Keanu Reeves: The Young and the Restless

From the haunting comedy of River's Edge to the warm-hearted lunacy of Parenthood and the inspired idiocy of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Keanu Reeves has done better work in better pictures than many of his better known peers.


Keanu Reeves has earned his reputation by portraying confused adolescents who toss their hair and arms around a lot, don't shave or change their clothes very often, like to hit the sauce, and seem to have trouble expressing themselves with anything other than their hands. No one meeting Keanu Reeves for the first time would get the impression that this is all an act.

The deal with Keanu (for the hundredth time, it's pronounced "kee-ah-noo"),much like the fidgety teens he has been portraying in a string of top-shelf films--River's Edge, Dangerous Liaisons, Parenthood, and yes, even, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure--is that he just can't get settled down. Although he has enlisted the services of a top-flight public relations agency to juice up his image ("I can only afford these guys for a couple of months"), Reeves clearly doesn't enjoy being interviewed, photographed, or doing anything else that requires staying in one place for more than a few minutes at a time. This could be a real problem, because Reeves may be in the process of becoming a big star, and big stars have to sit still.

Shoved into clothes that look a size too big, perched on a chair that looks a size too small, Reeves is working his way through a steak in a twee Franco-Manhattan restaurant that doesn't look like it gets much business from people named Keanu. All the while, Reeves is doing the Keanu Shuffle with the arms, the hair, the shoulders, the body. He's spent an hour and a half giving clipped, confusing, bizarre, or unfathomable answers to what seem on the surface like reasonable questions ("Do you go to many Knicks games?" "What do you think of William Hurt?") and now he's starting to worry that the interview isn't going so well.

"Are you the guy who wrote that story about Sean Young?" he asks, alluding to a recent Rolling Stone piece focusing on the colorful but perhaps unemployable starlet's perverse fascination with quadratic equations, logarithms and James Woods. "Oh, man, I can already feel myself being raked over the coals."

At which point, young Reeves has to be told, "Relax. Relax. Everything's going to be just fine."

Because everything is going to be just fine. When you've made as many good films as Reeves has at this point in his career--he's only 24--you really have to pull a Sean Penn-or-Young to screw up your gig. Ignoring a couple of trashy flicks he made when he was getting his feet wet, Keanu has banged out a string of superb movies about important subjects--love, death, murder, suicide, betrayal, getting your high school diploma--and it sounds like two more are in the tank: Lawrence Kasdan's I Love You to Death, a comedy in which he appears with William Hurt, and an adaptation of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, based upon the novel by Peruvian novelist and erstwhile presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa. And Keanu's doing real good work here, work an actor can be proud of, work you can build a major career on. You getting all this, Kiefer?

All that said, Reeves is obviously an actor who enjoys only the work, and not the self-promotion that comes with it. He's also a little bit embarrassed about the interviews he has given in the past, concerned that some of his more effervescent remarks could come back to haunt him. He asks if his interviewer saw the article in which he expressed a nagging concern that he might be revealed at a crucial point on a big date to have certain stains on his underwear. His interviewer did, in fact, see that article. He asks if his interviewer saw the article in which he expressed an interest in fucking Meryl Streep, because "even if I wasn't good, she could fake it the best." Yes, his interviewer saw that article, too, an article in which Reeves also drew attention to the infrequency with which he bathes, and to the efforts he has made to squelch groundless rumors that his interest in personal hygiene has grown. At this point, Keanu does one of his trademark backpedals, whacking his forehead in his boyish way, eyes rolling.

"Oh, that was Keanu in fine form," he hoots. "Yes, that was Keanu in fine form."

If that was Keanu in fine form, today's Keanu is on his best behavior. Friendly, not at all menacing with his knife and fork, and ever so cheerful, the actor cannot quite bring himself to have what linguistics experts call a "conversation." His responses to questions are civil but curt, punctuated by frequent non-sequiturs. ("Hey, if it's William Hurt being a tree, then it's William Hurt being a tree.") Many of his answers consist of one short sentence; paragraphs still seem beyond his ken. But he is young.

And he is amusing. Though he doesn't have a whole lot to say about his upcoming movie, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, other than to express admiration for co-star Barbara Hershey and to voice his opinion that Mario Vargas Llosa will soon be killed by Peruvian drug lords, he does make an interesting remark about the accent he uses in the film. Noting that the setting has been moved from Lima in the 1950s to New Orleans in the 1950s, he says that he used a hybrid accent to get the job done.

"There is no New Orleans accent," he explains. "There are New Orleans accents, but I didn't use one. We shot sixty days in North Carolina and two days in New Orleans. So when I started talking, everybody asked if I was from Kentucky."

This is a pretty impressive knowledge of American geography, considering that Reeves is from out of town. Born in Beirut, Reeves spent time in Australia before moving to Toronto with his mother. Dad is apparently out of the picture, and has been for some time. His name "Keanu" comes from his grandfather, and supposedly it's Hawaiian for "cool breeze over the mountains," though, since Keanu's the one supplying the information, it might actually be the Hawaiian word for "Keanu."

Reeves grew up in Toronto in a neighborhood "where you could still be out playing at 11:30 at night," and drifted in and out of a series of high schools. Screwing up in high school laid the groundwork for his roles as a tortured youth in River's Edge, a tortured youth in Parenthood, a tortured youth in Permanent Record, and a tortured youth, albeit a bonehead, in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. At the age of 17, Reeves enrolled in a night school drama class, then started working in a local TV show called "Hanging In," as well as in such not-so-memorable plays as "Wolf Boy."

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