FILMINK (Aus), January 7, 2009 (January / February 2009 issue)
The ever unusual KEANU REEVES proves the perfect choice to play a space-alien-in-human-form in the blockbuster remake THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
by Gill Pringle
Keanu Reeves is banging his head against the table ... slowly ... repeatedly banging his head against the hard wood. No, this isn't a scene in a movie. Reeves' cause for distress is FILMINK's question about whether or not he believes in aliens. It's a fair enough question given that his next role is that of Klaatu, an alien whose arrival on earth triggers global upheaval.
Directed by Scott Derrickson, the sci-fi thriller The Day The Earth Stood Still is a remake of Robert Wise's 1 951 original. Having now done with banging his head, Reeves is apparently ready to discuss the possibility of extra-terrestrials. Confessing that he's never actually seen a UFO himself, he does allow that it's an intriguing prospect. "I wish that I had," he admits. "It sounds very exciting. I've met a few people who've had extraterrestrial experiences. I've just never had one myself, but I've heard many stories of people who've seen UFOs and had their cars shut down and seen the lights and stuff. I have no reason not to believe them. I don't want to be abducted though - those stories never sound good. I don't want the implant eitherl To see them outside the window of an airplane sounds fun though," says the actor in reference to the famous Twilight Zone episode.
Reeves has famously glimpsed the future through the eyes of The Matrix's Neo, as well as carrying Johnny Mnemonic's memory chip in his brain. Almost two decades ago, Reeves glimpsed future stardom in the guise of a dim-witted rocker in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, making stops along his career path to visit the after-life in Dracula and The Devil's Advocate. Having recently played Sandra Bullock's time-warped lover in The Lake House, Reeves is currently preparing to film Cowboy Bebop, a live-action adaptation of the popular anime about a crew of futuristic bounty hunters.
What quality does he possess that leads him to be repeatedly cast in such roles? "I don't know," he replies, running his fingers through his formerly neatly-gelled black hair, which is now spiking in every direction following its close encounter with the table. Not wishing to prompt a repeat of the head-banging, one wonders how he got into the mindset of an alien to play the space visitor Klaatu. "Imagine taking your inner eye and looking at yourself and start there," Reeves replies. "Then have your inner eye have independence as if it was not yours. It was about quietly sitting and being still and thinking about how to feel and how to behave without an affect," he says. "He's an alien in a human body and, in terms of storytelling, he's here to judge humanity. I tried to play him very human but also not human. I tried not to have many behavioural cues, like face gestures or inflections. He's a very human alien who, through the course of the story, gains his humanity."
Reeves is one of Hollywood's best-known stars and, by the same token, also one of its least known. Despite having more than fifty films to his credit the elusive 44-year-old actor remains an enigma. If there's a sadness about him, there's plenty of reason. Reeves was devastated by the death of close friend River Phoenix in 1993, and by his older sister Kim's long battle with leukaemia. Nine years ago, his girlfriend Jennifer Syme gave birth to a stillborn daughter, and sixteen months later was herself buried next to their child following a tragic car accident.
Born in Beirut to British mother Patricia and Hawaiian-Chinese father Samuel Nowlin Reeves, Keanu grew up in Australia and Canada. His parents separated when he was two-years-old, and he was raised by his mother and various step-fathers. Reeves briefly reunited with his dad (who was paroled following a six-year prison sentence for drug possession) ten years ago, but it appears that father and son have since lost touch. Recently romantically linked to actresses Winona Ryder and Parker Posey, admitted loner Reeves finally put down roots last year, purchasing a home in the Hollywood Hills after famously living on-and-off at The Chateau Marmont Hotel for almost two decades. The Wachowski brothers' Matrix franchise made him one of Hollywood's richest men thanks to a profit sharing deal worth an estimated US$330 million, although there's truth in the old adage that money doesn't buy happiness.
Given Reeves' vast wealth, his decision to star in the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still is one based purely on the merits of the project. ''I'd seen the film as a young man, so I had a lot of questions," Reeves laughs of the initial offer to do the film. "After speaking with the director, it seemed like he had a real point of view about how the original film could relate to 2008 in a way that seemed current and appropriate. Specifically, one of the motifs of the film is that man is at a crossroads: it's either extinction or change. My character, Klaatu, lands in Central Park saying that he's a friend of the earth - and he means that. There's a feeling that we are at the crossroads of self-annihilation and extinction because of how we live on the planet. Klaatu is saying, 'If you don't shape up, you're going to have to ship out'."
Also important to Reeves was the fact that this new version was very much its own film "As the original was a story of its time, this film is a story of our time," Reeves ventures. "The original film took place during The Cold War, and brought attention to possible extinction via the atomic bomb. Today's threats to our planet have altered somewhat; it's more of an ecological warning in our version, saying that man's impact on the planet is getting to such a state that you either have to change or it's going to disappear. My character says, 'You guys are great, but you're not worth a planet'. We've got some issues, don't we? We've got population issues, we've got sustainability issues, we've got pollution issues, and we've got technologies that are having quite devastating environmental effects. Do we deserve this planet? It's a gift, and we should appreciate it."
A fan of sci-fi since childhood, Reeves admits that it's a favourite genre. "It's a wonderful genre," he smiles. "It's almost like a Trojan horse, because you can put any other genre inside of science fiction. You can do action-romance like Star Wars, or you can do an existential art movie like Tarkovsky's Solaris. You can even do a comedy like Space Balls. It translates well to a lot of different genres, including this, which is really a dramatic thriller."
In person, Reeves looks almost as young as he did when he first hit the screen 22 years ago. "I certainly feel older," he insists. "Maybe it's my ancestors. I'll thank them for that. Maybe I'll turn 65, and it will just fall apart like a disaster. .. the wheels will come off."