leans in and whispers, “River’s Edge”. So that was cool. I got some free ice cream.
So you’re in it for the free frozen treats?
There are worse reasons.