The GQ+A With Keanu Reeves: On Making Documentaries, Directing for the First Time and That Bill & Ted Sequel
by Chris Heath
Keanu Reeves—now, there's someone who seems to have slipped our attention for a while—is on the telephone. When he said in an interview a couple of years ago that the second chapter of his career was about to begin, no one took much notice. But now the evidence is mounting—and as ever with Reeves, it is a curious mix of fascinating, tantalizing, and perplexing. He is directing a movie. He has published a poetry book. (Well, one long poem.1) And this month there is Side by Side, a diligent and thoughtful documentary in which Reeves interviews a roll call of cinema's most famous directors (Scorsese, Soderbergh, Lynch, Nolan, Lucas, Fincher, Cameron, etc., etc.) about the transition from photochemical to digital filmmaking. Bill and Ted suddenly seem a very, very long time ago. (And yet...)
GQ: Where are you?
Keanu Reeves: I'm in Beijing. I've been here for six or seven months. Working on the kung fu movie.2
GQ: Is directing harder than you expected?
Keanu Reeves: It was a mountain that I was looking forward to climb.
GQ: You've chosen a movie that's largely in Mandarin, a language you don't speak—that's quite a mountain.
Keanu Reeves: It looks, and it has been, beautiful. We've just finished day 76.
GQ: Why did you think the change in film technology was an important enough subject to make a documentary about?
Keanu Reeves: Well, I love cinema, and I thought that this was a pretty big deal. This moment in time when over a hundred years of photochemical filmmaking is going to be phased out. I wanted to look at that.
GQ: Do you think most moviegoers care that this change is happening?
Keanu Reeves: Um, I don't know. I mean, if I had to guess, probably not.
GQ: And should they?
Keanu Reeves: I don't know. Maybe the film will enrich watching films. Maybe it will help promote some reflection.
GQ: Were you nervous to speak with any of these directors?
Keanu Reeves: When we went to go meet George Lucas, that was something. And Martin Scorsese. I mean, I'm sure you feel this once in a while—you know: "I don't want to be an asshole." You're going to go and talk to George Lucas: Get your shit together!
GQ: People may be unable to believe that you are approaching 50.3 Do you feel the same?
Keanu Reeves: Absolutely not. My knees are well aware of it. Mortality is very different when you're 20 to when you're 50.
GQ: You think about that stuff a lot?
Keanu Reeves: It creeps in here and there, doesn't it? You look out the fucking window and then you think about your eyes closing.
GQ: It seems the least likely thing for you to do is another Bill-and-Ted movie. And yet it seems you are.
Keanu Reeves: We have a nice story. We'll see if anyone else wants to make it.
GQ: Is it easy to imagine those characters middle-aged?
Keanu Reeves: I don't know. It's one thing to think about it, but to perform it... One of the plot points is that these two people have been crushed by the responsibility of having to write the greatest song ever written and to change the world. And they haven't done it. So everybody is kind of like: "Where is the song?" The guys have just drifted off into esoterica and lost their rock. And we go on this expedition, go into the future to find out if we wrote the song, and one future "us" refuses to tell us, and another future "us" blames us for their lives because we didn't write the song, so they're living this terrible life. In one version we're in jail; in another we're at some kind of highway motel and they hate us.
1 The book, Ode to Happiness, is an illustrated volume presenting a poem roughly one hundred words long that Reeves wrote one night in response to the depressing songs being played on the radio. It begins: I draw a hot sorrow bath / in my despair room / with a misery candle burning.
2 "The kung fu movie" appears to be called Man of Tai Chi. Keanu developed its story with Tiger Hu Chen, who was a stuntman in the Matrix movies and co-stars with Reeves.
3 Reeves will be 48 in September.]