He was once the hottest actor in Hollywood. The Matrix had made him an icon. But then his career fizzled, not that he ever stopped working. He appeared in two Matrix sequels and many forgettable potboilers.
But then John Wick happened, and in Parabellum, his third outing, currently getting rave reviews, the 54-year-old is back on top.
At his press conference in New York, he is surprisingly cooperative, which wasn’t always the case.
In previous interviews, he wouldn’t talk about his father, who was serving time in jail for cocaine possession, or about the loss of his child (with the late actress Jennifer Syme) who was stillborn.
“I don’t feel I have any obligation to share my private life with people who enjoy my work”, was his rationale.
Although born in Lebanon, Reeves holds a Canadian passport. even though his mother is British and his father is of Chinese-Hawaiian parentage. 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 teenage years. His mother designed costumes for singers like Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, and after her divorce from Reeves’ father, she married Paul Aaron, best known for having directed A Different Story.
When Reeves was 18, he moved to Los Angeles, where he stayed with his stepfather. Eight months later he landed the lead (and great reviews) in River’s Edge.
After that he worked with top directors including 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 on film and Hamlet in a theatre production in Winnipeg, Canada.
Occasionally he was the bassist for the alternative band Dogstar, which disbanded in 2006.
Speed, opposite Sandra Bullock, was his breakthrough movie, although he later turned down US$15mil to do a 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, but 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.
Reportedly it netted them over US$40mil.
(From left) Actors Laurence Fishburne, Halle Berry and Keanu Reeves attend a handprint ceremony honoring Reeves at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California recently. Photo: AFP
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?
Do you mean romantic love? You know, I’m a 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, and 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 expectations 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.