When it comes to movies, Keanu Reeves has done it all. A prolific actor, producer, and lover of all things cinema, Reeves may be best known for a handful of high-profile action films like Speed, Point Break, and The Matrix (along with one very notable stoner comedy), but his résumé spans a rainbow of titles big and small.
A Hollywood constant for decades, Reeves has shown an uncanny knack for shaking off stereotypes and constantly reinventing himself to bring in new audiences, most recently with the pulpy (and delightfully simple) John Wick action franchise. Currently, Reeves is working on a long-delayed second sequel to one of his first big hits, the beloved sci-fi/comedy Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, while also cooking up a third John Wick film, among multiple other projects. His latest film, Siberia, is an indie thriller about a diamond dealer who gets in way over his head in the northern wilds of Russia.
Digital Trends recently spoke with Reeves about his views on multiple subjects, including what makes a good action hero, the intriguing plotline for Bill and Ted Face the Music, and his own Matrix-esque contemplation of the “construction of reality.”
Digital Trends: In your latest film, Siberia, you play a conflicted diamond dealer who gets in too deep in Russia, and the character you play is sort of broken in some ways. He’s in trouble for much of the film. What drew you to the role?
Keanu Reeves: That. I liked this character who was in trouble, who is kind of trying to hold things together and keep moving forward and then at the same time meets someone that he falls in love with and kind of shatters everything. I thought that was just a really fun story, fun to play.
Yeah, it looked like you guys were having fun out there. You also speak a lot of Russian in the film. Was it hard getting the cadences right?
I’ve had the chance to speak Russian in a few films. I had a great Russian instructor, and I spent a lot of time with it. I really enjoy acting in a different language, so it was a cool opportunity to do that. I find that it helps with the kind of immersion into the world, you know? You’re not having a bunch of Russian people speak English.
I really enjoy acting in a different language. It helps with the kind of immersion into the world, you know?
You have a lot of really talented co-stars in the film who were Russian as well, like [mob boss] Pasha D. Lychnikoff. Did he give you any pointers?
Yeah, he gave me some, there were a couple of [speaks in Russian accent], “Hey Keanu you don’t say ‘brat.’” He’s a lovely actor.
You also produced Siberia. What do you like about being on both sides of the camera? What do you like about the production process?
I like that it gives you an opportunity to have some participation. You know, it’s a different way to collaborate and a way to hopefully get the filmmaker, whoever’s directing it, and the whole production, you know, just to support it. Sometimes I can be a liaison between the show and business. Because I know both sides, and I can speak to both sides, and say, “You know, we maybe need this, to get that. Can you help us out?” So that’s really where I see my function.
You’ve played everyone from Ted in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to Hamlet. You’ve starred in a bunch of blockbusters and you also like to do indies. Do you have a favorite role or favorite type of role or project, or do you just like sort of mixing up?
Yeah, I love mixing it up. You know, I think every project has its pleasures and … I’m just grateful of the opportunity to be able to do different kinds of films because you can tell different kinds of stories in different kinds of ways. I love pop songs, but sometimes you want some Coltrane.
Every project has its pleasures. I love pop songs, but sometimes you want some Coltrane.
So you got your first major breakthrough with the Bill and Ted franchise, you could say. I’d obviously seen you in some other films before that, but …
[Interrupts] No, no, no, no, no, no, [laughs] the first major breakthrough for me career-wise was a film called River’s Edge.
If we’re going back, wasn’t it [the hockey film co-starring Rob Lowe] Youngblood?
Well, Youngblood was a big break for me. Youngblood helped me … transition from (Toronto) Canada to Hollywood. It was my first 35-millimeter acting experience. But yeah, I mean I guess you’re saying what was the most popular work of that time. For sure. Bill and Ted.
Well, as far as Bill and Ted, I just meant it brought you to that next stratosphere where you were starting to get the bigger projects. I was trying to transition because I know you’re working on Bill and Ted Face the Music, which kind of seems like a passion project for you guys. So just curious, after all these years … what do you think about working with [Bill and Ted co-star] Alex Winter again, and can you tell us anything about the plot?
Yeah, sure. I mean, Alex and I became friends on the first Bill and Ted, and we’ve stayed friends, and so I’m really excited to do that. I’m really interested to see what happened to Bill and Ted, so there’s an organic story.
I’m really interested to see what happened to Bill and Ted, so there’s an organic story.
I guess the major plotline is that the characters were supposed to write the song to save the world and they haven’t been able to do that. So, they’re under this pressure of like always trying to write the perfect song and … they’re not paying as much attention to the kids and it’s impacting their marriages and their lives. And then someone from the future says, “Not only do you have to write the song to save the world but you have to now save the universe.” [laughs].
Speaking of some of your past films, Point Break was sort of a seminal one for people my age and seemed to have a big impact on you and Patrick Swayze as well. There was a reboot of sorts a while back but have you ever thought about coming back to the Johnny Utah character yourself?
I haven’t. I haven’t. [pauses for a moment] No.
[Laughs] All right, I guess we can leave that there. You played bass in a few bands I understand. I’m also a musician, so just curious, are you working on any musical projects these days?
I’m not. Still playing bass, still jamming with friends but … I’m not part of a group right now.
In The Matrix, the sort of themes brought up about the nature of reality are pretty en vogue lately. Elon Musk is even implying that our reality could be a simulation. Did you ever think about that while you were working on that film or later since you were so deep in that sort of simulated world for so long?
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. The nature of reality. The construction of reality. The manipulation of the construction for power, yeah absolutely. That was definitely something that filmmakers are drenched in, and certainly something that I was thinking about.
You’ve managed to reinvent yourself multiple times in your career but you’ve been continuously able to sell out theaters in the action format, most recently with the John Wick franchise. What’s the secret to being a believable action hero, if there is one?
[Laughs] I don’t know if they’re supposed to, I don’t know if they have to be believable, but I think oftentimes they have to be relatable. I mean, for me, I guess my first action film was Point Break and then Speed. And, at that time it was, you know Bruce Willis in Die Hard, he was kind of the everyman. I think that Jan de Bont, who was the cinematographer on Die Hard, took some lessons from that. He directed Speed and I think he kind of transitioned that [everyman sensibility].
Action performers all have their own thing. So, Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise … Jason Statham, Vin Diesel … and now Charlize Theron. I mean everyone brings their own [thing]. I think it’s really just, you know, do you relate? How do you relate to the character in the world that they’re in, and what are they fighting for? … The action genre, it has humor, it has action, oftentimes romance. It’s a good one.
Keanu Reeves next appears in Siberia, which can be seen in Digital HD and On Demand on July 13.
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