Keanu Reeves gets personal: actor stars in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
by Katherine Monk
TORONTO - So what if he looks like the one and only Amish pothead to walk the face of the Earth?
Keanu Reeves has always possessed a style so singular, and a screen presence so unique, that he pretty much transcends the well-labelled Hollywood talent pens without consequence to do his own thing.
It's a rare place of privilege in an industry that loves to put a vacuum hose down people's throats in an unending quest for fresh young souls, and Reeves is veteran enough to know it at this point in his career.
He's been acting professionally for a quarter century, and he knows he's had a great ride. After all, not every actor can claim bragging rights to box-office juggernauts such as The Matrix in addition to cult classics such as Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow's testosterone- laced thriller in which the Toronto-raised actor starred opposite Patrick Swayze.
Reeves spoke about his work and his enormous respect for Swayze after the Dirty Dancer lost his battle with pancreatic cancer earlier this week.
"I had the opportunity to work with Mr. Swayze, he was a beautiful person and honest," Reeves said in an official festival news conference. "He had such lust for life and his craft. On Point Break, he kept jumping out of airplanes. Patrick wanted to experience life . . . and he did."
A few days later, in a rare one-on-one set up for his new movie The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Reeves says he's not thinking end-of-days thoughts himself as a result of his colleague's passing. But he is thinking about the trajectory of his life and his career, and how to move forward into what he calls his "second chapter."
"I know I've been very lucky, and at this point, I don't really have to work for dough," he says through a thick black beard.
"There was a time when I did. I remember taking a whiskey ad in Japan for dough, but you know, even then, I ended up working overtime - like, I worked for as long as I was contracted to, but because they didn't finish in that time, I stuck around to make sure they got what they needed so they could finish the commercial," he says.
"I'm the kind of person that once I've committed to doing something, I do it. I want to make sure everyone gets what they need and that we're going to make it the best it can be."
Work ethic counts a lot in the movie business, and anyone looking to explain Reeves' lengthy list of high-profile film credits shouldn't discount the importance of showing up launch-ready.
"I love acting. I've been in certain situations where I've felt compromised artistically, and that can be a problem. But not much anymore. If anything, I love acting more and more."
As Reeves talks about his craft, his tone shifts a little. From a man who seemed skeptical about the entire interview process just a few moments ago, he's now almost chatty as he explains his approach to each role.
"I look at the story, see what it's talking about, and then judge where I can fit into it as the character," he says.
"Did you see A Scanner Darkly?"
Reeves is referring to one of his smaller, far more challenging roles as Bob Arctor in Richard Linklater's digitally captured and reanimated fantasy from 2006.
"That one was kind of tough. It was hard to get a handle on. What was it all for? And what does it all mean? They were tougher questions for Bob, the character, to answer . . . and it was tougher for me."
Reeves remains intrepid nonetheless, and that's probably the most compelling thing about him: he's professionally fearless.
Think about it: few actors who've squatted down and birthed a successful mega-franchise would even contemplate taking on a role that could interfere with the formula of their success.
But Reeves is game for just about anything, it seems, even romantic comedy.
After playing everything from gay male hooker (My Own Private Idaho) to macho action star (Speed), Reeves says he's looking at the next phase of his career from a pragmatic perspective.
"I'm not cynical about acting. But at a certain point, you realize there are certain things you know how to do and you have to be careful not to do them too much," he says.
"I feel I'm starting the second chapter of my career. It's a property of age. Certain roles and what you've done in the past just don't hold the same power. But you still want to go through that process . . . and sometimes, you need to confront your own process (to keep it fresh and exciting)."
At the moment, is preparing to star in The Cherry Orchard, the Anton Chekhov play; he's created a small production company; and has taken on the burden of developing two original scripts.
"They're both romances," he says, with a hint of an ironic smile at the edge of his hairy lip. "They're like romantic comedy and drama."
Reeves admits to having a certain fondness for the genre, and with good notices for his roles in Something's Gotta Give and Rebecca Miller's The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, which premiered here at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, Reeves could well be reborn as Canada's own Cary Grant - a romantic leading man for the ages (and all ages).
"I like romances," he says with a twinkle. "I believe in love . . . in the movies."