By Tim Nasson
Pasadena, CA- More than a decade has passed since Keanu Reeves entertained high school kids throughout the world as half of the comic duo of Bill and Ted in the two Bill and Ted adventures.
Before that, Reeves stole The River’s Edge in 1986, and Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, two films much different from either of the Bill and Teds or his most recent endeavor, The Matrix.
In a recent interview, Reeves, not your average Joe, was somewhat hesitant to reveal a lot about himself, but gradually through the time we spent together opened up quite a bit and discussed his somewhat eccentric childhood and his new film The Matrix — in which he did all of his own stunts — in great detail.
Keanu, whose name is obviously not a common one, is the personification of a real melting pot of nationalities. He was born in Beirut to an American mother and a half-Hawaiian, half-Chinese father. His parents met in Beirut while his mother was working as a showgirl in a local club. His father was working as a geologist.
The family soon moved to Australia, where Keanu’s younger sister was born in 1966. Soon afterward, his parents divorced, and his mother carted her children to New York City, where she met Broadway and Hollywood producer Paul Aaron. Their marriage did not last more than a year, yet they had already moved again, this time to Toronto, where the family attained Canadian citizenship, which Keanu still retains.
There were two more men in Keanu’s life during his adolescence. First was the rock ’n’ roll promoter Robert Miller. Keanu’s mother’s fourth husband was Jack Bond, a hair salon owner whom she divorced in 1994.
Through all his stepdads, Keanu had a wide variety of experiences. “I got a chance to wrestle with rocker Alice Cooper,” he said, “and I spent a lot of time one year in a Jewish summer camp.
“I last saw my real father when I was 13, when I took a trip to Hawaii,” he added.
Keanu described himself as a “middle-class white boy. A bourgeois, middle-class white boy with an absent father, a strong-willed mother, and two beautiful sisters.”
At a young age, Keanu divided his spare time between hockey and theater. “I sometimes mixed the two by reciting Shakespeare while tending goal during a hockey game.”
Dressed in a black V-neck T-shirt under a green sport jacket, and blue jeans, Keanu sat comfortably in a suite at the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena for our interview. Fingernails painted black, face unshaven, red string wrapped around his left wrist, and hair going in more directions than Bill Clinton’s missiles, he looked more like his alter ego from the rock group “Dogstar” he formed ten years ago than a conventional movie star.
The star of The Matrix — the sophomore effort of the Wachowski Brothers, the team responsible for the lesbian thriller Bound — got his start in acting at his Toronto high school and then “luckily landed a couple of roles in television commercials and regional plays.”
Reeves’ first big break, the one that got him noticed by the big guys, came when he secured the starring role in the homoerotic play Wolfboy in Toronto, after he had dropped out of high school at the age of 17.
Keanu took the big step of leaving Canada behind and meeting up with his stepfather Paul Aaron, the producer, in 1986. “My first manager thought my name ‘Keanu’ was too exotic,” Reeves reveals. “So we changed it to K.C. Reeves. For about a minute. I was named Keanu, and that is what I wanted to be known as.”
At 23, Keanu took up another hobby that he had been passionate about for years but had never had the courage to toy with. “I started playing the bass,” he said, “and loved it and have been doing it ever since, touring with my band Dogstar.”
In fact, Reeves has turned down roles in films so that he could tour the world with his band.
Some of the films he has passed on have ended up being better missed. For example, he adamantly refused to star in the sequel to his box-office smash Speed. I asked him if he thought his decision to turn that film down had anything to do with good intuition.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “But in any event, all’s well that turns out well.”
Lately, and throughout his life, it seems, everything has turned up roses for the versatile actor. Last seen on screen opposite Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate, Keanu took a chance on another action film, this one adding sci-fi into the mix.
According to the directors Wachowski, whom I spoke to earlier in the day, “The comic book and graphic novel culture has long examined the dramatic possibilities of alternate realities — places where the laws of physics, biology or time are made to be broken.”
“We grew up exploring ideas that challenge the current perceptions of reality,” said Larry Wachowski. “And we began our writing careers developing those ideas. The Matrix grew out of the unconventional literature that we read as well as our long-time interest in and knowledge of classic mythology and legend.
“We believe passionately in the importance of mythology and the way it informs culture,” he added.
The directors’ decision to cast Keanu had a lot to do with the actor’s good looks.
“Keanu has a boyish quality about him that was perfect for the role, but at the same time he has a maturity that allows his character to develop and eventually take control of the situation,” Larry concluded.
Keanu responded, “When I first read the script I thought it was pretty amazing. It has a great combination of crazy action, extraordinary characters and some interesting themes. And Larry and Andy are such great guys — very generous and very kind. It all evolved into something I hadn’t seen before in a film — a meeting of heart and soul and spirit and action.
“I play an interesting character named Thomas Anderson, known later as Neo. He is someone who is alienated from the world around him and indeed very suspicious of life itself. He is searching for something that will somehow make sense of his life, and believes that Morpheus, Laurence Fishburne’s character, has the answers to all of his questions.”
Filmed on location in Australia — “because the costs could be kept down” — The Matrix takes place in a universe run by computers using human beings as batteries for bio-electrical energy. This “people power” fuels the artificial intelligence known as “The Matrix”, which has created a virtual reality to make its inhabitants think they are living happy, creative and productive lives. But in reality, they are only providing the energy that keeps “The Matrix” going. There are, however, a few human beings, including Morpheus (Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who have broken free from “The Matrix” and are searching to destroy it, recruiting Neo along the way.
Though Reeves was seen in a sci-fi movie a couple of years ago, the dreadful Johnny Mnemonic, he is hopeful and confident that The Matrix will keep him on the list of employable actors.
“I’m hopeful that I can remain successful enough so that people want to continue to hire me,” he said. “I love making movies, but I want to make movies that make money.”
Keanu Reeves Interview with Tim Nasson for The Matrix.