Interview: Keanu Reeves on playing a 'killing machine' in new film John Wick
Once one of the world's biggest action stars, Keanu Reeves then seemingly retired from the genre. Now back on fighting form, Susan Griffin catches up with the eternally youthful star
by Susan Griffin
It's hard to concentrate on what Keanu Reeves is saying. The man is now 50, but doesn't appear to have aged since the likes of Speed and Point Break back in the early Nineties earned him a legion of fans and - apparently unwanted - pin-up status.
He hasn't seen either of those movies for a while, but every so often, will catch the title or a snippet of one of his earlier films.
"I think, 'Oh yeah, I was young and that was a cool movie'," says a laid-back Reeves, laughing.
"For me, it's like looking at a picture book, kind of opening up something and thinking about the people you worked with, and the time and the memories you have with a film," adds the star, who today is sporting a beard, black T-shirt and dark grey suit.
Despite his action pedigree, for the past few years, Reeves has devoted much of his time to his directorial debut Man Of Tai Chi and the documentary Side By Side, which explores the history of film-making and the impact of digital technology.
For that reason, Basil Iwanyk, the producer of his new movie, believed he was the perfect choice to play the title character John Wick, a retired assassin who's forced back into action by a brutal Russian mobster.
"I think the audience will believe this character has been retired for five years, because in some ways, Keanu retired as an action star for a while," Iwanyk notes.
You wouldn't know it from watching the stunt-strewn set pieces, but Reeves insists the action scenes are taking a greater toll these days.
"Definitely being older, you can't run upstairs as fast. Going down is probably more difficult," he says, smiling. "But with age comes experience. I have a lot of experience learning choreography and understand the camera, so that helps me be more efficient."
He was keen to help as "much as I could" on the production, as it's his friend Chad Stahelski's directorial debut.
"We had a kind of brotherhood, going into this picture," he reveals. "I met Chad as a stuntman in 1998. He was the double for the character I played in The Matrix [trilogy], and he started up a company with David [Leitch], who's a stuntman as well, and we've kept in touch over the years."
Reeves had originally approached the pair in the hope they'd design the blistering action sequences, but then Stahelski showed interesting in taking the helm, with Leitch producing. It made sense.
"They're experts in terms of this genre. The dialogue is hard-boiled, but it's also got the humour of graphic novels. It's a unique vision."
As for Reeves, he couldn't resist the character. "John's described as, not the boogie man but the guy you'd send in to kill the boogie man, which I thought was fun."
But while John Wick is a killing machine, the actor believes he's also a good man. "He's not a psychopath. He isn't out there killing innocent people. Everyone he kills in the film is trying to kill him," he explains.
"We come to learn he'd walked away from that life for love, but then she dies and gives him this gift of a dog because he needs someone, or something, to love," he says. "That dog eventually gets killed, and people steal my car and invade my house and this dark side comes back."
Reeves' own home has been invaded on two occasions within the last 12 months, once by a woman he found in his library, and a few days later, another female stalker was reportedly found taking a skinny-dip in his pool.
Like John Wick, he has also suffered bereavement. In 1999, his baby daughter was stillborn, and 18 months later, the mother of the child died in a car accident.
Reeves believes "the film is really effective with sharing this man's grief".
"Hopefully people will go on this journey," he adds.
Born in Beirut and raised in Toronto, the actor, who performed on television and in local theatre before relocating to Los Angeles, received acclaim for the 1986 drama River's Edge. This was followed with the likes of Permanent Record and Dangerous Liaisons, before the huge success of 1989's Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and the sequel two years later.
For a long time, there have been rumours of a third round with the 'bodacious dudes' - and Reeves confirms that it's not just rumour.
"Right now, we're trying to get the writers paid to do another draft and to find some people who want to put it together, but hopefully we'll get a chance to do this wacky story."
Ted's not the only character he'd like to check in with, though. "John Constantine, for sure" he announces without missing a beat, referring to the titular character in the 2005 action horror.
"I just love that guy," says Reeves, scrunching up his face and clenching his fists.
"I like his weird anger, but [also] wanting the world to be better, and fairer."