Keanu Reeves’ Dedication to Art Is No Mystery—Pt. 1
by Elliot V. Kotek
Keanu Reeves has embodied popular culture like few other actors, yet he’s retained a level of privacy that has enabled the media to label him “mysterious.” What is a mystery is how Reeves has managed to maintain an element of anonymity in a 24/7 world that denies even minor celebrities their time in the shade.
When I caught up with Reeves for a chat just prior to the U.S. opening of his latest film “Henry’s Crime,” it became clear this is a guy who is all about the work, about applying himself first and foremost to his role, and about ensuring that everyone on set is similarly geared.
By not declaring favorites just as keenly as not revealing others’ secrets — and by being open to all forms of artistic media — Reeves has become one of the most likable (and bankable) stars on the planet. With a box-office cume in the neighborhood of $2 billion, that Reeves gets billed — and sometimes belittled — as one of the “nicest” guys around seems to actually be an injustice to his dedication, application and honest enthusiasm to his work and the meaning of the projects he undertakes.
Reeves was in the Hungarian capital of Budapest when we talked, having just begun rehearsals for Carl Rinsch’s “47 Ronin,” an 18th-century samurai story based on a Japanese legend that co-stars Rinko Kikuchi.
Moving Pictures: How’s Budapest?
Keanu Reeves: It’s good, we’ve been here about a week, and we start filming this coming Friday (March 11).
MP: Been out for dinner at all?
Reeves: I haven’t. I landed and went straight into training and rehearsals on the sets, which are great. I’ve really just been going through the fights I have in this film.
MP: Is that physicality part of the attraction, like in the “Matrix” franchise?
Reeves: Yeah, it’s a kind of Western, and as such there are some fights — fake fights [laughs]. Movie fights are fun, I do enjoy the physicality of them, and they’re fun because everyone is safe.
MP: “The Matrix” was a decade ago. Does it feel like yesterday or forever ago?
Reeves: It feels pretty much like a decade ago. My body feels like it was yesterday, getting back into the training and stuff, but my knees definitely know that it was a decade ago.
MP: Do you think you’ll get a chance to go out and explore?
Reeves: Eventually. I think I just need to get my bearings on the work, and once that comes together, maybe I’ll take in the sights.
MP: Do you have to take precautions when you’re somewhere unfamiliar?
Reeves: My life is pretty normal, [so] I don’t have to worry about that; I kind of just hang out. Most of the time when I’m recognized, most of the time people are pretty nice.
MP: With your being so much a part of the pop culture in so many different ways, do you have an instinct, a sense, when you’re being approached, that this is going to be a “Matrix” fan or this is a “Bill & Ted” fan?
Reeves: Well, for those two, that might be the same guy. I try to just be in the moment, but it’s nice when people acknowledge some stuff that you’ve done.
MP: Does anyone surprise you, screaming out “Oh man, it’s ‘The Gift’s’ Donnie Barksdale!”
Reeves: [Laughs] I got “The Gift” recently. It definitely happens when people see something on cable or something like that. Just the other day, someone mentioned how much they liked “A Scanner Darkly” — and I was just thinking, “Oh great, someone saw it.”
MP: Let’s talk “Henry’s Crime.” This is the first film for your production company.
Reeves: Yeah, with my partner Stephen Hamel. We started to produce about eight years ago, worked on the script with Sacha Gervasi for about five years until a point we thought it was ready, and then we thought we’d try go make a movie. I can tell you I did not know about [completion] bond companies [laughs], which was great. It made me think, “Oh, this is real.”
I knew the floor of moviemaking, I knew everything on the set, how that ran, but I didn’t know about the behind-the-scenes stuff, what it took to get the trucks there, to get the crew there. I do now [laughs]. I went to Lemore Syvan, the producer I worked with on “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee,” went to a director (Malcolm Venville) and a great cast — James Caan and Vera Farmiga and Peter Stormare. I think we made a pretty entertaining film.
MP: Did you find that you wanted to emulate other sets you’d worked on?
Reeves: I had a saying, which is an impossible one: “Everybody happy.” I was just trying to keep everybody happy; I was cheerleading, “Come on,” “Let’s go,” and supporting Malcolm through the whole thing, shooting and editing.
But in terms of emulating other sets, I did want what I’d seen before that worked, where everybody had respect for each other. I’ve been lucky to be a part of some great sets. One of my earliest memories was working on the Ron Howard set for “Parenthood.” I remember the scale of that, in terms of numbers of actors, and that was really professional. I remember watching that.
Continues in Part 2 and Part 3)