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Vulture Explains ‘Sad Keanu’ to Keanu

At the Woodstock Film Festival this weekend, Keanu Reeves accepted an excellence in acting award and kicked off the American premiere of his bank-robbing comedy Henry’s Crime. Meanwhile, all over the Internet, versions of “Sad Keanu” — Photoshopped riffs on a paparazzi photo of Keanu eating a sandwich on a park bench — are multiplying. Only, Reeves has never seen them. So we spoke to him about his new film, his increasing involvement in his new production company Company Films, but, most important, we explained his meme to him. His thousands of Photoshop-happy fans will be happy to know that Keanu not only approves, he thinks it “sounds conceptually funny.”

So you’re in Woodstock, not too far from where Henry’s Crime is set, and it’s also your first time producing, right?
Yeah, I started a company called Company Films with a friend of mine called Stephen Hamel, who’s really great at developing. We started working on Henry’s Crime about four and a half years ago. We found some dough to pay Sacha Gervasi [The Terminal, Anvil!] to write a script, then we developed it and found some money to make a film. I sort of took this film from beginning to end.

Was part of the appeal digging into a comic role?
Yeah, we set out to make a kinda comedic romance with a crazy idea about a guy who works at a tollbooth and who kind of inadvertently ends up being the driver for a bank robbery and gets caught, and instead of going back to his life, decides not to speak and goes to jail. Then he comes out of jail and decides to go back and rob the same bank to change his life, falls in love with an actress, then there’s a Prohibition tunnel that goes from the theater to the bank, then he ends up having to play Lophakhin in The Cherry Orchard in order to get access to the tunnel to rob the bank …

Whoa. That is nutty. Are you enjoying the opportunity to do some comedy now that you’ve done so much else?
Well I feel like I’ve been doing that all the time, even back to Feeling Minnesota, or The Last Time I Committed Suicide, or …

Sorry, you’re right! You’ve always done funny roles in between the serious roles: Even Thumbsucker or Something’s Gotta Give … Can I take that back? Terrible question!
Yeah! [Laughs] Even at the beginning of River’s Edge, or My Own Private Idaho

Okay, okay … I said I’m taking it back … Terrible question! I know!
Well, it’s been so long — it’s like, Oh, yeah, that’s like fifteen years ago …

Well, congratulations on receiving the excellence in acting award at Woodstock. You know, your acting has always been divisive. People love you or hate you.
Yeah, yeah …

What do you make of that?
Yeah … To me, I totally understand there are people who really understand my work. And I get that there are other people who are perplexed and confounded and whatever else. Which is fine. You just hope people like your work and the films you’re a part of.

My theory is that you’re not showy like other actors. So much is internal, there’s always this mystery and this way that people have to project themselves into your parts …
You know, I think it depends on the role. A role like A Scanner Darkly, I feel like that guy’s pretty open. Or that character in Street Kings or even in Thumbsucker. In Henry’s Crime, he’s a guy who opens up, he’s a guy who’s neither asleep nor awake in this journey of self-actualization. Eventually, he takes more control of his life. If you’re going to be critical and don’t like the more internalized take on some of my characters that turns into a kind of activation, then, well, you won’t like this one. This guy goes from a guy who works at a tollbooth at night, to a guy who’s improvising as Lophakhin in The Cherry Orchard to win a woman’s love.

I hear shooting at Niagara Falls was an adventure.
You know, the D.P. was like, “How am I supposed to light one of the seventh wonders of the world with a lightbulb?” So our producers were like, “Well, we’ll talk to Canada.” And Canada kindly shone a white light onto the falls. When they did, it was twelve degrees, nobody around, very romantic.

And you get to work with James Cann. Does he just come in with an idea of what he wants to do and then he does it?
If you can convince him otherwise, then it’s fine. No, he is very collaborative as an actor. And we haven’t seen this Jimmy Caan in a while, hilarious and charming. He’s a force of nature.

As an actor, was it distracting to also be producing for the first time?
Yeah, I had to get better at that. I had to work at my compartmentalizing skills. The basic thing is that when you’re acting, the emotions are your responsibility. That’s where you have to go and what you have to do: This is my character, this is my feeling. And when you’re producing, you’re dealing with … other people.[Laughs] So there’d be moments when I was dealing with me and my character and my work and then it would be: “Oh, now I have to go talk to that person who’s freaking out and figure out what they’re feeling … ” Oookay …

Related: Vulture’s Complete Field Guide to the Facial Expressions of Keanu Reeves [Vulture]

You’re taking over the Internet. Have you seen all the “Sad Keanu” stuff out there?
My publicist showed me the photo, but no.

There’s not one photo. There are millions. You’re Photoshopped next to kittens and into Pulp Fiction and next to the cast of The Breakfast Club, and in a million different ways. Have you seen those?
Oh, that’s funny! No, no, I haven’t seen them.

There are millions, really. Google “Sad Keanu.” You haven’t?
[Laughs.] No.

Seriously, though, this is one of the reasons I think one of the big appeals of you as an actor is that people are always straining to figure out what’s on your mind, what you’re thinking, why you’re sad … There’s thousands of people doing this.
Wow. So, what, now they’re putting me next to other objects?

Yes! For instance, right now I’m looking at you in some Banksy graffiti, you next to a panda.
That’s so funny.

You with a cheerleader, but you don’t notice her …
Oh, that’s funny. So they like take paparazzi pictures and re-contextualize them? Funny.

Well, it sounds like harmless, good clean fun.

What do you make of how your fandom is changing?
I don’t know, I haven’t seen it. That one, well, I guess, though, when you think of how bad that stuff can go, that sounds like a pretty good clean fun one to have happening.

Given the options …
Yeah, I haven’t seen them. But given the scope and scale of what can happen out there, that sounds like an all right one. It sounds conceptually funny. [Laughs.]

So now you’re wrapping up Generation Um
Yeah, it’s been a twenty day shoot, which we’re wrapping up this week. I’m working with a first-time narrative director, Mark L. Mann, who did a documentary, Finishing Heaven, which was nominated for an Emmy. We’ve been shooting on the streets of Brooklyn and in Manhattan and that’s been fun.

And the plan’s to keep balancing out the small indies with bigger studio films?
I hope so. Hopefully I’ll be working with Universal on 47 Ronin starting in the beginning of the year: It’s a mythical Japanese story, kind of a Western, a story of revenge — samurai who want to avenge the death of their lord — and I’m very excited about that. [At Company Films,] we’ve got a film called Passengers, which was at Morgan Creek, and a script by a writer named Mark Andrus called Bloom, and the director Scott Ellis. So we’re going to try to cast that up and get some dough for it. And we’ve got some drafts of some stories coming in from these writers Mark Hyman and Kristin Gore. Trying to make movies!

Related: Vulture’s Complete Field Guide to the Facial Expressions of Keanu Reeves [Vulture]

Vulture Explains ‘Sad Keanu’ to Keanu