Monday, September 29, 2008

Interesting things about The Anu, Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being a Keanu Fan

One day on Youtube, someone called TheVannieShow described Keanu's personality to be "as interesting as a tree branch". I objected, declaring The Anu to be one of the most interesting people on Earth. lollipopfop then asked which Earth I was talking about, saying that it couldn't possibly be this one (Alternate Universe fish, I say), and challenged me to name one interesting thing about Keanu.

I decided that naming just one interesting thing about The Anu would not do justice to his awesomeness, and my list wouldn't fit into the Youtube comment box, so I had to resort to a PM. Here it is, in all its edited glory:


1) He's probably got one of the most diverse range of films in Hollywood. He's done films in practically every genre I can think of - science fiction, comedy, drama, action, romance, horror, musical, children, gay movie, animation, fantasy, Shakespeare, family, sports, religious, thriller, etc. He's been quoted multiple times saying that he's not out to fill any particular niche area. He doesn't want to be "part of the Hollywood product machine". He's just there to act, and to do as may different kinds of roles as possible. He doesn't want to repeat himself.

2) His background, admittedly nothing he can be credited for, but lollipopfop didn't specify so I'm assuming it counts: He was born to a British mother and Hawaiian-Chinese father in Lebanon; parents divorced when he was two, mother remarried four times; grew up in Australia and New York before settling in Toronto; later drove out on his own to Hollywood when he was 19 with only a beaten-down car and $3000 to his name, because he didn't think that there would be much chance for him to pursue an acting career in Toronto.

3) He does not act at all like the typical Hollywood celebrity. For starters, even after becoming a millionaire, he spent a large part of his life homeless, living out of a single suitcase in a hotel, occasionally spotted - and photographed by incredulous paparazzi - sleeping on the streets next to stray animals and other homeless people. Someone reportedly once gave him money because they thought he was a beggar.

4) Which brings us to how he pays practially no attention whatsoever to his appearance, which is a great change from the majority of preening Hollywood stars. In his early days in Hollywood, his agents complained about his lack of presentability and how he looked like a homeless bum; his retort was that he was paid to act, not to look good. He has favourite clothes that he wears until they literally fall apart - one favourite pair of shoes was duct-taped up (and photographed by increasingly incredulous paparazzi) when it could no longer hold together on its own, despite him being more than able to afford many new ones. Same goes with his other clothes; an ancient red T-shirt is now pink. Two colours for the price of one. An excellent way to save.

5) He is an extremely private person who does not participate much in the Hollywood scene. He hates the limelight, was quoted in the mid 80s saying he never wanting to become super-famous because it would be "awful", and up to this day prefers to spend time on his own, reading, listening to music, or just thinking about life. He has described himself as "practically a celibate monk" when quizzed on whether he was gay (he says "No... but you never know") due to the lack of scantily-clad women hanging on his arm the way they hang on the arms of his peers. He keeps to himself a lot, and is very introverted, something rare among the Hollywood group.

6) Which brings us to how he's widely considered by many of his friends and co-stars to be one of the most well-read celebrities out there. His personal obsession is Shakespeare; he's committed whole plays to heart, and has been known to recite it in times of stress in order to calm himself down. He's also reputedly a brilliant chess player, and defeated Laurence Fishburne in 15 minutes.

7) Leading up to his intelligence - his IQ is reportedly 160. One of the most common adjectives used to describe him is 'intelligent', from people who know and/or have worked with him.

8) And yet people around the world still have the idea that he is dumb, courtesy of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, which goes only to show how great a performance that role was.

9) He is dyslexic, and as such had difficulty in school - was expelled from several schools for talking too much, not sitting still (an interviewer once described him as an ADD poster child, and yet look at critics who complain about him just standing there in his films; compared to his energetically hyper off-the-walls, making funny faces at the camera, throwing out really funny jokes at regular intervals behaviour in real life, just standing still and giving the impression of woodeness probably takes a whole lot of effort and acting talent from him). He is meanwhile an autodidact, and did not let his disability affect his voracious appetite for books and learning. While other young Hollywood stars were out there partying and getting into trouble, he would be sitting in his trailer and reading books on acting technique and Philip K. Dick (his favourite author). Though he did do a lot of partying too, but was scared to a stop when his best friend River Phoenix died of a drug overdose; after that he became aggresively anti-drugs, all the more so when his biological father - whom he had not seen since he was a child - was arrested for being the head of a drug smuggling ring.

10) He doesn't own a computer. He doesn't see the need for one. He had one once, but used it only to play chess. When he needs to send messages to people, he either does so by hand or by typewriter, and sends the letter through snail mail. He doesn't like how e-mails are so easy to delete and forget about with a click of button.

11) His childhood ambitions included being a racecar driver, nuclear scientist, orchestra conductor or inventor. Part-time jobs he took up prior to acting included sharpening ice-skates, cutting trees, and being the manager of a pasta shop at 18, in which he made 150 pounds of pasta a day. Due in part to being Canadian, he is also a great ice hockey player (Cuba Gooding Jr. called him the best ice hockey player in Hollywood) and was voted MVP on his high school team.

12) One of his favourite pastimes is riding his motorbike along mountain roads late at night, WITH THE HEADLIGHTS OFF because he enjoys the thrill. This has resulted in several accidents, some of which nearly killed him. That however has not stopped him, though he admits to being more careful since.

13) Many of his friends, co-stars and fans who met him have described him as completely void of any ego usually expected of a Hollywood A-lister, extremely humble and modest, and not in a fake way - possibly partly due to extreme self-esteem problems resulting from his childhood. In early interviews, he expressed surprise and occasional anger at the way journalists kept praising him for various things - he doesn't think he's good looking at all (judging from his off-screen appearance - presumably the main times he looks into the mirror - this is justified), he doesn't think he's cool, he gets very disturbed by the idea of people making him into a role model (I do that; he'll probably hate me), he doesn't think he's that big a star - he calls all this "fiction", lies fabricated by the media in order to increase hype and get more money; and says that he's just an actor trying to improve every day, and wishes that people would stop making him out to be things he doesn't think he is. Time and again he's said that he's only "interested in becoming a better actor". He tries. He tries a lot. For that I respect him.

14) And he doesn't let what critics say get him down. He acknowledges the existence of bad reviews; he calls it "a drag", but that life has to go on, and he can't let things like that stop him from doing what he wants to do - and he loves acting, very much, calling it among other things one of the few times that he feels free.

15) Again, he doesn't want to be part of the Hollywood machine. Because of that he's risked mulitple instances of what other stars would have considered career suicide. He does the films that interest him, that he has a passion for, not those that would pay big or help advance his career. He turned down The Fly II to do a small indie film that paid him one-tenth as much; he turned down the offered $7 million for Speed II in order to join his best friends in a band tour, and then to play Hamlet in Canada, which admittedly was for him a dream come true, being the Shakespeare freak that he is - although in the days preceding it he was quoted as being terrified and having nightmares about forgetting his lines, especially seeing all the fans who had come from all over the world just to watch him; he gets stage fright, and on stage you only get one take.

16) He is extremely hardworking and dedicated to whatever project he signs up for. He will fight in the face of studios who wish to change the scripts to suit their money-making desires; he has fought for the integrity of his characters, or of the scripts, and been angry when major cuts or alterations were made that he felt undermined the script. Sometimes he fails - examples being Johnny Mnemonic, which started off as a cyberpunk black&white film noir piece but got inserted with a whole lot of pointless action and had chunks of story cut from it once Speed became the unexpected blockbuster of the summer; and The Replacements, which a fellow Keanu fan and friend of mine said was much, much better in its original draft when compared to the final product. For Speed, he initially wanted to turn down the role because he didn't like the way that it tried to set up situations explictly to force one-liners, and found the character of Jack Traven to be too flippant and too unlike the real SWAT policemen he had got to know as friends from the filming of Point Break; fortunately for him, the director agreed, they hired another scriptwriter, and together they set about revising the script to make it into the final product.

17) "Keanu is not and never has been money motivated", says Lewis Baumander, who directed him in Hamlet and in an 1980s production of Romeo & Juliet, where he had been "casted on the spot" as Mercutio - something that Baumander almost never did with any role, but he had been blown away by Keanu's talent and passion for the part. Keanu has been known for taking salary cuts - he did it for The Devil's Advocate so that they could afford to hire Al Pacino; he did it for The Replacements so they could afford to hire Gene Hackman; he gave up all his box-office takings for the Matrix sequels (turned out to be $38 million) so the Wachowskis could afford to complete the special effects. He also bought Harley Davidson motorcycles for each of the twelve stuntmen who worked with him on The Matrix. His younger sister Kim suffers from leukemia; Keanu has as a result donated whole lots of money towards cancer research, and was one of the people involved in the recent Stand Up 2 Cancer event. His friends have meanwhile described him as one of the most generous people they know; Keanu says he doesn't need the money, because he already has more than enough to last him centuries.

18) He is very, very determined to do anything he sets his mind to. He's also a perfectionist, which he admits as one of his flaws and something that he's tried to work at. In an early Coca Cola commercial in which he played a bike racer, he did research on professional bikers and discovered that they usually shaved their legs in order to minimise air drag. So he shaved all the hair off his legs. For a commercial (It's up on Youtube; here you go ->, in which no one would be able to see leg hair even if they looked. He has since done the same for just about every role he's ever taken on. Co-stars have been quoted as freaking out at the sheer volume of notes that Keanu comes up with for his characters, and how deeply he researches each one - again, he loves reading despite his dyslexia; for his role in Little Buddha, he got hold of a whole lot of books on Buddhism, deprived himself from television or any form of fiction for the whole period of research, and just sat in his room and read through all those books; for his role in A Walk in the Clouds, he did massive research into World War II, the life of a soldier, American history; talked to a bunch of war veterans, all that. For The Matrix, the Wachowskis gave him a reading list of heavy philosophical books that he had to finish before even opening a page of the script - this was one of the things that turned a lot of other potential leads away, but Keanu got straight into it and read everything. And he was rewarded for it - The Matrix is awesome.

Thus concludes one soupcon of why The Anu is a very interesting person, and why anyone who disagrees must come from an alternate universe.


Xeus said...

Great commentary, Anakin. Just a couple of corrections - Keanu did nor give ALL his backends from the Matrix sequels away. He just gave 38 million. He's got plenty more, like 200 million from the gross, left.

Regarding the homeless bit - he was reseatching for a role.

Leisha Camden said...

Regarding the homeless bit - he was reseatching for a role.

That never materialized, if so.

Be that as it may, I think what Anakin is referring to is the fact that for so many years Keanu never owned a place to live. Just lived in hotels even when he was in his supposed hometown. (For the record, I think that is really really sad.) So ... homeless in that sense. That's my interpretation.

Otherwise, I agree - great post. :-)