Just over 2 years ago, Keanu Reeves did the Charlie Rose show. It's really one of the best interviews I've seen him do.
This is a "homemade" transcript typed up by Lori H. of DogstarFans.
Charlie Rose: Keanu Reeves is here. He was born in Beirut and raised in Toronto. Began his career on the stage, appearing in such plays as The Tempest and The Crucible. Convinced he wouldn't find a film career in Canada, he moved to Los Angeles at 20. He first came to audiences' attention with his critically acclaimed performance as an alienated teenager in the 1987 film, The River's Edge. Since then he has become one of Hollywood's busiest actors, appearing in more than 35 films. Yet his choices have not always been conventional. He was has balanced blockbuster action films like Speed and The Matrix, and smaller independent films like My Own Private Idaho and The Last Time I Committed Suicide. This month he can be seen in two films, The Gift and Sweet November. I am pleased to have him here for the very first time. Welcome.
Keanu Reeves: Thank you sir.
CR: I really am pleased to have you here.
KR: Thanks. Thanks.
CR: Did I say that about right? Did you recognize...
KR: I did actually. That sounded, um, that sounded very familiar, all of that, yeah.
CR: So where do you put The Gift in all of this? Sort of going back and forth between.
KR: Um, where do I put it... Well, I think...
CR: Well, I'll tell you where I put it. I put it with a great costar, Cate Blanchett, and a great director. That would have been enough for me, right there.
KR: Yeah, I mean it was... and Giovanni Ribisci and Hillary Swank, and uh, it was an incredible cast. And I'm a fan of Sam Raimi's. And, um, when, um, when I read the script, and when I saw the part, and, you know, I met with Mr. Raimi to get the part. It was very exciting. It was fun. Cause for me, at the time, right now, I considered it a break. It's a part that I haven't had a chance to play recently, so it was uh, for me it was, uh, as an actor, a great opportunity to do something like that.
CR: Tell me about the part.
KR: Donnie Barksdale. Can I swear on this show?
CR: Yes, of course.
KR: I can?
CR: Yes! (laughing)
KR: Well, I called him Donnie mother-[bleeped] Barksdale. (Charlie laughs) Because uh... what about him? Well, he's cast as a, I guess he's uh... well, he's a wife beater.
CR: Yeah, he's a monstrous man.
KR: Well, I call him a good husband. (Charlie chuckles) And that's very, you know. Yes, a loving husband, who uh, his wife is going to a card reader, you know, who Cate Blanchett is playing, whose meddling in my marriage and I want to stop that. And Donnie is, uh... you know, he likes to use his physical power. You know, he likes to, to um, to overwhelm like that. And so, going into that, and learning about that was, um, quite a journey.
CR: How did you do it?
KR: Ah well, at first when I got to - we filmed in Savannah GA - when I got there, I met up with some people who deal with, uh, spousal abuse. And I kinda wanted to find out clinically how they define it. And what goes on. Some of the dynamics there. Found out that the male is often times abused physically, emotionally...
CR: You go back and find as a child there some were problems.
KR: Yeah, and through that there's a kind of helplessness. And that generally, sometimes they say, psychologically that they're into being able to help either the mother or themselves. And they lose a kind of voice, and that they... I mean, this is clinically, I have no idea... but anyway so where I came from was that he, uh... they can't express themselves. They have no kind of way to deal with what they're feeling except through...
CR: Except by inflicting violence on someone else.
KR: Yeah, but not... generally their spouse or partner. In the normal world, they have no problem dealing with being under a woman, say in business. There's nothing like that. And it tends to, I mean, generally they can be that. And they tend to be charming. I mean there's so many things, I could go on for a while. But then, for me, when we were getting there, just to deal with... I remember Sam Raimi - we had a wonderful, uh, improvisation to try and find the relationship, Hillary, I and Sam, in his trailer in Savannah - and he was like, 'ok, let's spend an evening with the Donnie Barksdales here.' And I had to confront my wife, Hillary, about seeing this card reader, who is meddling. She'd say, 'I didn't see her, Donnie. We're just friends.' And I'd say, 'you're lying.' I kept saying, 'you're lying.' And Sam said, 'ok, you're negotiating with her. Every time you say, 'you're lying,' hit her.' [pause] And uh, so that was uh... that's where we learned about what goes on there.
CR: Do you do this kind of preparation for most roles, or only those that you think have some richness that you can find out and get inside the head of the character?
KR: Yeah, of course, that's what you try to do. Understand and discover for yourself about, you know, what is the person thinking, to be a... What are they feeling, What are the circumstances? Whatever it takes.
CR: Is this the first film he [Raimi] made since... what was the last one?
KR: It was Kevin Costner...
CR: A Simple Plan?
KR: Was it A Simple Plan? Then he had For The Love Of The Game. Came after A Simple Plan.
CR: Roll tape. Here's a clip.
[clip of Donnie telling Annie's son his momma's a witch.]
[When they cut back to CR & KR, they both repeat Ribisci's line, "I intend to, Donnie," and kind of laugh.]
CR: You seem to be, to me, an actor who in a sense, could do a lot of things, but you work very... you choose, and um, in a sense you basically say, 'I'm gonna do this on my own terms.' I mean, everybody knows about your love of music, and that you have made, at critical times, a preferred choice to play music rather than act. Or is that simple not true?
KR: Nnnoooo, that's not true.
CR: Not true?
KR: Not true. No. That kind of was born, I believe, when a while back there was a film... they were gonna do a sequel to Speed. And I think then, that turned into... cause when I decided not to do it, that became, 'well, he wants to play his music and not do that.' But that was...
CR: In fact, you just didn't want to do the film.
KR: Yeah, I couldn't do the film. In the state that I was in.
CR: What do you mean by that?
KR: Well, I had just done an action film, and I was basically tired of running. And, um, the script was not up to par, etc. It's a long story. But, um, it's been one of my hopes, to uh, to be able to act in different genres and to play different, you know, different kinds of parts.
CR: But you have that now, don't you? You can do that. You're saying that you hope, but you can.
KR: I'm trying to.
CR: Or are you saying you can't.
KR: Well, as much as it can be. I mean, I'm still... you know, I'm not producing the films. So you still kind of have, you know, your begging bowl out. And hopefully you can have that happen.
CR: Are you going after films? I mean, are you in pursuit of roles that you hear about, or you know about, and that you say, 'that's one I wanna do.'
KR: Yeah, I have in the past. Right now I'm in The Matrix. And so it's... We started training for The Matrix. But in the past, you know...
CR: You're doing what?
KR: I did a film called The Matrix...
CR: I know, right. You're gonna do another one?
KR: Yeah, they're going to do two at the same time. And we just started training. We've been training for about 2 months.
CR: Training means rehearsal, or training means something else?
KR: There's some... they have, um, kung fu sequences... fighting, action sequences, that they want us to be able to perform. So we about... I have about 5 months of training for that. So but, before then, yes. I mean, yes definitely, trying to, you know, there's this part and... My manager, Edwin Stoff and I just try to, um, keep our eyes out for different kinds of films. Different scales, different topics, and different parts.
CR: Well you seem to be positioned where you'd like to be? Or not?
KR: Today things, you know, knock on wood [knocks on table], you know are okay.
CR: What would you want you don't have?
KR: Oh my god, well... how long is the show? (Charlie laughs.)
CR: Give me a couple.
[It's quite obvious that Keanu doesn't know what to say here.]
KR: What would I say to that? Um... what would I want that I don't have. Well, I... you know it's just, uh... no, I'm very grateful for what's happening today. I'm participating in a wonderful film. I'm working with great people. And hopefully those kinds will make a good film. I mean really, it's about... hopefully, that things that I work in can... will... when I see the film, it'll be like, 'ok, that's why I did it.' Sometimes you'll do something and you'll look at it and it'll be like, 'what happened to the film that I was in?'
CR: The Matrix did well.
KR: Yeah, people really enjoyed it.
CR: But you want to do it again because it's a great commercial success, or because you liked the character?
KR: I love the character. I love the scripts that Larry and Andy Wachowski, the writers and directors, have created. You know, the people I work with.
CR: And whose back from the original film?
KR: Hugo Weaving, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss.
CR: Fishburne's back?
KR: Yeah, he played Morpheus.
CR: And what kind of training are you doing?
KR: Movie Kung-Fu training. (Charlie laughs.) More training, more pain. Stretching...
CR: But it's good for you.
KR: That's what they keep telling us.
CR: Do they really?
KR: Yes. But in training, training--pain is good.
CR: They keep saying training and pain is good? Or the pain is good for training?
KR: Yes, when you have the pain, it's good training. And not the pain like broken bones.
CR: Feel the pain.
KR: Feel the pain. If you have the gift of pain, in which you receive. It's, it's crazy.
CR: [laughing] If you give them pain, they'll give you...
KR: You'll be able to be a better performer. Suffering for our art.
CR: Just to show you how agile we are at this, we have a clip from The Matrix.
KR: You do?
CR: Yes! Roll tape.
[partial clip of Neo and Morpheus fighting, ending with Neo being flipped in the air by Morpheus.]
CR: My god!
KR: It's beautiful, isn't it?
CR: It is! You got something from this.
KR: Yeah... um, yeah. But if when I speak about it, ah, the best thing were the relationships with the people I worked with, with Lawrence...
CR: Let me just stay with The Matrix for a second.
KR: Sure. (Charlie laughs.)
CR: Why not?
KR: Why not?
CR: Is it easier for you, because you're simply taking your character, which you've already created, you're just taking him to another adventure. So, therefore, this is considerably easier than starting from the beginning.
KR: [in humorous tone] Oh gosh, I wish it was that easy, Charlie. I wish it was. Actually, I don't wish it was that easy.
CR: You DON'T wish it was that easy.
KR: I don't wish it was that easy, actually. No, but I mean, but that's, uh... when we were starting training, I was speaking to everyone, I was like... we've gone through something, but we cannot assume that we know what we're doing. Not to cut out our past experience, but to come afresh and new. I guess I was really talking to myself. But just, that you can't assume anything.
CR: Alright, let me talk about Sweet November. We've got a couple of clips here. Tell me about that.
KR: Thanks. Uh, Sweet November is a film directed by Pat O'Connor. And, uh, it stars myself and Charlize Theron. And uh, a romance. And uh, I guess the premise is about, um, a woman who gets involved in relationships with men for a month at a time to try and heal them. And I play a, uh, ad executive who, um, is very work oriented, to the sacrifice of his capability or desire for intimacy, for any kind of compassion. He's just a very driven person. And uh, then she decides to try to help me, as she says.
CR: Charlize Theron.
KR: Yes. She's going to help me. And I'm like, I don't need any help, you know. Which of course I do. And uh, eventually I kind of have a nervous breakdown and come to nothing. And that's when I agree to spending a month with her. And it's about what happens.
CR: And what happens? That's the movie.
KR: Well, that's the film. And then and what happens is there's a plot twist, and it turns out she's ill. And, uh, I guess in the end it's about choices.
CR: And how people can help each other.
CR: Roll tape. This is a scene right after Nelson, your character, and Sara, Charlize, meet for the first time within the context of what we just said. Here it is.
[clip of Nelson approaching Sara in parking lot; she is sitting on his car.]
KR: Charlize Theron.
CR: You're working with very good people, between Cate Blanchett and Charlize Theron.
KR: Oh my gosh, that's um, those are two of the finest actresses I've ever worked with. Charlize is great in this picture. Really some of the best work I've ever seen her do.
CR: How do you feel about all of this? (Charlie pulls out the February 2001 issue of Vanity Fair with Keanu on the cover.)
KR: (in a very humorous tone) Well, Charlie, that's a long story, that um, I don't know. (Charlie starts to laugh. Keanu leans across the table.) That guy doesn't look too happy.
CR: (still laughing) No, he doesn't.
KR: He's like, 'whaddya want? Whaddya doin'?'
CR: I mean, do you do this because you want to, or do you do this because it's good for you, or you do this because it's part of what you do? I mean, people would kill to be on the cover of Vanity Fair.
KR: Right. Well, I wanted to kill when I was on the cover of Vanity Fair, but it was a different dynamic. (Charlie laughing.) No, no, I, I feel, I feel lucky...
CR: (still laughing) I knew we'd get somewhere with this.
KR: (very amused) Yeah, we haven't been anywhere before this, huh Charlie? (picks up water glass) I need a drink.
CR: No, no, no, no.
KR: No, I'm kidding. But no, ah yes, I consider it, um, for me it's part of work. It's a part of work.
CR: Zen and the art of Keanu Reeves. There's more to him...
KR: There's more! There's more to me. (Charlie chuckles)
CR: There's more to him than sex,
KR: sex (repeating on the beat after Charlie)
CR: and rock and roll. And what is that, more to him?
KR: I guess it's the Zen part. (Charlie is still laughing) I guess, I don't know.
CR: And what's the Zen part?
KR: You know, they said it, I don't know.
CR: But is it true?
KR: Absolutely not. None of that's actually true.
CR: None of it? Look at this. (Charlie is holding up the magazine and it is open to the beginning of Keanu's interview.)
KR: Absolutely none of it.
CR: (reading from the magazine) Keanu, from both sides now... provokes truly fanatic devotion and some extreme resentment. But why? After making 35 movies, including two of the 90s' biggest action blockbusters, Speed and The Matrix, he is a Hollywood model of humble integrity, a low-key dude [great reaction from Keanu to the word, dude] whose idea of fun is going to Murray, Kentucky, with his band, Dogstar...
KR: Oh my gosh.
CR: ...With three new Reeves movies on deck and two Matrix sequels to follow, the 36-year-old star talks to Ned Zeman about Keanu-mania (Charlie begins to chuckle), why he's great in some parts and not in others...
KR: You know I read that and I couldn't put it down. (Charlie laughs) I was just sucked in by that. More! More!
CR: (still laughing) This is a page-turner, isn't it? (Charlie is flipping the pages.)
KR: Oh my god, get me to the sex and drugs and rock and roll.
CR: Tell me about the music, though. I mean, is the music a part of your life? Is it a serious part of your life? Dogstar is a big deal for you?
KR: Well, we've been, I've been playing in the band for 6 or 7 years now. So, yes. I really... it's been great. The fraternite of the band. And to tour. To have, you know, the great journeys that the band has taken. The places that we've gone. Touring the states. We've toured the states like 4 times, and been to Japan 4 times... been to Europe. And, you know, some of the incredible situations we find ourselves in. Being on the tour bus, and leading that kind of pirate life once in a while. And more than that, just, you know, to be able to play shows with the band and people.
CR: Is it any way more satisfying than acting?
KR: Uh, no. No.
CR: No. I mean, acting is what satisfies you the most.
KR: When acting goes... when I... for me, it's a kind of liberation. When it goes well, it's just a... whew... it's a kind of liberation. And uh... happy.
CR: How often does that like...
KR: It happens like once... (Keanu realizes he cut Charlie off) excuse me.
CR: No no no... (they are both incredibly polite)
KR: Go ahead.
CR: I mean, is it like sports, you know... people will say about golf. You'll so be frustrated and then you'll have a perfect... you'll hit it in a sweet spot. (Keanu points off into the air to that sweet spot) And it's like the sheer feeling of that brings you back and back and back.
KR: Yeah, I've never experienced that, but I, um... that sounds familiar.
CR: OK, but tell me, you have experienced it in acting?
KR: Yes, definitely.
CR: And what is it in acting? What's the... tell me about what it is in acting that's equivalent to what we've just said in terms of sports.
KR: Well, it's um... I guess it's a loss of self. I mean, it's that kind of liberation. Where there's just, I mean, that moment for me, and in that moment, there's a kind of elation. And there's a communion, and it's something that's completely unconscious... completely... I don't know, the word I just keep using is liberated. Whew.
CR: Is it the connection to the character and where the character...
KR: The character and the interplay, and uh... I don't know. I guess, just that moment of pretend.
CR: But is it something... forgive my naivete... is it something that you pursue? I mean is that what you're looking for? Or is that something you say, if you get that, you just thank God you got it and that's it. But you can't pursue it because it's unachievable. It just happens because of a confluence of all the right things.
KR: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you can... yeah, yeah. And you can hope that it happens. I guess that's why it's all about everything that goes into being that moment. Everything that everyone works on before that moment, goes into that time, and hopefully... If you do feel that, that means it's an authentic connection at that moment. We are communicating something about our humanity, about being alive. And that could be a moment of comedy; that could be a dramatic moment; it could be in a gesture.
CR: Do you find it in music too? Occasionally?
KR: Yeah, yeah. There's certain times when we've written songs with the band, where we don't know where we're going, but we're creating something. Or there have been times when we've played a show where I could feel the unity of the band and the audience. You know, it's just, quite exhilarating.
CR: Who were the shaping influences on you growing up?
KR: Shaping influences?
CR: Yeah, who made a difference for you.
KR: Ah, I guess it started with some of the teachers I had. Yeah. When I was a kid, certain teachers, the way that they treated me. Um, the way they allowed me to be. Um, in acting, um, Carol Rosenfeld. I had certain teachers that I worked with.
CR: Was this after you came to Los Angeles?
KR: No, this is all in Toronto. I guess I was like 15, 16, when I put myself into an acting class, working out of Uta Hagen's, Respect For Acting.
CR: Now I know Uta Hagen, but is that a book?
KR: Yeah, it's a book.
CR: Called Respect For Acting.
KR: Respect For Acting. I just remember being 16, the youngest person in this class at 7 o'clock at night in Toronto. Just trying to figure it out, just because I wanted to act. But, um, so yes, some teachers that I had.
CR: Your dad left home early.
KR: Right, right.
CR: So there was no father figure.
KR: No, no, and that has certainly been a major, of course, aspect.
CR: I think people who do what... it just seems to me... I mean, I didn't really know what I was going to do, and how, even now, how it's all gonna turn out. You know you do things well and you know life has been good to you, but boy, to be... I admire you, and people who... athletes that I know who, who when they were 7 wanted to be an Olympic star, or wanted to be in the Olympics; wanted to be good. Or people like you, who at 16, were so caught up with passion for...
KR: Yeah, I felt lucky at the time because I remember as we were through school, that transition from grade school to high school, then from high school to college. All of my friends were trying to figure out what they wanted to be or how they wanted to get work, you know. And I knew. I knew.
CR: The other great thing about it is A) you knew and it turned out right. [Keanu knocks on the table, Charlie does the same thing] Exactly, that's exactly right (agreeing with Keanu's 'knock on wood'). A) And you got a chance to do it, because of talent, because of timing, because of luck, because of relationships.
KR: All of that.
CR: All that kind of stuff.
KR: Yes, yes.
CR: The sheer notion of people - I think it must be maybe 1% of the population - that is doing things that they love doing, have had the opportunity to do. And the test is how good you can be. I mean, that's really the test. The test is not, in other words, you know, to do it. So many people don't have the chance to get into the arena. Half the battle is getting into the arena.
KR: 'Perseverance, dear my lord, keeps honour bright.' (Quote from Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, by the character Ulysses, Act 3, scene 3.) But yeah, yes, definitely, perseverance.
CR: Are there classics that you'd love to do? Wanna do? Have done?
KR: Yeah, I wanna do... I'd like to play MacBeth. I'm a little too old for Romeo.
CR: You know what MacBeth has done to people.
KR: Yes, I know. I actually asked like Werner Hertzog one night - quite late night - I said, 'Werner.' He said, 'yes?' 'In 10 years, will you direct me in MacBeth?' He's like, 'OK.' I don't know what I'm asking for... that's kind of like the... talk about na´ve. But anyway, it's one of the, uh...
CR: It is. I just did a long piece with Peter O'Toole...
KR: Ah, that is a man, who, excuse me... when you talk about who affected me. I remember he was one of the actors that I watched as a young kid that made me want to act. When I saw The Ruling Class, I was, my I... there was such joy in his acting. I was like, I want to be able to do that. Ah, I once went backstage in London, to meet him. Cause I had worked with Bertulucci, and he had worked with him, so I had liked begged him, cause I wanted to go meet him. So we sat in the back; he had like Egyptian slippers on... I'm sorry, so anyway...
CR: No, no, you finish, you finish.
KR: You go ahead.
CR: I'll come back to it.
KR: No, you go ahead.
CR: Peter will love the fact that we're sitting here talking about him. So, you went backstage...
KR: No, anyway, that's the end of the story. Just that I'm such a fan of his. And he's someone that had an impact on my life with his craft, and, uh, his spirit.
CR: MacBeth was a disaster.
KR: I hear it was one of the biggest disasters. What did he say?
CR: He said - there's a piece of this interview which I'll give you to take home and watch it, because you like him so much - he said that people not only said that he was bad, but said it was the worst MacBeth they'd ever seen. It was an insult to Shakespeare, to MacBeth, to the theatre, to the audience, to everyone. It was almost, he said, so bad, they interpreted it,
CR: that he enjoyed the fact...
KR: Catastrophic. (Both are laughing) The joy of that.
CR: The joy that I have made so many people, so angry...
KR: Oh, well, maybe I shouldn't... I should be careful.
CR: No, well, no, you should talk to Peter before you do.
KR: I should call him up?
CR: You know what I think he would say? I think Peter would say, 'do it.' He would say 'do it.' His whole sense of risk. His whole sense of
CR: just go up there and do it, and do it the way you want to do it.
KR: Right. (Keanu has been enthralled throughout all of this.)
CR: There's a great story he tells, too, about how he and Burton, decided while they were doing one of their... Beckett or something...
KR: Wow. (Keanu is obviously loving this.)
CR: They're both going to do... they want to both do Hamlet on stage. And so O'Toole found out that Burton was going to do it in New York, directed by Gielgud.
CR: And so this was going to be in New York. It was the famous Burton Hamlet,
CR: And in fact, there's copies now - they filmed his performance on stage - you can get it in black and white in video stores. So, O'Toole went to Olivier - who had been trying to get him to come to the National (The National Theatre in London) -
CR: O'Toole said, 'there's something I've always wanted to do. Would you direct me in Hamlet?' And he said, 'I will if you'll do this for me.' And so, therefore, he got to do Hamlet. And so they were both doing Hamlet...
KR: Dueling Hamlets.
CR: Dueling Hamlets.
CR: Richard Burton in New York and Peter O'Toole in London. Gielgud directing one, and Olivier directing the other.
KR: And how were they received?
CR: Very well.
KR: Very well. God, I would have loved to have... There's a story about Gielgud. He was going to play in Hamlet. All the actors are around the table, and opening the script. And here's John Gielgud, and he's sitting there. And this young actor has the first line, 'who's there.' And he is like 'who's there?' And Gielgud supposedly says (Keanu puts on a haughty British accent), 'Oh, he's not going to do it like that, is he?' (Both men are laughing.) The first table read! 'Oh no.'
CR: The first time.
KR: Right. 'He's not going to do it like...' and the kid is like, oh god.
CR: There's a famous story about Olivier - Roddy McDowell I think has told this story - that, maybe it was in MacBeth, maybe it was Hamlet, maybe it was whatever classic that Olivier did time after time after time. He had reached one of those moments, in his performance - not just a particular scene, but his performance and so, they're rushing backstage to say, 'Larry, you were wonderful, you were wonderful.' He had his head like this (Charlie covers his face with his hands). He said, 'why are you down? Why are you depressed?' And he said, 'I know, but I don't know why, I don't know how. I know how good it was, but I don't know if I can ever do it again.' [pause] Congratulations to you. It's great to have you here.
KR: Thank you.
CR: It really is. I'm honored to meet you, and I admire your work. Keanu Reeves. We'll be right back.
[end of segment]
This was typed up by Lori H. of DogstarFans. Also thanks to Wrygrass (who I believe helped with the transcript).
All images are from Keanuland.com's screen captures. More grabs of the show can be found here.