August Man (Singapore), December 2008
Keanu Reeves Plays Mind Games
And Keanu Reeves plays...an alien.
Finally. The perfect role?
by Ervin Ann
The irony doesn't escape us, but what do we know? It's the coy superstar - and his agent, probably - who sign the million dollar contracts. Despite reams of protests against the expression intolerant mug, the inelastic roles, and extreme reclusiveness, we still see Jack Traven (Speed) in every character since 1994.
But we like the man. His name in Hawaiian means "Cool Breeze Over the Mountains" (we're serious), and he's dating the righteously cool Parker Posey - they're expecting a baby next year. (lolwut. No they're not. - Ani) Mr. "Cool Breeze" is a glowing, counter-culture reminder of how, at a youthful 44, you can survive the craft: take the trade and make enough dosh to not give a damn.
Mr. Matrix plays Klaatu the alien - hold the sniggering - in the remake of the 1951 classic, The Day The Earth Stood Still. Director Scott Derrickson felt Reeves was a dream cast because he felt Reeves could portray "a lack of humanity", and that Klaatu would not be "doing things that are highly unusual or highly quirky." (See? The man knows his actors.)
In this exclusive interview, the soon-to-be Dad talks about playing an alien, Wolverine envy (the role he lost to Hugh Jackman) and yes, Dogstar.
August Man: Were you familiar with the 1951 film when you were approached about this one?
I loved the original. I saw it first when I was 14 or 15 on a black and white television. I might have seen it one other time growing up and then I watched it when I was approached to do the remake. I remember as a young boy enjoying the spectacle, the drama, the flying saucer, the scary music, the power when everything stopped in the world, but watching it again I observed the sly, clever social commentary about the media and the world.
Sci-fi is a great genre for exploring politics and social commentary. Was that part of the appeal for you?
Yes, it is a Trojan horse. It's a vessel in which anything can be put into, whether it is social commentary, action or romance.
Do you think The Day The Earth Stood Still is relevant now? Why was it the right time for a remake?
The 1951 film was looking at the Cold War and atomic weapons, the nuclear bomb and the separation of countries. It shows how Klaatu was trying to get an international meeting together with world leaders and how that was impossible because of lack of a cooperation. You could not get everyone at the same table to talk. Klaatu was thinking to himself, "I can wipe you all out and you can't sit at the same table together? How self centered are you?' In our film, Klaatu is making a judgement about whether the human species lives or dies, although it is much more than an 'eco message'. Klaatu says; "Your backs are against the wall, you have to change the way you are or cease to exist."
How challenging was this role physically for you, playing an alien?
In the early part of the film he is more alien than human. I guess a large part of the story is about whether this entity, this alien, will change its mind and how it becomes more human and starts to relate to humans. So we decided that in the beginning he should just be very different. That involved having no natural human gestures or behavioral signs but appearing more flat and expressionless. He has a concentrated way of seeing the world. I found that physical aspect very challenging.
What kind of personality did you give to Klaatu?
The director Scott Derrickson was interested in making a big propulsive drama and my Klaatu has a sinister edge to him. Because ours is a dramatic trhiller, the director wanted my Klaatu to feel dangerous. So I was not trying to be warm and fuzzy but neutral and flat. It felt like I was always withholding and I knew something you didn't.
Interesting. Tell us a bit about the plot.
I come to Earth and ask to meet with the United Nations an I am denied that. Basically the Government is after me. Kathy Bates is playing the Secretary of Defence, Jennifer Connelly a scientist. The threat in this film is kind of implied but I do not want to give away too much of the story.
Is the film a message for humans to behave better?
I think so, yes. That is the point I could also say it is about the apocalyptic tendencies that we have It seems man has this extinction impulse and it looks at the big question: How do we get around that? The film takes the position that compounding fear with more fear isn't necessarily the best answer.
Keanu, what is your view about life on other planets?
I've met people who have seen UFOS and experienced their cars shutting down, I don't know anyone who has ever been abducted. But I imagine there must be life outside our planet. How could there not be? The universe is so vast. I guess a lot of people think to themselves . If they are here then why don't they show themselves? But I think the idea that life doesn't exist anywhere but here is crazy.
Did you always have a thing for sci-fi?
It started when I was eight or nine. I played with Lego as a kid. I made space ships and I remember seeing Star Wars, which was amazing because I had never seen anything like it before. It was the adventure that I loved. And then as I got older it became a little more intellectual until I got to (scence fiction writer) William Gibson, so it grew up with me.
Is there a sci-fi character you would have liked to play, but didn't?
I have to admit I had a little actor envy when I did not get to play Wolverine in X-Men. I did not mind those claws and I liked his fortitude and his honor. I loved Frank Miller's four-part series on Wolverine - that was pretty cool.
You like books, don't you. What's on your nightstand?
I have just finished In Search Of Lost Time (by Marcel Proust), which was fanastic, and also the Rabbit Angstrom series ('The Four Novels' by John Updike: Rabbit Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit at Rest). That was cool, reading literature, looking at America over the past 40 years, post World War II, the 60s, how he felt about the Vietnam War. It examined how he felt about Kennedy, about racial issues and growing up in America. It was amazing.
You've had a sweet career so far. What would you say were your best moments?
I've had a few of those: My first professional play, getting an agent for Romeo And Juliet, doing River's Edge, My Own Private Idaho, Point Break, The Devil's Advocate, Speed. And yeah, The Matrix.
Have you got wiser with age, do you think?
I don't know. I guess you get confronted with the same choices and if you keep making the bad choice it shows you didn't gain any wisdom, but when you get the same offer and you don't make the bad choice anymore, then maybe yeah, you did get wiser.
Is biking still a passion for you? Do you still hit the road?
It is. For me it is about getting out and feeling the wind in my hair and just having two wheels to ride. I love the physical aspect and the way you get to enjoy landscapes. It's pretty fantastic. I've got three Norton Commandos (classic British motorcycles) and a West Side Chopper.
How would you describe your style?
I like casual jeans and T-shirts but I guess if I have a look it is suits and T-shirt with a casual boot. I tend to like straighter Napoli silhouettes; they seem to be more flattering to me.
Do you still play bass guitar with your band Dogstar?
No, the band broke up but I loved playing with them over the years. I have some great memories. I really enjoyed the fraternity of playing with a band and the creative act of writing songs. And I really enjoy performing. I like to be on the road. There were a handful of gigs that were great, from our earliest shows in Hollywood, opening for Bon Jovi at The Forum in LA, to our show in San Francisco and traveling to Japan to perform. I would like to play again at some point.
What would your own ideal future look like?
I want the best for my friends and family, good work, a healthy relationship and some fun. My idea of fun? Spending time with friends, a little traveling, some good wine and a good book.