Twenty years ago, when The Matrix hit cinemas, everyone would have agreed that Keanu Reeves was at the top of his game. But since, seems to have climbed even higher, with hits like the John Wick series and a new Matrix film in the pipeline. Even better, the actor has stolen the hearts of millions with his down-to-earth personality and catalogue of cult classics.
With a career spanning comedy to heavy drama to sci-fi, there’s no end of Keanu facts and mysteries to unlock. Here are ten of the best.
10. Keanu has a diverse family history
Much like Steve Jobs, another cultural icon and the son of a Syrian refugee, Reeves has an amazingly diverse heritage. His father is Chinese-Hawaiian of Portuguese descent, and Reeves himself was born in Beirut.
This Hawaiian ancestry is reflected in Reeves’ name: ‘Keanu’ means ‘cool breeze’ in Polynesian.
Reeves has said he still feels connected to his Chinese heritage, and brings his family experiences to his performances.
9. Keanu ‘The Wall’ Reeves
Reeves is a huge ice hockey fan, and played on his high school team at De La Salle College “Oaklands” as a goalie. In fact, he was so good that was nicknamed ‘The Wall’.
He even had a job on the side sharpening ice skates, with a career in acting far from his mind.
Of course, sharpening ice skates isn’t as easy as it sounds. He had to make sure the points didn’t break.
8. He gives up his salary for good reasons
Watching Keanu Reeves on film, you can tell he’s passionate, compared to other actors who might occasionally phone it in. What’s more, Reeves’ actions suggest he isn’t really in it for the money.
When working on The Devil’s Advocate (1997), Reeves deferred a portion of his salary so Al Pacino could be cast.
It wasn’t a fluke, either. During filming of The Replacements (2000), Reeves took a 90% pay cut to get Gene Hackman in the picture.
7. His first real theatre work was Shakespeare’s last
Like many aspiring actors, Reeves appeared in small Shakespeare productions during his childhood, including as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet at Leah Posluns Theatre School. But his first theatre performance as a professional actor was a little different.
Reeves played Trinculo, an oafish plotter from The Tempest, which many believe was Shakespeare’s final sole work.
He tread the boards in 1989, the same year that Bill & Ted launched him to stardom, so it’s not surprising that Trinculo is a comedic role!
6. He was nearly in a Batman film
Thinking about it, Reeves would make a brilliant, if slightly strange, Batman. He already has the husky voice. But director Joel Schumacher – infamous to Batman fans far and wide – had something else in mind.
Had Schumacher not been fired after the abysmal reception of Batman and Robin (1997), his next film might have included Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Crane, better known as the Scarecrow.
Unlike the choice of Arnold Schwarzenegger for tortured scientist Mr Freeze, Reeves as the Scarecrow seems like an inspired choice. On the whole, though, it’s probably best that the film was never made.
5. He’s a leftie
Given his other quirks, it’s almost not surprising that Reeves is left-handed, but you wouldn’t know by watching him on screen.
In the John Wick film series, Reeves shoots with his right hand, and generally seems to favour it throughout. On the other hand is the Matrix, in which Keanu signs for a package with his left hand, but then opens the package and holds his phone in his right hand.
Either it’s a deliberate choice to show Neo’s fluid reality, or Reeves just couldn’t convincingly write with anything other than his dominant hand. Some things will forever remain a mystery.
4. He auditioned as Bill
Reeves ended up auditioning for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure alongside Alex Winter, his future co-star.
In the audition, Reeves played the part of Bill S Preston Esq, and Winter played Ted Logan.
In fact, producers had decided early in the process that Reeves would play Ted, and ended up auditioning 24 actors with him in order to find the right chemistry. Reeves and Winter connected over a shared love of bass guitars and motorcycles.
3. He had an intense relationship with River Phoenix
My Own Private Idaho (1991) was one of Reeves’ first major dramatic roles, and saw him in a lead pairing with River Phoenix, who was the same age.
The two were already good friends, and in fact it was Reeves who convinced Phoenix to take the part in spite of its small budget.
It was during production that Phoenix first developed the drug addiction issues that would ultimately bring about his early death at 23 years of age. Reeves has spoken candidly about grief, but rarely about how he deals with the death of Phoenix in particular, one of his closest friends.
2. He sometimes wore his mother’s costumes
Reeves’ mother was a costume designer, who during her career designed some iconic looks.
One of these was a bunny costume for Dolly Parton’s 1978 Playboy magazine cover, which at the time became a salacious issue for the singer’s otherwise clean, country image.
At a Halloween party as a teenager, Reeves once wore this exact costume. But who wore it better? Hopefully some photographs will some day come to light.
1. He believes he might one day catch on fire
Millions think Keanu is hot, but not quite as hot as an issue that Reeves takes very seriously.
Reeves believes that randomly setting on fire is possible, saying: “What would happen if you melted? You know, you never really hear this talked about much, but spontaneous combustion? It exists!… [people] burn from within… sometimes they’ll be in a wooden chair and the chair won’t burn, but there’ll be nothing left of the person. Except sometimes his teeth. Or the heart. No one speaks about this, but it’s for real.”
Everyone has their irrational fears, though this one does seem a little out of the ordinary. Let’s just be thankful that Keanu was never cast in The Wicker Man.