For the last decade Keanu Reeves has amazed his fans by reinventing himself,
transforming from teenage slacker to action hero to martial arts phenomenon. In every role
he seems to merge into the character and show another side of his already-complex persona.
Having amassed an impressive resume, he still finds time to tour with his band,
Dogstar, and yet has three films chasing each other in releases around the world; The
Gift, co-starring Cate Blanchett and Hilary Swank; Sweet November - in which he plays
Nelson Moss, an uptight workaholic who learns what love is about from a dying woman played
by Charlize Theron; and the long-awaited two sequels to The Matrix, which bring him back
to Australia in mid-late 2001.
Sweet November is an incredibly romantic movie. What is the most romantic thing you
have ever done for somebody?
I have not done the serenading thing and I havenít eloped. I have done the flowers
and I have done the visits and the trips, but I guess in terms of big gestures I
havenít really made any. I learned a lot from my character . . . what I have to do.
What exactly did you learn from Nelson in terms of romance?
Well, gentlemen, the Nelson Moss book of romance; sing her a song, donít send her one
box of chocolates, send her fifteen; maybe a dance; take her out. Yeah, those are the
things. Something to make her laugh, to make her smile, something for the heart.
How did it feel to shoot the scene where youíre wearing a tuxedo serenading her?
It was fantastic. There was this thing going on with Charlize where I wouldnít tell
her what song I was going to sing. She would try to get me to sing her something but I
wouldnít tell her, so when I got up there she was surprised and it felt great to look
at her and sing her a love song.
Did you base this character on anybody you knew?
I didnít have one person but I did get the chance to meet some advertising people and
go to some offices and see presentation materials and what they do when theyíre
trying to get an account. A couple of them just shared their experiences with me: the
pressures, the thrills, the obsession, so that really helped me and informed me. When
giving a presentation, my character can be on the verge of a nervous breakdown and not
even know it.
Like most of us, Iím sure youíve had your own experiences dealing with
somebody with an illness. What did you learn from that?
I think my experiences are part of why I did this film. I have had almost the same
situation in terms of loving someone with an illness. For me being able to show that
through the film was great. Sometimes the choices they make are hard to take but you have
to give them their space. Something that dynamic, that I have experienced, I wanted to
show on film.
In The Gift, you play a villain and you really go the distance creating a character who
is an abusive, creepy wife-beater. Did you enjoy that?
To play Danny Barksdale in The Gift was fantastic for me. This was a great character part.
It was a great opportunity for (director) Sam Raimi to give me that part and as an artist,
it was very challenging and good fun and I got to learn things and experience things as an
actor that I had not had before.
You are filming the next two sequels to The Matrix in Australia. What will you bring
One thing I have to bring is just true core commitment to the film itself, to creating it
and being what the directors want. Iíll also bring my phone book so I can call my
friends, and some pictures, but other than that just some T-shirts and suits and my
script. And a motorcycle and a bike.
I read you injured yourself training for the film. Is that true?
I hurt my ankle so I had it in a cast for four days, but it was blown out of proportion in
the media. I donít do stunts; I let the stuntmen do them. I do hope to be able to do
as much as I can for myself and the directors.
Can you comment on the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which has similar
effects to The Matrix.
Yeah, Wu Ping, who did the action sequences, designed both Crouching Tiger and The Matrix.
He has been doing fantastic work for thirty years and I feel like those two films are a
continuum of his work, but with different influences. The (Wachowsky) brothers could move
the camera in ways that no one else could and Wu Ping took advantage of that. Crouching
Tiger was a beautiful and poetic film, and I think perhaps the success of The Matrix
helped to popularize those types of sequences, where they are flying and floating.
Sometimes it takes years for a film to take on any historical significance but The
Matrix made a huge impact right away. Did you realize it would be so groundbreaking while
you were making it?
No, I didnít. When I saw the storyboards and sketches that Larry and Andrew Wachowsky
created, I knew they were doing something that I really enjoyed and something that I found
special. I knew what they were trying to do with the cameras when they created bullet time
was new and I just liked their ambition in trying to tell this story. During the filming
they put together a short seven-minute clip to show the actors what they were doing and I
saw that and thought it was great but I had no idea how it would be received.
How do you deal with fans and that aspect of your job?
During the course of the day, if someone comes up and says hello, I really enjoy that.
Sometimes it can be overwhelming, if you are at dinner of in mid-conversation or
something, but usually, itís okay.
You seem like a sensitive guy but the movie business can be very tough. Are there times
youíve had to compromise your kindness for the sake of business?
Because I donít produce my own films, most of the time I have to deal with getting
the business. Thatís really where I have the power, or influence in the creative
environment with my director. I can make my own creative decision, and I can to a certain
extent decide what I do and do not want to do.
Published April 26, 2001