"It took martial arts to make me a villain"
(Translated from Italian by LucaM. Translation edited by Anakin McFly)
by Carlo Bizio
Keanu Reeves made his directorial debut with "Man of Tai Chi" and starred in the blockbuster "47 Ronin"
Of part-Chinese heritage (his father is Chinese-Hawaiian; his mother is English), Keanu Reeves is drawing closer and closer to his Eastern roots by appearing in two films heavily based in that culture.
One is Man of Tai Chi, which he also directed - his directorial debut - and the other is 47 Ronin, a samurai epic inspired by a Japanese legend, and about to be released in Italy. The enigmatic, elusive Keanu, who turns 50 on September 2, has been closely associated with Zen philosophy, tai-chi and all that is martial arts since the days of the first Matrix (1999). The shy movie star of hits such as Point Break, Speed, The Matrix trilogy and most recently The Day the Earth Stood Still 2008 (after which he disappeared from the scene for more than four years), Reeves finally returns to the public eye. For him, it's perhaps like being thrown to the lions: always a pain. But he likes acting, and so is forced to do all of that. With his long, straight and still black hair, grown beard, and dark circles around his eyes, he has the air of one who has just woken up. In public, he can be seen only when he's working or needs to promote something. The rest is spent on the run from the press. Keanu is pleased with one thing: that his elusiveness does not raise as much curiosity as it once did.
Mr. Reeves, explain to us your relationship with the martial arts. Where does this passion come from?
"I've always loved kung fu movies, from Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan. Also, Kurosawa's samurai dramas. I like the fake fights, the artifice of choreographed hand-to-hand combat. It's like a ballet. I like the body movements: the slowness of Tai Chi, the speed of Jujitsu."
In Man of Tai Chi you're playing a villain; why?
"I'm tired of playing heroes. The bad guys are always the most fun to play. I directed the film, so I cast myself in that role: that's one of the advantages of being a director. The bad guys don't have as many scruples as the good guys. I've spent a lifetime in front of the cameras portraying the inner conflicts of people who care and work for the good of others. For once I wanted to have that burden off my back."
You don't feel like doing good to others?
"I do, in my private life. But as an actor, or director, I just want to entertain. I prefer to send my messages by FedEx!"
Man of Tai Chi is performed largely in Chinese as well as English: is it difficult to direct a multilingual movie?
"The important thing is knowing how to communicate. It doesn't matter in what language. Expressing emotions is done with the face more than with words."
What motivated you to act in a blockbuster like 47 Ronin, which is said to have cost nearly $200 million?
"In fact, after The Matrix I really didn't want to fall [into the blockbuster trap] again. But what I liked about Ronin were its themes of honor, revenge and sacrifice. And there's also a tragic love story. I like my character, a former samurai, now a ronin warrior without a master, trying to regain his lost honor. A story inspired by a legend from Japanese folklore. I feel at home with these stories. It was a complement to Tai Chi."
How did you prepare for this role?
"By familiarizing myself with the period of Ronin, in 1700, and trying to identify myself with this formidable outsider. I thought of the integration problems that everyone experiences now in this period of great migrations between different countries and large cities. That's how I conceived my ronin: someone who tries to integrate himself, to redeem his dignity and break free from a certain non-privileged background. As far as the physical aspect I practiced the katana, the Japanese longsword fighting. I've done a lot of gym work and followed strict diets. After a few years I'm back in form thanks to these two films. I was a bit out of shape prior to this.
What do you do when you're not working?
"I read and I play music. I spend a lot of time on my own; I've always had a good relationship with myself. When you're on a movie set you always have to interact with hundreds of people, and that's okay. But when it ends and I go home I feel the need to be alone. Or at most see those few old friends that I've had since I arrived in Los Angeles as a kid, from Canada. I'm very close to my family and my sisters. Inside, I still feel like that Canadian kid who loved to play ice hockey. I don't remember too well how everything that happened after that came to happen."