He was the hottest actor in Hollywood. The Matrix made him an icon. Then his career fizzled. Not that he stopped working – he appeared in two Matrix sequels and several forgettable potboilers.
But John Wick happened, and with Chapter 3 – Parabellum, which is getting rave reviews, the 54-year-old is back on top.
At his press conference at the Four Seasons New York in April, he is surprisingly cooperative, which wasn’t always the case. In previous interviews, he wouldn’t talk about his father who was in jail for cocaine possession, or about his stillborn child (with the late actress Jennifer Syme).
“I don’t feel I have any obligation to share my private life with people who enjoy my work,” was his rationale.
Reeves holds a Canadian passport, even though his mother is British, his father is of Chinese-Hawaiian parentage, and he was born in Lebanon. The name Keanu means “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian.
The family lived in Australia and New York before settling in Toronto where he spent his teen years. His mother designed costumes for Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. After her divorce from Reeves’ father, she married Paul Aaron, best known for directing A Different Story.
Reeves was 18 when he moved to Los Angeles and stayed with his stepfather. Eight months later, he landed the lead (and great reviews) for River’s Edge.
After that he worked with a series of top directors: Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons), Ron Howard (Parenthood), Lawrence Kasdan (I Love You To Death), Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho), Jon Amiel (Tune In Tomorrow) and Francis Ford Coppola (Bram Stoker’s Dracula).
He did Shakespeare, playing Antonio in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing and portraying Hamlet in a theatre production in Winnipeg, Canada. Occasionally, he was the bassist for the indie band Dogstar until they disbanded in 2006.
Speed, opposite Sandra Bullock, was his breakthrough film. He turned down US$15mil for the sequel because “the movies I wanted to make were movies I wanted to see”.
Always a caring person, he gave the ancillary profits from The Matrix sequels to the crew. When asked about it, he became visibly angry. “I’d rather people didn’t know that. It was a private transaction. It was something I could afford to do, a worthwhile thing to do,” he said. It reportedly netted them over US$40mil.
Obviously The Matrix means a lot to you. How much like Neo are you?
He’s a better man than me, but I try to live up to his values.
Which of his qualities do you particularly admire?
He was a beautiful man to play. I thought his love for Trinity was so pure. I really identified with it. Also I loved his search for answers. He’s a strong positive, moral and ethical man, doing the best he can.
What does love mean to you?
You mean romantic love? You know, I’m the lonely guy. I don’t have anyone in my life. But if it does occur, I would respect and love the other person; hopefully it’ll happen for me.
You describe yourself as a lonely guy. Are you content with that?
I don’t concern myself with it that much. I’m an actor, so in terms of what you’re asking about, I have no answer.
You live in West Hollywood. Do people there respect your privacy? Can you walk around unnoticed?
My days are pretty normal. Of course there’s the tourist vans, they visit everybody’s homes. I come out in the morning and get my newspaper, and you’ll see them. Sometimes you feel like an animal in a cage. But in Los Angeles, no one cares. There’re definitely paparazzi chasing after you, but I don’t go out much, I don’t really do anything. I’m pretty boring.
You’re known for your passion for motorbikes (Reeves co-owns Arch Motorcycle Company in California). What do you like about it?
So much. I like the aesthetics of a motorcycle, and I love the vibration, the movement, the independence of it. I like the way that you move in the world on them. It’s quite thrilling to ride them, there’s a physical pleasure, and it’s a great place to think and to feel … or not to think or not to feel.
Was it your early ambition to be a rock star?
Not at all. I never wanted it. I loved the sound of the instrument and then the physicality of playing it, and it became really fun, when certain friends would play with me.
How old were you at the time?
I was 17 and I had an older girlfriend who turned me on to a lot of music. I had this car with these speakers in the back; she turned me on to bands like Joy Division, the Violent Femmes. We would get in the car, drink a little, do this or that, and I’d put the speakers on top of the car, and we’d go to a park and we’d dance.
Does music still play a role in your life?
Dogstar broke up a while ago, but we have gotten together a couple of times to play. I have a bass at home and once in awhile I’ll play with them, but it’s just for our own enjoyment.
John Wick is now a bona fide iconic action hero. Did you ever think that would happen?
Certainly for the first film we had no expectation and we didn’t think we would get a chance to continue the story. But it was the audience that fuelled that. So we have them to thank.