The Sunday Telegraph (Aus), December 14, 2008
Reeves Reloaded(Typed by blueberlin)
His boyish looks and natural charm have earned Keanu Reeves some of the coolest roles onscreen. So what's next for the star who immortalised 'Excellent'? For starters, age shall not weary him.
by Lisa Marks
Keanu Reeves is on a charm offensive. Channelling Johnny Cash in dark blue jeans, black blazer and black T-shirt, the 44-year-old looks every inch the moviestar as he fills the corner of a sofa and crosses his legs with a decisive flourish.
He’s full of praise for Australia, which has a special place in his heart after he spent the best part of two years in Sydney, filming The Matrix trilogy. “I loved the city,” he says of that time, nine years ago. “Great people, beautiful weather, beautiful architecturally and there’s good cuisine.”
His smile is devilishly cheeky and his manner, which comes across as a delicious mix of rockstar and Mr Darcy, is nothing short of captivating. His looks have remained remarkably boyish and as he runs his fingers through his thick black mane and regularly shifts position, it’s as though he’s trying to contain massive reserves of energy.
Reeves is a rare creature in film, a bona fide moviestar who can transcend genre. He can do romantic lead (The Lake House), the action hero (The Matrix), as well as comedy (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) and cult (Point Break, My Own Private Idaho). It’s a worthy résumé, but he readily admits he’s having to adjust to growing older.
“You slam up against mortality, against the projections of your youth and the way you thought life was going to be,” he says philosophically. “So you have to have an adjustment; it’s a resetting of the projections and a resetting of yourself. You definitely have to get used to your flesh.”
Flesh that, by his own admission, has begun to show a few signs of ageing. It’s not often that an A-list actor admits to any sort of weakness, but Reeves – who actually looks in very good shape – is happy to illustrate his point. “There’s the first time you make that weird noise when you bend over to pick up something,” he laughs, slowly hunching forward and scooping an imaginary object off the floor. “That first ‘Urgh’. And you go, ‘What the hell was that noise?’ And then there are the hairs that start coming out of places. It’s like, ‘Wow, where did that ear-hair come from?’ You start to see more of that.”
So, with a movie career spanning more than 20 years, how has he coped with ageing so publicly? “Anyone who’s looked at their own high-school photos has had that same experience,” he says carefully. “But sometimes I’ve seen work from the past and gone, ‘Wow. That’s, like, a different person.’ It’s not weird, it just is.”
Ageing and ear-hair aside, this actor’s life seems charmed, but scratch the surface and there’s a deep well of heartache. Happy though he is to shoot the breeze, there’s a part of him that remains staunchly private, enigmatic even, and with good cause.
He’s long been estranged from his father, Samuel Nowlin Reeves, a geologist who served a prison term for selling heroin; his close friend River Phoenix (his co-star in My Own Private Idaho) died of a drug overdose in 1993 at the age of 23; his younger sister, Kim, has fought a long battle with leukaemia (Reeves has reportedly spent $5 million on her treatment); and, in 1999, the baby girl he and his girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, were expecting was stillborn. Two years later, Syme, by then separated from Reeves, was killed in a car accident in LA.
He’s admitted in the past that the tragedies in his life have changed him. “Grief changes shape, but it never ends. People have a misconception that you can deal with it and say, ‘It’s gone, and I’m better.’ They’re wrong. When the people you love are gone, you’re alone. I wonder what the present would be like if they were here, what we might have done together. I miss all the great things that will never be.”
Hopefully the future will be brighter for the star, who’s subsequently been romantically linked to Winona Ryder, Diane Keaton and, since earlier this year, indie actor Parker Posey. When the couple were recently spotted shopping for baby clothes in Hollywood, the internet became rife with rumours that Posey is pregnant. Reeves, who was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and raised in Toronto, Canada, is understandably reluctant to go into the specifics of his private life – perhaps one of the reasons his allure remains so great – and no one from his camp will confirm the pregnancy tittle-tattle. However, settling down is clearly something that’s on the actor’s mind, even if he struggles to find the right words to express his thoughts on the matter.
”I don’t know about the getting married part any more, but it would certainly be nice…” He falters, then quickly picks up again. “It would be nice to be married once, to try it out… or not. Maybe. I don’t know. I think kids sound good – the whole package sounds all right.”
Having found a certain solace in making movies, Reeves’ output has been remarkable for a man who need never work again. And, as ever, his latest film, a remake of the 1950s cult sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still, is highly anticipated.
He’s been globally revered as the character Neo, ‘the chosen one’ in The Matrix movies, and now his legions of fans will see him play another other-worldly being, opposite Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm and Kathy Bates. In the film, Reeves plays Klaatu, an alien visitor who, along with his giant robot counterpart, visits Earth to decide whether or not it should be destroyed.
Remakes are notoriously tricky to pull off, but it seems director Scott Derrickson put forward a good case. “It’s tough to decide to do a remake, and I liked the original,” Reeves says. “But I spoke with Scott, went to his house a few times and he convinced me he had a reason to make it and that was good enough for me.”
The 1951 version may look quaint now, but it was as groundbreaking back then as The Matrix was in the late 1990s. “It brought the science-fiction genre into the mainstream,” the actor explains. “But it was also a topical movie for its time, and we’ve done the same with this version. It’s a movie with a message; the world is on the brink of a lot of changes, and it talks about the human condition and the fact that humans only change under duress.”
So how did Reeves, who’s known for his commitment to character research (he underwent weapons training with LA police for his role in the recent crime thriller Street Kings and spent endless hours learning karate for the part of Neo), prepare to play a creature from outer space?
”I drew on my inner alien,” he laughs. “It doesn’t really work in the ‘method’ process does it? But my take on it was that Klaatu was more human than human. My interpretation is a little more sinister than the original. His job is to judge humans, so I needed an objectiveness, a stillness. I thought of him as separate from his flesh.”
Derrickson is full of praise for his leading man and says the film was a collaborative experience. “Keanu brought a tremendous amount of creativity and commitment to the process of making this film,” he remembers. “What was impressive about his contribution during that phase of the work was that he wasn’t thinking about himself or his character at all; he was very focused on the overall quality of the screenplay and the story we were telling.”
Having Reeves onboard has given the film a guaranteed audience (as well as huge box-office expectations), but Derrickson was impressed with the actor’s absolute dedication to perfecting the character. “He has a gift that few actors have, which is the ability to draw an audience in with his facial expressions and physicality,” he says. “Harrison Ford has the same gift. I knew that Klaatu would demand an actor who could communicate non-verbally. Keanu worked really hard and the results are truly impressive. You absolutely believe he’s an alien, and there’s nothing silly about it. I don’t think there are many actors who could pull that off.”
Being in the public eye for so long has taught Reeves a few tricks of the trade. He’s curious about the state of celebrity today, but seems to avoid the media with ease, despite living in Hollywood. He’s straight to the point when asked how to keep a low profile in a town that thrives on exposure.
”Don’t go to a nightclub and fall out of it, if you don’t want to be seen doing that,” he grins. “And keep your knickers on.” But surely it’s impossible not to be caught on camera in Hollywood? “There are some paparazzi,” he concedes. “I have a pretty low profile, so I don’t attract too much of that, but they’re there to videotape you, to capture you pumping gas, picking up luggage or walking across the street.”
What happens when he challenges the snappers? “Number one, they say it’s their job; and number two, they say they’re entitled to it, that you’re not ‘a private person’,” he sighs.
Perhaps that’s the price you pay for fame. “That’s the third reason they give. I can see why people say that, but I disagree,” he says. Still, on the flip side, it’s estimated his films have grossed US $3 billion in total and Reeves counts himself very lucky to have achieved that. “Absolutely,” he says simply. “I’m grateful for it. Knock on wood, it will continue. Careers are tough and you have to work a them.”
And work he does. Next up is The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, written and directed by Daniel Day Lewis’ wife, Rebecca Miller (daughter of playwright Arthur Miller), and further down the line, perhaps work on the other side of the camera. “I guess, as I’m getting older, it’s time to think about directing,” he says thoughtfully. “The idea is around, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t pulled the trigger, so to speak.”
Derrickson says Reeves is “more of a storyteller than he realises,” and the actor admits he’s constantly developing ideas. He mentions a script he’s been working on with writer Steven Knight (who was nominated for an Academy Award for Dirty Pretty Things) about an American chef in London.
”I cam up with an idea when I was working on the second or third Matrix, about this mad rock’n’roll chef who’s had some drug problems in the 1990s and comes back, chasing his third star. I could use a few swear words to describe him, but they’re not appropriate to print,” he laughs.
In the meantime, he’s enjoying having his pick of roles (“I probably don’t read as many scripts as you might think, but I try to read a lot”) and treading that fine line between action star and romantic lead. “I enjoy the freedom of being able to play those roles,” he confesses. “I don’t want to be genre-specific, so I’m trying to do different things and find projects that are character-driven. Some people might find it hard to believe, but it’s true.”
With that, he runs his fingers through his hair for the umpteenth time, flashes me that boyish grin and jumps to his feet to shake my hand. Thankfully, I don’t hear any weird noises. SM
The Day The Earth Stood Still is in cinemas December 26.