Keanu Reeves got a star on the Walk of Fame a couple of weeks ago. The stars are kind of devalued currency these days Reeves' is No. 2,277 but Shia LaBeouf, who plays Reeves' sidekick in the new movie Constantine, came out to watch the ceremony anyway. He didn't have a lot of company. "There's about one or two people that he invited, and the rest are Hollywood execs," LaBeouf says, sounding a little stunned. "His mom was there, and one guy from his band, and then a bunch of f___ing execs. Francis [Lawrence, who directed Constantine] and me were just sort of looking at each other."
Here's what they were thinking: Keanu Reeves is one of the most famous and, since the Matrix movies, one of the richest people in a city where fame and money are the major natural resources. But could he also be one of the loneliest?
You won't find a lot of people who say they know the real Keanu Reeves. On set he has a reputation as a workaholic who keeps to himself. Just ask the people who made Constantine. "I've worked with him for a year and a couple of months, but I don't really know him that much," says LaBeouf. "I don't think he hangs out with other humans that much." Says Lawrence: "Do I really know Keanu after working with him? No. I know things about him: he's hardworking, he's generous, he's a sweet, sweet guy. But it's all just sort of on the surface." Erwin Stoff, Reeves' manager and a producer on the movie, has known the actor since he was 13, and even he's still guessing. "Keanu is a really private person," Stoff says. "He's sort of perfected for himself a way of keeping a distance from people."
Reeves is notoriously inscrutable onscreen as well as off. His face, exotically handsome as it is, is often blank. His voice has a certain forced, hollow depth, like a 12-year-old trying to sound grownup. His talent is hard to pin down, which is one reason a lot of critics think he doesn't have any. But they're wrong. Reeves can handle goofball comedy (the Bill & Ted movies), high drama (River's Edge, My Own Private Idaho), cockle warmers (Hard Ball) and the occasional romantic comedy (he really should have wound up with Diane Keaton in Something's Gotta Give).
But Reeves really scores in high-concept, high-budget action films, where his signature earnest gravitas and world-weary innocence turn what could be standard-issue, effects-heavy tent poles Speed, the Matrix movies, the underrated Point Break into genuinely compelling entertainment. Something about that mysterious reserve, the total earnestness, the unwinking way he commits to the most absurd scenarios, makes free falls from planes and wire-fighting cyberninjastics feel like a philosophy lesson. Industry scuttlebutt has it that Will Smith was offered the lead in The Matrix before Reeves but passed. Can you picture the Fresh Prince taking on Agent Smith? He would have turned The Matrix into Wild Wild West: smirky, expensive and empty. Truly, Reeves is the One.
In person, Reeves comes across as funny and charming but excruciatingly shy. He's determined to neither offend his inquisitor nor give away an iota of personal information. He does not enjoy being interviewed, which he describes, not inaccurately, as "talking about one's personal life to strangers. And we're not even taking a train anywhere." Critical whipping boy he may be, but Reeves takes himself utterly seriously as an artist, and he thinks too much personal stuff distracts from the work: "I'm not interested in showing anybody what's behind the curtain. I like watching a good documentary about how something was made. I just don't want it to be my life."