There’s a reason why Keanu Reeves has been an A-list movie star for over 25 years. Aside from his youthful yet rugged handsomeness that’s still preserved at age 51, Reeves’ perfect balance of physical vigor, deadpan wit and charming likability has allowed him to play badass savior of the world and romantic lead with equal aplomb. And with zeitgeist-defining roles like Johnny Utah in Point Break, Jack Traven in Speed, and Neo in The Matrix under his belt, Reeves remains a larger-than-life figure in pop culture.
But for an actor who’s been around for so long, Reeves is still damn near mythical; his relevancy is only matched by his reclusiveness. Keanu’s air of mystery makes it hard to guess how an interview with him will go. Luckily for me, when I met with him to discuss his new Eli Roth-directed thriller Knock Knock (which opens on Oct. 9), the withdrawn, brooding Keanu was nowhere in sight. He was disarmingly giddy and excited to discuss his latest role as a family man whose life crumbles after being taken hostage in his own home by two femme fatales, played menacingly by Lorenza Izzo and Anna de Armas. Keanu detailed what it’s like to work with Roth, his musical preferences, and he even revealed some major plot points from the highly anticipated and much-buzzed about Bill & Ted reboot that’s in development.
[Ed. note: Be careful, there are slight Knock Knock spoilers in here.]
I have to admit it was very jarring seeing you play the sacrificial lamb instead of the hero for a change. What was that switch like for you, especially coming off the physical choreography of John Wick? Was it nice just to be able to sit down for the majority of Knock Knock?
[Laughs] That’s actually one of the reasons that made the script and story so attractive. It was the first film I had done after John Wick. [Director Eli Roth] had to get some of the John Wick out of me when the girls are kind of attacking me in Knock Knock, he was like, “Too much Wick, man! You gotta be helpless. You can’t beat them up when they try to stab you!”
Speaking of switching things up, is there a reason why we haven’t seen more Comedy Keanu? Your comedic timing in Knock Knock was spot on.
I would love to do more comedy! And that was another thread that really brought me into the story. Eli definitely wanted to bring the humor into this situation and then, you know, make it very twisted. I just loved the physical humor with the subtlety of my character. Like, that whole musical chairs deal during the seduction scene. It was just a real fun element to it.
Can you describe the kind of environment Eli Roth and his writing/producing partners Nicolás Lopéz and Guillermo Amoedo are fostering down in Chile? They seem to be building an indie empire down there, which they’ve dubbed “Chilewood.”
I actually didn’t know it at the time what Eli and Nicolás had down there in Chile. I know Nicolás had done some films with Sobras [International Pictures] but basically they have this central location, this house that has actors, producers, and this culture of using a technical crew, writers, directors, and there’s also a great post-production facility there. So from idea to exhibition, they have the complete infrastructure to make movies. And everyone was great.
Knock Knock is set in Los Angeles but was shot on location in Chile. Was it difficult to bring LA’s inherent dread and creepiness to such a beautiful country?
Well we shot right outside of Santiago within this planned community and I think whenever you have planned communities there’s always something kind of off about that. So we had this beautiful highway drive up to the gate of this gated community. This kind of bourgeois—and it was lovely, don’t get me wrong, but there was something kind of wacky about it. Like, this is our world, this perfect world, but something is waiting underneath.
You deliver a line in Knock Knock during an uncomfortably intense scene where you compare succumbing to Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas’ seduction to “free pizza.” This got huge laughs from the audience and is an instantly classic line. Was this improv? And are you hoping fans will start coming up to you with slices of free pizza?
[Laughs] Man, I hope so. It was a fun sequence where my character is finding out the girls are going to kill him. And he’s astounded because he feels innocent. I feel like this line wasn’t originally in the script but during the course of rehearsal and speaking with Eli I was like, “We have to hear from [my character] Evan. What is he thinking? What is he feeling? Who is this guy?” And Eli came up with the idea of free pizza. Like, if you put free pizza out there, any guy is gonna eat it. So this kind of sexual fantasy of a ménages à trois and if you offer it to him, of course he’s gonna eat the free pizza!
He’s really trying to defend himself. He tells them, “I’m a good father! I’m a good husband! I love my wife and children! You did this to me!” And he’s blaming the women when really it was his fault and his decision to do this.
Your character’s back story includes being a DJ with an epic record collection. What albums can we find in Keanu Reeves’ personal collection?
I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s so that’s where my music kind of got its teeth cut. So you need some The Clash, you need some Joy Division. You need something classical, so maybe something like Erik Satie. Then you need some John Coltrane, and maybe some Fugazi.
You spinning any hip-hop? I mean, you had some serious skills when you rapped “Big Poppa” in Hard Ball.
Yeah, sure I did [Laughs]. But if I had to pick, the band I would have to go with is Public Enemy. Yeah, they got it.
Is there anything you can tell us about the Bill and Ted reboot that’s being teased?
Man, that’s awesome that you and so many people want to see more of those guys. I love that character. And it’s cool because Alex [Winter, who played Bill], we became friends on that movie and we’re still friends, and we’ve been trying to develop a script with the writers for about seven years now. We have an interested party so we’re trying to get the dough and script together. We think we have a good story because you need a reason to remake something like this.
So what’s the story?
So the idea right now is: if you’re supposed to save the world and write a song that’s supposed to save the world, but you’ve never written a song… what’s the pressure of that? So Bill and Ted have to go on another adventure to discover how to write this song because everything is going to end if they don’t. It’s pretty cool.
And then we got the Point Break reboot dropping Christmas Day. It’s like we’re at peak-Keanu Reeves nostalgia.
Yeah, unfortunately I had nothing to do with this reboot except for being in the original. [Point Break director] Kathryn Bigelow is just amazing; she did such an amazing job with that film. It’s been amazing just to be a part of that project in the way that it changed people’s lives. Like, jumping out of airplanes and going surfing and taking risks in their lives. That was the first action film I ever did. Oh, Johnny Utah. What a ridiculous, beautiful name.
Erik Abriss is a writer living in Los Angeles. He tweets here.