Keanu Reeves: A quiet confidence
by Mumtaj Begum
Despite so much success, Keanu Reeves has managed to stay under the radar, and continues to pursue his own choices, on screen and off.
IT’S hard to imagine that Keanu Reeves is OK with reprising the goofy and incompetent but utmost loveable character that he first played in the 1989 film, Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure. After all, the last time he played Ted was exactly 20 years ago in the sequel, Bill And Ted’s Bogus Adventure [sic], and since then, a lot has changed. He is older, has better sense of style, and – most importantly – is an A-list actor with a couple of major blockbusters to his name. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the lanky actor and his former co-star, Alex Winters [sic], have been talking about reviving their Bill and Ted characters for some time now, although no one can quite figure out if they are serious or just joking.
It wasn’t until an interview in April this year that Reeves confirmed that a screenplay for this project is in existence – “Bill and Ted at 50 might be funny,” Reeves told Jimmy Fallon on the latter’s late night show – and Winters tweeted a few days later that he’d got the script and was going to read it. There hasn’t been an update on Bill and Ted in more recent times, but the little news item proved that no one can quite predict what Reeves is going to do next.
Whether he’s on the big-screen or in public, Reeves always has a mysterious aura about him, which only compounds people’s curiosity. Nonetheless, the media seems to stay out of his way – which is odd, considering this is the age when people are obsessed with celebrities. Reeves, who now lives in Los Angeles, has said in interviews, that he leads a very boring private life, and doesn’t go out of the house much, which is apparently how he manages to keep such a low profile.
Cheer him up
So, it came as a surprise when the “Sad Keanu” phenomenon exploded online one year ago. It started when a paparazzo took a photo of a forlorn-looking Reeves sitting on a bench eating lunch alone. When that picture was posted online, it began to make its rounds through the “Internet Meme-land” (in which an image, video, phrase or simply an idea, is spread from one person to another for no logical reason; in this case the “sad” Reeves was photoshop-ed into many odd situations). A Facebook event called “Cheer Up Keanu Day” was also declared! Well, it didn’t take too long before this funny business ran into red tape due to, ironically enough, copyright issues (nonetheless, the many manipulated images still pop up from time to time on various sites). When Reeves was told about this much later (by nymag.com), he just laughed before replying good-naturedly: “Well, it sounds like harmless, good clean fun.”
Besides being unpredictable, Reeves is a very nice bloke without a chip on his shoulder, even if he has played the Messiah a couple of times now! Surf the Net for fan encounters (and there are a few because Reeeves [sic] doesn’t bother to put on a disguise when he’s out and about) and they all say he’s a nice guy. Ditto the people who have worked with him – Sandra Bullock is a close friend, as was the late River Phoenix. What is especially astounding about his good manners is that Reeves has not had such an easy life (father deserted the family; a tough time in school due to dyslexia; suffered a couple of tragedies including the death of his girlfriend in an accident, which happened after she gave birth to their stillborn daughter; his sister’s battle with leukaemia; those really unkind reviews of his performances) and yet he remains a decent and polite human being.
This quality shines through even during this 30-minute telephone interview with the star, arranged by Golden Screen Cinemas. Speaking from Toronto, late last year, at the city’s film festival which he attended for the showcase of the film Henry’s Crime, Reeves says that he doesn’t expend much energy worrying about how he’s represented in the media because “there’s not much I can do about it and it doesn’t interest me.”
For director Malcolm Venville (who Reeves worked with on Henry’s Crime), the star’s private nature worked to his advantage. In a separate telephone interview with Venville, he says: “I like that in an actor. I like an actor who is more understated and forceful, rather than just flailing his arms about like a crazy lad.”
The British director – making his first American feature – adds: “Keanu Reeves is fantastic, he’s a highly spirited actor. He really understands the lens and the camera. Actually I learned a lot from him.”
Venville not only interacted with Reeves as his leading man, but also as one of the film’s producers. Henry’s Crime marks the first film from Reeves’ production company – Company Films – which he started six years ago with his friend, Stephen Hamel. It was Hamel who had the idea for Henry’s Crime and, together, the business partners got Sacha Gervasi (The Terminal) to write the script. It took four to five years more of collaboration before they sent out the completed script to actors they wanted for the film – Vera Farmiga and James Caan came back with positive feedback, signing on as Reeves’ co-stars.
Reeves, who turns 47 come September, chuckles when asked if he thinks the film carries extra weight because his name is behind it, both as producer and star. “I sure hope so,” he answers.
His production company is already looking at about five other scripts to be turned into films, and Reeves hopes to act as producer for the films. “It’s sometimes difficult to wear two hats because, as an actor, you’re supposed to take care of your emotions and, as a producer, you’re supposed to take care of other people’s emotions.”
But trust Reeves to pull it off.
Venville reveals that he only benefitted with Reeves onboard as a producer. “Keanu had (the) ability to protect me from the more dangerous elements of film production. He’s very supportive.”
It’s clear Reeves took his time to go about completing this particular project. One of the most hardworking actors in Hollywood, Reeves usually makes at least two films in a year. But a quick check on imdb.com shows Henry’s Crime to be his only film in 2010 and 2011. After promoting that film last year, he went on to star in Generation Um (which is currently in post-production) and a 3D-action film about samurai in the 18th century (47 Ronin, also currently in production). Both are scheduled for 2012.
Kung fu fighting
He says he enjoys making both studio and indie films. “It’s great fun. Hopefully I can continue to do that. Working in different genres, I just find that interesting. Maybe it’s just variety. I don’t know.”
If he ever finds himself behind the camera in the role of a director, he says he wants to direct a kung fu film. “A Chinese kung fu film,” he specifies.
For him, it doesn’t matter if the film uses the basic tools (like Henry’s Crime) or the latest technology (The Matrix) to tell a story, Reeves admits he has always had a great time making films. What is perhaps ironic is the fact that this self-confessed sci-fi fan (Reeves has read many books in this genre, including some of the more complex ones, like Simulcra And Simulation, Out Of Control and Evolutionary Psychology) says he uses a Macintosh computer that’s more than three years old – “it can’t talk to other computers right now; I have to upgrade it”.
Foray into acting
The Beirut-born Canadian – who grew up in a couple of different places, including New York and Toronto – turned to acting more than 30 years ago when his ice hockey ambitions were dashed due to an injury. He was 15 when he participated in a stage production at a local theatre in Toronto. His TV debut came in the form of a comedy series – Hangin’ In – on Canadian TV, which he followed up with a number of commercials and, finally, the studio film Youngblood.
With the help of his then-stepfather – Paul Aaron, a stage and television director – who got him an agent in Los Angeles, Reeves made his way there in the mid-1980s. Some minor roles later, he appeared in River’s Edge, followed by the Bill & Ted films. Reeves’ career started to soar in the 1990s with films like Point Break, My Own Private Idaho and Speed. For every entertaining film though, he has made a corresponding terrible one (A Walk In The Clouds, Johnny Mnemonic and Chain Reaction).
Reeves’ career was propelled to new heights when he took on the role of Neo in The Matrix. Always one to take risks, the handsome actor doesn’t shy away from smaller roles (like an abusive husband in The Gift, and the younger man involved with an older woman in Something’s Gotta Give and The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee) as these allow him to work with people he wants to work with. For Henry’s Crime, he got to work with Caan, whom he describes as a lovely man. Reeves says: “He’s a bit of a prankster. He brings great spontaneity ... a real professional. He likes to tell jokes and stories. He’s great.”
His dedication in wanting to work with some people extends to him taking a pay cut – which is reportedly what happened for The Devil’s Advocate and The Replacement [sic], which starred Al Pacino and Gene Hackman, respectively. He says his choices of projects, at the moment, are based on “how I respond to the story, how the story is told and who is telling the story”.
Despite his varied choices, his unusual acting style has not been viewed too kindly by some segments of audiences and critics. A few pockets of people dismissed him long ago based on his choice of roles, and others just consider him to be too good-looking to be taken seriously. Sometimes it is easy to forget that like every actor, Reeves is vulnerable to the script, the director and the film itself.
But perserverence is something that Reeves has in abundance – which is evident in how he conducts himself and how he continues to work with major players in the film industry.
Plus, he remains a cool guy no matter how much the heat is turned on.
Reeves says he doesn’t have any regrets career-wise and has never wished to go back and change anything. “I started when I was 15. I love acting and I feel really lucky to be able to, so far, have a career.
He continues: “Sure, when we take time to reflect, we’d think, ‘how did we get here?’ When I do, I just think I have been very fortunate that I can continue. I hope I get to make films that I love and I hope to make films that people enjoy.”