The Nerdist Podcast #851 (Army of Johns)
by Chris Hardwick
Link to podcast
(Transcript by LucaM, edited by Anakin McFly)
Chris Hardwick: This episode is Keanu Reeves back on the podcast! The first time Keanu came on, we only had a half hour - I think it's the shortest podcast in Nerdist podcast history, in all 851 episodes. But this time he was kind enough to give us an entire hour. He was great and I always feel bad, you know, when we go in and we get people during their junket day because it's just a long day, you know, you go to this. So, we were at a London hotel so it's like you show up at the hotel like this and sometimes it's the Four Seasons and the whole floor is dedicated to the press, and they just take them in, the actors, one room after another and they ask them a lot of the same questions and just drag them around… so you just try to get someone to go, "okay you can just relax and have a conversation", and he was great, but I always feel bad for them in those moments and I always feel like, oh, sorry we're here, and you're joking, hey, I'm just asking you, I'm not just trying to get soundbytes, I'm not doing soundbytes. […]
So John Wick 2 - which is as fucking great as you are expecting it to be - we watched it the night before it came on, and it's just fun. It's just fun. It's just a fucking video game […] there's some great long shots of just the physics of the blood spatter, everything about it is great […]
CH: […] a day when everyone gets very inquisitive.
CH: About the things you're doing.
KR: Which is ok, you know, you're putting up posters, you know, you want people to know about the show you're putting on…
CH: I know but it's a whole separate… I always ask everyone about it on these junket days because you know when you first start out in the business I don't think anyone ever thinks "I wonder… I should practice press day", you know… it's like no, you're learning acting, you go to acting classes…
KR: Yeah, I don't think they're doing that in Yale.
CH: And they should!
KR: They should be doing the press day, um, but maybe that's… yeah, I know for me way back when, 35 years ago, going through that junket experience, was definitely I… you know, I've done publicity and I know that you're putting on a play, you're putting on a show, the players are coming to town, so fundamentally I was completely on board, but the experience was definitely, in the beginning, shocking.
CH: Did anyone give you – what was it for? Like River's Edge or was it…
KR: Um, let's see… the first one that pops up in my head, is the first time that I went to Tokyo, for Point Break.
CH: Oh wow, that far in?
KR: Yeah, yeah, and then…
CH: What was is? Just the same?
KR: Well, number one was the culture – I mean I've never been to Japan and I guess – let's see, in America, yeah, same of the… Toronto Film Festival, you know, doing some junkets there and press interviews and stuff, definitely, yeah.
CH: To me it seems like maddening now because we're in such a culture of, um 'editorial content demands' where it's like every site has to put up 20 things, 50 things a day and everyone's just looking for some little angle, and it's like if you say anything that's even… that someone could rip out of context and make… The press today is so terrifying.
KR: Ah, ye old "rip out of context". An oldie but a goodie.
CH: (laughs) But the problem with today's modern ripping out of context is that at least, I imagine that at least the tabloids of the 80, you know, there were only a few of them. Now it's like if one person gets something…
KR: Well, there was always gossip, right? There's always gossip, and you know, the photographers waiting outside the hotel, and all of those things. It's – again - it's classic.
CH: So how do you, you know, when you're a young kid and, you know, you're coming out of a hotel there's a million photographers and you're not used to that, do you think, "oh, this is awesome", or "what the fuck is happening?" or… is it…
KR: The latter.
KR: Yeah, definitely, um… you know, you wanna have… you hope to be able to have a kind of separation, you know, of public and private and, you know, um, not necessarily have people shooting on, you know, your private life, but on the other hand it's cool when you get to meet folks who've seen what you've done and like what you do and, you know, give an autograph or take a photo… So that's, um, I'm good with all that, but yeah… yeah… but the peering through the hotel window, or… um, I mean, they'll take your picture while you're filling your motorcycle up with gas…
CH: And then they'll be all … "They're just like us!"
CH: They're just like us!
KR: Here we are! Yeah, we are human beings until you don't want us to be.
KR: And then… it's a shit show.
CH: Yeah that's the thing, many people have this impression of you and people who are in entertainment as a two-dimensional thing. It's like, oh I see you in two dimensions basically, they don't really see… It's almost like…
KR: Which is fine.
CH: Yeah. Is it? Is it okay…
KR: I mean, well, I mean… yeah. I mean… wait, I have to stop, I mean, is that fine?
CH: It's part of the deal.
KR: Ah, ye old "part of the deal", another oldie but a goodie… "you wouldn't be famous unless I was a paparazzi taking your picture filling your motorcycle up with gas… you owe your career to me!" Um, what about the film I did?
CH: "Oh yeah-yeah-yeah, that too, but it's definitely because of this picture-"
KR: "-Or you wouldn't be famous."
CH: I love that you ride motorcycles, because it seems… I was in San Franciso over the weekend and they had this motorcycle shop and I went in and they had these amazing Triumph motorcycles. I'm terrified of motorcycles, I'm flimsy by nature, and so… I just think to myself, like, getting on at the shop, Thanks a lot guys! and vroom like right into a pole, yeah-
KR: (motorcycle noises, then noises of motorcycle crashing into a pole)
CH: Yeah, exactly! Was motorcycling like a life-long pursuit for you, or was it something you did later?
KR: Um… I always wanted to ride motorcycles as a kid, but I didn't really have the culture around me, like, I didn't have any friends who rode motorcycles, and um… and then when I moved to Los Angeles in '85, I was 20 and I was older and I was… I wanted to ask, like, "what are some things I want to do?" and I was like "I want to ride a motorcycle!" so I ended up learning how to ride a motorcycle and getting a bike – and then that journey started. Um… which, you know, Los Angeles is amazing, right, Sunset Boulevard, the PCH into the Santa Monica…
CH: …potholes, traffic, people not paying attention…
KR: Yeah, yeah.
CH: …and buses, buses that don't give a shit…
KR: Yeah, that oil on the roads…
CH: …a little bit of drizzle and the whole city shuts down…
KR: … and you're sliding… and then of course don't forget about the choices that you make; like, maybe I shouldn't be at that high rate of speed… with… all of those shots of tequila… but it FEELS SO GOOD!!!
CH: Do your agents ever say like "er, maybe please don't ride your motorcycle anywhere? Could you not….'
KR: No… I mean, you know when you start a project, there are some agreements that you have to sign. Like, you will not ride your bike, or jump out of airplanes or…
CH: Only if you're John Wick.
KR: No, no! I mean, anyone who, I mean, part of, you know you get a health exam, you know, you have to go to the doctor and get checked out, and part of when they do that, on that document, "I agree not to…"
CH: But then they make you do everything in the movie.
KR: Oh that's ok because that's, you know, professional, that's under insurance, yeah… yeah.
CH: It seems like… my wife and I watched the movie last night, it's fucking great.
KR: Oh, cool, thanks.
CH: And I'll probably cut this part out because it's a spoiler, but we're real relieved that the dog didn't fucking die again. There was like, when the house blows up, like "not fucking again!" and then he comes up and licks your face and I almost was like – your way of saying we're not gonna do that again.
KR: No, yeah, you can't kill a dog again.
CH: You can't. It was so important the first time, I completely, you know, the movie itself, the first movie too, really, spiritually is kind of John Wick, the movie itself is almost the character of John Wick.
KR: Wow, yes,
CH: It's violent when it needs to be, but there's a code and it's efficient and it just gets in and it gets out, and it's…
CH: It's fucking great, but I just loved it so much, we're gonna give – for the audience, we're gonna give every reason why it's ok that this man murders like a hundred people. And not only you're gonna be ok with it, you're gonna wish he killed more-
KR: There's no end. There's no end to the revenge!
CH: No end at all!
KR: Yeah, we definitely, um, I think from that premise, we kinda, you hand that off to that guy, you know, and I like what you're saying, that the film is the guy. And I think that definitely continues in the second part of the chapter, you know, the film takes place 5 days later, and you know the first thing he does is he's gonna go get his car that was stolen, you know, and he's trying to reclaim his life, and, uh… stuff happens.
CH: Some things happen. But there's is a recurring theme, which, you know, for someone who's… really starting to address mortality…
KR: Um… how old are you?
KR: 45… (wistful tone)
CH: It's like can you go back, can you… because this life in particular is never gonna let this guy ever make another choice.
KR: Yeah, I mean, YES. It's choices, it's rules, which, you know, John abides by, but, um, they're starting to kinda crimp on his style, they're kinda starting to become conflicts with the life that he wants to lead. And the choices that he's made in the past are coming back to collect.
CH: I mean, it's really comical to me that you… that I feel so much empathy for a guy and it's like when he picks up, and it's a picture of his wife, and he has a moment and you kinda feel so bad for him – and he literally just killed like 30 people and, oh wow-
KR: It's not just 30 people!
CH: They're 30 horrible people.
KR: They're 30 archvillains! You know, from the underworld, and they got a job to do and, you know, then, just… that's what's happening!
CH: They won't leave the fucking guy-
KR: Just leave me alone!
CH: He just wants to go home with his dog…
KR: He just wants to hang out! He wants to grieeeeeve – I mean, we're playing with that, expanding that kind of idea that there's John and John Wick. And… in this picture, you know, John Wick is fighting for John - John the widow, John who doesn't want to live in the world anymore, the underworld, who gets, you know, he has a choice – either do what he's kind of bound to do, to pay for that debt or – to die. So John Wick takes over. He's like, yeah, I get it. BUT. There's a price to pay! You know, in a weird way, John Wick keeps digging a deeper hole for John, so it's that conundrum of like I want my agency and self-agency but in order to achieve it I'm compromising any possibility of that actually ever happening. So it's delicious. Dramatically delicious.
CH: I mean this as a tremendous compliment but one of the reasons that I love the second movie is that it almost feels like… Harry Potter for assassins. You know, there's this world that the rest of the humanity doesn't see and there's this whole, like, magical world of, you know, like assassins and this whole…
KR: The High Table gets introduced, the clans… the clans of darkness…
CH: And John Wick is kind of the Chosen One - I feel like… I feel like a lot of your characters are sort of like the chosen ones – like Neo, and John Wick…
KR: Right; Constantine…
CH: Constantine! There was a really great question on Reddit today where someone said if any actor could assemble all of their characters from films, who would have the strongest army? Like, oh shit, that's a really unusual…
CH: Stallone maybe, but he doesn't really-
CH: With the exception of Judge Dredd, they don't really play… you know, Schwarzenegger played… uh, was in one superhero movie, you know, but actually… your name, you know, you were the top of the list.
CH: -listed all of the… yeah. It just listed every, you know, from Speed, and then Johnny Utah…
KR: What about Clint Eastwood?
CH: But he just plays like a gunslinger and bare-knuckle boxers, you know, and then cranky old racist guy… you know, I don't know if "get off my lawn" is that threatening as an army.
KR: No, no. (laughs)
CH: But you… I kind of feel like, I kind of feel, you know, do you think you would have a formidable army, as… with all the…
KR: – like all the, all of the cats?
CH: All of the cats, yeah.
KR: I guess I wouldn't mess with them. I don't know if they'd come marching in, trying to like… they're all kind of reactive, aren't they?
CH: Very reactive.
KR: They're not really looking to take what's yours.
KR: They're kinda trying to keep what's theirs.
CH: It's guys who are just like, "fuck! Just let me live my life! Maybe I've made some dumb choices in my 20s but for fuck's sake…"
KR: "…just, like, get over it, you know what I mean?" Heaven and hell, John Constantine… Wow, you know, this was brought up to me too, it's like how many Johns have I played?
CH: I noticed that. Yeah. John, Johnny…
KR: Yeah. I think there might be six? Or seven? I don't know… I've got an army of Johns.
KR: Sounds almost punk rock, right?
CH: It is a little punk rock! Army of Johns.
KR: Army of Johns.
CH: Oh, fuck. New band?
KR: Army of Johns? It's a band name!
CH: Army of Johns, yeah. Actually… I know we're joking around, but I think you should seriously consider it. I think you should seriously
KR: "ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR! I-AM-JOHN-I-AM-JOHN-I-AM-JOHN-I-AM-JOHN!"
CH: But what's great about it is that I think because… I think a lot of your characters do sort of represent like, they're sort of aspirational that way, like, that could be anybody, that guy could be anybody, he's John – like in one part of his life he's this sort of an invisible generic guy, like in the Matrix he was that guy in the beginning, but it's this untapped potential that he has, like everyman, he can be the extraordinary, the uberman…
KR: But through the struggle, right? Right? Through the fight, through the discovery…
CH: All your guys have to go through a lot of shit.
KR: Yeah I know – Chad Stahelski, the director of Chapter 2 here, he kind of delights in just… crushing John Wick. He gets hit by cars, gets thrown through windows, he gets beat up, shot, which is kind of funny – he's like (does impression of Chad), "yeah, I'm just, you know… fucking with that guy". Which is fun because you get that kind of will – you get knocked down, brushed off… live to fight another day.
CH: Yeah but part of it really is… someone told me the number of moves that you can do in a single take is kind of legendary in fight training and stunt-
CH: -circles because they're like, yeah, the amazing thing about Keanu is that he will, he's like, a lot of performers, like okay 1, 2 maybe 3 moves in, but the amount of focus that you have-
CH: You know the number?
KR: No, I don't, I'm making that up.
CH: Let's just say that it's fourteen.
KR: Okay. But that doesn't sound… well, if you're gonna do that, thirty eight.
CH: Thirty eight is great. Any blog can pick that up and just report in the news. It's fine. It's what happens.
KR: It's a new reality.
CH: It's a new reality, yeah. As long as you say it and they can source it, it's called a new fact. It's a new fact! It's an alternative fact. (laughs) Which apparently are as redeemable as regular…
KR: They're the same!
CH: Yeah exactly, exactly the same. It's like paying for groceries with like, a McDonalds dollar or something. It's a dollar!
KR: It's a dollar!
CH: Somewhere it has value! You know, it may not be here, but that doesn't matter…
KR: New fact.
CH: It's just that amount of focus…
KR: I've benefited from a lot of training, and a lot of great teachers and… definitely when you go into John Wick, you know, there's training, because you can fake a fake punch – I mean like, you know, throwing a punch and then someone faking to get hit but it's a little different when you do a judo throw. And a little different in jiu-jitsu. And then also with the gun work they wanted to give me the opportunity to do a lot of gun training, target shooting and just to get to be comfortable with the weapons and to be real with them – yeah, like, I can do that. Which I mean is part of the fun of watching the movie because you kind of get connected to the character, you're watching him go through these fights, and to do these things. So for me as a performer it's fun to be able to be there, to create that connection to hopefully the enjoyment of the film. So that's the raison d'etre.
CH: Whoa! That's very fancy. Where do you find these guys – especially when so much of the movie this character is being defined by how hard he can kill the shit out of everyone. There's some amazing, like videogame-grade sequences.
KR: Yeah, it's stylized.
CH: Especially like in the catacombs, running through the tunnels, and… My wife loves that stuff too.
KR: Oh really? Cool.
CH: And just the angles of the shots so you can see like the butterflies batter against the rocks and everything…
KR: Oh my. Yes. The director loves that stuff; I mean every shot, every explosion, every bullet hit, every… the math has to be right, you know. The math is right.
CH: It's sort of a difference between the technical aspect of making sure that, you know, that everyone dies and John Wick goes on to do what he's supposed to do but then… for you as a performer - okay, where are we supposed to find this guy's humanity, you know? We know he's an unstoppable killing machine, we know he's this boogeyman character that…
KR: -but he's fleeing! He's fighting! Again, I think it's the reactive aspect, the humanity is that he's fighting for his life, right? And I think also with the context of the world – there's like an agreement, right? Like he's been chased, or shooting at him … - okay, they're shooting at him because in a previous scene I might have, you know, killed someone…
CH: –but you had no choice!
KR: -but I had no choice! Um, you know and maybe I wasn't quite, you know – but then someone puts a contract out on me, and I'm fighting for my life again! Yeah, so, hopefully, you root for the guy, hopefully you root for John Wick. I mean I root for him, I feel bad for the guy – lost his wife, they killed his dog, he just wants to retire, he wants to like hang out, maybe he's gonna go fishing, I don't know… do some woodworking, restore books….
CH: I do kind of wonder – this place is where my brain goes – okay, so what if John – because of the way this movie ends, it seems like well there has to be a third one, I mean but I think a guy like that, I just wonder, I get too real with it, like how would he process all of that? I mean at a certain point and especially as you get older and you get more reflective – do you think it's even possible for him to process like everything that he's experienced?
KR: Um… I think the character definitely has some stuff to work out. And he might need to seek some, you know, a professional healthcare worker. But right now, he's a little busy. And, you know, does he have a little post… I mean, yeah we kinda get into that, a character asks him, "do you believe in Hell?" and he's like, "yeah." You know, I think that there's… I mean, it's not explored but I think it's in the fabric and kind of emanates from the character that… that he knows who he is and what he's done, and where that might be, morally and ethically, you know. And… yeah. But in the context of where we see him – because they talk about missions or like the impossible task that he had to do in order to get out in the first place. I feel like when we see him there is a kind of… He's not a bad guy, he's not… – again I'd go back to fighting for his life, but that's just not enough. Um… I don't know. I don't think he's a bad man.
CH: Right. But I guess you as a performer can't really ever think any of your characters are bad…
KR: I'm not that guy. I'm not like, "you have to fall in love with the villain" and, you know, "they're not bad people" and, like… No, man, he's bad! Enjoy it! You know… Yeah! C'mon!
CH: But you don't really play…
KR: I've played a few villains.
CH: Do you have a favorite?
KR: That I played?
KR: Um, you know, like all my children, I love them all… I don't know, I've played a kind of a villain, a character named Donnie Barksdale in Sam Raimi's film The Gift, and then there was this English-Chinese kung-fu movie called Man of Tai Chi, I played the villain in that – and he was delicious, I mean he was just interested in corrupting an innocent soul, and interested in death, and… yeah, that was fun. Because he was a little more fantastical, you know. Donnie Barksdale was an awful, wife-beating, fucking asshole, so, you know, it was ok to play him, but he was a jerk.
CH: Do you ever – after a movie like that, or after a movie like John Wick - ever go, "hey maybe I just want to play a movie where – maybe I'm just a character that doesn't get out of bed very much and is just on a cruise ship most of the time?"
KR: Do you have a coma movie? Maybe I wake up from coma and I'm just in bed? Uh… wait. Wait-wait-wait-wait… Uh… can I be the king of something? And maybe there's uh… yeah, I have servants?
CH: Like other people just run around you? "Kill that guy! I'm tired."
KR: Yeah, in… Tahiti? Or like South of France?
CH: Or like a real low-stakes romantic comedy
KR: (wistful tone) Ah… a low-stakes romantic comedy… there is no low stakes in romance.
CH: That is true in real life. But in romantic comedies…
KR: Oh, that's right!
CH: She's… he's an accountant! She's… a… fortune teller! How do they…
KR: It's wacky!
CH: How do they fit? He likes his forks in this drawer, and she leaves her pants on the floor, you know…
KR: Oh my gosh!
CH: I mean, c'mon. You must feel some relief. I mean – I suspect that you probably love the grind, though. You probably see-
KR: I am a grinder.
CH: You enjoy the grind of like, let's fucking get into this, and let's parse it out…
KR: Well, why else would you do it, man? And that's true of doing the fortune teller and what was the other person? The other character?
CH: I think he was an accountant.
KR: An accountant, yeah, something like that. I mean, digging into the characters and into the story and dedicating and committing to the work and telling the story is… is the pleasure. Um, but I do also, in terms of action, love the physical side of it. I mean I like the training, I like, you know, trying to achieve superperfect in an action sequence and… it might be my Virgo-ness coming out, um, so I would be that guy, I like my socks that way (laughs)… I'm the fortune teller.
CH: You be the fortune teller. And the other person will be the accountant. That's how it'd play out. But it just seems like – there's so much focus on everything, such a tremendous amount of focus, and do you ever sort of feel that hey, maybe I don't need to do this for a while. Because everything you do, ever since I first started seeing you – uh, I'm not that much younger than you are - it seems like you kinda just like do whatever you feel like you wanna do! Big movies, small movies, main characters, not main characters, it just seems like… or like for Key and Peele's movie, like, I'll just do the voice, you know. And why not?
KR: I'll do the voice! I'm the cat!
CH: You're the cat! So why not… I mean… that's a very specific type of mindset that seems to operate kind of just on their own wavelength-
KR: –right. You know, it's always been my hope to try and do, you know, different genres, different scales of films, um, different kinds of stories, and I mean I just… I enjoy what I do, and I like doing weird shit and hopefully creating worlds and popular work and um, for me it's really the material and who you're working with. And that's for like if something's come to me in terms of like developing things, and yeah I like doing what you said, playing character roles or supporting cast, or leads, or you know, playing John, but I feel really fortunate to have been able to do that.
CH: It also seems like you're just kind of your own entity. You know what I mean? Like it doesn't – there are some people like, oh, they're part of that scene, or… but you just sort of operate in your own space! And that's more of a… it feels like a little more trailblazing but do you ever feel like, ah, I'd better do this, or I should probably do that to help this, or do you really just go, hey, this is exciting to me. I'm just gonna do it because it sounds fun.
KR: I think those are both true. Um, definitely, there's professional consideration of like trying to … you know, in terms of the acting capacity, I'm a beggar, right? So I can't do it by myself, it's a collaboration, it's a collaborative art form. Um, and… so it's not quite like I just order it up, right? So I got to develop work, I got to take meetings but again I'm also not saying that there are no opportunities, right? So… let's see, what's my point, I've kind of drifted adrift of my point…
CH: I think it's just how do you know, or what is it that inspires you, because some of the movies when they're pitched to you, it's like Point Break, alright, they're surfers but they're also bank robbers…
KR: Fantastic! Well for me, I mean specifically for that – I hadn't been in an action genre picture, right? So Kathryn Bigelow - as the stories told - really had to fight to have me to play that role, you know? The studio went like "Keanu Reeves? Johnny Utah? Action movie?" Kathryn went, "yes," and they were like, "what are you thinking?" and she's like, "he's the guy." So thank you again, Kathryn, because that changed my life. And that's again when it's collaborative. You need someone to kind of put that out there. Um… I'm adrift again. But that's… that…
CH: You're gonna have to talk for like 12 hours today.
KR: No, no, no no no.
CH: And I always feel bad about pitting people down when they're doing a press day, because I'm sure a lot of it's like, you know, "here's five questions."
KR: No, no, I'm just… what was your question?
CH: It's really just about, you know, selection and choices and what is it that excites you about something, like what is it… because you have…
KR: Well that's… like if it's cool! (laughs) I mean if it's to your taste, is that something that you like – you know, you like the character, you like the story, um… then, often times I'll say yes when other people are like, "uh, no, you shouldn't do that movie." You know, it's too small or the subject matter is too challenging, but that often happens even like if it's just a single populist point of view, and maybe that's the distinction.
CH: But you must have some sort of a gut… I guess what I'm getting at is, you know, I mean your life is essentially… everyone's life is a series of choices that they made, some good, some bad, but they sort of have to, they have to end, I think, everything has some type of value, even the ones that don't work out – because if you can learn from stuff, then you can do better the next time, hopefully.
KR: How's that going for you? For me, I'm doing ok, but… I mean, I have a learning disability…
CH: No, I think it's healthy to think you're always doing ok… if you think you're nailing it too much, you're not nailing it.
KR: You're just weird.
CH: You're just weird, you're not nailing it. But I think it's bad to swing too far on other side, you know, like, "I'm a failure…" - I think to think, "I'm doing okay, I'm doing okay…"
KR: It's healthy.
CH: Yes, I think it is healthy. I think it is healthy. But especially in this business where it takes so many people to make a thing - and then it takes so many people to make a thing good… so you know… with The Matrix, that hadn't been seen before, really, at least not in American cinema, and so how do you… when they go we're gonna do this, and it's gonna look like this, and when people don't have a frame of reference – I'm sure there were people who went, "What? That's never gonna work!" So why are you the guy that says, "I know that can work"?
KR: I don't know, I really liked the script and the stories, and when I met with the directors they were fantastic, and – but that's also what made them exceptional and the studio at the time that took the chance on them – you know they had proof of concept, right, so they had the script and they had some images and they had done bullet time – they had done like a proof of concept of bullet time. So there was a bunch of stuff there to say yes to. But also, you know, humans as batteries, and they live in a digital world, it's like some Philip K. Dick stuff, and I can see how someone can say, "Uh… and we're gonna spend how much to make this for you?" "Well, we need, you know, whatever tens of millions…" "What? …How much is that?" - but they did and God bless them all!
CH: Yeah. I mean it was hard not to get super excited to see Laurence Fishburne pop up in this movie. Like, ohh! There he is! C'mon, there they are!
KR: Yeah! You know it was cool because… I had seen him socially and he was saying that he really enjoyed the first one, and he kind of… you know, "if something comes up in the second one, let me know" and I was like, "Muahahaha… As a matter of fact, Laurence, there is!" And so Chad sent him the script, and thankfully he responded to the role and – and then of course he came to the picture and knocked it out of the park. He's that guy. He's amazing.
CH: Yeah, he's great. So how do you separate the 'I'm the producer' hat vs a 'just an actor' hat
KR: Um… I guess you just take them on and off quickly.
CH: Right… I mean when you have to shoot, I'm sure the last thing you want is people coming on to you and go hey, there's some producer-y thing to work out…
KR: On this project, I'm not that guy. I'm John Wick, I'm more of a … I'm not a credited producer, no.
CH: I just assume on everything you do, you probably have …
KR: I have a point of view and I'll ask those questions, going into the picture, you know and I'll go into the office, check everything out and how's it looking and what are we doing and what are the resources and… One, because I like it, but two because it impacts the film you're in and, with John Wick 2, there's a real shorthand with the director and the producer, Basil Iwanyk - what Chad needs and the picture needs, so I might weigh in all of that and certainly creatively, when we were hoping to have an opportunity to do Chapter 2, Chad, the writer Derek Kolstad, Basil Iwanyk the producer, myself, definitely, there were meetings and I'm definitely involved in the collaboration and the creation of the story that we tell.
CH: How do you define – for you, what is success? You know, is it some sort of external thing, like, oh, box office or the press or whatever, or an internal thing, like, I know I did a good job on this regardless of what happened?
KR: Yeah, um, the latter is definitely number one, right? so that's like the work that you did, the work that you did it with and the film that got made. And if you feel positive – if I feel positive about the work that we're doing, then the other things - whether the budget of it or how it's critically received, um, don't impact me as much in the sense of like, you know, for me if it's monetary – which is connected to, do people like it, you know, do they like what you do and like what you were part of, that is important, because you want people to like what you're part of and what you do… So if it doesn't make money it means that no-one saw it and if you really feel strongly or love what you did – um, can I swear on the Nerdist?
CH: Yeah, we've been fucking swearing like crazy.
KR: Oh well. Then that's a fucking drag. So it's like… and then critically, yeah, I mean you try not to read reviews, but aaaargh, they creep in… one always gets like… did I leave the window open? Wait! Who left the back door open? What? What? Oh shit, I did! And then you're like "Is it gonna be good? Is it gonna be bad? I hope they like it." You know, but that's like the day, that can be a momentary thing. The thing that lasts is really, um, for me is my experience making it and the film that got made, like – for me a film that I did, called Generation Um…, I think there's eight people who have seen it, but I love that film and I love the work that's in it from myself and from the other actresses and actors and the director and everybody, so you know, pieces like that. "Oh, I wish people would watch Generation Um…, it's a nice movie" – but they didn't. So that's a drag.
CH: But you know, I think ultimately that's just an external thing that you can't control and that can be a variety of factors of – Oh, you know, it came out at that time, or this happened or it just kind of… but that doesn't mean-
KR: (sarcastic) Yeah yeah yeah.
CH: But now with Netflix, you know, like now…
KR: Yeah, Netflix – well, that's the thing, like that's one of the real – one of the cool things about digital exhibition and distribution that's happened in the past eight years – is that films are having a different life, they're having different opportunities of being seen. So you will get that kind of response on the street like, "Oh, I saw Generation Um…, that was… weird." and you're like, "Yeah? Cool! You saw it." Yeah. So.
CH: So is there… do you have like a couple, like, maybe two or three movies that you feel like - whether they were huge hits or not but you feel like, oh, I would really like people to see this couple of movies, because they either represent something or-
KR: Thumbsucker, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, A Scanner Darkly…
KR: What else we got floating out there… The kung-fu movie I made, Man of Tai Chi; have you seen the documentary I did, called Side by Side?
CH: No, what's that?
KR: Oh my God, the documentary Side by Side, about the transition from photochemical film and then digital!
CH: Oh, we're gonna watch the shit out of that.
KR: No, it's a good one.
CH: My wife and I love that.
KR: Well that's nice, it's actually, it's really cool, it's directed by Chris Kenneally and I produced it; one of the producers Justin Szlasa produced it as well. I had this feeling, I was in – oh, Henry's Crime! Another nice… yeah, yeah, beautiful. Vera Farmiga, James Caan, nice movie. Romantic. Um, I was working on that, I think it was 2011 (my note- actually, it was 2010, Keanu! -LucaM), and … right, I was seeing that they were doing digital coloring and there was this conversation happening between the digital colorist and the photochemical colorist as we were matching photochemical film and digital and then there were all these new digital cameras coming on and I was like, "this is the end of film!" and so I started on this kind of a journey for a year and a half of interviewing people about that. The end of film.
CH: You caught that moment.
KR: Yeah, I did, because while we were making it Arriflex stopped making photochemical cameras, and Panavision, and it was really kind of when Arri Alexa was coming, and so I spoke with cinematographers and film makers – George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, Lars von Trier, Steven Soderbergh, Robert Rodriguez, so we were really doing like the new digital – David Lynch, who had done early video - so we were really kind of going in this transformation from digital video to high-end cinema cameras. And then just the end of film, we get into archival, you know, what we are losing, what we are gaining – what is the difference between photochemical image and digital image, and really, all things digital, the last digital piece was the digital camera – that's made it all possible, right? And so, Side by Side is about that.
CH: That's fantastic, especially because you have so much access to people that most people don't have access to.
KR: Yeah, that helps. We went to a film festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland, it's called Camerimage and it's a cinematographers' film festival, that's where we started, so basically we had a couple of guys – the director, the producer, a couple cameramen - and we basically bum-rushed the film festival and just started, like interviewing – and because I was there, you know, some of the cinematographers I've worked with, they knew me, so it was safer, right? They would say like, "Oh, it's Keanu Reeves! Yeah, ok, I'll take ten minutes to talk to you." And then from that we kinda gained a reputation and then basically I was writing letters and contacting people's managers and agents and saying wherever, however, whenever, we will come to you and can I interview you?
CH: Oh my God, that's amazing. I would imagine the first five minutes of any of those people be like, "oh, before we start this, who would win in a fight, Constantine or Neo?" Because people are fanning out…
KR: (laughs) That's… um… yeah. No. But yeah. But no. (laughs) No.
CH: By the way, I feel like it would be Neo.
KR: Oh, winning? Constantine or Neo?
CH: I mean, Neo's kind of a, within the Matrix, he's kind of a god. So I guess within the Matrix…
KR: Ok well then, we're choosing the venue. Right? Are we in reality or are we in the digital world?
CH: I wasn't prepared to get that question from Keanu Reeves!
KR: I mean whether it's his home field or what's the weather like? What's going on?
CH: What's the weather like? The sun's blocked out! The humans blocked it out to defeat the machines so they use the people as batteries! It's a terrible reality!
KR: Right, then Constantine puts his forearms together and starts speaking some Latin… and here come the demons. "Deal with that, Neo! Thomas!"
CH: Alright, fine, you take Constantine, I'll take Neo, it's totally fair, it's totally reasonable… You know, I've been seeing a lot of… people seem to keep throwing the Bill and Ted question at you and the only reason I do it is because Alex Winter was just on our podcast – when he did the Dark Web documentary and I always bug him about that and he's like, yeah, you know, you know, we're still talking about it, we're still talking about it, we're still talking about it…'
KR: We're still talking about it!
CH: I still think it would, you know, whenever you decide to do it…
KR: We want to do it, we're waiting on a script, we're waiting on, you know, these entities… We're waiting on the business side of show business to get their acts together. Because it's a rights clusterfuck. So there's MGM and then there's this other company called STX that's trying to do…
CH: Well see, that's really interesting to hear, because a lot of times when people who are not in the business go, "why don't you just do this thing?" and it's like, "okaaaay…" Usually when something doesn't happen, the answer is lawyers.
KR: Yeah… yeah we're getting lawyered up.
CH: So maybe if you could just give people a little idea of like, with something like this or anything, what the process is so they understand like it's not like we're not doing it to punish you, it's just a process.
KR: Yeah… well the writers had, originally, this was… I think it was seven years ago, come to Alex and I, and they had an idea…
CH: Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon?
KR: Yes. To tell another story. Alex and I were like ‘cool', they wrote a draft, and then so from there we had a producer, we brought Scott Kroopf on board - who was one of the original producers. And then you're like looking for a director and then you're looking for a place to pay for it. And hopefully to have distribution. And so that's MGM, and MGM's like, "um, nah, we don't like it enough," and then this company STX was like, "yeah, we kinda like it, we'd like to do it," and then STX and MGM have to start talking to each other. So you get into change of titles. You get into rights. And they start negotiating, and they're still… and then STX wanted some different drafts and so the writers do some different drafts, and they're doing free drafts, and we're like, you can't do that anymore, you have to get paid – but then who's paying you, and who's gonna pay them if they don't have the rights to it, and so it's… so that's the struggle. It becomes the business side of show business to kind of find the funds and get the rights and pay the dough to let the creatives go.
CH: I think that at least helps people understand it's never as simple as like, "They're just not doing it," you know. No, you know everything especially in films it seems like it takes so fucking long to process…
KR: It can be. It can be, and then there's just those other times when it's just like, okay, we've got the funds, we're gonna go now, or we're gonna beg borrow or steal, or we're gonna leverage your credit card – you know, different levels, where you can just say, "fuck it, let's go make it" - but even then, you know, you've got to leverage a credit card or you borrow the money, so hopefully that can get on…
CH: Netflix. Except a little miniseries, whatever, I mean I don't know, some things come out on, yeah, whenever everything that's like… Netflix is shelling out dough. I think like Netflix, of all entities in the world, I feel like Netflix just goes, "here, just take a bunch of money, we'll make it." Fucking great!
KR: No, it's cool. I mean it's definitely… that's actually one of the things we talk about in the documentary, is that the digital realm has really created the possibility for so many people to tell their stories, you know, and I think it reallyhelps with documentary. And we've also seen the impact of, you know, digital streaming and digital communication affect politics and culture, people are shooting movies on mobile phones, you're getting fucking 4K out of your mobile device, which is projection quality, theatrical, um… So the means of production have become… BUT there's also the expensive version of that. But it's also impacted exhibition and distribution pattern (?) of Netflix and streaming and all of the other ways to get your story told.
CH: I mean it is, it's definitely the (?), it's a good justification for the digital culture that we live in. I also… you know it is kind of interesting to me that there are Matrix themes that seem very applicable to know, which is people sort of building these digital facades that we live in, like you can create whatever truth or reality you want, if you've surrounded yourself with the right algorithms to tell you what you want to hear. And it's kind of weird, it's kind of strange, but that's where we live now.
KR: I know! It's crazy diabolical, and then, you know, here comes virtual reality, VR, AR, and that's gonna be a whole other bunch of fine games.
CH: I also when I think of virtual reality I feel like there will be an addiction problem, with virtual reality, because why would you wanna live in the world when you can live in a perfectly idealized reality for most of the time, I mean you get out to eat and pee, but other than that, you know… I think it's gonna be a real problem!
KR: Yeah. That's the dark side… that idea that was popularly introduced to us with The Matrix, but I was developing a TV show called "User" that was just about that. Like if you can sit in your home and you can travel and you can have experiences - why go to real life? And part of that was that you'd just go to real life so you could pay for your artificial life.
CH: Yeah, you'd need to be able to fund it.
KR: Yeah. So it's basically junkies who are just, you know… But the other hand of that was that if you were blind, you could see! And if you couldn't run, you could run on the beach! And if you couldn't swim, if you were, you know, you were paralyzed, you could go… You could fly!
CH: Right. All that's stuff great. Most people would just be like-
KR: -don't say it. The Swedish are working on it. The haptic suit is coming to you verrrry shortly. Just put this suit on, put the goggles on, with the ear plugs, and awaaaay we go! And it's got AI! So you can have a conversation, and feel that! The warming power of the haptic suit – and if we're going to go there, I mean, just the neurochemistry behavioral knowledge that is being gained and starting to interact with these new technologies… you know, virtual reality experiences basically implant into your real experiences and memory.
CH: Right. And you can't really distinguish between what's real and what's not.
KR: No, you're just gonna have the same experience. Distinguish - yeah, you're not gonna forget that you're having VR, but your brain, neurochemistry-wise, is going to be activated. Your action potentials are going to become inactive. Right?
CH: Oh my god. It's so dangerous. It's so fucked up!
KR: It's so fucked up!
CH: I think like our generations…
KR: Well people would say to you that's fucked up, but then they would give you the other side, right? So, think of how you could do therapeutic psychological exercises and treatments and think about, you know, the travel and experiences that you couldn't have in your own life but you could have…
CH: And I know, but I just can't ignore ten thousand years of evidence that mankind will take anything good and try to put it on its dick. You know what I mean? It's like that's what… what's what…
KR: -or kill you with it.
CH: Or kill you with it! Yes of course. You know, it's like every great superhero movie starts out with uh, "oh, we did this to try to help" and then it went horribly wrong, because-
KR: Well, I mean, you know if we go into like, entertainment, in terms of culture, you know, is it to teach and learn, and hold the mirror up to better ourselves? And artists generally try to do that, you know but then there's also escapist entertainment, right, where I don't wanna fucking think about anything, right, and I wanna get my synapses turned off and I don't want to … you know, I just wanna watch something and be entertained, to think it's funny and all of those kinds of things.
CH: Do you wanna like, direct a bunch of stuff? Ever? Because it seems like you love storytelling.
KR: I do indeed, sir. Yeah, you know, I'd love to direct, I mean I had one chance to do it and I'd love to have a chance to do it again – just trying to find a story. Gotta find a story to tell. Yeah.
CH: It seems like, with just hearing you talk, where you almost kind of did that with the documentary – but it seems that you like this sort of… just kind of like where are we going, almost like the singularity of all… […]
KR: I was raised an optimist, right? There won't be any food, and there'll be no weather, and we'll be in caves, but we'll be better, right? It's all good, I'll have a, you know, artificial arm, brain, mind, there'd be no cancer, everything will be new…
CH: Like Black Mirror. Do you watch Black Mirror?
KR: Yeah, Black Mirror, the last season was really… I thought… I mean, I enjoyed it; but I thought that the confrontation of humanity and technology I thought they were really clever and really on point with just a little bit heading more to digital immortality, you know, that choice, and some of the behavioral kind of, you know, the aspect of the bees, if they could commit murder, so there's some… I think art can do that, right? Kinda like… watch out, that's coming, you know…
CH: So as we're kind of winding this down - oh my god, I can't believe it. It's almost been an hour already. I hope it's not felt like an hour to you.
KR: Oh, no. Good clean fun.
CH: Good. No, I appreciate it. I appreciate it. Well, the last visit… it was so much fun the last time you were on, and it was really… you know, I just want people to come on and be comfortable and not sort of feel like they're being grilled, but particularly with someone like you, you know, I'm such a fan of what you do that I don't… I try to mash that down a little bit, like we're just two guys…
KR: Yeah, chilling out!
CH: …just two guys, on a couch, in an artificial environment in a hotel in West Hollywood, on a Friday morning…
KR: Conversing, you know? Right? Conversing!
CH: Yeah well that's… one of the best things about the podcast is that it's like, hey, these are people I like and respect, what's it like to just talk to them, like people, and not, you know, like grill, so that's why a lot of the questions come from sort of-
KR: (deep interviewer voice) Chris, what's happiness for you?
CH: I don't know! It's this moment. It's this moment right now?
KR: (same voice) What do you hope for? For 2017?
CH: You know what, that's a great question! That's a great way to kind of… We'll each talk about what happiness is to us.
KR: Noooooo! (fake despair)
CH: Yeah, you have to confront it!
KR: Nooooooo, nooooo…
CH: Keanu is balled up on the couch, in a fetal position.
KR: I was joking! I was kidding!
CH: …like he was told he had to do his homework. Happiness is not homework, Keanu! Happiness is not homework.
KR: Nooooooo, nooooooo…
CH: You're going to school! You are going to school, I made you promise!
KR: I'll leave, you'll see me walk out the door but you don't know where I'm going!
CH: (laughs) I'll have drones make sure you go to school – yeah, now we can just bug kids! Get a tag… Yeah, just like tag them, and like, now I know you didn't go to school.
KR: It's for your safety.
CH: Yeah, I'm doing this for you!
CH: But there is an interesting question, because I feel like we're so inundated with so much information at all times and I don't think we can really process how much information we're mashing in: good stuff, bad stuff, neutral stuff and so – lately happiness for me has been kind of disconnecting a bit.
CH: …and being ok with not having to be so…
KR: – to not know anything?
CH: Kind of! I mean in a way… to unplug a little bit and to sort of be… you know, in the moment and appreciate something and not be thinking about the past or the future or what someone online said, or something like that. Do you agree with that, or what do you… what are chunks of happiness for you? How do you know when you're happy?
KR: Uh, when I feel good. You know, I'm not really plugged in to… for me doing what you just spoke about would be like, um… maybe I'm gonna answer those emails. But um, yeah, I'm gonna say some really fundamental basic things, I mean, you know, experiences with your friends, doing good work, being involved in work, um, I love riding motorcycles, I have a motorcycle company, some food and shelter, little bit of love, hang out, do some things – yeah, I mean I feel really lucky to have the resources or the opportunities to do both – personally and creatively, to have a chance at things…
CH: I mean do you give yourself that sort of reward, like do you wake up some days and go, "hey, I think I've actually been doing ok," or you go like, "nah, I still gotta do this or I gotta do that,"or you kinda allow yourself to feel like, "hey, you know what? I think whatever it is that I've set out to do, I think I'm doing it"?
KR: Um… no, I guess I'm a workaholic and, so I… I… and I like to make things, you know? And I do feel like I have a ticking clock, so the mortality… the wonderful mortality punch in the face with age happens so… but with all that, still, yeah… I'm trying to do some things but… we're gonna die, man.
CH: Wait, now? No, what? No! No, you're immortal, I feel like there's someone… I saw something maybe on Reddit or something but it was like a Keanu Reeves through the ages and it was like a painting from 1580 that looked like you, and one from like the 1700s that looked like you, and it was like 84, 94, 2004, now! And you're just, you know with the exception of different hairstyles-
KR: Hair, lines on the face…
CH: You look exactly the same!
KR: Oh man, well, that's my ancestors then, 'coz I've certainly haven't done anything to turn that back, keep that show going. There's no… yeah, there's… that's definitely, you know, whoever came before me and what I inherited.
CH: Well, what's left then, if you feel like okay, mortality is out there, whatever… like, what's left, what is it that you feel like, is there any point… oh, I got a quote. I got a quote. Parenthood, movie that you're fantastic in, where Jason Robards goes, "You'll never cross the goal line, you'll never spike the ball," you know, and he says that to Steve Martin and it's just like, oh, fuck, and over here you go (?), oh god, there's not really a, you know, so what is it… what is it for you that you think you got?
KR: I don't know, I'm not quite a journey-destination person… but you know, I live in a like what have you done for me lately business, so… and I also don't mind that in the way that I'm a little bit of a gypsy but I mean you wanna make good work so you wanna have the experience of that. I love acting, I love producing, trying to help other people have a chance to tell stories, you know… I'm part of a film called To the Bone that just got well received in Sundance so there's a little… fucking… there's a little spike in the football there. And then it's like, okay, that happened. So what's next? Now what? So I guess that's a version of the beautiful bourgeois rat race. I'm in a beautiful bourgeois rat race.
CH: Another great band. That's the album name. That's the album title, for the band that we came up with earlier. What was the band name?
KR: Uh, something to do with Johns.
CH: Oh that, yeah. The… All the Johns?
KR: All the Johns… All the Johns?
CH: Was it All the Johns? Maybe it was All the Johns.
CH: I-am-John-I-am-John, yeah.
CH: If you could tell like, 1985 Keanu Reeves, who just moves to Los Angeles, with a fresh face and a song in his heart – if you could tell him anything, what would you say? With, you know, that much runway behind you. What would you tell him?
KR: What would I tell him to see what's coming? What would I say? I mean, I wouldn't say, "Turn around! Go back!" That's definitely not happening. Do you mean like advice or warning? So that he could sidestep some of the tragedy, mishap and the pain?
CH: Absolutely! Or should we sidestep pain? I think pain has its place.
KR: Yeah, I can't tell him not to take that motorcycle with that crash because that's kind of – I survived, so all's well that ends well.
CH: And who knows if that taught you something that you were able to use later, you know what I mean?
KR: Right, right, learn from… your greatest enemy is your greatest teacher, your failures are the things you learn to your next success… Um, well these are all going in the new fact notebook.
KR: No, because, you know, there are these things because they're true, and I don't wanna… I don't wanna… I'm gonna leave that kid alone.
CH: Just let him make his own choices.
KR: I'll look at him and just say, "good luck, kid.
CH: (laughs) "What happens?" "Not gonna tell you anything!"
KR: "Not gonna tell you anything, man. Good luck. Try not to be too awful to other people. Try not to… try not to…".
CH: It's beautiful.
KR: But I was that guy. I am that guy, you know. So. And I just wish him luck.
CH: It's like Bill and Ted landing in the phone booth in Circle K, and seeing slightly-past Bill and Ted, and telling them where they go, like, "oh, this is gonna happen, and then this is gonna happen…"
KR: Yeeeah. Well then that would be like, then you'd be like communicating some of the happy good clean fun that's gonna happen, you know.
KR: Like, "You have so much to look forward to!" and like, "It's gonna be awesome!" "Oh, great!" But then when that guy meets me, right, when I have that next meeting with the '85 guy – or the '85 kid gets to talk to the 2017 kid and he's like, "so I've seen what you've done and holy fuck, man! I mean some of that great stuff that you talked about was really good, but some of that other stuff? …You could have said something! I mean, come on! Just a little bit! A hint? Maybe?" "…It's just the way it goes, man."
CH: "I wouldn't have made that sequel about Garfield in 2025! Why did you not tell me not to do that?" Well, I hope you're appreciating what's going on, because it's great. And when I mentioned to the writers from one of the shows that I work on, I said, "oh, Keanu's going to be on the podcast for John Wick 2," a bunch of the writers who are very cynical comedy guys were like, "I fucking can't wait for that movie!" You know?
KR: That's kind.
CH: So people are really excited about it and it was fantastic, so.
KR: I'm glad you liked it, man. I love this picture, I love the role and I hope people like it.
CH: Well, thanks, man. It was great to see you, and enjoy your- Wait, would you mind ending the podcast? We say, "enjoy your burrito." It's exactly what you were talking about; it means enjoy your presence. Enjoy your presence.
KR: Ahh. Enjoy… your burrito.