Keanu Reeves Is Modest to a Fault
by Julie Miller
p>Keanu Reeves has played many characters onscreen—goofball guitarist Ted Logan, computer-hacker Neo, dog-loving assassin John Wick—and your internet boyfriend in real life. But one role Reeves will not play is Man Comfortable Accepting Compliment. (Your internet boyfriend is modest too.)
Late last month, The New York Times named Reeves one of the greatest actors of the 21st century. More precisely, he was listed as the fourth greatest, immediately following Daniel Day-Lewis and preceding Nicole Kidman. “Have you ever been disappointed when he showed up in a movie?” wrote critic-at-large A.O. Scott, resting his case. “Can you name one film that has not been improved by his presence?”
Those kind words reached Reeves via his agent. I know this because, during a Zoom interview this week, I asked Reeves how he felt about the honor.
“I hope people enjoy what I do,” the actor replied, bashfully. Reeves admitted that a few of his friends acknowledged him being on the list too, but in more of a “that’s cool,” head-nod kind of way. “If someone talks about my body of work or whatever and appreciates it,” he said, trailing off. He shrugged. “Nice is nice.”
“That’s about as far as it goes,” he continued, signaling that he’d rather jump under a moving bus to diffuse a bomb, Speed-style, than continue discussing the subject “I just roll up my sleeves and go to work.”
In August, Reeves resumed filming the fourth Matrix film. But if audiences want new Reeves content this calendar year, they’ll have to look to the new role-playing video game Cyberpunk 2077, from CD Projekt, which premiered this week. In it, the actor plays a former terrorist and punk guitarist named Johnny Silverhand, who appears as a digital construct living in players’ minds to offer advice, sarcastic gibes, or punk-rock support. Filmed using motion-capture technology, Johnny is a digitized version of Reeves—wearing mirrored aviators, a bulletproof vest, and heeled boots, with a gun in one hand and a guitar in the other.
“I did a brief amount of motion capture to get a library of some behaviors,” said Reeves. “Like, how does he walk? How does he sit? Does he slouch? How does he play guitar? How does he move? Then I was just really working on trying to bring the character to life vocally.” He likened the voiceover-heavy project to a “radio play, in the sense that you don’t have a physical body.”
Because each player will go on a customized journey, Reeves said that he recorded a range of reactions. “It was fun to play different versions of the same guy, whether he’s angry, contemplative, he’s making fun of you, he’s supporting you.”
Though the actor isn’t much of a video game player himself, he’s always had a soft spot for the cyberpunk sci-fi subgenre—which is set against a dystopian futuristic setting and tends to be heavy on technology, rebellious figures, and corporate distrust.
The genre has appealed to Reeves since he was a kid reading comic books, “looking at Frank Miller’s Ronin, the storytelling, the graphic-ness of it.” He grew up on Blade Runner, the 1960s version of Batman, and the Lord of the Rings books; it’s no wonder that decades later, he’d choose to star in projects like Johnny Mnemonic and The Matrix. “It’s [about] appropriating and mixing styles and genres—and there’s a kind of making your own world to that,” he explained. “When you get into fantasy and science fiction…a lot of times these stories are antihero stories or about fighting against the system or trying to break something down, or the reluctant hero. I guess as a forming young person, whatever psychologically, I related to that.” And besides, he said simply, “Sometimes cyberpunk stuff looks cool.”
Reeves said that the pitch for Cyberpunk 2077 aligned with those interests.
“It was kind of presented as a voice looking to confront corporate hypocrisy and systems of control,” said Reeves, noting that the game can get graphic. “It’s 17-plus, so there’s a lot of violence. You can choose a track where there is less violence. But I think, bottom line of the game, there is definitely some kind of positive aspiration to it, to reflect, and to think about one’s actions, one’s deeds, who they are and how we can impact others.”
Speaking of which: I also asked Reeves about his reputation for being the kindest person on the planet—someone who’s offered his seat to women on crowded subways, made secret charity donations, and once took the lead on organizing a road-trip mission for complete strangers rather than leaving them behind after their plane made an emergency landing two hours from their destination.
“I don’t think of myself as a role model or anything like that,” said Reeves, growing uncomfortable again. “If people have had any impact from however they interact with me—in terms of entertainment or in real life or on social media—I just hope it’s been positive.”