“Then the man playing my dad goes, ‘Here, son,’ and he hands me a Coke. And I had the classic experience of having to drink the drink like six times with the director saying, ‘OK, now grab the drink. You’re the thirstiest guy in the desert and this is water’which eventually turns into ‘It’s pussy! It’s fuckin’ pussy! Grab it! Get it! Drink Hit!’ ” Reeves bellows in this fashion for several seconds, startling restaurant patrons a few feet away.
“Then I did a cornflakes commercial. I’m the crazy loner guy setting up the tables in a huge, Etonesque dining hall, and I sneak a bite of cornflakes. And again from the director it’s ‘OK, you’re hungry, you’re starving…. It’s pussy! You’re having an orgasm! Eat it! Eat those cornflakes! You’re coming!’ ” Reeves laughs. “Directors just like saying that kind of stuffit’s really for them. Aah, it helps. Every little bit helps.”
Reeves has been so successful at cocooning his public image in a kind of enigmatic murk, one can only guess at the number and the nature of his demons.
I appreciate the story for a couple of reasons. Given Reeves’s penchant for a kind of stilted formality and turgid phraseologydescribing one of his better projects as “this work, this film, this art, this endeavor”it is a relief to see him loosen up long enough to get silly. It’s like catching a glimpse of the air-strumming Ted from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure or the buoyant loser Tod from Parenthood winsome portrayals so different in spirit from the increasingly poker-faced, craft-conscious work for which Reeves is now better known.
I also like the subtext of miles logged and progress madethe sense of a career with contours and sweep. After forty movies, Reeves has earned the right to tell goofy stories about the early days. Say what you will about the quality of his output, perhaps best described as an acquired tasteReeves has proved himself an uncommonly game and dedicated actor.
Yet there will always be something sort of curious about his rank as one of our best-known, highest-paid stars, probably because there has always been something curious about him, starting with his panethnic appearancethe Asian eyes fixed in the square-jawed mien of a California surfer. That dichotomy is echoed in his namethe exoticism of Keanu paired with the stony strength of Reeveswhich somehow suits an actor who can play Buddha and a SWAT cop with equal conviction. In Reeves the supposed paradox resolves itself, and that contributes to his slippery mystique. What other leading man can boast the appeal of both a black Lab and a shar-pei?
Nor can many actors zigzag as fluidly between potty-mouthed reminiscences and pedantic references to things like “the iconography of religion” and the commedia dell’arte. Although Reeves is a Shakespeare devotee who keeps the collected works close at hand, he’s as easily transported by playing bass in his occasional band, Dogstar, perpetrators of what he once called folk thrash. When the band is on tour, it’s a decidedly lowbrow outingfans pelting the stage with cups, bottles, bras, panties, teddy bears, letters, roses… “Oh, I know what the weirdest one was,” Reeves says when asked. “We were in Washington, and this woman put her, like, 2-year-old baby on the stage. I don’t remember any crying, though; it was probably stunned by the amplifiers blasting into its cranium.” Keanu Reeves is a man of odd, barely interlocking parts, and there is something kind of intriguing about that.
To function at his level of fame and remain humble, well liked and yet thoroughly opaque adds to his allure. He actively resists movie-star trappings“He doesn’t even have an ounce of that in his life,” says Reeves’s Matrix costar Carrie-Anne Moss. “He doesn’t have the perks to the extent where you sometimes want to say, ‘Hey, get a little help! Get an assistant!’ He’s not about fame at all. And his choices are never about box officeit’s about what strikes his heart.” Which is why Reeves’s status as king of the Matrix franchise has a vaguely Being There quality. He is just the sort of guy whose genuine appreciation for the trippy, deep and cool might luck him into something extraordinary. Asked what originally drew him to The Matrix, Reeves says, “I was looking for work.”
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