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The Key to Keanu
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riticizing Keanu Reeves for not being more of an actor is like sniping at Barbie for not being more anatomically convincing. Success is hard to argue with, especially on a scale that pays $230-plus million for acting in what amounts to three extra-long video-game commercials (The Matrix Trilogy). Not that Reeves has ever pretended to be more than he is. “I'm a meathead man,” he has suggested. “You've got smart people, and you've got dumb people. I just happen to be dumb.”
Modesty aside, few 39-year-old guys look as cool in those slanty bugeyed I-have-seen-the-future sunglasses and a long black neo-revolutionary overcoat.
True, if Keanu Reeves were a motel, the vacancy sign would be lit. But weary motorists value motels for their vacancies, little girls prize Barbie for looking plastic, and adolescents idolize Reeves for keeping unwanted emotions out of their fantasies.
If you're still baffled by the Keanu Reeves phenomenon, look at it this way: actors like Anthony Hopkins, Gene Hackman or James Woods are compelling to watch, but you wouldn't want to be them. A great actor is a freakshow. Keanu Reeves, on the other hand, accommodates the viewer's fantasy. He is Everydude. Or rather, he is every dude's idealized self-image -- tall, dark and possessing the generically symmetric features suggesting the happy racial melding of some utopian future. By starring in the Matrix movies, Reeves has essentially uploaded his most marketable self into the digital realm. As a matter of remarkable coincidence, his career neatly parallels the plot of the Matrix movies.
Reeves has noted sardonically, “I'm sorry my existence is not very noble or sublime.”
Keanu Reeves may never be the kind of actor who inspires Oscar talk, but in the swift and inevitable migration of popular movies toward virtual reality video games, he is years ahead of the curve. His flat affect brilliantly approximates the adolescent's emotional response to the incredible fights, chases, falls and love scenes they expect shortly to be manipulating with joysticks. The sight of Keanu Reeves in a movie instantly conjures up the awesome (“Whoa!”) video games surely in the works. To put this in economic perspective, video games already generate three times the revenues of movies.
No wonder Reeves's salary checks are so much fatter than those of the old school actors who inject all those weird nuances and tics that have no place in the sleek turbo-charged, inertia-less digital sensibility. It's about coolly saving the world after school, not about exposing your inner psycho, Dude! Keanu Reeves gets it. That's why for each of the Matrix sequels (Reloaded and Revolutions) he's getting $15 million plus 15% of box-office gross. For the original Matrix, he got $10 million plus 10% of gross. That's likely to add up to $220-$250 million for the three gigs by the time Revolutions has gone to video.
Not bad for a self-admitted ignoble meathead. Not that Reeves is entirely indifferent to his public image. “It can still be very surreal. It's easy to become very self-critical when you're an actor. Then you get critiqued by the critics. Whether you agree with them or not, people are passing judgement on you.” He has admitted jokingly, at least, to a desire to rise above his early dufus roles. “I used to have nightmares that they would put ‘He played Ted’ on my tombstone,” he once told an interviewer.
Dig below the acting career and we find a more interesting, less lucky, even tragic, Keanu Reeves. Take his love life. At the age of 39 Reeves is unmarried. For a possible reason go back to 1999 when, after briefly dating Carrie-Anne Moss, he became involved with Jennifer Symes, a 28-year-old struggling actress. She became pregnant by Reeves. They named the girl they were expecting Eva Archer Symes Reeves. A few weeks before the delivery date, Symes suffered a miscarriage. According to friends, the loss sent her into an emotional tailspin, triggering episodes of erratic behavior. On the night of April 1, 2001 she was alone at a party in the Hollywood Hills home of shock rocker Marilyn Manson.
“Various amounts of cocaine” were made available to Symes and other guests, according to a wrongful death suit filed in April of 2002 by her mother Maria St. John. Symes began losing control and there seems to have been flirting between her and Manson. Friends urged Symes to go home. Manson is alleged to have asked her to return later. Symes left Manson's house with a friend. Once she got home Symes drove her 1999 Jeep Cherokee back toward Manson's home. She was speeding up Cahuenga Boulevard when she careened to the right into three parked cars.
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In the Matrix trilogy Keanu Reeves plays a questing young hacker chosen to win liberation for humanity by attaining mastery over an epic virtual reality game.
“I‘m sorry my existence is not very noble or sublime.”
Reeves looks haggard from a bedside vigil for younger sister Kim who is suffering a relapse of her leukemia.
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