When interviewing Keanu Reeves about his new film, “Street Kings,” or his work in general, be prepared to take a ride around the block a few times. Reeves will graciously answer questions, but the Lebanese-born actor who grew up in New York and Toronto, will never take the most direct route.
He’ll go from point A to C, back to B and then over to D.
If you dare ask Reeves a personal question — which is hard to do because he’s so guarded with the press — he’ll step on the gas and be on to the next question in less time than it takes a New York City cockroach to disappear in broad daylight.
It’s not that Reeves is difficult because sometimes he’ll go completely left and deliver a one-liner that will break up the room — like when a reporter asked Reeves if he felt his career was being defined by his “Matrix” experience.
“I am the ambassador for the ‘Matrix’ trilogy,” Reeves said in a deep, robot-like voice. “My operating hours are…”
It was nice that Reeves, who returns to the sci-fi genre later this year in the remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” tried to evoke a little comedy into his required suffering during a recent press conference to promote “Kings,” which opens Friday.
But even though he spent much of those 30 minutes droning on in a low monotone about his character, his respect for Forest Whitaker and how he hoped audiences would dig the movie, there was something even more engaging about Reeves when he wasn’t talking.
You can’t take your eyes off him.
Not your typical Hollywood leading manHe’s not your classic hot leading man. Dressed in jeans, a blazer, T-shirt and hiking boots, the dark-haired actor is a little on the skinny side to be considered a legitimate hunk. His olive-skinned complexion is too flawless to call him ruggedly handsome. You’d be tempted to call him pretty, but that’s a term reserved for teen studs who make regular appearances on TMZ.com or People magazine’s Star Tracks page.
It’s that you just can’t type this dude.
It’s hard to believe he was a top hockey player in high school because he just doesn’t look the part. Ditto, lead guitarist for a rock band. But somehow Reeves always makes us believe that he and the characters that he plays are one in the same. Perhaps that’s because he’s a darn good thespian, or because he subliminally deposits parts of himself into his films. In the crime thriller “Street Kings,” Reeves plays Tom Ludlow, a recently widowed cop who has been implicated in the shooting death of his former partner. In his efforts to clear his name, Ludlow uncovers multiple layers of corruption within the LAPD.
Ludlow, with all his myriad issues, has at least one thing in common with Reeves. The fictional character and the real man are both well acquainted with adversity. The son of a Chinese-Hawaiian geologist and British mother, Reeves’ father left his family when Reeves was a young boy and subsequently spent some time in jail for selling heroin. One of Reeves’ ex-girlfriends died tragically in an auto accident after giving birth to his stillborn child.
Perhaps playing dark characters gives Reeves an opportunity to work through all that baggage.
“He’s got a lot of things,” Reeves said of Ludlow. “He’s got grief. He’s got a question of why. He has the pressures of his job. I think he’s in conflict with what he’s good at in his work and he doesn’t know how to be good at that in life.
“I think he knows that about himself but he’s in a dilemma and the consequences of the job he’s deciding to do to be the point of the sphere has some living consequences or him because he’s all soft and vulnerable on the inside but he’s got to be something else on the outside.”
Empathy for the men in bluePlaying a cop helped Reeves gain a better understanding of the men in blue and their daily challenges — on the job and at home.
“I just had a different sense of the man, the person in the uniform,” he said. “It’s a deeper appreciation. Some of the things and the stories that I’ve heard, with that appreciation, I guess have a real deep respect for them. It’s not only the life in the job. It’s the life outside of the job.
“I think that with the experience of this film, I got to have a greater knowledge of what it is to live outside of the job. It’s not an easy job to just live with. It comes home with you.”
To prepare for his role Reeves, along with his co-stars John Corbett, Amaury Nolasco, Common and Jay Mohr, received training on how to handle firearms from Rick Lopez, a retired LAPD detective. Handling weapons on screen was really nothing new for the “Matrix” ambassador, but Reeves admitted he needed a refresher course.
“I needed a lot of practice,” he said. “I wasn’t very good. I just wanted to be able to look like I knew what I was doing.”
Shooting and dodging bullets weren’t the only challenging aspects Reeves had in playing Tom Ludlow. He also had the task of trying to make someone so dark and conflicted likeable. That’s something director David Ayer said Reeves did with ease.
“In a word, charisma,” said Ayer when asked why Reeves was right for the role. “He’s a really empathetic guy and there’s something really likeable about him. He was playing a cynical and unsympathetic character but he brought humanity to a very sort of unlikable guy.”
And he brought his own brand of warmth into a banquet room. It was the kind of heat you can see, especially when fewer words are spoken.