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The Day The Earth Stood Still - Keanu Reeves interview

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Interview by Rob Carnevale

KEANU Reeves talks about playing an alien in sci-fi remake The Day The Earth Stood Still, preparing for the role of alien invader Klaatu and why he’s so often been drawn to the genre.

He also discusses the possibility of Bill & Ted 3, where he might like to see the story go (like, it sounds totally excellent, dudes!) and what it was like to work with Jaden Smith (Will’s son)…

Q. You’re no stranger to science fiction. But what was the appeal of remaking The Day The Earth Stood Still?
Keanu Reeves: I figure it was just the story itself, much like Scott [Derrickson, the director]. The Earth is at a kind of crisis point, a crossroads, and humanity as well. I thought that would be a good place to start and I thought it would be fun to play an alien [laughs].

Q. You’ve often said you don’t want to go and repeat yourself in your movies. But you do keep going back to science fiction, so what draws you to that genre?
Keanu Reeves: I like the genre and this is a good story and a good role. What else did I do in science fiction? Johnny Mnemonic, The Matrix, A Scanner Darkly… but they’re all kind of different, they’re adventures, they’re film noir, they’re all odd [laughs] so I’m drawn to them for all those reasons.

Q. Do you enjoy watching the genre as well?
Keanu Reeves: Yeah, I grew up with science fiction and continue to read it. I kind of like the classics. I’m not an aficionado, but I like Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, and Philip K Dick. Scott hit me to some short stories of Ted Chang, which were pretty fantastic.

Q. How did you prepare to play an alien?
Keanu Reeves: I read the script and was just trying to get some information from that. The character has a scene where he’s born and is building up coming into himself… he tries to drink a glass of water and says: “This body will take some getting used to.” So, for me that was kind of my conceptual launch point – that there was a separateness of the consciousness of the being and its body. So, I went from there. The story sees him looking at humans to almost becoming human in a way, so I started from very far over there to the decision and sacrifice that he ultimately makes.

Q. When have you felt the most alien in your own life?
Keanu Reeves: Do I have to go there? I came up with an answer for this the other day and it was the first day in a new high school, so I’m going to stick with that.

Q. Klaatu obviously walks on water and brings people back to life. Could you say something about the religious aspect of the story?
Keanu Reeves: Hallelujah! Amen! Christianity is so inherent in western story-telling, you can’t really get around it. But it wasn’t something that drew me to it more or less.

Q. Do you think the film will be viewed differently in the Bush era in which it was made and released, as compared to the Obama era that will live on…
Keanu Reeves: Well, the film as a work of art can be looked at in different ways in terms of the historical moment we’re in at the moment. That will definitely influence how you view the film. The film can either be, well, it’s part of a hopeful moment of change and we can do this [change] and we can confront this crisis [global warming], or you can view it as a shout in the dark from an American point of view.

Q. With your English heritage and being raised on shows like Monty Python, how big a deal was it to work with John Cleese?
Keanu Reeves: When I heard about that, it was very exciting news. To meet him was fantastic. He’s a lovely, lovely man. Everyone on the set was so excited that he came to do that day of filming. He was very generous and it was great to spend those couple of days with him.

Q. How was working with Jaden Smith? Did you previously meet him on the set of The Matrix?
Keanu Reeves: He’s a young man! Lots of hair! He’s a good kid and he’s very professional, so I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to bond with him just because he was a young actor. I’d just say: “Hi, how you doing? Want to rehearse? No, OK, let’s shoot…”

Q. Are young actors from an acting parentage different from young actors who are not?
Keanu Reeves: Surprisingly, it’s the parents who are really different. Jaden has got a lot of support from his family, and obviously a lot of experience. But he had some tough scenes for a young person, to feel grief, fear and anger on the levels that he had, which would be a challenge for any actor. But he took them on and was great.

Q. Are you keen on supporting green issues?
Keanu Reeves: I think environmental issues are on everyone’s mind. It’s part of our culture now and I can only applaud and laud anyone who is doing what they can and raising awareness.

Q. You’re put into the position of assessing humanity in this film, but what do you think humanity’s saving grace is?
Keanu Reeves: Our saving grace! Um, as a species we can be pretty warm and fuzzy. But maybe for this, it’s the adaptability, or the heart and soul. We’re not all that bad. I don’t really know!

Q. Is there any chance of a return to comedy? And is there any truth to the rumours that there might be a third Bill & Ted film?
Keanu Reeves: Way back when I was younger, in my 30s, Alex (co-star and friend Alex Winter) and I used to talk about playing Bill and Ted in our 40s. But now he and I are in our mid 40s, so maybe we’ll have to talk about Bill and Ted in our 50s. What’s really cool about Bill and Ted, we made the film and some people liked it in our peer group, and then they went on to have children and Bill and Ted disappeared for a while but now they’re showing it to their kids. So, I’m getting little ones coming up to me once in a while and saying: “Be excellent!” [Laughs] In terms of getting a little longer in the tooth it’s quite neat to have that happen. I wouldn’t say no to another film but it would have to be a good idea, and there would have to be a reason to do it and we don’t have one right now!

We have spoken about it with the writers and we thought maybe if Bill and Ted, you know how they were supposed to save the world? Well, what if they didn’t? And so we see them and they’re still trying to write this one song that will save the world, but now they’re so fixated on writing that one song, they’re ignoring their children, their ignoring their wives, they’re like: “Don’t bug me!” So they’re doing this thing… and so the whole metaphor being this whole thing that’s supposed to save them takes away their lives and really it’s their kids that write the songs!

Q. Finally, what is your favourite movie remake?
Keanu Reeves: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’ll take that one, with Donald Sutherland.

Read our review of the movie