Keanu Reeves on the Keanussance: 'I'm glad to be having a revival'
by Mark Daniell
ORLANDO, Fla. — Keanu Reeves’ faces crinkles slightly when he hears the phrase, “Keanussance.”
Yes, the Toronto-raised actor is on a bit of a roll in 2019. First, his titular action hero John Wick slayed the box office in last month’s Parabellum. Then had Twitter obsessing over him following an over-the-top cameo, as himself, in the Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe. Next week, he voices Canada’s greatest stuntman Duke Caboom, a discarded action figure relegated to an antique shop, in Toy Story 4.
And later this year, he’ll be back to reprise his role as Ted Logan in Bill & Ted Face the Music.
But Keanussance? The idea that his late-stage career is enjoying an uptick after years in movie purgatory does leave him looking puzzled. But for an actor who has worked steadily since he started off doing bit parts for the CBC in the early 1980s, he’ll take it.
Then again, maybe that’s just the polite Canadian in him shining through.
“A revival?” Reeves, 54, says, pausing. “Well, I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to be having a revival and thank you.”
The “revival” and online obsession has come as a bit of a surprise to the actor.
Reeves nabbed his acting breakout in the 1986 Toronto-shot Youngblood, a hockey movie that starred Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze. Later that year, he appeared in the dark teen drama, River’s Edge. Star-making roles in Dangerous Liaisons, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Point Break followed. But as his career evolved in the ‘90s and 2000s, he alternated between big-budgeted action (Speed and The Matrix) and smaller, more personal fare.
“I was most definitely aware of not getting boxed in,” Reeves told the Sun in 2014, reflecting on his zigzag career path. “I think it’s on the artist’s mind and the audience’s. There’s this dialogue with fans wanting actors to do certain things and, of course, actors wanting to do different parts as well. I was lucky in the past, and I hope it continues, to do all sorts of genres.”
Thanks to the internet, a younger generation, familiar with his more popular movies, created memes of the actor to define a range of emotions.
Still, he continued acting, taking supporting roles in films such as The Private Lives of Pippa Lee and seeking out edgier parts in The Neon Demon and Knock Knock, almost oblivious to his memeification on social media.
At the premiere for Toy Story 4, when he was asked about the web’s fascination with him he told People, “That’s, uh, that’s wacky,” before adding, “Well, the positivity’s great.”
Caboom is just one several new characters joining Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang in the Disney/Pixar sequel. The new movie finds Woody hitting the road with Forky (Tony Hale) and reuniting with his long-lost love Bo Peep. Along the way, he learns what it means to be a toy.
Director Josh Cooley and producers Jonas Rivera and Mark Nielsen said that when they conceived of the Caboom character, they knew they wanted a Canadian actor to voice him.
After a blind audio test, in which they heard various actors reading random movie lines, they zeroed in on Reeves. The actor jetted over to Pixar’s Emeryville, Calif., studios and quickly signed up to play the part.
“It was a great honour to be invited,” Reeves told reporters during a press conference at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios. “For me, I was really excited. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to work with Tim (Allen) and Tom (Hanks), but I knew that by working with Pixar and these characters I was getting a chance to be a part of something legendary.”
On the surface, Duke is always prepared to show off his stunt poses with confidence and swagger. But Woody learns that beneath that brash exterior, the fallen action star is carrying a secret: he’s never been able to do the awesome stunts he was advertised as being able to do. After being given up by his kid, Rejean, Duke lives in an antique store, constantly relieving the failures of his past.
“I think the cool thing about all of the characters, and this is what’s great about Disney and Pixar and all of the creators of the stories, is that we can identify with them,” Reeves said. “There are so many different kinds of people going through different things. Caboom just happened to be a cry baby with a big heart … I think there’s a bit of Duke Caboom in all of us.”
In a separate interview with the Sun, Cooley, who assured us that Duke was brought to life almost entirely by a team of Canadian animators, says that Reeves helped flesh out the character, adding depth to his tragic backstory.
“Pixar gave me a great character with Duke Caboom, so it was really fun to be a part of this story,” Reeves said.
Recording almost all of his dialogue alone, Reeves said he tapped into Duke by saying “Caboom!” in the recording booth.
After his work on Toy Story 4, he hopes Duke will lead to a funnier slate of parts on the horizon. Reprising Ted in a third Bill & Ted movie will certainly check that box.
But whether the internet’s fascinated by him or not, he’ll always go his own way.
“If I read a script and it touches me, I want to do it,” he told the Sun in 2013. “If I have an idea and I want to develop it … then I’m moved that way.”
So call it a comeback. Call it a revival. But for Keanu, he’s not going anywhere.
Toy Story 4 opens Friday, June 21
Toy Story 4
Always Be My Maybe, John Wick 3, The Matrix, Speed, Point Break, Youngblood, River's Edge, Bill & Ted Face the Music, Toy Story 4