Keanu Reeves on ‘John Wick’ and, No, He Still Hasn’t Seen ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’
Ten years ago, Keanu Reeves was one of the biggest box office draws on the planet. Fresh off the success of the two ‘Matrix’ sequels, Reeves had the power to even make something as dreary as ‘Constantine’ into a financial success. By the end of the decade, things had changed. As Reeves admits, for whatever reason, those studio offers just weren’t coming anymore.
Reeves, undaunted, then started making movies himself. He produced ‘Henry’s Crime’ and the well-received film vs. digital documentary, ‘Side by Side.’ He then directed his first film, a martial arts action movie called ‘Man of Tai Chi’ – a film not a lot of people saw, but the ones who did now forever have the infectious line, “You owe me a life,” engrained in their own personal cultural zeitgeist. (Reeves' return to studio filmmaking was in the disastrous ’47 Ronin,’ a movie that had so many production problems that it’s unfair to blame Reeves for any of it, really.)
Now, ‘Reeves’ (who is somehow 50, yet in person looks 35) is back in a new action movie titled ‘John Wick’ (directed by former 'Matrix' stuntmen David Leitch and Chad Stahelski) which has received almost universal praise up to this point. It’s a movie that really should be dumb, yet somehow has a humor and sophistication about itself that turns what could just be a tired revenge-based shoot ‘em up into something that feels original and unique -- and a movie that reminds us why we all used to pay money to watch Keanu Reeves movies.
Ahead, Reeves discusses his career shift of recent years – years in which he’s also been berated with questions about a possible third ‘Speed’ movie. As it turns out, he still hasn’t even seen ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control.’ Reeves explains why that is, what he thinks about the planned ‘Point Break’ remake, and reminisces about making out with Paula Abdul.
You owe me a life.
Donika Mark! “You owe me a life.” I love that line. It’s such a twisted sentiment, right?
John Wick is a cool name, too.
I like John Wick.
I wouldn’t want someone with that name coming after me.
Yeah, but when you just think of the isolation of Wick, “Wick” doesn’t sound that tough.
But what happens when the wick burns out?
[Whispers] The darkness comes.
I feel the challenge with this movie is convincing people that it’s not dumb. Does that make sense?
Yeah, absolutely. The first face of a project is trailers or posters and I think Lionsgate has made a lot of effort to find the color palettes and the decisions they’ve made, I think, have represented the filmmakers in a cool way. There’s a heightened hard-boiledness to it, there’s a little bit of fun, there’s a little “in your face.” In terms of the sophistication of it, that’s tough to get right out there.
And the directors came from the stunt world.
They know so much about action and narrative and, yeah, they came from the stunt world … there’s an objectivity, a subjectivity and not artifice as in “fake,” but an artifice of the world creation – you know, it brings you in. And they make it look sexy and fun! It looks attractive; you want to be in that world. The clothing! Anyway, so, it’s fun.
Did something change for you after the ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ remake? You seemed to have gone in a different and interesting direction since then.
‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ was, you know, I liked the film. And I think we tried to do something with it. And I think, also, that it was just the time in my life. You know, I started to have a production company and I was just interested in making things and not only just acting in them. So, the documentary [‘Side by Side’] or developing the comedy, ‘Henry’s Crime.’
And both of those are very different projects that we usually associate you with. ‘John Wick’ has a different feel to it, too.
I mean, I love genre and I love action, but it has to have something else going on. I mean, I’ve always worked in independent film.
Right, like ‘My Own Private Idaho.’
Yeah, ‘My Own Private Idaho’ and even ‘Thumbsucker,’ which I love, or ‘The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.’
You drifted back and forth a lot more than you do now.
Yeah, I mean, I haven’t had a lot of studio opportunities. So, it was working on working and wanting to create things and not just wait by the phone. And I’ve always tried to participate in my career, so the last studio film I did was ’47 Ronin,’ and before then I hadn’t done a studio picture for awhile.
So not doing studio films wasn’t your choice?
No, not really.
What does that mean? Why did that stop?
I don’t know. [Laughs] I don’t know, you’ll have to talk to them.
Whatever happened, it’s left you the chance to try new and interesting things.
Yeah, absolutely, knock on wood. I’ve always tried to make stuff doing different genres, so, for me, yeah, it was OK.
I’ve seen people bring up the possibility of ‘Speed 3,’ which you then dismiss with a funny answer. Have you actually seen ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’?
I haven’t seen it yet.
I’ve always wondered if you’ve ever sat down and watched that.
No, I didn’t get to see that picture.
“Yet.” It’s been out for 17 years.
Yeah, I haven’t seen it yet. I love Jan de Bont and Sandra [Bullock] and Jason Patric.
I suppose it would have been a weird thing to watch a movie written for you that you’re not in.
You know, now I could. At the time, for me, it was a creative decision. I really didn’t feel like the script was in the right place. And for me, I didn’t get the idea of ‘Speed’ and a cruise ship.
Not many people did.
Yeah. So, to me, it just felt like—I loved Jan, I met with Jan and I met with Sandra…
I’ve tried imagining you at the box office, “One ticket for ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ please.”
Yeah! I didn’t! I never saw it. I have this memory of running into Jason and was just like, “Have fun, man.”
What’s your opinion of the ‘Point Break’ remake? It’s such an iconic movie, directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Why do we need this?
I don’t know. What it means to me is that over the years is that ‘Point Break’ has become a classic, of a kind – that it continues to entertain and people are fond of the film. I mean, I think Kathryn made an extraordinary movie. Gary Busey and Patrick [Swayze] – it’s a great cast. So, what I think about it is that it almost reminds me of any kind of remake. I go to Shakespeare, that this is something that as of a time and now it’s a classic, so now let’s make it of this time. So, there’s a lot of pressure on the filmmakers to deliver something. But, that’s what they’re doing, you know?
But look at ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Robocop,’ they both kind of came and went and we still think of the original movies when those are mentioned.
But we’re older.
So people in their 20s are like ‘This is my ‘Robocop’”?
I don’t know.
“This is my ‘Point Break’”?
[Laughs] I don’t know!
People still watch ‘Point Break’ every day on cable.
I know. I love that movie! “Utah, get me two!”
If you’re on the street, is that the movie that gets quoted the most?
“You owe me a life,” hopefully.
I’ve done that a couple of times. I don’t know what’s number one, it really depends sometimes what’s on cable. I always know what movie is playing on cable.
So if ‘The Matrix’ played on cable that day...
I’ll get, “Red pill or blue pill, Reeves?”
Strangers just call you by your last name?
Do you like that? That seems like a very familiar way for a stranger to address a person.
I know, but that’s how they feel about it. When you end up meeting an actor that you’ve watched on screen, you feel a connection to them that’s not real to them. I mean, I get that. I get the idea of the familiarity.
I’m fascinated by the fact you’re in the video for Paula Abdul’s ‘Rush Rush.’
Oh my gosh! Yeah, kissing Paula Abdul!
How did that happen?
How did that happen? Well, she asked me. And I was like, “OK.” I didn’t mind. Also, at the time, I don’t know, I had never done anything like that. You know there’s a long version of that?
Oh, yeah, I’m aware.
Oh, you’ve seen the long version? The guy freaks out and the cops chase him.
Yes. There’s dialogue.
Yeah, it’s like a little movie. And he’s suffering and he’s doing like ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ references. So, I don’t know, it was a good weekend … I got to make out with Paula Abdul.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.