BBC (UK), June 22, 2011
Keanu Reeves' Ode to Happiness
Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves takes time out from his film career as his first "grown up children's book" is published.
by Genevieve Hassan
Keanu Reeves has developed a reputation in the media for being a bit glum and lonely.
In recent years, the notoriously private actor has suffered a series of personal tragedies including the deaths of his long-term girlfriend and baby daughter.
Then last year, a picture taken of Reeves sitting alone on a bench eating a sandwich fuelled his lonely image and sparked a "Cheer up Keanu" campaign on Facebook.
So a cursory glance at the 46-year-old's first book - entitled Ode to Happiness - would seem to confirm the actor is thoroughly depressed and full of self-pity.
The slim, handstitched book is a poem penned by Reeves, with a line on each page accompanied by simple blotted ink drawings by Los Angeles artist, Alexandra Grant.
"I draw a hot sorrow bath/In my despair room," the poem begins, before going on to mention his "regret shampoo", "pain soap", "I hate myself face cream" and "alone again silk pyjamas".
If you're now smirking at the strangeness of the sombre lines, that was Reeves' intention as the book started out as a private joke between friends.
"Our friend [the book's editor Janey Bergam] sat at Keanu's house one night listening to wonderfully sad self-pitying songs and Keanu, in the spirit of poking fun at them, began to write a poem," says Grant.
Bergman passed the poem on to the artist who spent six months making it into a book to be handed back to Reeves as a gift.
"I thought it was fantastic," says Reeves. "Holding it I just had this moment of looking at it and going 'wow, if I'd like to have this, then other people would like to have this,' so we tried to make it a work as a book."
Reeves is keen to stress that the poem is not a true reflection of his personal life, nor was it designed to counteract his media-created lonely image.
"It's only personal in the sense of looking out and regarding my sense of humour. I don't usually take baths in my despair room with a misery candle burning," he says.
He does admit however, to owning silk pyjamas and using face cream.
The challenge for Grant was creating the right kind of artwork to go with Reeves' text.
"It needed images to match the power of the humour of each line, but also the sadness," she says.
"The work I'm known for in the States has a specific look and I wanted to come up with something that matched the DNA of the poem.
"So thinking through what it would look like took a long time, but the actual making of it didn't take as long because they're very fast drawings."
The resulting published work - which Reeves describes as a "grown up's picture book" - is almost an exact replica of the original gift book.
The pair went to Germany to work with Gerhard Steidl - a renowned printer of arts books - to reproduce Ode to Happiness, printed on thick, quality paper with its own slipcase. And with it being limited to 4,000 copies, is almost a piece of art in itself.
"It's very much an artist's book - a book that's meant to be held and touched," Grant says. "We really cared about the quality of the paper as the drawings are really prints.
"I'd like to encourage people to cut it up - which sounds weird - but you could have this framed artwork if you wanted to."
Although not entirely serious, Reeves thinks the book does have an element of self-help to it.
"There is a kind of life experience in it. I was hoping people would find it relatable and hopefully transformative in a sense," he says.
"It does start off being a true moment - that time when you're melancholic or sad, that kind of very insular moment. Hopefully looking at this you can come out of it and become objective about what circumstances you're going through and maybe have a smile about it."
Grant adds she has experienced a range of reactions to the book: "I've seen people cracking up over it.
"Then I showed it to someone at a bookstore in LA and she started weeping, so you never know what the reaction will be. It depends what people bring to the book but there's a real power to it."
Amidst Reeves' poetic ponderings, he has been busy filming his latest movie in England, 47 Ronin - a take on a well-known samurai legend. He's also producing a documentary called Side by Side which the actor describes as being "about the science, art and impact of digital cinema".
Then there's a possibility of a third Bill and Ted movie: "We did a draft [script] and then we went back with some notes and hopefully we're getting another draft soon," he says.
But what about more poetry collaborations with Grant? Reeves says the pair are planning a second book entitled Haikus of Hope, but he hasn't started on it yet.
"I hope we get to do another book - I just have to get down and do the work."
Ode to Happiness is published by Steidl.