Casual Keanu says fame is ‘cool’
NOBODY expected much of Keanu Reeves' action thriller John Wick when it was released in 2014.
After all, Reeves - once one of the biggest stars into the world thanks to action hits such as Point Break, Speed and the Matrix trilogy - hadn't had a hit in years.
Indeed he was coming off the back of the big-budget megaflop 47 Ronin the year before, which had bombed both with critics and at the box office.
But the high-octane thriller about a reformed assassin dragged back into the killing business was a sleeper hit, pulling in well over $100 million at the box office, thanks to its expertly choreographed action sequences, and a vintage performance from Reeves as the strong silent type he had made his own.
Riding the wave of revenge thrillers that also included Liam Neeson's Taken films and Denzel Washington's The Equaliser, fans were crying out for more and when John Wick: Chapter 2 opened in the US earlier this year, it was an ever bigger hit, more than doubling the box office take of the original and reinvigorating Reeves' flagging career.
It's been an up and down journey for the 52-year-old Lebanon-born, Canada-raised Reeves, who made his first film in 1985 and shot to fame four years later with the stoner comedy Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
But throughout the highs of his action hits, detours into music with his band Dogstar and, it must be said, plenty of lows he's always remained fiercely private and down to earth.
He certainly doesn't court publicity - and even his philanthropic work (he set up a cancer charity after his sister Kim battled leukaemia for a decade) has been done on the quiet.
"Well, I don't get out much," he laughs.
"I'm at home a lot. And I have to say, ultimately my experience with fame has been really cool.
"Some of the work that I have been a part of has been well received by an audience, and that's where it hits me the most."
Currently single, he lives a comparatively modest lifestyle by movie star standards and doesn't feel the need to collect homes all over the globe.
"I live just down the street," he says, pointing towards the Hollywood Hills from the hotel where he is publicising John Wick.
"Seriously, it's in West Hollywood. You can look up my address online," he laughs.
"It's a nice house, kind of small with just a couple of rooms."
At age 52, Reeves has the kind of physique that could put actors many decades younger to shame.
He became a lean, mean fighting machine in arguably his best role, as Neo in the Matrix, and unsurprisingly, he enjoys performing his own stunts.
"The level of training for Chapter Two was similar to the training of Chapter One, except at a kind of higher level," he says of his off-the-chain fighting sequences in the John Wick sequel. "So I still did judo and jujitsu and I still trained in the car for those stunts and chases, and I did different kinds of training with the weapons. As I had gone through the process the first time, in the second film I was better at it so I could go to another level."
Having laid waste to the Russian mafia hoodlums who killed his dog - a present from his dead wife - in the first film, John Wick: Chapter 2 picks up right where the original left off.
"It opens up with John trying to get his stolen car back (his beloved 1969 Ford Mustang). But ultimately, it's not about the car, it's about the letter and a photograph that is inside the car, which is from his deceased wife (Bridget Moynahan). It keeps that connection to his wife and love of his wife," Reeves explains.
In this instalment, Wick is forced out of retirement to keep a promise.
His situation is complicated by a $7 million bounty placed on his head.
Reeves sums up the complex John Wick etiquette of gangsters and assassins.
"The world of John Wick has a lot of rules. There is protocol and honour. If I ask for a favour and you say, 'Okay,' you get a marker and you mark it in blood.
"And then one day you can ask me to do whatever you want. Then once I do it, you mark it and then the mark is finished.
"If someone has my marker and I don't do what they ask me to do, I am killed by the world of the Continental. If I kill the holder of my marker, I am killed by the Continental. So, basically, it's a life or death bond."
The $7 million price tag seems a little steep even for one as formidable as Wick.
"No, not at all," Reeves disagrees.
"John Wick is a dangerous target and it has to be substantial." He continues without irony. "And really, I don't know what anyone is thinking that they can even try to kill John Wick. Actually, I don't think $7 million is enough."
Directed by Chad Stahelski, who also helmed the original film, it also stars Common, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Riccardo Scamarcio (widely cited as Italy's answer to George Clooney), who plays a villainous psychopath and crime lord.
Aussie Ruby Rose continues her current Hollywood purple patch by turning in an exciting performance as his mute security enforcer.
The film was shot in New York, Rome, and Montreal. "Ah, bella Roma," sighs Reeves.
"It was great that we got to shoot there in January, when there aren't many tourists and you can really experience. It was a little more tranquillo than usual. It was fantastic."
Next up for Reeves is the sci-fi thriller, Replicas, and then a possible third John Wick film.
"From my point of view and the filmmakers' point of view, we'd love to be able to continue the story of John Wick.
"I love the character and the world that is created. I want to live in that world and I want to know what happens to John. He has a lot going against him, but I am rooting for him," he says. "I always feel that the films are about him fighting for his life, and that's what so compelling."
Perhaps he could ask for a love interest next time around?
"That has been spoken about." He smiles.
"It's fun to think about the possibilities of where the story can go, and we have to keep to a certain tone. As the director likes to say 'There are no rules with rules'."
John Wick: Chapter 2 is now showing.