On Keanu Reeves’ philosophically-tinged life and roles
Keanu Reeves, now 50 years old, is still on Hollywood’s A-list as he begins Act II of his life. The critically-acclaimed film John Wick, about a widower and former hitman out for revenge, proved that. His cool bravado, martial arts physicality and characteristic detachment on-screen, and his ascetic’s attitude toward fortune and fame off-screen, add up to something inexplicable — a Keanu-ness — a secret ingredient that made the quasi-spiritual The Matrix trilogy legendary.
Reeves endured a tough childhood, lacking both geographical and emotional stability. His mother was a stripper, and his father, who did hard time for selling heroin, abandoned them when Reeves was 3.
Reeves, whose first name in Hawaiian means “cool breeze over the mountains,” was born in Lebanon and grew up in Toronto with his British mother and his grandmother, who is of Hawaiian and Chinese descent. He spent his formative childhood years surrounded by Chinese art, furniture and cuisine and was raised with English manners.
When his mother became a costume designer and married a Hollywood director, Reeves’ world opened up to acting. After Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Reeves’ career shot up to the stars, but impressively, he continued to take himself lightly. The press showered him with accolades, like MTV’s “Most Desirable Male,” but he rebutted his good-looks in interviews.
When offered eleven million dollars to play the lead of Speed 2, he turned it down to travel the country playing in his small-time band, Dogstar. It seems incredible that anyone would let go of such a large sum — but the money ended up coming to him anyway, as he would be offered more roles in the future.
After a decade of nomadic life as a musician in between making movies, Reeves landed his biggest gig yet in the 1999 mega hit The Matrix. That’s when the unthinkable happened. Reeves, excited to be a father, was expecting a child with his girlfriend, but the baby was stillborn. The devastating death ended their relationship, though Reeves and his ex-girlfriend remained close friends. Eighteen months later, his ex crashed her car and was pronounced dead on impact.
This wasn’t the first time Reeves experienced deep personal tragedy. Back in 1993, one of Reeves’s closest friends, River Phoenix, died from a drug overdose. It’s been widely reported that it affected him so deeply that no one was allowed to talk to him about it.
After mourning the losses of his daughter and girlfriend, Reeves returned to the silver screen in The Matrix sequels. In an unheard-of act by a leading man, he negotiated that eighty million of his royalties be given to the costume designers and special effects crews of the films. The move demonstrated more than his open-handedness, it showed his sentiment that the whole production was a fraternity of equals and revealed a genuine depth in Reeves. Reeves also gave millions to leukaemia research after his sister suffered from the disease. But he always took special care to remain anonymous in his giving.
On-screen, Reeves seems to find himself surrounded by Eastern philosophy and ancient codes of conduct: he played a self-sacrificing kung fu fighter in The Matrix trilogy; he is Buddha himself in Little Buddha; he was an outcast Samurai in 47 Ronin; he played referee between heaven and hell as Constantine; his directorial debut was Man of Tai Chi.
Reeves stars in three films scheduled to be released in 2015: Knock Knock, The Whole Truth, and Daughter of God.