Saturday, April 30, 2016
I. Transfixing Stillness
'Keanu Reeves missed his calling as a silent film actor.
'Critics and viewers alike refer to him as stiff, shallow, fake, always playing himself. These opinions have been repeated enough that they’re treated like fact. But this critique misses something. Keanu’s power lies not in transformation or the ability to wrap his mouth around clever word play. No, Keanu is at his most powerful when film is at its most elemental. Like Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and the greatest of silent actors, Keanu has immense screen presence and a keen understanding of communicating story through physicality, albeit with a very modern inflection. A simple glance or curled lip can unfurl lengthy character history or upend expectations.
'But this isn’t the commonly held image of Keanu as an actor. He’s been steadily working since the mid-1980s, his earliest defining role one-half of the titular loveable but dim-witted duo in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). Through a variety of high profile blockbusters, low-key dramas, and interested misfires in period pieces, Keanu is still stuck in the amber of our first impression; we don’t treat him with the seriousness he deserves. At best, Keanu is regarded as a guilty pleasure. At worst, he’s seen as a truly bad actor of little worth. No matter where you fall, you likely believe he isn’t worthy of critical study or even much respect for his craft. But this image—of odd blankness, affability but dim wit, worth only found in action films—ignores how purely cinematic his acting style is. For Keanu, acting isn’t a mode of transformation but a state of being. He transmutes story into flesh.
'In the biography Furious Love, Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger recount Richard Burton’s bafflement, acting alongside Elizabeth Taylor in the splendidly overwrought Cleopatra (1963), over her seeming lack of technique: “ ‘She’s just not doing anything,’ he complained to [Joseph L.] Mankiewicz.” But the director pulled him aside and showed him footage “that took his breath away.” Burton, Kashner and Schoenberger explain, “was struck by Elizabeth’s absolute stillness,” and learned from her “how to tone down the theatrical performances for the camera’s cool eye.”
'I’ve often wondered if Keanu’s costars ever think the same thing, since he has a similar transfixing stillness. Bret Easton Ellis once noted that Keanu has a “stillness, an awkwardness even, that is unusually empathetic. He is always hypnotic to watch.” When you watch him opposite actors with more pronounced tics—like Robert Downey Jr. in A Scanner Darkly — Reeves almost seems like he’s doing nothing. But still, your eyes gravitate toward him.
'Because of Keanu’s style, the gap between his good and bad performances is a chasm. There is no middle ground for him (which perhaps explains some people’s distaste for his work). Keanu’s failed performances are those that push him toward a theatricality against his natural instincts. They also tend to be the kind of roles actors use to challenge or prove themselves—difficult accents, lush period pieces, reliance on verbal dexterity. The most damning performance in his career is that of Jonathan Harker, the fiancé to the legendary vampire’s object of obsession in Francis Ford Coppola’s fever dream take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If you ever come across a list of the top acting miscasts, Keanu’s performance in the film is likely on it. The critical reaction to his role is so poor it has its own subsection on the film’s Wikipedia page. It’s hard to figure out which review is the most damning. Total Film writes dismissively that “[y]ou can visibly see Keanu attempting to not end every one of his lines with ‘dude.’” Entertainment Weekly said he appeared “out of his depth.” AskMen was especially vicious, writing, “It’s one thing to cast Keanu Reeves as an esteemed British lawyer, but it’s quite another to ask him to act alongside Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins[...] [They] ran circles around the poor Canuck, exposing his lack of range, shoddy accent, and abysmal instincts for all to see.”
'Yes, in Dracula Keanu is overburdened by the period costumes, lost in the details of each frame as if he were another illusion, appearing as though he’s wandered onto the wrong set. This isn’t because he’s out of his depth. It’s because he’s fighting against his natural instincts as an actor. The harsh criticism of Keanu’s performance in Dracula seeks to dismiss his career as a whole. But Keanu wouldn’t have such a long-running, successful career without fulfilling a cultural need or tapping into something primal that draws our attention.
II. The Crossroads of Virile and Vulnerable
'One critical consistency between Keanu’s virulent pans and more beloved roles (think of the tender-hearted hustler in 1991’s My Own Private Idaho) is the common refrain that Keanu always “just plays himself.” The harsh ring of “just” implies a lack of craft and worth as an actor. The statement also assumes we truly know the personalities of stars. We can rattle off details of Keanu’s tragedies during the 1990s (stillborn child, death of his girlfriend eighteen months later), find plenty of platitudes about his kindness, and get a narrow view of his personality through interviews. The act of thinking we know a star as high-profile as Keanu isn’t novel, especially in the age of never ending press cycles and paparazzi. What’s more fascinating, though, is what the “playing himself” criticism says about Keanu as an actor.
'Critics and audiences alike have a warped view of the history of acting, as if “true” cinematic acting began with the deification of Marlon Brando, followed by the 1970s glory days of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Each of these actors pronouncedly transform themselves from role to role. They take on various accents with panache, layer on idiosyncrasies, whittle their bodies down or bulk themselves up. A character is a costume to put on and never take off until the last camera rolls. It isn’t a coincidence that Jake Gyllenhaal and Matthew McConaughey’s recent renaissances and newfound respect both involved dramatic weight loss. Keanu is one of the few high-profile modern actors to not go for willful physical transformation or uglify himself for gravitas. If you’re not “transforming” as an actor, there is a belief that you’re doing something wrong. This line of thinking harkens back to the idea that we must suffer for our art. But Keanu is more powerful than actors who rely on physical transformation as shorthand for depth, because he taps into something much more primal and elusive: the truth.
'The first time we see Keanu as FBI Agent Johnny Utah in the beloved surfer-crime drama Point Break (1991), he sits on the hood of a car seemingly unperturbed by the rain pouring down on him. It takes a moment to recognize the shotgun that sits in his lap. His hair slick. His tight black shirt and jeans clinging to his impressive body. The camera holds close to his lips as he unfurls a piece of gum and puts it into his mouth, and then we see a sequence of him blasting through a gun course at Quantico. This introduction gives rise to the kind of action star Keanu grows into, much different than his 1980s predecessors who tended to be powered by an unerring confidence and machismo. Their emotional landscapes weren’t as developed as their biceps. The opening of Point Break illustrates how Keanu’s relationship with the camera informs his onscreen masculinity. He carries himself with a supple vulnerability, at times even a passivity, that seems at odds with the expectations for an action star.
'I’ve found myself attracted to Keanu’s presence because of the way he marries typically masculine and feminine qualities. He’s both intense and vulnerable, kind and tough, honest and mysterious. Keanu, of course, isn’t the first star to exist at the crossroads of virile and vulnerable. Actors like James Dean, Montgomery Clift, and Paul Newman embody a similar alchemy that have drawn women (and men) to them. But these actors often seem to fight against the lustful gaze of the camera, while Keanu supplants himself to it. Where they seem cynical, disinterested, or too wounded as a romantic lead, Keanu is utterly open.
'In Point Break, he’s a hotshot with a gun and a badge. But he’s also an object of lust for the camera (and audience), with a disarmingly open smile. Furthermore, without the help of a woman—the short-haired pixie vixen surfer Tyler (Lori Petty)—he wouldn’t be able to integrate himself into the gang of robbers/surfers led by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). This artful dynamic—a woman of greater skill guiding a passive man into a world beyond his imagination—develops even further in The Matrix (1999). Some of this, of course, exists on a plot level. But Keanu tends to let his scene partners take the lead, becoming almost a tabula rasa on which they (and we) can project our ideas of what it means to be a hero, a man, a modern action star.
III. Modern Loneliness
'Constantine (2005) has a lot working against it. As an adaptation of the Hellblazer comics from Vertigo, it isn’t memorable. But as a continuation of Keanu’s thematic exploration of loneliness as an actor, it is. Constantine casts off most of the comics’ canon for the screen. Gone is the London setting, the character’s British background. The cynicism, chain smoking, and dark humor remain, even though Keanu (who is of Chinese, Hawaiian, and English descent) looks nothing like the blonde-haired comic character. Searching for emotional truth in a fantasy comic adaptation involving a working class magician who can see angels and demons and toys with the black arts seems like a fool’s errand. But sometimes you find grace in unlikely places. Amongst CGI demons, Tilda Swinton’s androgynous take on the archangel Gabriel, and lots of hellfire, Keanu somehow provides a trenchant take on the burden of loneliness in the big city.
'(When looking closer at Keanu’s career, loneliness comes into focus as a thematic preoccupation. He’s often disconnected from the world around him, forging relationships only with intense effort or by accident. While he’s a great romantic lead—more so in films where romance isn’t the main plotline—I think he’s even better suited to moments when he’s wading through the cold, dark waters of spiritual isolation.)
'The loneliness that comes with the modern metropolis—like Los Angeles, where Constantine resides—has a different tenor than loneliness anywhere else. It’s magnified to such a great degree in part because of the bizarre effects of population density. Everyone handles loneliness differently. Many, like Constantine, take to trying on addictions and seeing which fit. And addiction aside, most people dealing with loneliness—including myself—acquire weird habits to fill the darkness. A small moment about thirty minutes into Constantine (just before he meets Rachel Weisz’ earnest, Catholic cop who has yet to realize she’s being swept up in a battle between heaven and hell) illustrates the idiosyncrasies that come with loneliness.
'Constantine sits alone under the harsh fluorescent lights of his apartment, doing what he does best—slow self-destruction at the hands of smoking and alcohol. A spider as sickly as the peeling paint on his walls tumbles across the table. He puts the spider under an empty glass, watching it for a few moments with dull curiosity as it makes sense of its tiny, glass prison. He blows some cigarette smoke into the glass, but keeps the spider trapped. “Welcome to my life,” he remarks. It’s a series of small gestures only the lonely think of, then actually go through with. Enacted by other movie stars, this moment could come across as maudlin or empty. But the great beauty of Keanu’s skill makes the short scene at once painfully earnest, chillingly lonely, and aching with self-pity.
'Constantine taps into a lot of what makes Keanu sincerely watchable and an actor of surprising depth. An emotional truthfulness? Check. Strong physicality? Just watch the way he plays with a pack of cigarettes or curls his body when he has a coughing fit. Interesting handling of modern masculinity? It’s all there, even if the film isn’t always aware of it. And nine years later, Keanu would finally find a vehicle that perfectly amplifies his strengths.
IV. Keanu Reeves, Action Star (A Certain Baggage)
'John Wick (2014) stars Keanu as the titular former assassin, so feared he gained the nickname Baba Yaga (The Boogeyman). From the moment we see Keanu as John Wick, he carries himself like he’s wounded. These psychological wounds eventually give way to physical ones. His peaceful retirement is first interrupted by the death of his wife, then his old life creeping back in. Before her death, his wife arranged for him to receive an adorable puppy named Daisy, meant to help him grieve, and Wick gradually warms up to the dog. Unfortunately, he crosses paths with Iosef (Alfie Allen), the obnoxious son of a powerful mob boss/former associate. Maybe if Iosef knew of Wick’s reputation, he wouldn’t have brutally beaten Wick, killed Daisy, and stolen his 1969 Mustang. This crime leads Wick on a quest for revenge through a deadly world full of the ghosts of his past profession. John Wick synthesizes Keanu’s greatness—his central, thematic loneliness; his command of physicality and stillness; and his peculiarly vulnerable masculinity.
'On the surface, John Wick is a simple, classic story of revenge with some of the most impressive world-building I’ve seen in years. Beyond that, though, it metatextually capitalizes on the story arc of Keanu Reeves, Action Star, regaining his title in the genre. He sells every punch given or received, every thrown knife, every ounce of blood spilled. There is weight to the action in the film. You see the toll it takes on his body and, at times, a minute shift of his expression acknowledging how age affects performance. When he’s already wounded and gets into a fight for his life with Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), we feel it.
'Wick is cut from the same cloth as Alain Delon’s assassin in Le Samourai (1969), whose cool stoicism and impressively-styled badassery yields a heavy influence. But while Delon and his kin seem sharp and cold, like cut glass, Wick is powered by something altogether different—longing, loss, connection. In Keanu’s hands, Wick isn’t void of emotion—or struggling with its first pangs—but brimming with it.
'The film frames Wick as mythic. His face moves from mournful to vengeful at a clip. His eyes lock with a man just as he stabs him in the gut until he dies, while lights the color of cotton candy blue and magenta shift the architecture of his face to something fearsome. Keanu tells Wick’s story through his body—the way he wears a suit and his wedding ring, the cool determination in his eyes, the flash of warmth in a brief scene with Addy (Bridget Regan), the slackness in his face when he sees Daisy dead. This is a man who has nothing to lose, who carries the weight of his history with each step—and “his” history here is both Wick’s and Keanu’s. Stars like Keanu bring a certain baggage with them—the roles we’ve loved, the bitter taste of when they’ve failed us, half-remembered gossip. This context informs John Wick.
'There are actors we admire, and then there are the stars we love. The best of them get under our skin, becoming a part of our lives, following us through tragedies and triumphs. Keanu is one of those stars for me because of the sheer joy watching him brings. But there’s also the joy for the medium that radiates off him. Actors like Keanu—who find beauty in stillness—are why film was created in the first place. It’s a medium that can show us the truth of the human condition in a way no other form can. Keanu often taps into the truth of the shifting boundaries of modern masculinity, of how our bodies tell as much of a story as what we say. John Wick is as much a slick revenge flick as a fairytale. Keanu Reeves is back, the film seems to be whispering to us.
'But was he ever gone in the first place?' -- Angelica Jade Bastién
Keanu Reeves @ IMDb
Mr. Reeves, a fansite
Keanu Reeves is immortal
whoa is (not) me :: Defending Keanu Reeves, a fansite
Keanu Reeves Network, a fansite
'Why I love… Keanu Reeves'
'How Keanu Reeves Went From Action Star to Riding Giant'
Keanu Reeves @ Twitter
'51 YEARS OF KEANU REEVES’ AMAZING HAIR'
'New Keanu Reeves Movie Makes Just £88'
'6 Films That Prove Keanu Reeves Should Do More Comedy'
Sad Keanu Site
'Keanu Reeves has written a book about shadows'
'The Quiet Man: The Riddle of Keanu Reeves'
'Keanu Reeves: The Man Who Isn't There'
'Turns Out Keanu Reeves Is One Heck of a Shot'
'Seduce Her Like Keanu Reeves'
'My mum was a Keanu Reeves superman'
'8 Movies That Almost Starred Keanu Reeves'
'I WAS IN A BAND WITH KEANU REEVES'
'The 7 Greatest (True) Keanu Reeves Stories Ever Told'
'You owe Keanu Reeves a life
'Complete Field Guide to the Facial Expressions of Keanu Reeves'
1983 Keanu Reeves Coca-Cola Commercial
Keanu Reeves Makes A Spago Getaway On His Vintage Motorcycle
Keanu Reeves - Dogstar Original- Keanu Sings! "Isabelle"
Sad Keanu BBC interview
Keanu Reeves Reading From Paul Gauguin's ‘Noa Noa’
Keanu Reeves on Turning 50
DENNIS COOPER: Is it true you're playing a male prostitute in Gus Van Sant's next film?
KEANU REEVES: Yeah, I play Scottie, who's based on... Hal? Prince Hal? From, um, Shakespeare. I come from a wealthy background I've denied. And I've been on the streets for three years.
DC: By "the streets," you mean Santa Monica Boulevard, right?
KR: Yeah, yeah. But in Seattle. It's not quite au courant. It's more about family. I call it "Where's Dad?" Hopefully River Phoenix will be doing it with me. And if that happens, then who knows what's going to happen.
DC: You'd both be prostitutes?
DC: What a funny idea.
KR: Yes. He'd play a character called Mike, who has an extreme case of narcolepsy. So he'll pass out and awaken and the film follows him around. I'm more like a side character.
DC: Sounds cool. Any relationship between this and Wolfboy, that gay play you did in Toronto early on in your career?
KR: [laughs] Um -- wow. No. The guy that I played in Wolfboy was a jock who just lost it. He was under so much pressure he didn't know what was goin' on. Then he fell in love with this guy who gave him back his sense of power. And even then I dumped the guy. [chuckles] And he killed me. Cut me.
DC: Yeah, I heard.
KR: He sucked my blood.
DC: Friends of mine in Toronto sent me some yellowed clippings about Wolfboy.
KR: What did they--? I don't recall.
DC: Oh um, just that it was disgusting. The play was revolting, etc.
KR: Oh, yeah!
DC: And there should never have been anything like it perpetrated on a stage.
KR: Really! Well, that's kind of cool. The poster was the cast in white T-shirts, kind of wetted down. I had my eyes closed and this guy is almost kissing me with this like grin? So the first couple of performances we had leather boys comin' out. You know, caps and the whole deal. And they were walking out at intermission because there weren't enough shoes flying.
DC: You grew up in Toronto. Wildly? Innocently?
KR: When I see stuff in L.A. now I realize how safe and sheltered my upbringing was. We didn't even do graffiti, you know? We'd build go-carts called Fireball 500. I mean we did sling chestnuts at teachers' heads, and in grade eight hash started to come around, and LSD kinda. But Toronto's become like a shopping center now. Under all those banks you can actually go shopping fourteen city blocks underground. You can buy Lotto tickets every five hundred feet.
DC: You play bass guitar, right?
KR: Do I play it? You know, it's all relative.
DC: You're not starting a band a la River Phoenix?
KR: Um, I wouldn't mind doing bar-band shit, I guess.
DC: What kind of music do you listen to?
KR: O.K., where to begin, where to begin? Let's see, Husker Du, Joy Division... The Ramones changed my life. Oh, and what's that band? It's like an industrial band.
DC: British, or Canadian, or--
KR: American. Black... Black... Big Black.
DC: Oh, they're great! Do you know their song "Kerosene", about these kids who are so bored they light each other on fire just to have something to do? Someone should buy the film rights to that song. Maybe you?
KR: Yeah. Who else do I like? There's the Pixies, but I mean I don't know if I love 'em. I was telling some guy in a frat in San Diego what bands I like and he says, "Oh, so you like slightly alternative music." [laughs]
DC: Were you into punk when it started? I guess you must have been pretty young.
KR: I'm like second-circle punk. But yeah, man! [clapping] Totally! G.B.H. and the Exploited are my two hard-core bands of choice. I love playing them too.
DC: Actually, I've always thought there was something very punk about your acting, not only your erratic energy but the way you seem incapable of conveying dishonesty, no matter who you're playing. Which I guess is why you have this punk cult following.
KR: Oh, yeah. King Punk.
DC: No, really. For instance I know these punks in Toronto who adore you so much that they invented a dance called the Keanu Stomp. The dance is based on the way you walked in The Prince of Pennsylvania.
DC: Yeah. Apparently it's turning into a bit of a fad. There are slam pits full of punks doing the Keanu Stomp even as we speak. In fact, two of these punks, Bruce La Bruce and Candy, who head up this gay-and-lesbian-anarchist group called the New Lavender Panthers, begged me to ask you some questions for them. Is that O.K.?
KR: The New Lavender Panthers! Whoa! Sure it's O.K.
DC: All right: "Why haven't you made a movie with Drew Barrymore yet?"
KR: Oh, ho, ho! They're not up on their Keanu lore, because I did work with Drew on a Christmas TV special. This was after she got off drugs.
DC: "Was Rob Lowe gross to work with on Youngblood?"
KR: What?! No, Rob's O.K.
DC: "Why haven't you worked with Molly Ringwald yet? Do you want to?"
KR: I want to! I want to! I want to!
DC: "Why haven't you made a European art film yet? (Might we suggest Dario Argento, Michelangelo Antonioni, or Lothar Lambert?)"
KR: Oh, yeah. I'll just send them a tape of me going, "Whoa! Bodacious!" Sure.
DC: And finally, "Are you gay or what?" Come on, make it official.
KR: No. [long pause] But ya never know.
DC: Cool. So are you very politically aware?
KR: No, I'm an ignorant pig. I'm makin' movies in Hollywood, you know? The things that I'm doin' are pretty sheltered. For me, acting is very self-involved, especially between projects. Once you get a part, you're liberated. You can find out what that character thinks.
DC: Your character in Parenthood was kind of weird politically.
DC: Well, initially he was an outsider in every way. He even had a different energy level from anyone else in the movie. But by the end he's happily ensconced in that big family portrait with all the other characters, holding a newborn infant.
KR: Yeah. I dug that guy, man. He was trying.
DC: Well, at one point your character does this monologue about how his father used to wake him up by flicking lit cigarettes at his head. It concluded with a statement that could be interpreted as vaguely homophobic.
KR: Really! Like what?
DC: He says, "They'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father these days," which seems to imply that "father" is some kind of godlike state, and "butt-reaming asshole," i.e., gay male, isn't.
KR: Oh, that is homophobic. It's weird.
DC: Your character does this fantastic double take right after that. Some friends of mine interpreted that as your trying to express your discomfort as an actor at having to say that line.
KR: "Butt-reaming asshole" was a weird line. But no. The character's just dismissing his past. He understands it, he's beyond it. It was ugly and he doesn't want any part of it. That double take's like him going, "Fuck that shit."
DC: Do you want to have a family?
DC: Do you have a serious girlfriend?
KR: Um -- not -- not that heavy. I want kids.
DC: How many?
DC: What sexes?
KR: Whatever comes out.
DC: Do you read much? Books, I mean.
KR: How about if I said I don't read as much as I'd like to?
DC: Nothing recently?
KR: Um, yeah. I've been rereading Letters to a Young Poet and Autobiography of Malcolm X. And some John Rechy novels, as research for the Gus Van Sant film. Oh, I love Phillp K. Dick.
DC: Me too. I just saw Total Recall.
KR: How is it?
DC: Disappointing. Everything's in the trailer. The K. Dick story it's based on gets avalanched about an hour in. Then it just turns into an excuse to blow $70 million.
KR: Explosion movie.
KR: Have you read Dick's short stories? He'd begin writing by having like a fantasy, like -- he would take a glass and go, "Hm, that's ironic." And write a story, you know?
DC: Well, he was on speed all the time.
KR: I want to be on speed! I've never been on speed. I want to be a speed freak for a while. Is that a stupid thing to say?
DC: No, no. I love speed. I mean I used to do speed all the time. Trouble is, you do get really depressed for three days afterwards.
KR: It burns you out?
DC: Yeah. It's ultimately not worth it. I used to do crystal meth, which is scary. I'd snort it.
KR: Yummmm! Wild!
DC: I know. It's yum indeed. Speaking of speed, you do a lot of films. Do you like it that way?
KR: Yeah, definitely. Like recently Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter has been having reshoots. In between those I did a couple of parts in student films.
DC: Didn't you do a Shakespeare play in Massachusetts last year?
KR: Oh, yeah, The Tempest. I played Trinculo, and it was a blast. Andre Gregory played Prospero. His daughter Marina played Miranda.
DC: Gregory must be intense.
KR: He was very intense. Anyway, my next half year is pretty much set. I'm doing Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Part 2, or Bill and Ted Go to Hell, or Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. We're also doing a Bill and Ted Saturday-morning cartoon, and that's kind of trippy. And before My Own Private Idaho with Gus I'm doing Riders on the Storm with Kathryn Bigelow.
DC: Based on the Doors song of the same name?
KR: No, at least I don't think so. I play an FBI agent who has to infiltrate some surfers who are bank robbers. The character is a kind of adrenaline junkie, and then there's this other adrenaline junkie, and they push each other into jumping out of airplanes, shooting guns, shit like that.
DC: Is he a classic Keanu Reeves-ian character -- sweet, confused, distracted, awkward?
KR: I call it victim acting.
DC: Do you make a point of seeking out roles like that?
KR: Well, I don't know about Manifest Destiny and all. You get what you put out and all that shit? I guess it's just been my lot so far.
DC: Even your creepy characters are so sympathetic. In I Love You to Death you were supposed to be a thief, but--
KR: No, my guy was just harmless. Larry Kasdan wanted this guy to be beat up by the world, just kind of in a daze. Harmless and drugged. So they hired me. [laughs]
DC: That daze is one of the things I really love about what you do. You're always kind of talking around what you actually want to say.
KR: Right, right.
DC: Most actors just manufacture emotion and expect audiences to match it. With your characters, it's their inability to produce that's the key. They're often, if not perpetually, distressed, spooked, weirded-out by the world. They're always fighting with their contexts.
KR: Always, man, always.
DC: Granted most of them are teenagers, but they're not exactly future stockbrokers, which seems like the teen norm nowadays.
KR: No, not at all. Actually, the futures of most of my characters are pretty bleak. [laughs] Who knows what they're gonna do?
DC: Do you research your characters?
KR: Definitely, definitely. Right now with this film Riders on the Storm I've been hanging out with athletes, FBI agents, police, people in college fraternities. I'm seeing a whole other part of the world, you know? When I did Ted I took stuff from cartoons. Stuff comes up that you never thought of. I look for physical things, background, and emotionally where the character's at for every second. I'm pretty flexible. I've studied some of the Uta Hagen techniques and Stanislavsky, and I've done some -- you know, some basic physical Grotowski exercises, and I've read some Artaud. A lot of times you get tired, cause you're seventeen and you got a certain kind of energy that they dig. You know? In some of the character stuff, I've had a chance to explore more, working with a whole new caliber of people, like Stephen Frears, Tim Hunter. River's Edge! That's a movie, man. American cinema!
DC: Yeah, a great movie. I keep waiting for Tim Hunter to do another movie. It's been years now. He did a Twin Peaks.
KR: He did? Did you see it?
KR: What was it like?
DC: It was nice. It was sparer than the others. Not quite as surrealistic. So, where do you think you fit into the Brat Pack, if at all?
KR: The Brat Pack? I have nothing to do with them.
DC: Do you think your acting style s fundamentally different from theirs?
KR: Jeesh! What?! No! Agggghhhh! I really respect those guys, man. Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Kiefer, Rob Lowe, all those guys. They've really set a path for us. Who would have thought that you'd give a development deal to a twenty-three-year-old actor?
DC: Well unlike them, you don't seem like a career socializer. I never see your mug in Details, Vanity Fair, etc.
KR: Right. I guess 'cause I'm a nerd.
DC: You don't avoid trendy photo ops?
KR: No, I dig going out, but -- you know, I have fun. I don't get many invitations and stuff -- it's just kind of whatever happens. Once in a while I'll ask my friends, "What're you doing? Where are you going? What's going on?" I'll go see art, I'll do whatever -- buy a drink, dance, play. All that shit. Sometimes I go to clubs. I dig the blues, man. The blues have always had some of the best times, best feelings I've ever had. The last person I saw was Buddy Guy, but it was in a bad space. Just bummed me out. Everyone was sittin' down, and they had candles in the middle of the tables! So it's like, "Bababawawa!" [He mimes a frenetic guitar player] And everyone's like [claps politely], "Excellent music."
DC: It must be weird making films, seeing a smallish group of people constantly for four or five months, then never seeing them again.
KR: Yeah, right. "Howya doin', man?" "Bye." "See you at the Academy Awards."
DC: Do you want to say something about your motorcycle? I saw it parked out front.
KR: My motorcycle. My 1974, 850 Norton Commando, high performance English touring motorcycle. Yaaggghhhhhh!
DC: Didn't you have a semi-serious accident?
KR: I've fucked up a couple of times.
DC: I thought so. When you took your shirt off in Prince of Pennsylvania you had this porcelain upper body. But when you had your shirt off in Parenthood, it looked all gnarly.
KR: [laughs] I love that bike, man.
DC: Well, not to be too parental or anything, but don't kill yourself. You've got a pretty love-struck cult of fans to think about. And you're getting more and more famous. I mean that's quite a responsibility.
KR: Yeah, I'm pseudo-quasi.
KR: Pseudo-quasi. I'm not really around. I'm around. Yeah.
DC: So where are you, if you know what l mean?
KR: Um -- lately?
KR: Lately. Training, surfing. On the weekends I've been kind of cruising the boulevards. L.A. is so trippy. Chhww. It becomes like a small town really quick. On those weekend nights the prostitutes are out, and the kids from school, and people cruising, and in the clubs all that stuff is going on? I ride my bike sometimes. I'll just go out, say, around one? Midnight? And I'll ride until four? Goin' through the city to see who's doin' what where, you know? Going downtown, riding around and just -- I care, you know?
KR: Yeah. Just to look around. Great.
19 of Keanu Reeves' 85 roles
Peter Markle Youngblood (1986)
'I knew Keanu Reeves before he was famous. Aren’t I special? Self-mockery aside, I was indeed fortunate to have grown up in a hip part of downtown Toronto and been immersed in a neighborhood that encouraged art and attracted creativity. That’s how I became connected with Keanu and, ultimately, how he came to help coach my bantam house league hockey team. Keanu, whose family also lived in Yorkville, was classmates and best buds in public school with my older brother, Andrew. They were tight – so close that Keanu was, years later, best man at my bro’s wedding – and hockey became a shared experience when they played together for North Toronto. They decided to give back one year and co-coach my club at Don Valley. Keanu, a ‘tender with a style all his own, focused on the crease. In the photo above, Keanu is sporting the yellow Wigglesworth Warriors jersey, I’m the awkward kid in the front row with the over-sized blue Cooper gloves (that I’d won as a door prize the year before) and Andrew is top row, far right, rocking the classic beard. I don’t recall how well we did that season, but I do remember thinking Keanu had a gift. I’d seen him play a handful of games at a competitive level, and despite him not having much formal training, he stood out. He was a raw talent, acrobatic and unrefined, but he could steal wins.' -- The Hockey News
Tim Hunter River's Edge (1986)
'There’s a lot of Nirvana in River’s Edge. Most “what’s the matter with kids today?” films have their juvenile delinquents in some kind of drag: black leather jackets (Blackboard Jungle, The Wild One) or spiked hair and safety pins and pet rats (Suburbia, Next Stop, Nowhere, aka “the Punk Rock Quincy episode”). But the kids in River’s Edge dress in ripped jeans and T-shirts and chunky, shapeless sweaters. It’s sexless (the only sex scene takes place under a shitty maroon sleeping bag with bullfrogs croaking in the distance and a dead body being simultaneously disposed of not too far off). “The thing about a shark,” Robert Shaw famously observed during the “USS Indianapolis” speech in 1975’s Jaws just before all hell breaks loose, “is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’… till he bites ya.” The kids who populate River’s Edge, Keanu Reeves’ Mike, Ione Skye’s Clarissa, Daniel Roebuck’s Samson, etc., don’t seem to be living, buzzed on sixers, many of which they must steal from a harried liquor store cashier (the great, recently late Taylor Negron), as they’re underage. Until they bite you. It’s hard to capture boredom on film without boring an audience (Richard Linklater’s Suburbia, for one, tries and fails). What keeps viewers of River’s Edge on, well, edge is the sense that these black-eyed, dead creatures in inside-out heavy metal tees (Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, even the band logos are muted) is that they might bite. It’s a sickening feeling and you cannot turn away.' -- Salon
Marisa Silver Permanent Record (1988)
'The opening shot of Permanent Record is ominous and disturbing, and we don’t know why. In an unbroken movement, the camera tracks past a group of teenagers who have parked their cars on a bluff overlooking the sea, and are hanging out casually, their friendship too evident to need explaining. There seems to be no “acting” in this shot, and yet it is superbly acted because it feels so natural that we accept at once the idea that these kids have been close friends for a long time. Their afternoon on the bluff seems superficially happy, and yet there is a brooding quality to the shot, perhaps inspired by the lighting, or by the way the camera circles vertiginously above the sea below. Permanent Record is Silver’s second feature, after the wonderful Old Enough (1984), which told the story of a friendship between two 13-year-old girls who were from opposite sides of the tracks but were on the same side of adolescence. In that film and this one, she shows that she has a rare gift for empathy, and that she can see right to the bottom of things without adding a single gratuitous note.' -- Roger Ebert
Stephen Frears Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
'All the main characters use American accents. Since this is consistent, it is not annoying. Rather than have an unconvincing array of accents, or actors struggling with affected ones, the film is comfortable with a simple convention: aristocrats speak with American accents, and servants speak with Scottish accents. A young, very attractive, and at the time unknown Uma Thurman plays an innocent who is seduced by Valmont, and a young and awkward Keanu Reeves, before he too was very famous, plays a music teacher in love with her. Despite Keanu's lack of acting ability, he does not harm the film, being well enough cast as a bumbling non-entity.' -- Lloydian Aspects
Stephen Herek Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
'On the verge of failing their most heinous oral history exam, Bill (Keanu Reeves) and Ted (Alex Winter) find themselves on a most excellent adventure…traveling through history in a telephone booth with a guide named Rufus (George Carlin). On their journey they meet the likes of Billy the Kid, Socrates, Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Genghis Khan, and Freud and then bring them back for their test. They must also find a way to stay together in the present because the future depends on it.' -- Nighthawk Cinema
Ron Howard Parenthood (1989)
'This feel-good family ensemble piece from director Ron Howard manages to avoid being oversentimental, and the result is an affectionate, leisurely comedy about the joys (and otherwise) of bringing up children. Steve Martin grabs the comic honours as the elder son of a family headed by crotchety Jason Robards, although there are fine performances, too, from a star-studded supporting cast that includes Dianne Wiest, Rick Moranis, Mary Steenburgen, Martha Plimpton and Keanu Reeves. Howard handles the large number of different story strands adeptly and he makes the most of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel's sharp script and some neat set pieces, notably Martin's cowboy turn at his son's birthday party.' -- Radio Times
Lawrence Kasdan I Love You to Death (1990)
'Keanu plays Marlon James in this 1990 film I Love You to Death. Marlon is a deeply-stoned, would-be-killer that is profoundly absent minded. I am taken by Keanu's passion for the art of entertainment as he draws an image of Marlon into the picture with an unrated hair fashion that compliments his role rather perfectly.' -- collaged
Gus van Sant My Own Private Idaho (1991)
'River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves star in this haunting tale from Gus Van Sant about two young street hustlers: Mike Waters, a sensitive narcoleptic who dreams of the mother who abandoned him, and Scott Favor, the wayward son of the mayor of Portland and the object of Mike’s desire. Navigating a volatile world of junkies, thieves, and johns, Mike takes Scott on a quest along the grungy streets and open highways of the Pacific Northwest, in search of an elusive place called home. Visually dazzling and thematically groundbreaking, My Own Private Idaho is a deeply moving look at unrequited love and life on society’s margins.' -- The Criterion Collection
Kathryn Bigelow Point Break (1991)
'For one of the few female directors working in Hollywood to take on a film built entirely on the relationship between two men was unexpected. But Point Break turned out to be Bigelow’s most subversive film yet. She and Cameron quietly reworked the script, and delivered her one non-negotiable demand to the producers. Keanu Reeves – then known as the goofy-hot young star of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and not much else – would be her leading man. To say this didn’t quite fall in step with received wisdom is understating it. For more than a decade, action heroes had been glistening American dreams of domination, endlessly re-fighting the Vietnam War on screen and winning. But by the late 1980s, the public appetite for these one-man armies was waning. In 1987, the British high-street art shop Athena launched a poster called L’Enfant: a black-and-white photograph of a shirtless man cradling a baby. It sold five million copies. Softness was back in fashion. Arnold Schwarzenegger knew it: that’s why, in 1989, the actor went straight from Total Recall to Kindergarten Cop. And so did Bigelow. Johnny Utah was as all-American as heroes come: a jock turned lawman, with a name inspired by the legendary quarterback Joe Montana.' -- Telegraph
Francis Ford Coppola Dracula (1992)
'Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a double offender, in the sense that both Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder come up short in the accent (and, some might argue, acting) department. His Victorian lawyer Jonathan Harker (just listen to his “Bloody wolves chasing me!” to say nothing of the way he pronounces Budapest when reading from his diary) and her Mina Murray/Elisabeta (the “surrounded by majestic mountains, lush vineyards” speech in the absinthe scene is a hoot) are both — ahem — bloody awful. And it could have possibly been avoided if they’d consulted with those great British thespians in the movie, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins and Richard E. Grant. Instead, we’re left with a literal horror show.' -- Time Magazine
Gus Van Sant Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993)
'Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is one of the more empty, pointless, baffling films I can remember, and the experience of viewing it is an exercise in nothingness. How did this happen? Cowgirls has been directed by Gus Van Sant, whose most recent features were Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho, both fine, strong-minded, creative films. Nothing in them would suggest that his next work would be like a throwback to the blissed-out 1960s, in which the very idea of women living and working on a ranch would be its own justification. One of the more peculiar aspects of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is that the movie presents us with notions that might barely have been daring 30 years ago, and expects us to be amazed today. It's in a time warp. That it's also written and edited in incoherent bursts of disconnected and arbitrary events is no help.' -- Roger Ebert
Bernardo Bertolucci Little Buddha (1993)
'Bernardo Bertolucci in Little Buddha has found a wonderful vehicle for teaching about Buddhism. One of the keys to the film's emotional undertow is the casting of Ying Ruocheng as Lama Norbu. This veteran of the stage and screen in China, who played the Governor of Fushun Prison in The Last Emperor, comes across as a wise and compassionate holy man. In an important scene in the film, Lama Norbu explains reincarnation to Jesse's skeptical father: "In Tibet we think of the mind and the body as the content and the container." He holds up a cup of tea, then smashes it, and observes: "The cup is no longer the cup, but what is the tea?" He pauses and concludes: "Like the mind after death, the tea moves from one container to the next, but it is still tea." And to make a final point, Lama Norbu wipes up the liquid from the floor and squeezes it out. "Still tea," he chuckles.' -- S&P
the entire film
Keanu Reeves on Being Cast in Little Buddha
Robert Longo Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
'Johnny Mnemonic almost works as metafiction produced by an implied Gibson continuum, the 1995 of the world that would go on to produce cyborgs and cyberspace. It almost forces the viewer to observe the technological and corporatist progress of their own lives. The blatant branding for fictional brands, the odd casting, the reversal of cultural sway. All of these could combine together to criticize the corporate machine that produced this movie, to criticize the hegemony of Hollywood. In practice, though, Johnny Mnemonic only has an odd feeling of kitsch, as though it were the earnestly bad product of an only slightly different present. While much about cyberpunk holds true today, especially the core idea of culture shock caused by technological progress making life unrecognizable, Johnny Mnemonic falls into the gap where dystopic ideal met with dystopic reality. In a 2007 interview, Gibson described his writing as no longer being about the future, but rather “speculative fiction of the very recent past.” While Gibson caught up, and, in his own words used “a toolkit that was in large part provided by science fiction” to “a handle on the world today,” Johnny Mnemonic fell just short. But somewhere inside that deeply mediocre movie is a vision of that Gibson continuum, just out of reach.' -- Wired
Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski The Matrix (1999)
'I was very lucky. I got a call from my agent, saying that these directors, the Wachowskis, wanted to meet, and they sent me the script, and the script was absolutely amazing, and I went in to meet with them, and they showed me some artwork, of their vision, and an early version of "bullet time," and it was very exciting and inspiring. We ended up hanging out in a parking lot outside the offices just talking and riffing, and we basically just kinda shook hands - they told me they wanted me to train for 4 months prior to filming, and I got a big grin on my face and said: "Yes." That's how it happened.' -- Keanu Reeves
The Matrix Behind The Scenes - The Pod
The Matrix Behind The Scenes - Flying
The Matrix Behind The Scenes - Rooftop
Sam Raimi The Gift (2000)
'Keanu Reeves is probably the creepiest thing in this movie becoming very believable as an abusive and threatening figure. In the movie he’s a very intimidating figure as he harasses Annie almost non-stop. Giovanni Ribisi is good as the troubled Buddy Cole, Annie’s friend and often protective spirit who seeks her guidance for his mental problems. His scenes are the saddest as he seems to be struggling with his own insanity. The movie has a great story with a creepy ending that shows why Sam Raimi is such a cult figure. An uneven yet entertaining genre entry that shows off some great performances by an all-star cast and tense writing by Thorton and Eppison, The Gift is a solid supernatural thriller.' -- Cinema Crazed
Mike Mills Thumbsucker (2005)
'Reeves is often dismissed as the pretty-boy face of Generation X, one who provides the surface-level sincerity we’ve come to expect from techno-dystopias like THE MATRIX trilogy (and inspiring innumerable paranoid hackers, but whatever). So we rarely get the chance to see our leading man in a role where his listless charm and quixotic ways are brought fully to bear in an ironic context. Which is sad: Here is a man whose brand is ripe for roles with character duality. We’re not only entertained by THUMBSUCKER’s orthodontist on a vision quest who quotes Yoda; we’re dying that he’s played by Keanu Reeves.' -- Sundance.tv
Richard Linklater A Scanner Darkly (2006)
'The rotoscope animation of A Scanner Darkly will be instantly familiar to those who saw Linklater and Sabiston’s Waking Life, but the differences between the two are nonetheless radical. Waking Life operates like an anthology, pairing monologuists with animators in segments that emphasize their individual flourish; it wasn’t important for the look of one sequence to match the other, just as it wasn’t important for one big thought bubble to link up with another. Produced by a now-defunct major studio boutique, Warner Independent Pictures (a comic misnomer if there ever was one), A Scanner Darkly has the more uniform style of conventional animation, but there’s artistic purpose behind it, too. Fluidity is the chief goal here, a sense of identities, realities, and altered realities bleeding into each other to such an extent that they become indistinguishable. As a fellow agent says when jokingly introducing the scramble-suited “Detective Fred” to the Broad Bear Lodge, “Let’s hear it for the vague blur.”' -- The Dissolve
Keanu Reeves Man of Tai Chi (2013)
'Man of Tai Chi, Reeves' feature film directorial debut, has the same sometimes-awkward blend that Reeves brings to the table as an actor. The film is super serious (as befitting the martial arts genre, where everything is a matter of life or death), with moments of strange stilted dialogue (also par for the course) and scene after scene of thrilling physical combat, filmed with grace and certainty and no small amount of awe for the athletes involved. There's one masterpiece of a scene that takes place in a hidden night club floating in the bowels of a cargo ship in Hong Kong harbor. The setting is surreal: the circular stage painted with psychedelic dizzying swirls and the circular tables surrounding said stage, not to mention the bored elegant silent crowd, is reminiscent of the midnight theatre scene in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive or the freaky tiered nightclub in Josef von Sternberg's Shanghai Gesture. Each fight gets more dangerous. The stakes rise. Death is the only possible outcome. Reeves approaches the genre with respect and passion. Man of Tai Chi is hugely entertaining.' -- Sheila O'Malley
Chad Stahelski John Wick (2014)
'Keanu Reeves had come to be considered a slightly ludicrous box-office burnout – until recently, when this brutally single-minded revenge actioner reignited his career by grossing $79m worldwide. Directed by the actor’s former stunt double Chad Stahelski (David Leitch is officially credited as a producer, but co-directed), John Wick features Reeves as a much-feared assassin, recently retired from working with Russian mobsters. At the start, Wick is in mourning but takes heart when he receives a posthumous gift of a puppy from his recently deceased wife; she presumably ordered it on PetsFromBeyondThe Grave.com. When callow mob scion Alfie Allen kills the dog, Wick’s wrath is unstoppable – and so is the film. John Wick can legitimately be called mindless violence – in a good way, sort of. There’s not much going on except Wick ploughing his juggernaut path through a world in which pretty much everyone is a Ruthless Assassin – there’s even an upmarket hotel exclusively for Ruthless Assassins. John Wick is more like a shoot-’em-up computer game than any film I’ve seen, and makes no bones about it. It’s slick, utterly to the point and surprisingly enjoyable – if you don’t have qualms about enjoying a movie in which there are no characters, only targets with varying scores. Reeves is robotically saturnine, his vacant centre (and matching vacant exterior) making this an almost zen-like exercise in wholesale slaughter as abstraction.' -- The Guardian
John Wick Fight Scene Choreography Training
p.s. Hey. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Let me just slip my fandom re: Jim Steinman sideways into your talk with steevee. Good morning! It was a joy to host the tearjerking post, my friend. Your cat! I love it! It's like a Batcat. Everyone, check out Ben's cat. Have a terrific weekend, pal. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi, D! In a way, right? Sweet that your meeting with your friend was so awesome! Oh, no, I'm so sorry to hear that about your dog. Have you found anything out yet? That's really stressful. Yes, this weekend will be a marathon brain-taxing sprint to the finish line, yikes, and it won't be totally over on Monday, but hopefully the final work next week will be less greedy. Have the very best Saturday and Sunday that you can! ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. There is a considerable strain of passive aggressiveness in quite a number if not even the majority of the slaves. I wonder the the prospective masters know that they, in fact, are the prey in that equation. Well, if I see 'Crash' again, I might really like it. I can't tell which of my viewings/reactions was the more objective one. No surprise, I'm sure, that the Spade/Koteas fuck scene doesn't do a thing for me. ** Steevee, Hi. Huh. For me, watching them fake-fuck is like watching the timer on my microwave when it's cooking my veggie-dogs. Hm, that is strange about Carpenter not being able to get a film financed. I guess it has been a while since he had a real hit, but he had a bunch of hits, not to mention being an influential genre master. Weird. ** Jamie McMorrow, Tickertape parade on the Champs Elysee to you! Whoa, busy, yikes, for sure. My brain feels literally numb, which quite a weird sensation. Food and sleep are holding their own so far. But, yeah, by Monday I might be a bit of a scarecrow. Yeah, the AC/DC thing, I know. I was very happy when I found that sentence. And TakeMyDignity's ending too. I love when the slaves or escorts have a gift for a great ending. I always kind of thing of those profile texts as being a specific literary form like the sonnet or whatever, but when they know how to nail an ending, my literature-izing of their texts feels much less pretentious, which is nice. Great, great, about the guest post! That's so cool of you! Yeah, send me the document when you're done, and if you need any advice or whatever about the formatting re: blog formatting or anything, just ask. Really, thanks! That's exciting! New entrancing song! Have you nailed it yet? What's your weekend looking like? ** Sypha, Ha ha, yeah, I actually did think, Oops, I'm going to freak Sypha out if I include that guy's photo, but then I thought, Well, I should give Sypha the chance to decide if he's freaked out for himself, so I went for it. Sorry. Sort of. Not really, ha ha. Ah, but James, maybe that lack of scintillating content will be even more scintillating to him. He can interpret that severe parsing on your part in any way he wants and make up some version of you in his head that, upon publishing his thesis, will then become the official viewpoint on you as a person. Are you cool with that? ** Bill, Hi, Bill. Ha ha, good one, man. Oh, well, as you see, the weekend post is just kind of a fun one, assuming everyone has something to feel and say about Keanu, and I suppose that I'm supposing they/you will. Schmoozing is my idea of water-boarding. I still haven't read Brad Gooch's book, which i just ridiculous of me. I'm going to get it this weekend. How is it? ** Okay. So I had a fondness for Keanu Reeves moment and, while it lasted, a post was sought, accrued, organized, and ultimately placed on the blog's launch pad. Enjoy? Surely, in some way, right? See you on Monday.
Posted by Dennis Cooper at 12:30 AM