With four “John Wick” movies, “The Matrix” franchise, “Constantine,” and “Point Break” under his belt, Keanu Reeves is a true action star. No one — fight me on this — has a more soulful look in his eyes while absolutely physically decimating someone. It’s like Reeves’ characters take fights like they were blows to his emotions rather than his kidneys.
It’s clear from his film choices, including his directing and starring in “Man of Tai Chi,” that physicality is an important aspect of performance for Reeves. He recently spoke about it on an episode of “The Art of Action,” talking about his history with movement and sports and how it allows him to explore the physicality of a character. It’s something you learn in acting class (that you don’t always see on screen), the idea of connecting your emotions to movement. We don’t think about it during our everyday lives because it’s instinctual, and when you’re trying to remember fight choreography and lines, it’s not easy to do. Yes, you turned that way and punched that guy, but what did that mean for you? Why was this punch going to be effective, or were you so caught up in the emotion that you just flailed your arms out and hit someone? It comes across more than you realize when you’re doing it.
It’s interesting to note that he’s always been physical. Reeves actually originally wanted to play ice hockey for the Canadian Olympic team before acting took a front seat in his life at the age of 15.
‘I enjoyed the physicality of character’
In the “Art of Action” episode, Keanu Reeves said he studied fencing, dance, stage combat, and movement to better understand the connection between characters and his body. He said:
“I just really enjoyed that, you know? I enjoyed the physicality of character. Whether it was pretend, playing on the street, you know when you’re playing war and chestnut fights there’s a kind of imagination going on into the physicalization, you’re constructing stories whether it’s our tribe, us vs. them, you know you’re playing. So that idea of character and physicalization, dramatic conflict, felt very organic to me, and was a place where I liked to play.”
I find the idea of a young Keanu Reeves chucking chestnuts at his friends while playing war in Toronto, where he grew up oddly comforting. In a 2013 Reddit AMA (via The Star), Reeves spoke about his early Olympic dreams as well. He said:
“I always thought it would be cool to play for the Canadian Olympic team. When I was 15, I decided to become an actor. And so I started taking acting classes and doing community theater, and then I played John Proctor in a high school play called ‘The Crucible,’ and from that moment I decided — they always ask you when you’re coming out of school or university what you want to be, and I knew then that I wanted to become an actor.”
I’m glad he became an actor because a movie world without Keanu Reeves is a sad place indeed.
“John Wick Chapter 4” is currently in theaters.