Keanu Reeves has played many roles in his time - the messiah, Buddha, one half of a rock duo that brings about world peace - so he's clearly a man in touch with his spiritual side. That's why he's so perfectly cast as a guru orthodontist in this week's Thumbsucker, the little indie movie that could. We talk to the former Mr. Ted Theodore Logan Esq. about smoking, getting older and robbing banks.What's Thumbsucker about? Lou Pucci plays Justin, a teenager who still sucks his thumb and the film is all about how he tries to overcome it and the way it affects his family and friends. I play a transcendental dentist who offers him hypnosis to give him strength.
Do you have any horror dentist stories?
I had two of my wisdom teeth pulled out in Toronto when I was younger. And I'll never forget the sound of the pliers and the knee in my chest. It was nasty.
Did you suck your thumb as a kid?
I have not and have never been a thumb-sucker. I did everything else.
Were there any behavioural habits like thumb-sucking that you tried to let go when you were younger?
No. When I was a teenager, I always fantasized about robbing a bank. I mean, it just sounded like fun what with all the plotting and planning, the danger, the treasure.
What was it about the Thumbsucker script that made you want to play a dentist?
It was the humanity of the story. The writing was lovely and a lovely role. My character has several incarnations and I loved his search for meaning of life.
Your character smokes in this movie. Do you?
I smoke too much. In some scenes in Constantine, it was like, Watch Keanu turn green. I smoked so much. It was a lot, it was a lot. I should quit.
Are film sets generally bad for your health? What s the worst injury you ve sustained?I was filming The Replacements and I ran into someone I shouldn't have and I got a stinger. It's where your neck compresses and you lose feeling and the use of your arms. ["eek"--krix]
And I had a general sense of pain. I had a two-level fusion: two vertebrae fused in my neck so there was a lot of concern. But I went and had a MRI scan and was fine. When it first happened I was really scared because I d never had a stinger before. You lose feeling in your arms and your hands. That sensation in me was really intense for about 20 minutes and then the limb aspect of it went away in about two hours.
Did you end up in hospital?
Yeah. I had to go straight to the hospital. I took a handful of Advil and then when I got to the hospital they gave me the good stuff and sent me home with some more of the good stuff and ice and heat. I went back the next day.
What do you look for when you take a role?
I ' always looking to see a vision, to see what's interesting in the piece. Fifteen years ago I wouldn t have asked Francis Ford Coppola, So how do you rehearse? I wouldn t have done that. But sometimes now I find it interesting before I go into it to speak, to share thoughts and feelings. For example, with Mike Mills on Thumbsucker, I met with him and I went along with his process. It's a matter of getting to know each other.
This is a tiny, independent film compared with some of your previous big studio films like Constantine. What are the main differences?
The resources that come into making a movie don't really impact on the relationships inside, in terms of telling a story, for me. Sometimes resources just mean you get to work on a bigger set. Walking on the set for Constantine is a different day than walking on the set for Thumbsucker. But in terms of working on the role, or coming to work, no, it's not different. I guess the pressure is less.
Justin's mother is hung up on a soap star. When you were an aspiring actor, which star did you want to meet?
When I was about 15, my stepfather directed Kate Jackson, who played Sabrina in Charlie's Angels, in some movie called Thin Ice. I was a PA on that film so I got to meet her. I remember she was interested in the latest Star Wars movie that was coming out. I bought her a soda and we talked about the new movies.
Are you interested in old Hollywood at all?
The last book I read was a biography on Frank Capra. And I've also read a book on D.W. Griffith so once in a while there seems to be moments where I am interested about the old studios.
What's next? Is it true you've been cast in Stompanato, about the mobster boyfriend of screen legend Lana Turner?
Yeah, I'm meeting with Adrian Lyne and Catherine Zeta- Jones to do a reading of some of the scenes. Hopefully we can get that picture made.
You used to play bass in Dogstar. Is that still happening?
No, not any more. I don't play in a band anymore. I have no idea if I ll do it again but I know right now that I don't play in the band. ["sniff!sob!"--krix]
Are you too old for it? Mick Jagger is on the road and he's 63
The guy is a living legend though. That's what he does.
You're now in your 40s. Are you slowing down?
I'm making all the noises that a post-40 man makes. [laughs] I make that walk to the bathroom in the morning. I never used to lean against the wall. [Laughs] I am that guy.
I suspect Thumbsucker may be hitting Canadian and UK theaters this weekend, check your local listings, y'all.
Keanu grunts, groans and scowls his way through an interview about his role in Thumbsucker
by MATTHEW HAYS
Keanu Reeves hates the press. Or so it would seem, as he sits down to talk about his latest film, Thumbsucker, an independent bit of Sundance chic that has the surreally good-looking thespian playing a new-age orthodontist.
One can't really hold it against dear Keanu for hating journalists. After all, it was bottom-feeding tabloid types who gleefully ran with the oft-repeated rumour about his marrying Hollywood mogul David Geffen in a clandestine ceremony. That tall tale got repeated so many times in the early '90s that it almost transcended Hollywood urban legend to become a self-fulfilling reality, much like the one about Richard Gere's gerbil mishap. Geffen finally doused the whole story, stating unequivocally that he'd never even met Keanu.
Then, of course, there are the critics, who have long trashed Keanu's acting style. He is a lightweight poseur, goes the argument, a dude whose career should have sunk long ago, but who stays afloat by the good graces of his looks and little else. (For the record, I think he often delivers carefully minimalist performances that are actually grounded in an intelligent acting process. I predict he'll get his due as an actor in late career, much like Clint Eastwood has. But that's just me.)
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It doesn't help that Keanu is now sitting at a round table at the Toronto International Film Festival. These round tables allow celebrities to be fast-tracked through a large number of scrums, allowing eight or even 12 journalists to interview a celebrity at once. Simply put, it's the assembly line applied to the interview technique. It sucks, both for the writer and the interview subject. Keanu knows this, and clearly hates it. Which is kinda too bad, given that the film he's here to pump up, Thumbsucker - an unusual tale about a teenage boy whose parents insist he give up sucking on his thumb - isn't a bad movie at all. As well as the Matrix star, the film's kick-ass cast includes Tilda Swinton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Benjamin Bratt, Vince Vaughn and celebrated newcomer Lou Pucci in the lead.
Keanu grunts and groans his way through a series of questions, looking particularly askance at one journalist sitting to his left, an overweight Australian who apparently has not discovered the magical powers of deodorant. "Was this a character you could identify with?" asks one journalist. "Yeah," replies Keanu.
This is perhaps the most insightful part of Keanu's interview. There's a pause, and someone tries to squeeze some juice out of him. "I really enjoyed where he ended up," Keanu says. "And where he started. He's an orthodontist with some ideas about life."
I decide to chime in with what I consider to be a deep thought: "How would you say your craft as an actor has evolved since you began making movies?"
Not knowing my theories about his oeuvre first-hand, Keanu interprets this as an attack, rather than a sincere question. He has taken his barbs, after all. "I know more about it," he responds, icily.
Someone continues, suggesting that with his stoned-out orthodontist role, Keanu appeared to be self-consciously referencing his own career, in particular stoner Ted from the Bill & Ted movies. "That was not intended," insists Keanu.
Then I step in again with the deep thoughts: "It seems like perhaps you were doing a parody of a Keanu Reeves performance..."
And that, as it turns out, is a bit too much for Keanu to take. He clams up. "I'm not saying," he states, while crossing his arms firmly.
With that, director-writer Mike Mills steps in, happy to fill in the gaps. The film, he said, was his own way of reiterating a message he needs to hear himself: that there is no such thing as normal. While his protagonist is a tormented thumbsucker, the lad soon learns that being different really isn't such a bad thing, and rather than fight his purported faults, he should simply embrace them.
Another journalist uses this as a cue to get back to Keanu. Isn't a film like Thumbsucker a perfect reflection of Reeves's own career, given his non-typical status in the business? I mean, Keanu, you're hardly the typical Hollywood guy, argues the journo.
Do you have a career plan, goes another question, or just fly by the seat of your pants?
"Is there anything in between?"
Another journalist attempts to appeal with a softer question: do you prefer comedy to drama?
Keanu brings this round table to a bitter end. "I don't really know. Unless, of course, I'm parodying myself."
VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): "There are nine different words in Maya for the color blue, but just three Spanish translations," wrote Earl Shorris in Harper's, "leaving six butterflies that can be seen only by the Maya." This idea suggests two important implications that you should take to heart in the coming weeks. First, the words you use can actually shape your perceptions. Second, as your vocabulary expands, you become aware of aspects of reality that have been hidden from you, and you develop a greater capacity to distinguish between experiences that are superficially alike. Halloween costume suggestion: a butterfly colored nine different shades of blue.
Keanu apparently strapped on the penguin suit last night to appear at the 20th annual American Cinematheque Award gala honoring actor Al Pacino in Beverly Hills. The show will be telecast on the AMC cable channel on January 22.
I have a fabulous friend over at SONY that sent me some Thumbsucker Posters (one-sheets) to give away to the lovely readers of keanuvision.
I have three of them and all you have to do for a chance to have one is send me an email to keanuvisionary (at) gmail.com with the answer to this question IN THE SUBJECT LINE:
What is Dr. Perry's power animal?
The deadline is 9PM PST Sunday (10/16) night. I will have V. draw three names for the winners.
We have our winners! V. had it easy since there were only three correct replies. I'll be in contact with everyone shortly.
By the way, Mike Mills took a cute picture at the Japan press conference and posted it on his blog.
V. and I went to see Thumbsucker this weekend. Here's his review.
Clearly, the real sucking here is not related to thumbs but to the possibility of the studio pulling Thumbsucker from national distribution. They simply aren't supporting it in any meaningful way and that makes the Baby Jesus sad. Everyone in the film is quite good.
Tilda Swinton, though cast in a supporting role, is clearly the star. Her still and quiet fragility lifts even the most stilted of scenes (of which there are several). Languid and pale, she drew me in again and again so that I might be reminded that I am not alone in what it is to be so horribly, painfully... deservedly human. Vince Vaughn is at his most understated in years as a subtly vain teacher of juvenile forensics who just so happens to have mascara in his bag (you know, just in case one of his female charges needs a little help bringing out her eyes before the regionals). Vincent D'Onofrio plays an adequate jock father who turns in a journeyman scene when he suggests to his stoned son that it could just be possible to turn one's back on one's dream for the love of a woman (Swinton) who probably doesn't deserve it as she has no real dream of her own beyond that of the arms of cocaine snorting television star, Benjamin Bratt, about whom I will stop before I commit to words something terribly mean. The scene would have been all the more poignant had I not seen it eighty-seven times before. The character of the younger brother (Chase Offerle) existed solely to deliver lines I had also heard eighty-seven times. Pre-teen characters belong in after-school specials. I certainly don't want to hear
common slang terms for female reproductive organs coming out of their mouths.
The kid who sucks his thumb is played sweetly by Lou Taylor Pucci. I have it on good authority that he'll have a big career. He gets fucked over in the same repetative way all sweet sensitive boys and girls get fucked over until he finally finds his own worth. I only wish I had found that worth at 17. I went to NYC, too, though I sure wasn't bounding across Times Square. I was in Times Square, but it was different then. It just was. No one bounded, but it was the 80's and, therefore, a far more surly time.
That said, I found the kid's hair to be incredibly annoying. Grow it to your shoulders or cut it off. The movies are magic and I believe they can spare me from having to watch kids whose hair makes them look like bums.
There is a scene in which our hero is drunk in a hotel room with three or four teenage girls who suddenly strip to their underwear and attempt to transmit static electricity from one breast to another. (Ummmm.... huh?)
Look. I was a complete dork in high school like this kid. I was in a club that took trips. We all stayed in a cabin with no adult supervision.
It never happened. It never happens. It never will happen. This sort of thing just doesn't happen. Did I say never? Good.
If the movies would simply stop suggesting that one dork with bad hair can have four teenaged girls in their Hanes Herways hopping up and down on hotel beds, charged like Tesla coils of nubile need, well, teenaged boys wouldn't have such dumb expectations and teenaged girls would have a fighting chance at getting through at least three dates before a trembling hand is unceremoniously shoved down the front of their jeans.
Oh. Keanu Reeves is in this movie. He is cast as Perry, the kid's new age orthodontist. I'm rather unsurprised that he was sought out by the casting director as I am at a loss as to just who else would be able to wear the smock and channel the power animal of a dopey neo-hippy orthodontist. As he disappeared from his last screen appearance, I was left with one thought:
This is what happened to Ted "Theodore" Logan after his dream died.
The power animal really should have been a wild stallion. In certain movies, such beasts begin with great hope. In real life, wild stallions often meet a bad end. I could be wrong. After all, I read metaphors in alphabet soup.
That said, he was rather good in Thumbsucker. The film could have used another three or four minutes of him with the kid who sucks his thumb. Keanu is good when cast as a thoughtful, earnest and somewhat troubled man. You just can't sell him to me as a hacker or savior of humanity (Constantine doesn't factor into that last statement as his character was not really altruistic). Please keep in mind that I'm the guy who used to quip at parties: "I find it so amusing that they keep making movies in which Keanu Reeves is wanted for his mind." I understand, now, that he is bright. This, though, was the early 90's or so. The Johnny Mnemonic years. The early Matrix years. I was and still am passionately apathetic about both. I don't have to be a fan to know when he is good, though.
I appreciate him as a man who lives for his art, and that negates any thing I or any of us think about him. Everyone could forget him and he'd still do what he loves to do. I'm trying to assume that into my being as something not unlike an object lesson in living. Most importantly, I do thank him for being the sort of person who could, unknowingly, reach out beyond the screen and change a woman's view of her own heart and by extension, set her on a path that brought her to a place where she could accept and love a heart that is often too heavy and mad to hold.
Keanu's role as Perry the orthodontist was pivotal to the film. While the relationship between the sucking of thumbs and the straightening of teeth is clear, I'm afraid the extension of the orthodontic metaphor will be lost on many movie-goers. Each character's life is painfully adjusted. Some simply don't accept the gift and return to their own form of emotional thumbsucking, slowly rendering their corrected souls crooked, once again.
That's what Keanu Reeves is.
That's the public face he puts on for journalists, the folks who long ago tagged him perma-dude, the actor with the cool name and surfer-dim vocabulary.
"Vacant-looking," critic Leonard Maltin labeled him.
You don't get much out of him in interviews. Sometimes that's because he doesn't have much to say. But sometimes, it's because the press, even in small group settings such as this one, can't resist riffing on the first fragment of whatever he wants to say. He never gets to finish a thought.
Then again, there's a reason the small studio releasing the indie Thumbsucker, which opens Friday, has paired him with his director, Mike Mills, for interviews. And it's not just "that the movie isn't about Keanu," as the publicist says. Mills, a first-time filmmaker from the world of graphic design (think album covers), is here to fill in the blanks that Reeves leaves between thoughts.
But really, the guy is perfectly capable of expressing himself. And if people are saying that his odd, New Age guru/orthodontist in Thumbsucker is the role he was born to play, he'll run with it. A little.
"I liked his richness of feeling," says Reeves, 41. "I don't know how else to describe it. No matter what he was doing, he felt it. He just seemed so open."
If the ortho-doc seems like an adult, self-mocking version of the "Whoa, dude" Reeves we've all grown to expect, well, that's not his fault.
"I didn't think I was doing that in this role," he says, scratching his scruffy 20-day-plus beard. "But maybe I'm naive."
That gets a laugh, as does his take on the stardom that seems to have sat in his lap for the past 15 years.
"It's all drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll, every day," he growls. "24-7, 3-6-5."
As does his co-star, Tilda Swinton, who shepherded this project about a functionally dysfunctional family (she plays the mom) dealing with a potentially brilliant 17-year-old who still sucks his thumb (Lou Pucci).
"I kept a poster of Keanu in The Matrix on my wall throughout the whole preproduction of this film," she says. "I knew if he stayed with the project we might actually get it made. He was my 'power animal.' "
Reeves had the good taste to see, in the script from Walter Kirn's novel, a good movie. He wouldn't be the star. He wouldn't rack up a Matrix or Constantine payday ($15 million plus), or the perks.
But his name would get it made. And it did.
"The humanity of the piece, the humor and insightfulness, and intelligence, they were what I read, and what I experienced when I got to see what was on the screen," Reeves says. "I'm really happy with the film. In terms of my hopes and expectations, they were realized. It's a great role, and I had a great time performing it."
Mills says that Reeves, who has for years earned several times more than the entire budget of indie films such as this one, doesn't do "the star thing." Especially on the set.
"He never, with words or anything else, said 'I'm special or different' and never asked for anything special," says Mills. "Working with Keanu is like working with one of my electricians or the grip or anybody. The worst thing you could do was pay too much attention to him."
"I'm just there to try and tell the story," Reeves says. "I can't deal with other people's idea of who I am supposed to be. I'm just there to work."
It's a dream project for Mills, who came to see it as his own story. It's a breakout piece for young actor Pucci.
And for Reeves? He picks up some of his best reviews. And he returns to the city where he grew up (Toronto), in triumph.
"I remember I saw Blood Simple here, which was the first time I ever experienced the Toronto Film Festival," Reeves says. "What was that, in like 1983 or something? 1984? Far back. Years ago, anyway.
"I saw this incredible festival, from that angle, growing up here. I remember, from that time, just waiting for that film festival guide, and every year, you'd go, 'Oh my God, there are so many incredible movies here!'
"And then to be here and have a film here is just exciting, no other way to put it. I remember the first time I came here as an actor, it was for Prince of Pennsylvania . I'd always wanted to act 'in pitchas.' To finally get to do that, and to come back to the hometown for a movie, was a really good day."
Future good days? There's another comic adaptation (The Night Watchman), and a challenging role as movie star Lana Turner's mobster lover, Johnny Stompanato, in the works, co-starring Catherine Zeta-Jones.
"Johnny wants to self-realize," Reeves says of that role. "But there's all these boxes that he's put in. And I think he's trying to get out of them.
"He wants to be in love with this woman. He wants to create. He wants to be a producer. He doesn't want to just be where he's come from. He wants to be more than that.
"I always think of him as kind of a beauty and the beast. He wants to be more than the brute."
Kind of like "the dude" who wants to be more than the dude?
"Hey," he grins, readying his stock answer for every "Why choose that role?" question. "I was just looking for work."
Copyright © 2005, Orlando Sentinel October 1, 2005 - Roger Moore