Henry's Crime - Keanu Reeves interview
Keanu Reeves talks about starring in and producing heist-thriller-come-romantic-drama Henry's Crime, and why it's become something of a passion project for him. He also talks about working alongside James Caan and how he compares to former co-stars Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino, plus why a Samurai Western is next for him.
by Rob Carnevale
Is it fair to describe Henry's Crime as a passion project for you as both star and first-time producer?
Keanu Reeves: Yes, in the sense that I was part of developing and putting the script together for the past four years, I guess.
So what made you decide this was the film to get involved with on that level?
Keanu Reeves: About seven years ago, I started a production company with a friend of mine and he had this idea of a guy committing a crime he'd already committed [having gone to prison after unwittingly getting involved in a bank robbery]. So we met with Sacha Gervasi, the writer, and he took to it, so then began four years of trying to figure it out - how to tell this crazy story of a toll booth operator who eventually has to play Yermolay Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard and has to rob a bank on opening night.
What did you like about Henry in particular?
Keanu Reeves: I liked his journey. I liked this guy who was kind of at the end of the world... You know, we find him at a toll booth, and he's neither asleep nor awake. And we find out he's a man with no dream, a man who has always just gone along with a kind of quiet dissatisfaction, but through zany circumstances ends up looking to change his life by robbing a bank. I thought that was funny. And then I thought having to play Lopakhin, having to go on stage in an odd way... there's a lot about identity in the film, and developing and evolving. Part of that is being stuck and how we need help to break out of that. And I liked where he ends up - he ends up in love and having to try and win the girl.
Is the identity aspect of it something you can identify with personally as an actor, in terms of finding your way in the profession and in Hollywood?
Keanu Reeves: Yeah, but it's not only Hollywood. As an actor, you're always begging [laughs]. So it was just fun because by playing Henry, I got to play more than one role in a weird way. He kept changing and becoming more and more human as we meet him.
So what's proven more challenging for you as an actor: Shakespeare [in Much Ado About Nothing] or Chekhov [in Henry's Crime]?
Keanu Reeves: [Draws breath and smiles] Challenging? Hmm... Well, I'd never done any Chekhov before. Actually, that's not true. In school, I did part of a scene from a one-act play he wrote called The Bear. But Chekhov is fun! There's a lot of subtext, and it's fun and funny.
I'd imagine another part of the fun of Henry's Crime is starring alongside such a great cast. James Caan, in particular...
Keanu Reeves: Yeah, it was nice to see him do comedy because he's funny...
And there's that truth-telling aspect to his character - you're never sure whether he's being honest or not...
Keanu Reeves: Yeah, which is great. He had fun with that, and I think that's probably the strongest part of what he related to in the role... this conman who doesn't want to leave jail because "they do everything for you in here!" [Laughs]
I gather he came to your house for a table-read at first? Was that a "pinch me" moment for you personally?
Keanu Reeves: He did, and that was very exciting. But having worked on the script and been a part of it for so long, to have people like James Caan say, "Yeah, I like the script, so I'll take an evening and come over and read the thing", was rewarding but also cool. And then to be acting with him, for him to accept the role, and to get to play with him was fun.
I gather he liked to improvise and mix it up a bit. Did he do anything to catch you off-guard?
Keanu Reeves: He's not really interested in that. He kind of tests you in a way - especially when I'm playing Henry, who is pretty held in. He would shove me around a bit.
How does that compare to going up against the likes of Jack Nicholson [in Something's Gotta Give] and Al Pacino [in The Devil's Advocate]?
Keanu Reeves: You know they're all from kind of the same era. Jack's probably a little earlier. But they're just great. I mean, the economy they have in their acting and their availability. They're so dynamic. They're so interesting to watch and have such unique voices. They just know what they're doing - you're on the floor with Al and Jack and they have a beauty to their acting.
So how much do you still continue to learn as an actor from experiences such as those?
Keanu Reeves: You're there and you keep saying to yourself, "Damn that's good! That's really good!" [Laughs] And they also have such a believability to them and yet there's a performance going on. It's marvellous.
How much did you enjoy going up against Vera Farmiga in Henry's Crime? She's a feisty one in this!
Keanu Reeves: Yeah, she is - isn't she great? I like how many times she says, "What?!" It's like a study in how to get different feelings out of a word. But we got along well, which was nice. She's a gamer. She shows up, she's ready to go and she wants to have fun - she wants to play, to get the scene and she's kind of a "take charge" gal... and very committed. She was going through that Oscar campaign [for Up In The Air] and flying in and out, but she was wonderful.
What attracted you as a producer to Malcolm Venville as a director?
Keanu Reeves: One of the producers on the film saw Malcolm's work and showed it to me. So we looked at some of his shorts, his commercials and his photography and then I met with him - we had dinner in Los Angeles. I liked his framing because he has this kind of intimate objectivity, especially in his photography. But how he spoke about the film... he'd say it was very emotional, so I knew there was a kind of empathy to the characters.From the script, he could see it could be quite light, but it needed a little backbone. And I felt Malcolm could bring that - bringing the emotion to it and somehow underlying the high jinks that take place. I mean, the story's crazy! But hopefully delightful!
Now that you've started to produce your own films, is that something you're going to continue with? And can you see yourself directing at some stage? What's next for you?
Keanu Reeves: I'm here in London working on a film called 47 Ronin, which is a kind of Western, I guess, set in the 1700s with Samurai. And I hope to continue producing. I still have the production company and we're developing scripts and trying to raise money and get them made. As for directing, I don't know... we'll see [smiles].