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The Well Mannered Mr. Reeves

Keanu Reeves goes public on his Private Lives

How much you may or may not enjoy The Private Lives of Pippa Lee depends on either a) your interest in a crowded genre (stifled housewife wonders if she has wasted her life) or b) your interest in watching good actors do interesting work with material that is less than top shelf.

(There’s also the rather smaller c), your interest in psychoanalyzing the theme of women fixated on fathers or their surrogates in this fourth film written and directed by Rebecca Miller, daughter of playwright Arthur.)

Robin Wright Penn plays the title role, a woman pushing 50 who seems to exist only as the supportive wife of an older man (Alan Arkin). After his third heart attack leads them to relocate from Manhattan to darkest Connecticut, her life seems to have bottomed out. But when her subconscious starts to act up in bouts of sleepwalking, Pippa looks back on the wild girl she used to be and tries to figure out just who she really is.

Adapted by Miller from her novel of the same name, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee can boast plenty of name-value performers in the roles of figures in Pippa’s past and present. Keanu Reeves co-stars as a younger neighbor going through a different kind of crisis, and there are juicy roles for Winona Ryder, Maria Bello, Blake Lively, and Julianne Moore; only Monica Bellucci, as the wife Pippa replaced, fails to make a positive impression.

Right around the time he was first spotted scouting locations in Buffalo for his upcoming film, Keanu Reeves appeared at a press conference for the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival. Polite to a fault (he address people he’s talking to as “Sir,” and refers to others as “Mister”). the actor fended off a fair share of questions that couldn’t be answered or shouldn’t have been asked. (Asked to discourse on the meaning of the beard he was sporting that particular afternoon, Reeves joked, “I’m afraid I can’t answer that question until I speak to my people.”)

Some other comments:

AV: What attracted you to this script?

Reeves: [My character] has about three or four different responsibilities in the piece and I was looking forward to trying to achieve those. He’s kind of a friend, he’s the weird neighbor guy, he’s in a way a lover. So I got to play three roles in one—that was kind of exciting.

AV: What do you think about making the transition from action films like The Matrix to playing more complicated characters in independent films like this?

Reeves: It was a great experience to work with such great artists and a story that I responded to. But it’s nice to do movie kung fu too. It’s nice to run and jump, just looking to entertain,

AV: The film’s title includes the phrase “private lives,” something that’s always an issue for people in the public eye. How do you feel about the pressure from the media to always want to pry into your own private life?

Reeves: I think we feel probably like how anybody would feel. You just want to have your privacy and the opportunity to do your work and live your life. Anytime where one isn’t allowed to do that, it’s frustrating.

AV: You spent a lot of your youth in Toronto. What’s it like coming back?

Reeves: It’s great. I grew up around here and it’s always nice to come back. I left [in 1985] when I was 20 years old. The city’s changed a lot. I remember coming to this festival in 1984, so this festival has grown a lot.

AV: You’ve had a long and successful career and you probably get to pick and choose your roles…

Reeves: [laughs, shaking his head] Is that what it seems like from the outside? Yeah…

AV: What do you consider the moment in your career where saw a turning point?

Reeves: I’ve had a few of those. Early days, even just starting out, I got an agent while I was playing Mercutio [in Romeo and Juliet] in a community center here in Toronto. So I went from community theater to trying to be a professional. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 20 years old and didn’t work for a pretty long time.

With Point Break, I got to do something that I don’t think I would’ve been the first choice for. But [director] Kathryn Bigelow saw something, and I got to run and jump and fire some guns—and that changed my life as well.

AV: Your co-star in Point Break was Patrick Swayze [who died the day before this press conference]. Can you share any memories of working with him?

Reeves: Just his passion, his lust for life, his craft. There were some skydiving sequences in this film, and as filming was going along Patrick was jumping out of airplanes all the time. I think he had over 30 jumps during the course of filming, so the production served him with a cease and desist [order] which he listened to until we got to Hawaii. And he kept jumping out of airplanes.

To me, he was very generous—and to everyone around him. He just lit up a room. He had a really good sense of humor. And I can just say from what I know of him that he lived life to the fullest.

AV: After more than 20 years in the film industry, how has it changed?

Reeves: When I first started out, there was a little more of a rock ’n’ roll feel, a little more of a carnival, gypsy kind of quality to how sets would feel when you go to work. The simple thing would be wrap beer. At the end of filming, the coolers would come out and people could have a beer and hang out and visit. And now it feels—this is not true all of the time, but the overall view—at least on the set in public, much more kind of… I don’t know if it’s corporate but it’s less rock ’n’ roll. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a lot of fun. People still have a wrap beer.

And then the majors are doing a different kind of level. Some of the films I did in the past [with a] $40 million [budget], like The Lake House, wouldn’t get made by a major anymore, really. But that gap is being filled in by other opportunities.

Watch the trailer for The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

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