In 2005’s Constantine, one of Reeves’ favourite roles. Photograph: Ronald Grant
In the 1980s and 1990s, he was offered every hot young part under the sun, including the lead in Platoon (which went to Charlie Sheen) and Val Kilmer’s role in Heat. But when I ask if he regrets turning any of them down, he smiles and instantly replies, “No.” He also turned down a $12m pay cheque to make Speed 2 because he, rightly, thought the plot was nonsense, which resulted in him being shut out of 20th Century Fox films for the next 11 years (and no, he doesn’t regret that, either). He is about to start shooting Bill & Ted Face The Music, in which the now fiftysomething duo have to write a song so good it will save the universe. “There has to be a reason for making a movie, and the writers have come up with a good ‘why’ for telling the story,” he says. When I ask what gives him an ego boost, given that he’s not driven by money or fame, he is so baffled by the idea of his ego needing a boost that he is silent for a full 28 seconds before finally answering, “The work.”
Maintaining his privacy has been a major factor in helping Reeves retain his sanity, yet away from the press he can be extraordinarily open and laid-back. By a weird fluke, I have two friends who, separately, spent time with him in the 90s and both still talk about his generosity: he took them for rides on his motorbike and stayed in touch (yes, I am furious with them for not including me in any of this). There are legions of stories about Reeves’ kindness: buying his stuntmen motorbikes, renegotiating his Matrix contract so that the crew got a better deal, at a personal cost of millions of dollars. Shortly before we meet, Reeves was on a flight between San Francisco and Los Angeles that was grounded due to a mechanical fault. Instead of pulling rank with some “Do you know who I am?” A-list entitlement, Reeves encouraged his fellow passengers to board a van with him so they could drive to LA, keeping the mood up by sharing fun local facts and playing music from his iPhone. (Needless to say, footage of this quickly went viral.) So his four decades-long reticence with the media might well be Reeves’ most brilliantly sustained performance.
But he bristles when I mention these stories. “I’m pretty private, so when that stuff doesn’t stay private it is not great,” he says.
Because he worries it will look like he’s just doing it for show? “No. Because it’s private,” he says with emphasis.
Ah well. I have accepted by this point that we probably won’t ride off together into the sunset on his motorcycle. But if the price of Reeves still being so recognisably Keanu-ish is him retaining a firm grip on his privacy and at least a pretence of normality, that feels like a fair trade-off. I assume doing this interview has been a torturous experience for him, so as we get up to leave I ask how he’d have preferred to spend the afternoon, in a dream scenario.
“Oh, I don’t know. This dream ain’t so bad!” he says, and gives me that full end-of-Speed smile again. And reader, I giggled.
• John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is in cinemas now.
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