Keanu Reeves Talks John Wick, Bill & Ted and His First True Love
by Nicole Pajer
He’s led us through simulated reality in The Matrix, made us laugh as a time-traveling teenager in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and kept us glued to our seats as the vigilante title character in John Wick. But while Keanu Reeves thrives in front of the camera, the notoriously private star comes alive offscreen, especially when he’s on a motorcycle. The actor fell in love with bikes at an early age. “I grew up in Toronto, and every summer these bike gangs would come into town. They were pirates!” he recalls with an impish grin. He learned to ride at 22 and was hooked from the moment he first hopped on.
“I love the visceral aspect of riding a bike, being in nature—the wind, the sound, the smell,” he says. “I like that you have your life in your own hands but you’re also very vulnerable; the way you can interact with where you’re going.” He also admits that motorcycles “look cool!”
In 2015, the actor co-founded Arch Motorcycle, which creates custom bikes based off prototypes designed by Reeves’ co-founder, Gard Hollinger. He’s dedicated to bringing the shop’s creative vision to life and is always first to volunteer to test out the archetypes.
“Riding can be a place to think and feel. It’s a way to work things out,” he says. He rides daily, no matter the weather. “I like riding in the rain. It’s a little more sketchy,” he says, revealing his daredevil side.
Reeves, 54, doesn’t have garages full of motorcycles, like Jay Leno or Jerry Seinfeld have cars. But he keeps a modest collection. “I bought my first Norton in 1986, which I still have. Over the years, I’ve gotten a couple other Norton Commandos, and I have a race bike,” he says. “With Arch, we do a lot of our testing and recreational riding in the Santa Monica Mountains, which are stupendous and beautiful,” he says. And, with the exception of meeting his colleagues for Sunday morning runs on California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway, “the classic L.A. ride,” he’s typically a lone wolf on the road.
An Actor’s Life
If motorcycles are his second love, then acting is most definitely his first. Reeves “declared” he wanted to be an actor at 15 and never looked back. “I really don’t know anything else,” he says. Born in Beirut, the son of a British mom and a father from Hawaii, he traveled around the world as a child (Hawaii, Australia, New York City) before finally settling with his mother, Patricia, in Toronto. He says he struggled academically—bouncing between four high schools as a teen—but found his calling in acting classes and community theater.
“My favorite experiences in high school were doing Shakespeare in English class. I really enjoyed playing Mercutio,” Romeo’s witty friend in Romeo and Juliet. At 17, he dropped out of school to pursue a Hollywood career, moving to Los Angeles three years later. It’s a decision he doesn’t regret. “I was fortunate enough to start working at a pretty young age and support myself,” he says.
He made his acting debut in a 1984 episode of the Canadian-based TV drama Hangin’ In. He went on to launch his movie career with the edgy 1986 teen drama River’s Edge, the co-lead in the cult classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the role of Tod in Parenthood in 1989. But Reeves deems 1991’s Point Break, in which he played rookie FBI agent-turned-surfer Johnny Utah, as the role that really changed his life. From there, he became a household name, going on to film a Bill & Ted sequel and becoming an action star in Speed and the Matrix trilogy.
On May 17, Reeves will reprise his role as a retired hit man who can’t escape his violent past in John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum. Wick is a character he’s always thrilled to revisit. “I like his heart, his will and his honor,” Reeves says. “And I think he’s pretty funny!”
Preparation for John Wick requires Reeves to step up his typical fitness routine. “I start training about three months before filming,” he says. This involves extensive weightlifting to achieve Wick’s signature sculpted back and shoulders, as well as brushing up on his judo and jiujitsu. He also undergoes weapons training.
While Wick may pull off some impressive feats, Reeves is quick to give credit where it’s due. “I have an incredible stunt person, Jackson Spidell,” who takes many of the character’s most spectacular splats, he says. “When John Wick gets hit by a car, they don’t want me doing that. Jackson loves getting hit by a car, and he’s amazing at it!”
That doesn’t mean the actor isn’t throwing some impressive punches of his own. “I’m in over 90 percent of what’s going on,” says Reeves. Eleven hours of fight scene filming, which he’ll do five days in a row, is “extremely intense” and requires an aftercare routine of “ice, heat, repeat.”
Reeves says John Wick 3 picks up immediately after its precursor. “We’re right back in with the story.” Wick has an open contract on his life and an hour head start before it’s revealed to a world of assassins that he’s been excommunicated from the safe zone of the Continental Hotel. “We follow him trying to figure a way out,” he says
Back to Bill and Ted
Another iconic Reeves role he’s revisiting is Ted “Theodore” Logan for the long-awaited second sequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The premise of Bill & Ted Face the Music, according to Reeves, is the duo of one-time high-school slacker-rockers, now older, middle-aged dads with families of their own, must write a hit song or face disastrous consequences. “We have to save the universe now!” he reveals.
The project, shooting in June, was a long time coming; it’s scheduled for release sometime in 2020. “We’ve been trying to get this third installment made for over seven years,” he says, adding that it was important to craft a script worthy of the films’ loyal fans, many of whom have stopped Reeves on the street throughout the years begging for a third installment.
Reeves credits the cult following to the positive messages of the franchise. “Bill [again played by Alex Winter] and Ted keep going against all odds; they can’t be stopped or defeated.” he says, highlighting that it’s crazy to see the movies span multiple generations. “I’ll meet people who have shown the film to their children. It’s nice to know that tone, that humor, those characters can be in the modern world, that it’s not just nostalgia.”
Outside of Hollywood, Reeves avoids social media and resists the urge to read the occasional gossipy headline about himself. He will, however, occasionally pull up his personal IMDB (a popular entertainment database) to reference what year one of his projects was released; with close to 100 immensely diverse film and television credits, it’s hard to keep them all straight.
And then there was Sad Keanu, the 2010 photos of Reeves sitting on a bench eating a sandwich alone, looking forlorn. Reeves insists he’s typically a laid-back, happy-go-lucky guy, but he can’t help but laugh at the mention of the viral meme. “I didn’t like that paparazzi was invading my private space. But then you can’t help but chuckle at that!”
Reeves doesn’t quite understand the fascination with stardom. “I came to Hollywood to be in movies. I feel really grateful that I’ve had that opportunity, but I’m just a private person, and it’s nice that can still exist,” he says. He’s never married—unless you count his “wedding” to co-star Winona Ryder in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), officiated by a real Romanian priest—but he’s kept the Hollywood rumor mill spinning over the years with links to some of its most popular female stars, including Sandra Bullock, Charlize Theron, Cameron Diaz, Parker Posey and Sofia Coppola. Asked if he’s still one of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors, he squirms a bit in his seat. “Well, I’m not married,” he says.
Reeves is often touted as a very charitable celeb, having revealed a few years ago that he runs a private foundation to benefit children’s hospitals and fund cancer research but keeps his name unattached. He calls his philanthropy “personal” but does admit to supporting causes that aid the environment, education, arts and medicine. “I’m being touched by all those things and appreciate having the opportunity to contribute,” he says.
When he’s not on set or on his bike, Reeves keeps busy reading scripts or engaging in side projects, such as his book publishing company, X Artists’ Books, which publishes collaborations between visual artists and writers. And he prioritizes activities with family and friends. His bucket list includes a motorcycle trek through France, Switzerland and Italy. And his ’90s band, Dogstar, in which he played bass and sang backup vocals? “We get together once in a while to jam,” he says. There is talk about a potential public revival. “I won’t say no, but I won’t say yes,” he teases.
At this point in his career, he doesn’t have a dream role. “I don’t have a character from history or literature that I have in my pocket,” he says. “For me, it’s just continuing to be able to work with great artists and tell stories that people enjoy.” Reeves has certainly covered a lot of ground in a wide-ranging career that began when was barely out of his teens.
“I was always hoping, even when I was young, that I could do different things,” he says. “I’m really grateful for that. I’m very fortunate. I’m glad to be here.”