Champs-Élysées Film Festival 2014. Interview with Keanu Reeves: “I always had a theatrical approach to acting in Cinema”
by Tara Karajica
In 1994 Speed turned you and your co-star Sandra Bullock into A-list stars. How did this new status change and shape your career?
Keanu Reeves: Speed was my second action film and I think it really influenced some of the opportunities that I had in the future. You know, I think that if I didn’t do Speed, I might not have done The Matrix and certainly, people really enjoyed the film so that allowed me to have opportunities to do other work.
You are known for your versatility and a very eclectic choice of roles. How do you choose a role?
K. R.: Yeah, I think I choose a role like any actor, you know, it’s like ‘What is the character? What is the story? Who’s involved?’ Personally, I’ve always been trying to do, if I could, studio movies and independent films. I started in independent films and I’ve always hoped that I could do lead roles and ensemble roles and do different genres. So, I guess it’s just my taste and I’m just really hoping that that could happen.
But, which one is the best you’ve played so far from your point of view?
K. R.: Oh Gosh! I don’t know… In the 80s, you know, there’s River’s Edge, some of the earliest works I did, I think; Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure; certainly The Devil’s Advocate that was a great role; Little Buddha; Constantine; The Matrix trilogy;Thumbsucker; A Scanner Darkly and recently Generation Um, I think it’s really great. I think the villain in Man of Tai Chi is pretty cool. Yeah, and then some people really love A Walk in the Clouds and Hard Ball and, obviously, Point Break and Speed…
And The Lake House…
K. R.: And The Lake House…? The Lake House is a weird movie! But I kind of like it! Sandra’s so great in it! You really see kind of the wounded side of Sandra Bullock.
How is it to switch from one role to another? From one genre to another? From, let’s say, action to romance and vice versa?
K. R.: It’s a pleasure. It depends on how close they are together. Especially in the beginning, I remember I did these three films back to back: I did Point Break, the second Bill and Ted and My Own Private Idaho and that was really tough. It was tough physically, mentally and spiritually. It was a gift but it was just so tough. But, as the years have gone by, you know, once you go through something you kind of acquire the knowledge of that experience and that helps with how much time you need the next time to do something. So, I’ve gotten better at it but I still need some time.
Which one is easier?
K. R.: Easier… Well, it depends… Action, it’s physical but that takes time to get ready for. I don’t know… It’s hard for me to say they’re hard or difficult but they are demanding.
After Speed, you starred again with Sandra Bullock in The Lake House in 2006 and then after The Devil’s Advocate you were reunited with Charlize Theron in Sweet Novemberin 2001. How was it to work again with these two actresses after many years and in such different roles and films?
K. R.: It was great because we got along. Sandra and I and Charlize and I really got along and love each other and for me it was cool just to watch these actresses, to have the opportunity to see their careers just bloom and see them with their experience and who they are. In a way it’s almost like looking at someone who looks really talented at what they do and then you’re watching them win the Olympics. You’re like ‘Oh my God! They look great at doing whatever they do’ and then they’re like winning a championship and then you’re like ‘Of course they did because they’re really great at it!’ It was like that.
In 1995 you turned down Speed 2in order to star in Hamletat the Manitoba Theatre Centre. Can you comment on that?
K. R.: Yeah, you know it’s a little more complicated than that but I ended up doing that… It was fun. I mean, during the making of Speed I was learning the lines for Hamlet so it was great because I finished Speed and I knew the whole role. And, yeah, I didn’t turn down Speed 2 because of Hamlet… You know, for me it was just that at the time when I saw the script I had trouble with the idea of speed and a big cruise ship. That didn’t sound fast to me but then a bus isn’t that fast either… But, it was more where I was in my life and the script…
Learning the lines for Hamlet didn’t interfere too much with your role in Speed?
K. R.: No, it really helped. It did! It helped! You know, you are waiting for three hours for them to setup the camera. They take five hours to make sure that they don’t kill anyone when the bus does that leap or you have two hours after lunch and you can work on “to be or not to be“… There was a nice balance for me in a way. I don’t know, in a weird way I liked that it was what Jack Traven was working on cause I always thought that he was this kind of fatalistic guy who was an adrenaline junkie who wanted to be the hero so there was something about Hamlet being his mirror. I felt like they talked to each other.
What do you prefer: Theater or Cinema?
K. R.: They both feel like home to me. When I walk on stage, I feel at home and it valors my first experience walking on stage when I was a kid, when I was fifteen, sixteen, doing plays. I always had a theatrical approach to acting in Cinema. And, as I had more time to work in it, getting to learn the camera differently, hitting marks, the whole theatrical filmic acting is different, or can be different and I love that as well, it feels really comfortable as well… I started on stage and got to work in film.
Will you come back to the stage eventually?
K. R.: I don’t know! I’m running out of time! I always want to but… I’ve never been on Broadway. I’d love to be on Broadway but I want to do a new play…
Maybe you can direct it now that you’ve made a foray into directing with Man of Tai Chi and perhaps star in it too?
K. R.: And I can do the costumes, and the music and it can be a one-man show and it’s a one-man show that I do everything in! I’ll call it “Me” instead of “Her”, it will be Me!
You recently co-authored your first “grown up children’s book” Ode to Happiness that started a stream of thoughts about you being glum and lonely? Is it true?
K. R.: I love Ode to Happiness! It’s not true what they say!
You have been busy lately. You produced Side by Side and directed Man of Tai Chi. How has that changed your perspective on Film, on the industry?
K. R.: I made Side by Side before I directed Man of Tai Chi and I think doing Side by Side certainly gave me more confidence to do it because not only was I talking to filmmakers but I was looking at filmmaking and producing too and that kind of put me more into the filmmaking process. So when it was time to choose a camera, I knew what to look for and I was like ‘Ok! Let’s test them, what are the color spaces like? How do they render skin tones? What are the blacks like? What is color like? How are the highlights? How are they dealing with fast motion?’ I kind of knew more about what questions to ask…
Basically, Side by Side was edifying for you in terms of being on the other side of the camera, because as an actor I suppose you didn’t delve into these specifics before?
K. R.: Not as much but I was producing before that with a film called Henry’s Crime…
Which one do you prefer: Acting? Directing? Producing?
K. R.: I want to do it all!
What do you think of films and documentaries about Film, Hollywood and the industry that have been made recently?
K. R.: There have always been movies that are reflective of the filmmaking process, being an actor, a director, making a movie so I don’t think that’s new but I think it’s just a different version of a story because they’ve always done that. So many different movies that have looked back… Documentaries and fiction, there’s a lot! For Side by Side, I hope that if you love movies, if you like movies, if you are interested in movies and people… You are meeting some interesting passionate people, people that are talking about their passion and the director talks about something and you see an example of it, like this is the first digital image or this is color correction and you’re seeing how they are making visual effects for Harry Potter or Avatar, talking about digital images and editing and Lawrence of Arabia and you’re looking at archival footage, so many things about filmmaking and watching movies.
Why did you choose to produce Side by Side?
K. R.: It came from me because I felt like it was the end of photochemical film, the end of Cinema as traditional Cinema. Digital had taken over so much of the workflow. It was in sound, it was in editorial, it was in visual effects, and then now with the new Cinema, the new Cinema cameras, it was the last piece. So, I was watching the filmmaking process and so much of it was digitalized. And so I thought we’ve been telling stories for a hundred years with Cinema and then to see it disappear I wanted to know how the artists are feeling, how the people who are involved in it are feeling. Also, how we watch movies is changing too, all of the different kinds of screens and digital distribution, how are they made. I just wanted to document this moment in time in a way…
Are you more of a film person or a digital person?
K. R.: When I started the documentary I was definitely coming from the film side but I was open to the digital side. I wanted to know what we were losing, what we were gaining. By knowing more what you fear you fear it less…
Who would you like to work with among the filmmakers you interviewed in Side by Sideapart from, obviously, the ones you’ve already worked with?
K. R.: All of them…? It’s an easy answer… but it’s a pretty good selection. It’s like ‘who would you pick if you could only work with 2?’
Yeah, let’s say two?!
K. R.: AAAAAh No! I’m not doing it!
Your first feature as a director, Man of Tai Chi, is about martial arts. Is that a legacy of The Matrix?
K. R.: I have a lot of connections to Tiger Hu Chen who was a stunt man on the first Matrix and second and third and he trained me and that’s where we formed a friendship. And, I wanted to work with him so we developed a story together. I love Kung Fu movies. I like shooting action. I love action so… I like films that have ideas so it just felt like the story that I wanted to tell.
Do you fear failure?
K. R.: Yes! But for me it’s like because of the work that I do, if you fail that means that people don’t like what you do and then if they don’t like what you do, you don’t get to do it.
What are your next projects?
K. R.: Thank you for asking! I did a film called John Wick, which is coming out, I don’t know when. It’s an action-genre – graphic novel – assassin movie but with heart about an assassin and then I did a film with Eli Roth called Knock, Knock which is a home invasion movie and I’m about to do a court-room drama called The Whole Truth with Courtney Hunt.