Many performers are great actors. Few people, though, are great movie stars. Something about those few transcends the big screen, and makes audiences return, film after film, to see their larger-than-life persona. Today, we pay tribute to one of the most unique, Keanu Reeves, an AAPI star on the silver screen now for more than 35 years.
How You Know Him
He's "John Wick," Neo in "The Matrix," Johnny Utah in "Point Break" and Jack Traven in "Speed." He's also, of course, Ted "Theodore" Logan in the "Bill & Ted" franchise. And for cinema buffs who really know his filmography, he's the stoner with a conscience in "River's Edge"; the best friend left behind in "Permanent Record"; and the best friend of River Phoenix in Gus Van Sant's incredible "My Own Private Idaho."
He's also well-known as one of Hollywood's most decent, selfless, and shy gentlemen. Reeves has long been known to deflect attention to others, and lend a helping hand – whether it's to the crews he's worked with, his fellow airline passengers needing a ride into town, or just offering a seat to a stranger on a bus.
As a journalist in LA, I can attest to two Keanu Reeves kindness stories firsthand. In 1999, only a few weeks after "The Matrix" opened, I was a reporter at Hollywood.com and hoped to secure an interview with Reeves at a special screening of "River's Edge."
The actor had already left the auditorium after the cast q&a, but I tracked him down in the lobby and asked if he'd be ok to answer a few questions on camera. Reeves had every right to turn me down, as he looked like he was in a hurry. He didn't. He took time out of his day – at a time when he was probably the biggest movie star in the world – to answer all of my questions with ultimate patience.
Years later, my friend and I ran into him at Hinano Café in Venice right around Christmas time. He was literally just hanging out by himself having a burger and a beer at the bar, and again he just sat and shot the breeze with us. He was just another local enjoying some food near the beach.
So, Keanu being the Internet's boyfriend and acknowledged for his kindness and decency? It's not surprising at all.
His Life So Far - Early Career
Born in 1964, Keanu is no stranger to an unrooted existence. His dad left the family when he was only three, and his mom moved the family (Keanu also has an older sister, Kim) several times, and married several times. For the most part, Reeves grew up in Toronto.
The acting bug hit early, with Keanu performing in various local productions when he was a kid and teenager. But he was also a big hockey fan and did well as a goaltender – good enough to consider trying to go the route of pro hockey.
Ultimately, though, acting won out and the entertainer moved to LA at age 20 to try to make it in Hollywood. Up to that point, Reeves' biggest credits had been a Coke commercial and a small part as (of course) a hockey player in the Rob Lowe-Patrick Swayze movie "Youngblood."
It didn't take long for showbusiness to pay attention to this exotic-looking star (Reeves is Caucasian on his mother's side, and Hawaiian and Chinese on his father's side). Reeves was the conscientious stoner teen in "River's Edge," and the troubled, sensitive slacker whose best friend commits suicide in "Permanent Record." He also played a Victorian-era romantic in "Dangerous Liaisons," opposite newcomer Uma Thurman and veterans John Malkovich and Glenn Close.
His Life So Far - Later Career
By the end of the '80s, Keanu was on the hot seat. He became an international star as Ted "Theodore" Logan, the impossibly optimistic and air-headed, time-travelling buddy to Alex Winter's Bill S. Preston in "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure." He kept up the woah-is-me antics alongside his athleticism with great action roles in the early to mid to late '90s in "Point Break" and "Speed" and "The Matrix."
Between all the hit movies, Reeves has been a constant on the indie scene, whether it's Gus Van Sant's dreamy hustler life epic "My Own Private Idaho"; Bernardo Bertolucci's "Little Buddha"; or Richard Linklater's rotoscoped adaptation of the Philip K. Dick sci-fi-mystery "A Scanner Darkly."
While Reeves' experimentation hasn't always worked, there are so many worthwhile projects on his filmography to check out: his turn to the dark side as an abuser in Sam Raimi's "The Gift"; his underrated underdog football comedy "The Replacements"; his turn as a suave doctor in the Diane Keaton-Jack Nicholson rom com "Something's Gotta Give." While action fans await "The Matrix 4" and the next "John Wick" movie, family fans should savor Reeves role as motorcycle daredevil Duke Kaboom in "Toy Story 4."
The Movie to See
I'm a huge Keanu Reeves fan of multiple decades, and the one I'd recommend folks check out, from the way back machine, is the film "Permanent Record" and his performance in it. For those only familiar with his blockbuster roles, this dramatic movie about teen suicide will be a revelation. Reeves carries the film as the guy left behind picking up the pieces alongside the rest of the community. His performance is raw and real and heartbreaking. For those who say he can't act, I direct them to this movie.
There's a scene in it, and you'll know it when you see it, where Reeves' genuine emotion is nearly impossible to watch. You'll see his empathy and his humanity. And then, as you go through his other movies before and since, you'll notice it's always been there. It comes from the guy himself.
Reeves in his own life has gone through a lot of personal tragedy. I don't want to dwell on it, as you can research Google and find out for yourself, as I'd prefer to focus on the person he has always been and continues to be. If anything, it is even more remarkable that he has come out the other end of grief and his empahy, his feeling for other people, has only been strengthened because of it. It's why all of us who are fans love him.
What's Up Next
Thankfully, especially in today's world, there's a whole lot more of Keanu Reeves on the way (and hopefully more of his compassion, too). Look for "The Matrix 4" in theaters at the end of 2021, and "John Wick 4" in theaters summer 2022.
And keep heading back to the well with everything he's already appeared in. One of Michael B. Jordan's first movies was a little sports movie starring Keanu called "Hard Ball." Not everything works in the film. But Keanu gives a speech near the end that's true to what we've always known about him.
We're grateful for this AAPI super celebrity (oh, also, his cameo in "Always Be My Maybe" is both self-deprecating and hilarious). He's a genuine, authentic, truly decent human being and movie star.
Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.