September 2, 1964- Keanu Reeves:
“I’m very spiritual... Supremely spiritual… Bountifully spiritual… Supremely bountiful.”
One of the most ambiguous actors to ever make it big, Keanu Reeves has been, by turns, adored, reviled, and grudgingly respected by film fans. As the controversy over his talent continues, he still has his pick of projects. Last year, he had six films released, including one where he is the voice of a cat named Keanu in a film titled Keanu. For realz.
You might call his acting dreadful, many do, but for every Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), there is a Speed (1994); for every Johnny Mnomonic (1995), there is a Matrix (1999) or three; for every The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008) there is My Private Idaho (1991) He is sweet and sexy in Something’s Gotta Give (2003). In 2014, he made John Wick, a gloriously unhinged action B-movie perched on the edge of pastiche, he plays it with unblinking conviction, and he is paired perfectly with a Pit Bull Terrier. The other evening, I broke into a bit of a sweat while watching a scene where Keanu receives an oiled-up massage from a hot dude, while wearing only a pair of very tight leather breeches in Much Ado About Nothing (1993), where he is excellent as the villainous Don Jon. The failing NY Times once asked:
“Is Keanu Reeves a good bad actor or a bad good actor?”
No matter what you think of his technique, Reeves is certainly prolific. In 1991 alone, he made Point Break, My Own Private Idaho and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey back-to-back. He worked with esteemed European directors Bernardo Bertolucci, Stephen Frears and Kenneth Branagh, as well as Americans Francis Ford Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow and Gus Van Sant.
Very often the third chapter of actors’ careers are the most interesting and many of Reeve’s post Matrix roles have come in small independent projects like Mike Mills’ Thumbsucker (2005) to Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly (2006).
About the name, Keanu is Hawaiian for “cool breeze over the mountains”. His childhood was messy. Reeves was born in Beirut. His mother is Patricia Taylor, a costume designer. His father was born in Hawaii, of British, Portuguese, Native Hawaiian, and Chinese ancestry, and his mother is English. After his parent’s marriage feel apart, Keanu moved with his mother and younger sister to Toronto. His first stepfather was Paul Aaron, a stage and film director, his next stepfather was rock promoter Robert Miller and then the next was hair stylist Jack Bond. His father was arrested for selling heroin and cocaine, and Reeves never connected with him again. He dropped out of school to pursue acting, booking his first professional job at 15-years-old.
Reeves first came to my attention in River’s Edge (1986), a Reagan era angsty tale of troubled teens, and then in the dramatic comedy Parenthood (1989), with his mournful deliver of the line: “You need a license to catch a fish, but they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father…”.
Reeves’ trademark is an enviably serene continence. Some audiences take him as being wooden, but I think he comes across as an actor who understands how to use space with his confident body or with his deep voice. He even played Prince Siddhārtha Gautama, or Buddha, in Little Buddha (1993), the coolest serene guy of all time. Reeves is a master of speaking without saying much.
I enjoyed and learned a lot from Side By Side: The Science, Art And Impact Of Digital Cinema, which ran on The Sundance Channel in 2015, and which Reeves produced and narrates. Reeves is a hardcore film fan who is passionate about all kinds of movies and quite knowledgeable about the filmmaking process. This documentary about the transition from 35mm film to all-digital cinema, a process invisible to most film-goers, received rave reviews and is a smart look at the the current film scene, featuring interviews with many prominent directors.
In 1990, I made a film with Reeves. He was every bit the gentleman, surprisingly tall and handsome. He came across as just a regular guy who rides a motorcycle, plays in a band, and shows up to work on a film set occasionally. Always wise, at lunch on the set, he said to me:
“Stephen, it’s easy to stay grounded. The ground is very close. And we walk on it every day.”
I never forgot this.
We were friendly during the shoot and for a few years we stayed in touch via Email. In fall 1995, Reeves invited me to see his band Dogstar when they were playing at a small club in Seattle. Unbelievable, I went. I was the 41-year-old guy standing in a mosh pit filled with 16-year-old grunge girls. Not the most degrading situation I have ever found myself, but I was only made truly comfortable when Reeves acknowledged me from the stage and the kids got whiplash checking me out. I told the dudette next to me: “Keanu is a thoughtful and playful lover”.
It is a well-known secret in showbiz, that Reeves usually defers a chunk of his large salary to the crew members. For nearly a decade following his initial rise to stardom, Reeves preferred to live in hotels. He was a long-term resident of the famed Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. He finally bought his first house, in the Hollywood Hills, in 2004. He seldom stays there, or at his apartment on Central Park West in NYC.
Reeves likes to work, and as always, he has multiple projects in several genres in the can. He has wrapped Rain, a limited television series with Cherry Jones; The Starling, a drama with Isla Fisher; a sci-fi thriller, Replicas; Siberia, a thriller with Molly Ringwald; SPF-18, a rom-com with Goldie Hawn, Ringwald, and Rosanna Arquette; and a new untitled Bill & Ted sequel.
I am mostly looking forward to Destination Wedding a comedy with Winona Ryder, where they play miserable, unpleasant wedding guests. It’s the fourth time Reeves and Ryder have worked together, following Bram Stoker’s Dracula, A Scanner Darkly, and The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee (2009). If any two actors could make audiences care about two miserable and unpleasant characters in a rom-com, it would be the reteaming of Reeves and Ryder. Ryder, of course, returns in Season 2 of Stranger Things in October. Reeves has John Wick: Chapter 3 coming out soon.
Reeves is a vegetarian, an atheist, and he is single. You can make fun of him all you wish, but he is a stand-up guy and a true professional. I like him a bunch. Reeves turns an astonishing 53-years-old today.