For Reeves, typecasting is, well, bogus

By Bob Strauss

Los Angeles -

What?s in a name?  If yours is Keanu Reeves, you?ve probably pondered that question once or twice.  (Keanu, by the way, is a Hawaiian appellation.)

Names have had an usual impact on the 26-year-old Lebanon-born, Toronto-raised actor?s movie career.

Of course, there?s Ted, the California heavy-metal kid Reeves is famous for playing in the comedy "Bill & Ted?s Excellent Adventure" and its sequel, "Bill & Ted?s Bogus Journey," which opens in Chicago Friday.

Reeves is so natural as the good-hearted, air guitar-playing airhead that is has become his signature film persona.  When he played a similar character in Ron Howard?s "Parenthood" a few years back, the young man bore the Ted-like name Todd.

But Reeves can also be seen on screens this month as a guy far removed from the dumb-but-lovable California teenager.  This guy?s name is Johnny, Johnny Utah.

"One of the things I dug was his name," Reeves, 26, said of his undercover FBI agent in the unusual action thriller "Point Break," now playing in Chicago.  "I?m playing Johnny Utah, y?know?  The energy from that name, like Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana - it?s all in there."

As do a lot of people in Kathryn Bigelow?s ("Near Dark," "Blue Steel") philosophical thrill ride of a movie.  After injuries spoil his pro-track possibilities, college football star Johnny Utah joins the FBI.

His first big job out of the Los Angeles office is to track down a bank-robbing gang called the Ex-Presidents, whose members stage their bloodless, daylight heists wearing Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon masks.

By the film?s climax, the once-cocky Utah has betrayed everybody he has grown to care for and every simple belief he once had faith in.

For the role, Reeves learned to surf; despite having a Hawaiian father, he?d spent little time riding waves beforehand.

Reeves also jumped out of airplanes, though not for any of the film?s exhilarating skydiving shots.

"I jumped at 12,500 feet, pulled my own cord," Reeves said proudly.  "But I didn?t do it for the film because of money.  The money aspect of the film was very concerned about twisted ankles and death.  We all jumped, but we didn?t tell each other."

Reeves and the ex-Presidents filmed their airborne scenes on a complex system of cranes and platforms.  After principal photography was completed, Swayze went up with stunt divers and camera crews to shoot actual footage of himself free-falling.

Reeves would have joined him, but a day after "Point Break" filming wrapped, he had to go to Oregon to work on his next movie.  Due to be released in October, "My Own Private Idaho" is the new film by the acclaimed director of "Drugstore Cowboy," Gus van Sant Jr.

Unlike, perhaps, Johnny Utah, Reeves has had an inner compass for professional integrity in fine operating order since his highly praised film debut, as the conscience-stricken member of a gang of disaffected youths in the 1986 crime drama "River?s Edge."  The ethical questions that film brought up were echoed in other thoughtful performances in "Permanent Record" and "The Prince of Pennsylvania."

More recently, Reeves has been branching out into a wider variety of roles and films.  He played the young swain Danceny in "Dangerous Liaisons"; a 50's radio writer infatuated with his sexy, widowed aunt in "Tune in Tomorrow"; and alongside William Hurt, half of a stoned-out, inept assassin team in Lawrence Kasdan?s "I Love You to Death."

Still, despite his demonstrated versatility, Reeves remains Ted in most moviegoer?s minds.  It bugs him, but about as much as anything else seems to - not much.

"As an actor, typecasting is death - unless you want to support the ranch that you own and the small plane that you want to buy.  Then, I guess it works because people are buying the gig.  But myself, I?d like to do a lot of different things.  That?s the challenge, the test, the scary part and, also, the interesting aspect of acting."

Los Angeles Daily News


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