The following post contains spoilers for Always Be My Maybe.
Keanu Reeves walked into his favorite haunt, the Chateau Marmont, wearing a black leather jacket and a motorcycle helmet. He was there for a meeting with Ali Wong and Nahnatchka Khan to discuss a potential role in Always Be My Maybe, the Netflix rom-com starring Wong and Randall Park that the internet practically willed into existence in 2016, which came out Friday. Maybe time stopped, or just slowed down to the speed where you could take in every millisecond, but Keanu Reeves’s entrance played out exactly like his eventual introduction in Always Be My Maybe: He floated in like a goddamned movie star. “I think the entire Chateau just went silent for a moment,” says Khan, the director of the film. “That could have just been in my head, but there’s a different aura about him. It was wild.”
Wong and Khan were looking to cast Reeves as a version of himself in extreme quotation marks. The “Keanu Reeves” in Always Be My Maybe would be a hyped-up, slightly aggro horndog whose stratospheric level of celebrity is exactly the point. “Like a tourist would expect to encounter in L.A. after stepping off a TMZ tour bus,” explains Mike Golamco, one of the co-writers. Reeves would be Sasha (Ali Wong)’s new love interest and foil to the sweet, but much more human-size Marcus (Randall Park) — the childhood best friend who has always, maybe, been the one.
Keanu Reeves was the first choice in the script, written by Golamco, Ali Wong, and Randall Park. “He’s the dream guy,” said Khan. “Like, we don’t know what his schedule is, but this would be amazing.” “We all thought it was going to be impossible to get him,” said Park. “What was the likelihood of him being available, and then also him being willing to play himself? So let’s try to think of other people that we could get.”
So they brainstormed backup ideas, including Tony Leung of Wong Kar-wai fame; Mark Dacascos, the chairman of Iron Chef America who also happens to square off against Reeves in John Wick 3; M. Night Shyamalan; and, well, Paul Giamatti — an idea that particularly tickled Park. “I thought that would be really funny,” says Park. “But Ali was like, ‘No, that’s not the direction I want to go in.’”
“It was very important to me that it be someone who was Asian-American who would also be Marcus’s worst nightmare,” explains Wong. “Because if Daniel Dae Kim” — Sasha’s fiancé in the beginning of the film — “showed up, you’d be like, Ahh! if you were Marcus. It’s got to be even worse than that. So it’s got to be someone who’s internationally iconic, and someone who fits those two Venn diagrams is basically Keanu Reeves.”
And yes, the point was to reclaim Keanu Reeves, who often speaks about his Chinese-Hawaiian heritage, as Asian-American. “It’s always been important to me, to express my desire and attraction toward Asian American men,” Wong later wrote me in an email. “Since I first watched Speed, I was very aware that Keanu was Asian American because my family and community wouldn’t shut up about it. Maybe other people didn’t know but I never forgot that.”
Back to the Chateau: Khan remembers Reeves as humble, funny, well-prepared, and a big fan of Wong’s stand-up. “He loved that she was just so ballsy. He was like, ‘You take no prisoners, and I love it,’” said Khan. “He was like, ‘I would be honored to be part of this love story.’”
“[Reeves] had read the whole script and was referencing very specific parts like, ‘Well, I have a question about page 80,’” said Wong. “We’re like, page 80? I had looked at this draft so many times, I don’t even remember what happens on page 80.”
“And then he was getting into the character already. He took my hand in his hand and just stared at me like, Hi. Kind of like he does in the movie and held my hand for an awkwardly long comedic time. It was unbelievable how much he committed to it already in that moment.”
After the meeting, Keanu Reeves’s people called Wong and Khan’s people and let them know: He was in. The question from there would be one of scheduling because Reeves would also be shooting John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum at the same time. Fortunately, the two teams found a window that worked and brought Reeves to San Francisco for their last four days of production, which happened to fall in the brief time period between Reeves’s shoots in New York and the Moroccan desert with Halle Berry. “It was really just serendipitous,” said Khan.
And they would always have the Chateau.
“God knows what I had, but we all remembered what Keanu ordered,” says Khan. “He ordered a Corona and the mixed nuts. I think I’ll always remember that, until my dying day.”