7 Filmmakers Share Their Favorite Keanu Reeves Stories

For three decades now, audiences have been falling in love over and over again with Keanu Reeves. We believe him when he’s saving the world, we believe him when he’s morally ambiguous, and in a few cases, we even believe when he’s the villain. He’s an actor who can transform himself, even when he remains so distinctly, well, Keanu Reeves.

Reeves continues to evolve with the times and only sharpens his skills. What’s not to love about an actor whose movies have blown minds repeatedly as his magnetism and depth deepen with time? Any artist at the stage of Reeves’ career and success who continues growing is doing something right. What has remained from the early days of his acting career is his sincerity and commitment. That sincerity, in particular, is infectious and a part of why audiences and filmmakers remain captivated by him.

With Bill & Ted Face the Music now in theaters and available on VOD, we interviewed directors who’ve worked with Reeves and asked them to share their favorite stories from their collaboration. Here’s what Richard LinklaterChristopher Kenneally, Matthew RossChad Stahelski, Dean Parisot, Francis Lawrence, and Rebecca Miller had to say about their time with the one and only Keanu Reeves.

Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly)

Keanu Reeves is a Philip K. Dick fan. It’s that understanding of Dick’s surreal prose that made Reeves the ideal Bob Arctor, who’s investigating himself in a world frighteningly similar to our own. “I was thinking about Keanu,” Linklater said. “My biggest thing about his quality is that, you know, I’m sure everyone says he has that good-hearted, kind-hearted guy quality. Not a suck-up, though, like he’s trying to be a good guy or impress anyone. He’s not running for class favorite. He’s not asking for your vote for anything. And yet, he exudes total decency.”

In Linklater’s eyes, it’s that total decency that makes him likable and relatable. “I think it’s from the jump,” Linklater continued. “Right at the start of River’s Edge you’re like, ‘Who’s that guy? I like him!’ Even though he’s fucking around in that movie or being a fucked up teenager [Laughs]. It’s an edgy and wonderful movie. I think his curiosity about the world and searchingness, all of that equals an interesting thing to look at, be around, or package.”

According to the filmmaker, how audiences perceive the actor is close to what it’s like working with him. “You’re just intrigued,” he said. “Whatever is going on in his head, it’s worthy of your attention.” Linklater and Reeves were always on the same page for the rotoscope movie. The filmmaker and actor wanted to make an authentic Philip K. Dick adaptation. “So many movies take the core idea and make a Hollywood film,” Linklater said. “Not all of them, but you know, we wanted the wicked humor, the sadness, and the loss, and Keanu clocked all of that so well. I don’t even remember having to say, ‘Now this is the sad part.’ [Laughs].”

The duo had a blast filming in Austin, tracking the trajectory of Arctor’s fractured mind. “That was just fun,” the director said. “We laughed a lot. The worse it was for Bob, the funnier it was for us, personally. As he’s described in the movie, ‘a husk of a person.’ We thought it was tragedy meets comedy. We share a similar view of the world, just that bummer quality. To Keanu’s credit, the fact that he’d be attracted to that character, he acknowledges the dark of that world. He’s not running from it. He’s not a sunny guy all the time.”

Christopher Kenneally (Side by Side)

Kenneally summed up what most directors told us about his frequent collaborator: “He’s a very curious mind. He wants to know how everything works. He wants to know what it means, why it’s happening, and what it does.” Kenneally first met Reeves on Henry’s Crime, which Reeves produced and the Side by Side director was the post-production supervisor on. “I had post-supervised movies before and I never saw the star-producer at all,” Kenneally said. “Keanu was there all the time.”

During the duo’s time together on the playful crime dramedy, that’s when the acclaimed doc Side by Side was born. “I got nothing but good things to say about the guy,” the director said. “He’s into film, but it’s more that he’s into art, knowledge, literature, and film, of course, falls into all that.” With over three decades in the business, Reeves’ wealth of knowledge made him an ideal interviewer for the doc. “He knows every aspect from the business side, the legal side, the distribution, the DPs, filmmaking, and acting,” Kenneally added. “He has a wealth of knowledge. Making Side by Side with him and having that person on your team, knowing all those aspects on filmmaking, was super helpful.”

Kenneally and Reeves wanted to make viewers a fly on the wall of the actor’s conversations with filmmakers. If there’s one filmmaker, in particular, that’s an absolute joy witnessing Reeves sit across from, it’s David Lynch. “Just hearing David Lynch saying Keanu’s name. ‘Well, Keanu…’ Kenneally said. “So, when we were about to go into David Lynch’s house, I thought, ‘This is crazy. What am I doing? I’m making a movie about digital cameras? Nobody gives a shit. What am I doing?’ It was that imposter-syndrome. Then I see Keanu out there, waiting to do the interview and he goes, ‘Hey, man… I’m so nervous.’ [Laughs] I thought, ‘Shit. We’re doomed if you’re nervous.'”

Matthew Ross (Siberia)

“Keanu is a pro’s pro,” Matthew Ross let us know. “One of the reasons why he’s so successful is he really pays attention.” In Ross’ Siberia, Reeves’ performance lives in the grey, playing a shadowy figure in the underground diamond world. On paper, Siberia is commercial, but the movie and the performance are unabashedly not. “There’s no attachment to stardom that I see at all,” Ross said. “He truly wants to make things he believes in and loves. It’s corny to say that, but it’s true.”

Ross described him as an actor who constantly wants to push himself, never settling for the familiar. “So many people want to go back to their wheelhouse and do what works,” the director said. “Keanu is not interested in doing that. He’s a real artist, who wants to try new things. Creatively, risks are great, but in the business, they can really hurt you if they don’t work. He’s willing to take that hit because he’s deeply committed to exploring things as a creator, as a creative person. I have so much respect for that.”

While Reeves is famous for his most overtly physical skills in action movies, he puts as much commitment and focus into, for example, studying a diamond. “There’s a scene where he has to pick up a diamond with a set of tweezers,” Ross said. “He holds it up to his eye and looks at it. Now, I would challenge anyone to do that properly after a month. It’s one of these deceptively, unbelievably difficult things to do. Keanu spent weeks practicing.” For what’s not even a one-minute scene, Reeves had the prop team replicate the diamond and kept practicing until he looked legit doing it. “He just wanted to get it right,” Ross added. “I wanted somebody who works in the diamond business to see him pick up the diamond and feel it’s right. Keanu was like, ‘Yeah, 100%.’ I didn’t even have to tell him that. People spend years perfecting that craft. Keanu had to figure it out in three weeks, but he doesn’t take shortcuts.”

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Chad Stahelski (John Wick franchise)

Stahelski and Reeves go way back. The John Wick filmmaker and co-founder of 87eleven was once Reeves’ stunt-double. As Stahelski made evident to us, Reeves is the driving heart and soul of the franchise. “When you talk to people who are into it, ask them why they like it, and I think a big part of it is, and this is not to be underestimated, it’s Keanu Reeves,” the former stuntman said. “I’m trying to bare my soul and who I am and how I tell the story, but never underestimate that that is Keanu Reeves up on screen giving it his all. If you saw the guy work it would choke you up.”

Director Howard Deutch (The Replacements) once described Reeves as an actor who leaves it all out on the field. Stahelski agreed. “This guy is putting everything into every shot,” he said. “Doesn’t leave set, the last guy to leave the gym at night, always comes with ideas. This is his gig and this is his franchise. This is him pouring himself onto that screen. So, just the love he puts in, I think that’s a big part of the magic sauce that makes John Wick such a brilliant thing to so many different types of people.”

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Dean Parisot (Bill & Ted Face the Music

There’s a sincerity about Theodore “Ted” Logan that coming from Reeves plays as genuine, and according to Parisot, the same is true of his dynamite scene partner, filmmaker Alex Winter. When it comes to Bill & Ted, you can’t talk about one without the other. “They’re honorable, they’re professional,” Parisot said. “They work like crazy. They’re funny, and they’re smart as hell. A complete pleasure and makes it easier, because you’re all in the same boat together. You’re not fighting each other.” Reeves, as every director told us, is a positive presence on set. “It’s a collaboration, and they both understand that. They both made movies themselves, and they know that, that’s how it works best, is when you’re all trying to solve this problem. You might have different opinions, but you’re all passionate about it, and you’re all working towards it, and it’s not cynical. That’s who they are.”

Francis Lawrence (Constantine)

Constantine is one of Reeves’ major Hollywood films, but there’s nothing Hollywood about his performance as John Constantine. He’s an anti-hero who’s more selfish than selfless, at least until the end. During the making of the movie, director Francis Lawrence saw Reeves as an actor who wants a project to reach its full potential: “He likes to have a say, but it comes from a great place. You hear horror stories about people wanting a big say out of a place of vanity. That’s certainly not the case with Keanu, who wants a say because he feels passionate about it. When he said yes, he’s just not looking for a paycheck. He loved the character, the world, the story, and the possibilities for the movie.”

Similar to John Wick, there is an air of sadness around John Constantine. They’re tortured heroes, not idealized heroes. A shot of Constantine alone on his bed and in his dim apartment, with his back to the camera, is the sort of melancholy that doesn’t feel fake, either. “I do think, and I think I said this back then, there is something kind of tortured about Keanu and something lonely about Keanu,” Lawrence said. “I think there are elements of him that lent themselves to Constantine. I think it’s something he didn’t have to push. He’s a great guy, works really hard, and is fun to be around — but there is that element to him that comes across on screen. I think that’s why he can be there, be quiet and silent and act, and you can still feel those things.”

Rebecca Miller (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee)

Rebecca Miller, known for Maggie’s Plan and The Ballad of Jack and Rose, is a storyteller whose movies call for nothing but honesty. They require real deal intimacy, and it was Reeves’ intimacy in My Own Private Idaho “along with a grand tragic quality” that spoke to Miller. “Keanu has a beautiful spirit, a sort of calm in him, which makes him very magnetic on screen,” she wrote to us. “He also really listens, and that’s so attractive in a male character especially. I love the scenes where Pippa (Robin Wright) is talking and he’s listening so intently. There’s a real sexual charge that comes out of that listening.”

That charge is even there when the Beirut-born actor says Pippa Lee’s name off-screen. Even Reeves’ voice, Miller wrote, helped tell her complex story: “Keanu has a deep, sonorous voice, very masculine but very warm. He seems to be both keeping his guard up, and inviting you to break it down. That’s the story of his relationship to Pippa so it was perfect.”

The sincerity Reeves brings to all of his roles, as the director put it, is one of his signature talents. “I felt he could attack the dry humor with no sentimentality,” she wrote. “Keanu doesn’t do a lot of embellishing. His acting is sort of pure that way. That was what I wanted with Chris— someone whose purity made ordinary people very uncomfortable. His humor comes from the fact that he is so unvarnished, so honest.”

If there’s a day Miller will never forget working with Keanu Reeves, it’s his introduction as the one and only Chris Nadeau. “I remember with special fondness the scene where Pippa first meets Chris,” Miller wrote. “He’s shirtless and has a huge tattoo of Christ on his chest. He swings open the door to answer her knock and she doesn’t know where to look.” The memory didn’t just stand out to Miller because of Keanu’s character work, but because it also illustrated Keanu’s enduring appeal as a singular performer. “There is something so great about Keanu’s absolute maleness combined with deep sensitivity, and a sense that he doesn’t quite belong in society— he’s a perpetual maverick. That’s what the character of Chris is, in his way, and that’s what Keanu is: a being from another dimension, yet deeply human at the same time.”

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