It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Keanu Reeves in a big studio movie like The Matrix, but meanwhile he’s been busy taking his chances on indie films. His latest? Generation Um..., where he plays chauffeur to a pair of high-end call girls (Adelaide Clemens and Bojana Novakovic) who agree to make a home movie with him, documenting their life of sex, drugs, and nocturnal carousing.
While he still has that youthful grin, Reeves is pushing 50 (believe it or not), which has got him thinking of a life behind the cameras: Producing movies like Henry’s Crime and Side By Side, and directing the upcoming Man of Tai Chi. When we caught up with him during a rare free moment from his busy schedule, Reeves was in high spirits talking about successes and failures, his best birthday ever, and playing a director in the new movie while simultaneously making his real-life directorial debut.
How did you get involved with this film? We haven’t seen you in awhile.
"I found out about this script when I was making Henry’s Crime. The producer, Alison [Palmer], was working on that picture and she showed me a script and I was like, 'This is amazing.' After that, I’ve been away a couple of years working on another movie. So that’s why I haven’t been around. I also did a documentary called Side by Side, that took some time, and I was working on 47 Ronin, which hasn’t come out yet. And I was directing a film called Man of Tai Chi."
What does the title, Generation Um... mean?
"It’s not just a decade generation or something like that. It’s X, it’s Y, it’s now, it’s the past. If anything, it’s all about the moment. And in this moment there’s an ellipsis, there’s an 'um' and there’s the word 'generation.' And I think it’s asking a question. It’s asking for interpretation, which is a kind of connection. And I think the characters in the film are seeking to connect but are damaged and have circumstance."
What was it like to play a director, and be one at the same time?
"John gets to ask a couple of questions, but he’s dealing with some pretty wild lions in these two ladies. I think that’s one of the problems, he has one intention and the character, Violet, says, 'Let’s make this a show! It’s my show!' And John says, 'Okay, so what is your show? What is friendship?' He goes on an expedition investigating their apartment. As we were acting a scene, another part of me was like, 'Okay, this is a really important line for this character, so make sure the headroom’s okay.'"
He has that line about being a failure. You’ve had so much success, how do you relate to a line like that?
"Oh, well we all feel our disappointments, don’t we, somewhere at some point? Life is full of strife. No, I could completely relate to some of that."
How important is music to you in a film? And what are you listening to lately?
"Haven’t been listening to much music recently, but there have been moments in the past where I’ve listened to particular music going into a scene, in preparation or for inspiration. On this particular project, I didn’t. But there are rhythms and I don’t know if it’s necessarily — certainly it could be connected to musicality, dialogue, the rhythms of a scene. We make a determination if the rhythm is right or wrong or if it feels good or bad."
You turn 49 in September. What was the best birthday gift you ever received?
"The best birthday gift I ever received? Well, my friends threw me a wonderful thirty party, a surprise birthday party when I turned thirty."
Photo: Everett Collection/Rex USA.