Keanu Reeves: Not so ordinary a career
by Emma Jones
In a 20-year career he's done action, comedy, thrillers, Shakespeare and sci-fi - yet many still seem to believe Keanu Reeves is a carbon copy of his character Ted from the movie which made him famous - Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Ted's favourite phrase is "bodacious, dude". Reeves, 47, describes working on a Chekhov play as "a treat, it's a sundae, an ice-cream sundae".
Chekhov features heavily in Reeves's latest film, Henry's Crime which he himself developed over four years with producers and writer Sacha Gervasi. Also starring James Caan and Vera Farmiga, it opened the Marrakech Film Festival this week.
"It's about a guy who is sent to prison for trying to rob a bank, which he didn't actually do," Reeves explains.
"When he gets out, he decides to rob the bank for real now he's done the time. To do that he has to use an underground passageway from the bank to the next door theatre, where they're producing a version of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard."
He pauses for a moment before adding: "My friends say it's an existential rom-com crime caper and I think that's spot on."
To those who actually meet Reeves, he's more like Neo, the role of the Chosen One he played three times in The Matrix series, a character he's described as "a very, very honourable man".
Thoughtful and sometimes intense, he explains the varied parts he has chosen during his career, which range from Point Break's surfing cop Johnny Utah, to hustler Scott Favor in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho - a film he shared with his friend, the late River Phoenix.
"I love doing different genres and different ways of movie-making, whether it's lead or supporting roles," says Reeves.
After breakthrough roles in 1987's Parenthood with Steve Martin, followed by the Bill and Ted franchise, action is what he is best known for - from The Matrix to 1994's Speed with Sandra Bullock, as well as in Point Break where he plays a rookie police officer chasing a gang of surfers breaking into banks to fund their lifestyle.
So what's more fun to play - a man trying to catch bank robbers, or a man attempting to rob a bank himself, as in Henry's Crime?
"Actually robbing the bank itself," he replies, smiling. "It's a different kind of stress."
Reeves went straight from doing Point Break to playing Don Juan in Kenneth Branagh's version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, and he says he wants to do stage acting, be it Chekhov or Shakespeare.
"You have no idea how much fun it is to perform. it's so interpretive and there's so much freedom in it," he enthuses.
Is it better than making films?
"No, I had a good thing in Henry's Crime where I could have the best of both worlds," is the diplomatic answer.
Apart from The Matrix series, the last decade has been pretty low key for Reeves. A romantic drama, The Lakehouse with Sandra Bullock, plus a lot of sci-fi - through A Scanner Darkly, The Day The Earth Stood Still and 2005's Constantine - of which only the last got good reviews. However, Reeves has said in the past that when the critics bite, "it's not like I run outside and fall into a catastrophic depression".
In order to do a project now, the actor says it has to hold his attention.
"It's interest, right? Often it's not you seeking a project, it just shows up. So now I'm developing various things, and next year I am going to be doing a Samurai film, called 47 Ronin. It's a Japanese story from the 1700s about war, and hopefully love."
A committed Buddhist, his life philosophy could be seen in the very personal Henry's Crime, where Henry, a dazed-looking tollbooth operator, goes to prison for a crime he didn't commit in order to change his life. Sometimes, he believes, life calls for something outrageous in order to shake things up.
"It's an allegory, and a fable. You have to change your life if you're not happy, and wake up if things aren't going the way you want."
However much he has done to outrun the character of Ted it looks like 21 years later he may be about to embrace him one more time. Though he won't confirm it, rumours abound that Reeves and Alex Winter, who played Bill, have been talking about doing Bill and Ted 3 for years.
What Reeves will talk about is the thought of seeing Bill and Ted in 3D, or if at some point The Matrix may be re-released as a 3D film.
"It would be interesting to see what you could do with them," he muses. "For example, it would be cool to see Bill and Ted as holograms, and you could have some kind of kung fu moves breaking out of the screen in 3D in The Matrix.
"They're almost sure to remake nearly everything in 3D in our generation, although they're still figuring out how to use it. It'll be like all those Turner Classic movies being re-released in Technicolor."
To borrow a phrase Reeves hasn't uttered for nearly two decades - bodacious, dude.