With John Wick—the third installment of which is out this May—Hollywood's most enigmatic leading man once again established himself as a bona fide action star. But who is he, really? Alex Pappademas sits down with the immortal Keanu Reeves in an attempt to separate the man from the myth.
Keanu Reeves has never been your typical celebrity. It seems like he genuinely just wants to leave a legacy as an actor who has always been intensely passionate about his craft, and the other perks of working in Hollywood are just bells and whistles. They say that fame changes people, but when it comes to Reeves, it doesn't look like those changes have gone to his head. After all, this is the guy who's a little-known philanthropist, has taken pay cuts to bring other actors on to his films, and more recently, helped out some fellow passengers when his flight to Los Angeles got stranded at an airport two hours away.
With his starring role as Neo in the Matrix franchise, Reeves went from rising star to an actor who demanded to be taken seriously. And with his recent starring role in the John Wick films, he's reminded everyone once again just how talented and versatile he's always been. But clearly, there's more to Reeves than the characters he plays. Here's how Reeves went from high school dropout to the captivating actor he is today.
He lived all over the world
Reeves is Canadian, but he was actually born in Beirut, where his mother, Patricia Taylor, a British costume designer and performer, met his father, Samuel Reeves. But his dad was essentially out of the picture by the time Reeves was a toddler, and a few years later, he was arrested in Hawaii for selling drugs. As a result, Reeves basically went wherever his mom's career took them. They lived in Sydney and New York City, and eventually, they settled down in Toronto.
Reeves definitely has a multicultural background. In addition to his travels, he was also exposed to Chinese and Hawaiian culture through his grandmother. He also said that his mom taught him British mannerisms and passed down some of those customs and formal attitudes. His upbringing may have been unconventional, but he definitely became more cultured because of it.
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How The Matrix Built a Bullet-Proof Legacy
One day in 1992, Lawrence Mattis opened up his mail to find an unsolicited screenplay from two unknown writers. It was a dark, nasty, almost defiantly uncommercial tale of cannibalism and class warfare—the type of story that few execs in Hollywood would want to tell. Yet it was exactly the kind of movie Mattis was looking for.
Only a few years earlier, Mattis, in his late twenties, had abandoned a promising legal career to start a talent company, Circle of Confusion, with the aim of discovering new writers to represent. He'd set up shop in New York City, despite being told repeatedly that his best hope for finding talent was to be in Los Angeles. Before that strange script showed up, Mattis was starting to wonder if those naysayers had been right. "I'd only sold a few options that paid about five hundred dollars each," Mattis says. "I was starting to think about going back to law. Then I get this letter from these two kids, saying 'Could you please read our script?'"
The screenplay, titled Carnivore, was a horror tale set in a soup kitchen, where the bodies of the rich are used to feed the poor. "It was funny, it was visceral, and it made it clear that whoever wrote it really knew movies," Mattis says. Its writers were Lilly and Lana Wachowski, two self-described "schmoes from Chicago" who, in later years, would be referred to by many colleagues and admirers simply as "the Wachowskis."
By the time they contacted Mattis, the Wachowskis had been collaborating for years, having spent their childhood creating radio plays, comic books, and their own role-playing game. They'd been raised in a middle-class neighborhood on Chicago's South Side by their mother, a nurse and artist, and their father, a businessman. Growing up, their parents had encouraged them to discover art, especially film. "We saw every single, solitary movie that was out," said Lana. "I would go through the newspaper and circle them, and I would figure out a plan on how I would see them all."
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On March 31, we celebrate one of the most important anniversaries in popular culture: The Matrix turns 20. And while the movie is a phenomenon unto itself, it's also a reminder for a younger generation of what brilliance Canada's own Keanu Reeves is capable of. Because for those of us who were a little too young (hi!) to see Point Break or Bill and Ted upon their release, The Matrix not just introduced us to an incredible actor, but to a person who's uniquely managed to claim a space in a landscape that's notoriously cutthroat.
Nothing gold shall stay, except Keanu. And for that we must be truly grateful.
Of course, in 1999, few of us had come to this conclusion yet — especially me. As a 14-year-old desperate for friends, I only watched The Matrix because my best pal had a crush on Keanu, so our afternoons and evenings were quickly chock-full of watching The Matrix or any Reeves vehicles that gave us a chance to imagine ourselves dating him. (Even though, for the record, I was far more obsessed with a guy at school who was much less cute or charming.) We were in awe of Keanu's seamless transition from action hero to romantic lead (Sweet November) to dramatic (The Devil's Advocate) to whatever was happening in The Astronaut's Wife. And then, when we went back in time to revisit My Own Private Idaho and Point Break, we were confronted with Reeves's incredible ability to embrace vulnerability while grappling with the heteronormative, super-masculine norms his characters were expected to uphold and represent.
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"He's a wounded person!"
After speculation as intense as the man himself, it was finally revealed who Keanu Reeves will be playing in the upcoming Toy Story 4 earlier this month.
Now, as "stuntman action figure" Duke Caboom's debut draws ever-nearer, Keanu has opened up about his character's pretty tragic backstory to Entertainment Weekly.
(Why is there always a tragic backstory?)Proving there's more to Duke Caboom than a handlebar moustache and a motorbike, Keanu explained that Caboom will arrive as a "wounded person" in need of "catharsis"
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March 26, 2019
One of the people you almost never get to talk with on a set visit is the director of photography. That’s because while the actors get to take a break between setups, the second the production gets the shot, the cinematographer is immediately moving on to the next location or set up and rarely has any down time.
But last summer, when I got to visit the set of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum with a few international reporters, we actually got a few minutes with Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen. If you’re not familiar with his resume, he’s shot a ton of movies including John Wick: Chapter 2, The Shape of Water, Crimson Peak, and many more.
During our brief time with him, he talked about what digital cameras have been able to do with natural lighting, the look he’s trying to bring to the third installment, if he’s ever had to tell the director a shot was impossible, the challenge of trying to film Keanu Reeves in Times Square in the rain, how much he does previz before arriving on set, and a lot more.
In addition, when Laustsen had to go back to set, we got some time with John Wick 3 director Chad Stahelski. He talked about the massive motorcycle fight scene they were filming on the Verrazano Bridge at actual speed, how they solved all the impossible variables to pull it off, being inspired by the morcycle chase in The Villainess, and more.
There’s a video going around the internet of Keanu Reeves, stranded in Bakersfield, California thanks to an emergency flight landing, not only taking charmingly dad-like control of the situation but treating his fellow grounded passengers to Bakersfield trivia on the impromptu bus ride. It’s sort of the perfect encapsulation of the Great Innate Goodness of Keanu Reeves; the man is kind of a goober, but if he tells you to get on the bus, you get on the bus. It’s the natural, easy affability that gave him the ability to play loveable lunkhead Ted Logan in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure back in 1989 but also not miss a beat in the role 30 years later. It’s the same charm that the actor so easily inverts to genuinely unnerving effect in action roles like, say, the title character of the John Wick franchise, where The Boogeyman’s marathon kill sprees give off the everyman weariness of a guy trying to mow the lawn before the game starts. Reeves exists simultaneously on opposite sides of a complex spectrum, is what I’m saying. Twenty years ago this week he landed dead-center of that spectrum and changed the idea of an action hero forever. We’re talkin’ Thomas A. Anderson from The Matrix. Better known as Neo.
March 27, 2019
There’s really no way to truly quantify how much Lana and Lilly Wachowski changed the game with their 1999 cyber-punk sci-fi action mash-up. The film’s revolutionary Bullet Time technology reigned supreme across a gamut of knockoffs in the following years. There was slo-mo and Hong Kong-inspired wire-fu in every fight scene of the early 2000s. A bullet trail in every shoot-out. A black trench coat and matching shades in every Hot Topic. But for my money, the most prevalent—and positive—influence came from Reeves himself, and his beautifully un-badass portrayal of one of the most badass characters of all time. Everyone remembers Bullet Time. For me, the action genre was altered forever in a much earlier scene with only one simple phrase:
(" I know kung-fu")
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Disney has released a brand new international trailer for Pixar’s Toy Story 4, and it offers up a good amount of fun new footage from the movie. One of the things that it highlights is Woody's relationship with Forky, and Forky is clearly going to bring some great comedy to the movie.
There’s also a new poster for the film that was shared that I included for you below the trailer. Then in an interview with EW, Keanu Reeves opens up about playing the new ‘70s-inspired Toy Story character Duke Caboom. Reeves explains:
“I wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything that would go into Tim Allen’s space as Buzz Lightyear. That was one thing I was really paying attention to when I was thinking about the character and how he would talk. So I made Duke a little more gravelly but still tried to give him energy and a big personality.… I just thought that Duke should love what he does. He’s the greatest stuntman in Canada! I wanted him to be constantly doing poses on the bike while he was talking, to have this great extroverted passion.”
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‘John Wick 3’: Chad Stahelski on the Action Scene That’s a “F**k You” to Other Action Scenes
March 21, 2019
One of the many things I love about director Chad Stahelski is his unfiltered answers. Usually, when you sit down to talk with someone about their movie or show, they are very careful with what they’re willing to say, never wanting to be the person that rocks the boat.
But last summer, when I got to visit the set of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum when the sequel was filming outside New York City, one of the best things about the set visit was talking to Stahelski. Not only did he go into great detail about what he wanted to accomplish in the sequel, he was pretty honest about wanting to outdo what other filmmakers have done.When talking about the “horse sequence” which features Keanu Reeves riding through New York City beating up guys on a horse, Stahelski said:
“It’s probably the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my career. Same with Keanu. I mean, we’ve all done The Matrixs’, we’ve done 300, and a lot of the Marvel work. It’s all great and they all focus on one or two divisions of action. This is our ‘fuck you’ to everybody else. So, we’re just going to do a lot of everything and better than everyone. That’s a lot to say, right. I’m throwing down the gauntlet. We got tired of everybody getting slacky.”
I love this answer.
After two John Wick films, it would have been easy for Stahelski and Reeves to dial it back a bit and coast on the success of the previous films. But that’s not in their DNA. Both of them are perfectionists, willing to do whatever it takes to make it the best it can be.
In addition, during the wide-ranging interview, Stahelski talked about how the film opens moments after the second film ended, how the sequel has references to Die Hard, The Good the Bad the Ugly, and Akira Kurosawa, what Halle Berry did to train for being the dog handler on set, why it’s important to have big action set pieces throughout the movie, why they cast Boban Marjanovic for the opening action scene, how Reeves is always willing to push himself to the next level, and so much more.
Trust me, if you’re a fan of the John Wick films, you’re going to love reading what Chad Stahelski had to say below. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is in theaters May 17, 2019.
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March 21, 2019
Let me back up a second.
Last year, when John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum was filming outside New York City, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. While on set, I got to talk to a number of the people involved in the making of the movie and also watched an incredible-looking action set piece get filmed which featured Keanu Reeves doing his own stunts. Trust me, in take after take, Reeves was giving it everything he had and that included getting knocked down again and again. If you ever wondered if it really was Reeves doing his own stunts in the John Wick movies, I can confirm it is.
During a break in filming, I got to participate in a small group interview with Reeves. He talked about what they were able to do in the third installment that they couldn’t do before, how Parabellum features a horse action scene, how fans will learn more about John Wick’s past and the “High Table”, why he wanted to see John Wick in the desert wearing a suit, the challenges of learning the choreography on the day of filming, and more.
Check out what Keanu Reeves had to say below. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is in theaters May 17, 2019.
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What is Keanu Reeves’s most iconic role?Kynan Eng, not an actor
Keanu Reeves has had multiple iconic roles, where “iconic” is defined as having a long-lasting impact on popular culture. So far he has had:
- Theodore Logan in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which was successful enough to be followed up by a Bogus Journey and now a third film. He played a good-natured high school rock band loser.
- Johnny Utah in Point Break. He shared the credits with Patrick Swayze on this one. Reeves was in the role of an FBI agent investigating armed robbery.
- Neo in the Matrix trilogy. He played a hacker in a real/virtual conflict.
- John Wick in the trilogy of the same name. He played an assassin who exacts revenge on the killers of his dog.
That is quite a record - three movie franchises, plus another that was remade later on (Point Break, in a much weaker version). It is an impressive hit rate for an actor who is often assumed to have roughly the same character as his role in the Bill and Ted movies.
What is even more remarkable is that his iconic characters have been quite different to each other. While actors such as Tom Hanks and Leonardo di Caprio are seen as “serious”, Keanu can also be said to have performed a wide range of characters. He has done his share of romantic roles too.
Bill and Ted's Excellent Anniversary: How two guitar-wielding airheads conquered comedy 30 years agoEd Power looks back ant the pathologically silly, and surprisingly influential, cult comedy that introduced Keanu Reeves to the world
There are movies that in hindsight were always destined for greatness. And then there is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a time-travel comedy and celebration of lovable goofing / improvised air guitar that to this day feels like a miracle of happenstance. Bill and Ted is so strange that it shouldn’t really exist, let alone bask in ever-lasting acclaim. Yet, on its 30th anniversary this month, it is absolutely beloved.
“It is a weird movie – it could just as easily could have been a disaster,” was how star Alex Winter (Bill) looked back on the 1989 comedy about two high-school rejects who hopscotch across the centuries collecting historical figures such as Napoleon, Freud and Socrates (pronounced So-krates obviously) in a desperate attempt to graduate from their history class.
“It’s about idiot savants, leaning on the idiot bit,” agreed Chris Matheson, Bill and Ted’s co-writer. “I remember thinking that this movie is either going to do nothing or people are going to discover and love it,” added its director Stephen Herek, interviewed for behind-the-scenes film The Most Triumphant Making of Documentary.
Three decades since William S Preston Esquire (Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) first hatched their scheme to ace their history exam by bringing Napoleon and company to class, Bill and Ted remains a joyous anomaly. The humour is pathologically silly, the performances broader than one of the surf boards Reeves would subsequently pose beside in Point Break. And scenes in which Bill and Ted travel by phone-booth along the time-lines – rendered as CGI phone cables – are creaky even for a low-budget action-comedy in 1989.
Nonetheless, it is universally acclaimed. Surprisingly influential, too. Bill and Ted’s exaggerated surfer dude speak – every second word is “woaaah”, “bogus” or “bodacious” – clearly impacted on Michael Myer’s higher profile, far less funny Wayne’s World (though Myers original Saturday Night Live sketch actually predated Bill and Ted by two years). And, of course, it introduced audiences to Keanu Reeves, who gave us the matinee idol as an eternally confused puppy.
2019.02.15-'Bill & Ted' at 30:Keanu Reeves,Alex Winter on How 'Excellent Adventure'Nearly Fell Apart
Whoa, dude! Can you believe it’s been three decades since Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure first rocked audiences with their most triumphant time-traveling phone booth journey on the big screen? Well then, this may just blow your mind: if you think about it, we’re like in the future now, even though people call it the present. Right? Mind time travel. Bodacious.
“Time goes by quickly,” Keanu Reeves, aka Ted, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Over the years it's been really nice to connect with people who love those characters and those films, and it's been fun to hear from fans who have become parents who have shown it to their kids. The ebullient spirit of [Bill and Ted], and the humor of the characters in the film, and the adventure they go on — I think it's still funny.”
The film survived the bankruptcy of its production company, a major role remaining uncast with just weeks left in shooting, and an original ending that was so inadequate that it had to be totally changed. But when Excellent Adventure opened on Feb. 17, 1989, it went on to earn more than $40 million (about $81 million today) and became a cultural touchstone, thanks to the chemistry between Reeves and Alex Winter (aka Bill).
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“The Matrix literally transformed the industry,” says Chad Stahelski, who was Keanu Reeves’s stunt double in the film and went on to become one of the busiest stunt choreographers in the industry. Nowadays, he’s best known for directing the John Wick films, also starring Reeves. (Stahelski directed the first John Wick with fellow stunt veteran David Leitch, and has helmed the subsequent sequels by himself.) But he’d be the first to admit that those movies, not to mention most of the others he’s worked on, would never exist without The Matrix. “Back in the day,” he recalls, “fight scenes were secondary to car chases and horse chases and helicopter chases and motorboat chases.” And what fights there were focused on “single-gun battle stuff or Arnold Schwarzenegger pummeling you to death with his hands.”
But The Matrix showed that a fight sequence could be graceful and surprising, as well as tell a story. Even the nascent superhero-movie genre, which would soon become dominant, took a big page out of the Wachowskis’ playbook. Think of Spider-Man learning to use his powers, or Black Widow speedily dispatching a roomful of villains while still tied to a chair, or Wolverine slicing his way through armies of thugs. “Now,” Stahelski says, “action movies want their big sequences designed around the fights. Think of any action movie in the past decade or so that doesn’t have a bitchin’ fight scene. The Matrix said, ‘Look what you can do with your heroes.’” The director and stunt legend recently took a break from a busy schedule finishing John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum to talk with me about how The Matrix changed movies — and his life — forever.
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