The Keanu Reeves interviewBy Kim Francis
December 11, 2008
Keanu Reeves is currently playing the man who fell to Earth in the remake of seminal 50s’ sci-fi flick The Day The Earth Stood Still.
But, as Kim Francis, found out, he’d rather be having another excellent adventure
He has been slated for not being the most talented of actors, with some critics condemning him for not being able to act at all but there is something special about Keanu Reeves that has seen him remain at the top of his game for 20-odd years.
After making his name playing quintessential slacker dude Ted in the hugely popular Bill and Ted films and moving on to massive critical and commercial successes Keanu Reeves has secured himself the position of one of the most popular and bankable stars of his generation.
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There was The Matrix trilogy of films which nestle curiously yet comfortably alongside more offbeat flicks such as A Scanner Darkly, Thumbsucker and My Own Private Idaho, not to mention mainstream hits like Point Break, Speed and Dracula – as well as early triumphs like River’s Edge and Permanent Record.
His enduring appeal has defied the critics.
I met up with Keanu at Claridge’s Hotel in London shortly before the release of his latest flick, a remake of 1951 science fiction classic The Day The Earth Stood Still and discovered a man with oodles of charm and likeability that go some way to explaining the phenomenal success of this rather private and enigmatic cinematic curio.
In the flesh, he is smooth-skinned, his pale face contrasting starkly with his dark hair and patchy black beard. He looks considerably younger than his 44 years and has not even one strand of telltale grey amidst that facial fuzz.
He is also better looking in real life with softer features than his on-screen self.
I want to know a little more about this notoriously unforthcoming character but he deflects questions designed to draw personal information from him.
With deeper themes running through The Day The Earth Stood Still than simply alien visitation (it tackles politics, environmental consciousness and human nature), a probing question which asks for times in his life when he has personally ‘stood still’ is all but dismissed by the movie star.
He simply answers: “I know about stood up…” but when pressed to expand on this interesting titbit, he laughs and says: “Like I really want to go back there! Great, great.”
So how about when he has felt the most alien? He emits a long, loud groan then says: “Do I have to go there? I’ve been stood up… an alien? When have I felt most alien? I don’t know.”
He adds laconically: “It was the first day in a new high school. I’m gonna stick with that.”
On to the film then and on this subject he is a little more talkative, if a little reticent to give much in the way of deep and meaningful input.
You might see it as evidence of a lack of intelligence but rather he comes across as slightly uncomfortable with the PR machine, a little shy and perhaps a smidgen afraid to say something he might regret.
Keanu Reeves seems to have made more science fiction films throughout his career than any other genre, despite appearing in comedies, romances, dramas, action flicks and even a Shakespeare adaptation, so why choose this film specifically to add to his growing catalogue of sci-fi fare?
Keanu explains: “I think what appealed to me was the overview; just the story itself – the Earth being at crisis point, a crossroads, and humanity as well – looking at that as a story.
I thought it was a good place to start and I thought it would be fun playing an alien…”
The goofy persona which he struggled to shake off for so long in the wake of the Bill and Ted films is definitely in evidence as Keanu offers various snippets in his speech and this is one of those times, prompting the question of how he prepared for playing an alien.
As if to immediately contradict this opinion, he replies in some depth: “I read the script and was trying to get some information from that. The character has a scene where he is born, building up, coming into himself and tries to drink a glass of water and he says: ‘This body will take some getting used to’. So for me, that was my conceptual launch point; that there was a separateness of the consciousness of the being and its body.
“I kind of went from there and with that … the story was this kind of being going from more alien looking at humanity to going to this; becoming human in a way.”
A science fiction fan – his favourite movie remake is Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and he reads Ray Bradbury, William Gibson and Phillip K Dick as well as the short stories of Ted Chiang to which he has just been introduced by the film’s director Scott Derrickson – it is clear to see why he is continually drawn back to making sci-fi movies, even if it does jar with his assertion to the casual observer that he prefers not to go back over the same roles.
Keanu sees a difference in each of the science fiction movies he has made.
“I like the genre and [The Day The Earth Stood Still] was a good story and it was a good role,” he explains.
“Johnny Mnemonic, The Matrix, A Scanner Darkly in a way – they’re all kind of different. They’re adventures, they’re film noir-y, they’re all … odd.
"So for all those reasons [I keep being drawn back to science fiction].”
But it’s comedy to which many of his early fans would like to see him return and when the subject of a rumoured third Bill and Ted film is brought up, Keanu is surprisingly upfront, displaying a candour in scant evidence to this point. Indeed, the question elicits the most lengthy and animated response of the entire interview.
“Bill and Ted … blast from the past!” he exclaims in a voice not a million miles away from his character Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan in the films.
“Way back when I was younger, in my 30s, Alex [Winter, who played Bill] and I would talk about playing Bill and Ted in our 40s but now he and I are in our mid-40s so maybe we have to talk about Bill and Ted in our 50s.”
He continues, effusively: “You know what’s been cool about Bill and Ted? Making the film, in my peer group some people liked it and we went on to have children and then Bill and Ted kind of disappeared for a little while and now they’re showing the film to their kids so I’m getting little ones coming up to me once in a while, you know [saying]: ‘Be excellent’.
“In terms of getting a little longer in the tooth, it’s kind of neat to have that happening. But, you know, I wouldn’t say no – but it would have to be a good idea. There would have to be a reason to do it and we don’t have one right now.”
I protest and say I’d like one; surely that’s reason enough and he offers this insight: “Yeah? We’ve spoken about it with the writers and we thought maybe if Bill and Ted – you know how maybe they were supposed to save the world? Well, what if they didn’t?
"And so we see them and there’s still time to write this one song that would save the world but now they’re so fixated on writing that one song they’re ignoring their children, they ignore their wives, they’re like: ‘Don’t bug me, I’m trying to...’
“Bill and Ted are, like, doing this thing; the metaphor being, you know, this whole thing that’s supposed to save them takes away their lives and really it’s the kids that write the songs…”
He tails off breathily and you can sense a real affection for the idea of a third film, something that this particular Bill and Ted fan would embrace with open arms.
I ask Keanu what he would say, should he ever come face to face with an alien.
He pauses then says; “How’s it going? What are you doing here? Where are you from? What do you know?”
On this evidence, there’s still plenty of that old Bill and Ted persona left in the grown up Keanu Reeves. And just maybe we will get to see it one more time on the big screen.