How Keanu Reeves Turned 'Toy Story 4's Duke Caboom From a Side Gag Into a Scene-Stealing Character
by Hoai-Tran Bui
At first glance, casting Keanu Reeves as a blustering Canadian motorcycle stuntman toy in Toy Story 4 would seem like a piece of stunt casting — an easy character gag that wouldn’t require Reeves (himself a Canadian motorcycle enthusiast with a taste for danger) to stretch his acting chops too much. And that’s how Duke Caboom was envisioned by the creative team behind Toy Story 4: a one-gimmick side character.
But when producers Mark Nielsen and Jonas Rivera, and director Josh Cooley sat down with Reeves to discuss working in Toy Story 4, Reeves’ enthusiasm and passion for a little stuntman toy helped turn Duke Caboom from a side gag into a fully-formed character. /Film sat down with Nielsen, Rivera, and Cooley (the full interview will run soon) to find out how Reeves took part in the creative process for Duke Caboom.
The first actor to come to mind to Nielsen, Rivera, and Cooley for the role of Duke Caboom was Reeves, the group told /Film in a junket interview ahead of Toy Story 4. While they looked exclusively at Canadian actors for the role, Reeves was the actor they had in mind, so when Reeves agreed to meet with them, they jumped at the chance. “We said, ‘Would you be interested?’ and he said, ‘I want to meet you guys,'” Cooley said, before launching into a description of the fateful lunch meeting:
Cooley: We pitched him the movie and we were talking about the character, and he’d say, like, [does Keanu impression] ‘What does he sound like?’ He’d ask these really deep questions, too: ‘Is he made at Rejean, is he mad at the world?’ Deep questions that I wasn’t really prepared for. I just thought, ‘Oh, it’s a side character. It’s a gag.’ But we were really getting into it, to the point where – no joke – he’s a toy that poses, so he’s [making vocal pose sound effects] in our atrium, doing that, and he stood up on table and started doing poses and people were like, ‘Is that Keanu Reeves?’ When he started doing that, I’m crying with laughter, and I thought, ‘That’s Duke Caboom.’ I credit him not just doing the voice, but the character –
Rivera: Just how serious he took it. Duke is serious.
Seeing Reeves’ enthusiasm for the Toy Story franchise throughout the press tour, and his general wonder at being turned into a toy, it’s no surprise to learn that he took Duke Caboom very seriously. Plenty of elements of the character seem like a natural extension of Reeves himself, particularly the passion for motorcycles — Reeves collects motorcycles and owns a custom motorcycle company — which Nielsen, Rivera, and Cooley apparently weren’t aware of. But they soon found out once Reeves began discussing the intricacies of the “Caboom bike” designs:
Nielsen: Rivera: Cooley: Rivera:
Nielsen:And the fact that he’s got a motorcycle, we didn’t realize how important motorcycles are to Keanu. He owns his own motorcycle company. That was all new to us. But the more we talked about it, he got really into even the design of the Caboom bike.
Rivera:We’d say, ‘What if we designed it like one of yours?’ and he’d be like, ‘No, no, it’s the Caboom cycle.’
Cooley:He’s like, ‘Don’t touch the Caboom cycle.’
Rivera:He’s true to the ‘70s. Real thoughtful.
The end result is scene-stealing character that arrives just at the crest of the summer of Keanu. Rivera is aware of the internet hubbub that is forming around Reeves, saying that getting to work with the actor to make a Pixar character is “the greatest honor ever.”
“It’s incredible,” Nielsen added.
Toy Story 4
Toy Story 4is in theaters tomorrow.