Keanu Reeves’ Dedication to Art Is No Mystery—Pt. 2Added April 6, 2011
By Elliot V. Kotek
(from Moving Pictures, spring issue, 2011)
Keanu Reeves has embodied popular culture like few other actors, yet he’s retained a level of privacy that has enabled the media to label him “mysterious.” What is a mystery is how Reeves has managed to maintain an element of anonymity in a 24/7 world that denies even minor celebrities their time in the shade.
When I caught up with Reeves for a chat just prior to the U.S. opening of his latest film “Henry’s Crime,” it became clear this is a guy who is all about the work, about applying himself first and foremost to his role, and about ensuring that everyone on set is similarly geared.
By not declaring favorites just as keenly as not revealing others’ secrets — and by being open to all forms of artistic media — Reeves has become one of the most likable (and bankable) stars on the planet. With a box-office cume in the neighborhood of $2 billion, that Reeves gets billed — and sometimes belittled — as one of the “nicest” guys around seems to actually be an injustice to his dedication, application and honest enthusiasm to his work and the meaning of the projects he undertakes.
Reeves was in the Hungarian capital of Budapest when we talked, having just begun rehearsals for Carl Rinsch’s “47 Ronin,” an 18th-century samurai story based on a Japanese legend that co-stars Rinko Kikuchi.
MP: James Caan seems like he’s a constant source of stories. Was he like that while working, a full-time storyteller?
Reeves: Yeah, he’s very gracious. He’s such an alive guy. He loves contact, and he’s generous with himself and his stories. He doesn’t mind speaking about “The Godfather” — [he] speaks about how grateful he was for the role and his experience on the film. I asked him about “Rollerball,” [laughs] and he said, “Crazy movie, huh? Fantastic!”
MP: “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov features as a play within this film. I know you did “Hamlet” on stage in Canada, but this reminded me of an interview you did 10 years ago with Charlie Rose, talking about how you’d love to do “Macbeth” onstage and had asked Werner Herzog to direct it.
Reeves: I haven’t reminded Werner yet that he said yes. Yeah, I’d love to do that role, would love to do it. I tried once. I did a reading in London with Roger Michell (“Notting Hill,” “Venus”) to see if we could work it out, but it didn’t work out. Maybe down the road.
I’m not sure, maybe I’m too old for the role, but it is Shakespeare, so you can do it whenever! You’ve reminded me, “Oh no! The spark is alive again!” It was Sacha’s idea for the play to be “The Cherry Orchard,” and then we started getting into the play and seeing the parallels. It was fun to act, to have the players do that, and it was great to be on the boards with 35mm cameras. Geez, I was just psyched to be doing Chekhov with Vera [Farmiga] — that was a good day. Obviously, it’s a translation, but as an actor it’s so open to play the pathos, the comedy and the drama of it, there’s a wonderful openness. It’s like he’s giving you a canvas and saying, “Go color it. Go make it your own. What do you find in it?” It’s fantastic.
MP: Listening to you talk about this, and recalling the way you spoke of “the birth of compassion” when discussing “The Matrix,” that thoughtfulness would suggest the logical next step for you would be directing.
Reeves: Yeah, it’s come up in the last five years. I think also in the process of working on “Henry’s Crime” and being part of the process in doing the script and being part of the collaboration on the physical production certainly added some momentum to that idea of directing. I think it’s just finding the right material to say yes to.
I think it would be thrilling to get that opportunity. You gotta really want to do it. It’s a different time commitment, absolutely. Malcolm and other directors would talk about actors, “You basically come in here and do your thing, and it’s basically five-to-one.” That is, an actor can do five projects to a director’s one, but they also get to do “that,” to see a creation all the way through, and that must have certain rewards and pleasures, and I’m curious to find out.
MP: Speaking of exercising other artistic muscles, James Franco has just worked on an art exhibit with Gus Van Sant using leftover footage from “My Own Private Idaho.” Franco is managing to go back and forth between all sorts of endeavors at the moment. You had music (Dogstar), stage (“Hamlet”) and screen happening at one point. What do you think of his trajectory?
Reeves: Watching what he’s doing from the outside seems great and creative. I’d like to see the work he did with “Idaho.” My own experience with the film is filled with such great memories, and loss, and it’d be special to see my old friends again in a different way.
Check back Friday for part three of Moving Pictures’ interview with Reeves, in which he recites a Shakespeare sonnet. For part one, and for all of Moving Pictures’ coverage of “Henry’s Crime,” visit our “Henry’s Crime” hub page.
Photo courtesy Henry’s Crime LLC
“Henry’s Crime” is distributed by Moving Pictures Film & TV, sister division of MovingPicturesNetwork.com. http://www.movingpicturesnetwork.com/25289/keanu-reeves-henrys-crime-interview-2/