Keanu Reeves: "I'm a man on the run"
(Translated from Italian by LucaM and Anakin McFly)
When not playing bass in his band, Keanu Reeves builds motorcycles and writes poetry. In the movie, he's a hit man fighting the ghosts of his past. But here, Hollywood's most mysterious actor talks about how he learnt to deal with his demons.
by Cristiana Allievi
He had been gone from the scene, but now, at 50 years old, Keanu Reeves is back in the critically-praised action movie John Wick. American newspaper The New York Times celebrates its perfection. Time magazine lauded the humour of its violent scenes. Now, the Italian public too can go to the movies to see the actor and be at least seduced by his exotic eyes and the irresistible sexiness of his shy demeanor.
Reeves is in the midst of a major comeback, but we must not delude ourselves - he will soon disappear again, for he's not your average Hollywood star. He's a man who loves to get away, who abandons worldliness, who anonymously donates thousands to charity, who was discovered by paparazzi spending a morning giving comfort and a listening ear to a homeless man in Los Angeles.
Reeves is unpredictable, because he does not adhere to the logic of the business. At the height of his success he set off travelling throughout the United States with his band, Dogstar, living homeless for months. Today, he's started to pick up the bass again, and is planning to revive Dogstar. "The band hasn't been totally reunited. We just started. It's a bit like old friends meeting again after so long," he says. How can he live so independently of Hollywood's rules? For Reeves, the money doesn't matter: "I could easily live for centuries on the money I've already gained," he said.
But behind his restlessness lies more. His drug addict and drug dealer father; his leukemia-stricken sister, Kim, who's two years his junior; the biggest blemish on his history: his daughter stillborn, and then his partner Jennifer Syme dead in a car accident.
Keanu Reeves is on the run, but the demons of his past follow him wherever he goes. He says he's single and has no time for love, but the truth is that Jennifer's ghost is not an easy one to replace. It is better to be lonely.
In a life away from the pomp and glamour, the one idiosyncrasy the actor allows himself is his passion for motorcycles. He founded the Arch Motorcycle Company, which builds motorcycles to measure. He wrote a book of poems, Ode to Happiness - ode to happiness, as if to exorcise the pain. And last year he made his directorial debut with Man of Tai Chi, shot entirely in China, in which he also starred.
Reeves speaks to Grace from Los Angeles, where he has just finished work on Eli Roth's thriller, Knock Knock, and The Whole Truth with Renée Zellweger. And there is good news for Italian fans: Maria De Filippi wants him very much for this episode of her TV show "You've Got Mail".
What attracted you to John Wick?
"I liked the fantasy world they lived in, with beautiful houses, piles of money, sophisticated objects and art. I liked the dialogue, but especially what went unspoken. I prefer mystery and paths that cross in silence. I've always liked action movies, but I try to tell stories that have something more to them. It's why I went to Chad and David (Stahelski and Leitch, filmmakers of John Wick) with this project. I realised they could make the most out of this underworld."
They have a history in stunts, they've worked in many action movies and one of them was your stunt double in The Matrix. What was it like to have them as directors?
"I felt that the bar was raised in terms of expectations. Both of them came from the world of martial arts and didn't yield a millimeter on the details, so I underwent very demanding physical training. I started months before the shoot, five times a week, eight hours a day. Then I trained a whole summer to become John Wick."
A killer who virtually disappeared after saying farewell to life. You, too, one of the most famous Hollywood actors, have managed to remain sheltered from public view.
"I don't know if John is a man who tries to disappear or get out of his life. I never tried to abandon life; I only ever wanted to tell stories, and I consider myself extremely lucky to succeed again."
There's a subtle line in the film, summed up as "everyone has a price". Do you agree?
"Yes, every person has his price. But I think that depends on what you are buying and selling, don't you?"
Willem Dafoe, the great villain in the film, said he accepted the role just to work with you. He said the action movies you make are so different from all the others: they manage a mix of both mystery and strength.
"That's very nice of him. I'm a big fan of Willem, I grew up watching his performances. They're honest and brave, both in the theater and in the movies. Working on the dialogues was wonderful, reading together even better. Nerve-wracking, but great fun."
What are the personal touches that you gave to the film?
"My biggest contribution was the video of John and his wife that he continues to watch again and again. She was meant to be in nothing more than a flashback at the beginning of the film, but I got the idea for the video and I wanted it to become a kind of leitmotif to remind the viewer of what was the engine of the whole story."
Your colleagues in Hollywood often complain that it is increasingly difficult to get parts that they really like. Do you agree?
"It seems to me that independent cinema is experiencing a real renaissance, and there are many opportunities. What comes to mind are the films of Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan, geniuses that have warped the rules of the industry."
How did you feel filming in a slightly futuristic version of New York?
"I'm glad that you mention it. It's an important component of the atmosphere, and in my eyes it's a mixture of past, present and future. The strongest accents one notices are in the lines of the clothes; they're elegant, but in futuristic colors like golds and reds. There are inspirational elements from Hong Kong cinema but also from Steven Spielberg and 70's film noir."
There's one last question I want to ask before saying goodbye: in this film the actor has chosen an elegant look. He tells me that the costume designer Luca Mosca imbued the clothes with many symbolic meanings: "Black is mournful and sacerdotal; it's also very stylish, but doesn't draw attention. When I wear it, it definitely influences me," says Reeves, who, after all, launched a style with his Matrix look.
Then I bid him farewell, knowing that soon he will "disappear" again.