It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Keanu Reeves is one of Hollywood’s greatest outcasts.
Despite being one of the best-known actors today, he is renown for a shy, solitary reputation and down to earth lifestyle, including a small apartment instead of a mansion, lack of fancy clothing, and a lack of any kind of bodyguard whatsoever. Keanu has even been recorded sharing his food with fans, and playing the gentleman while commuting on the New York subway.
Although acting may seem like a strange career choice for an introverted man who prefers solitude, Keanu claims to enjoy the intensity and concentration of his work saying, “I tend to focus on what I’m doing“.
For Reeves, acting provides the opportunity to become someone else momentarily. Someone less shy and withdrawn.
Keanu Reeves Before Fame
“I was kinda shy in school,” Keanu said in an interview, “but I also had the class-clown element about me. I was removed, but I was involved.” Although shy, Reeves’ ability to pretend from a young age, may have been what allowed him to become a great performer.
With a stripper as a mother and a drug dealer as a father, Reeves grew up in an unstable environment from a young age, learning to withdraw from the world outside to the world inside. After his father left his mother at the age of three, Reeves moved around frequently with his mother through various stepfathers in Canada, Australia and eventually New York.
Throughout the ensuing years, Reeves developed the ability to adapt to his surroundings without getting too involved. As Erwin Stoff, his lifelong manager from the age of 13 once pointed out: “Keanu is a really private person, he’s sort of perfected for himself a way of keeping a distance from people.”
Keanu Reeves Onscreen
Many of Keanu Reeves’ co-workers have observed the enigma of his personality. Bernardo Bertolucci director of Little Buddha for instance, said, “He has this incredible shyness or embarrassment.”
Dina Meyer who plays Reeves’ bodyguard in Johnny Mneomonic says, “He’s very quiet, very introverted,” she adds “You look at him, and you can see the wheels are turning, but you can’t figure him out—if he’s happy, if he’s sad … you just want to say, ‘What’s happening in there?’”
“I’ve worked with him for a year and a couple of months,” says his Constantine co-star Shia LaBeouf, “but I don’t really know him that much. I don’t think he hangs out with other humans that much.”
You won’t find a lot of people who say they know the real Keanu Reeves.
Online he’s become somewhat of a meme sensation for a series of recurring images picturing him as a downcast, lonely figure in Sad Keanu and then an ecstatic, jubilant figure in Happy Keanu. He’s even got his own official day on June 15 popularized by Facebook. It’s called “Cheer-Up Keanu Reeves Day“.
Keanu Reeves Struggles
When all is said and done however, Keanu’s stereotyped sadness and desire to keep distance from people may be justifiable.
Starting off, from a young age Reeves suffered from dyslexia. In his own words: “I didn’t finish high school. I did a lot of pretending as a child. It was my way of coping with the fact that I didn’t really feel like I fit in.” Despite his troubles reading, Reeves grew a love for Shakespeare. “I recite Shakespeare to calm myself down,” performing in many of his plays and receiving critical acclaim for his role as Hamlet.
In 1999, Reeves girlfriend Jennifer Syme in her eighth month of pregnancy gave birth to a stillborn daughter. In 2001 on her way back from a party at Marylin Manson’s house Jennifer Syme died in a car accident. Reeves was to begin filming the back to back sequels for the Matrix films that Spring. “Grief changes shape, but it never ends” he told Parade magazine.
If that isn’t enough, Reeves’ best friend River Phoenix died of a drug overdose in 1993. A few years later his younger sister Kim, at the age of 39, was diagnosed with Leukaemia. Thankfully his sister recovered, stimulating Reeves to donate 70% of his Matrix earnings to Hospitals that treat Leukaemia.
“I don’t want to flee from life,” Reeves said. “I know the beauty of it.” When asked if loss had changed him, Reeves said: “I’m trying not to be alone so much. And, man, it’s a struggle.”
Keanu Reeves Offscreen
As any introvert, Reeves still prefers solitude. In fact, for one of his birthdays, Keanu bought himself a cake from a bakery shop, started eating it alone, and offered pieces to fans that came up to him. And thus, Keanu’s “Sad Keanu” memes appeared.
Just like other introverts, Keanu suffers from the general misconception that he’s constantly sad, when in fact he just likes to do things alone. In fact, one of Reeves favorite solitary hobbies is taking long, solo motorcycle rides in the desert. Reeves is notoriously inscrutable onscreen as well as offscreen, displaying little emotion on his face. Though many say this produces flat acting, others say this has its own kind of depth.
In person, Reeves comes across as funny and charming — but excruciatingly shy. He doesn’t enjoy being interviewed, which he describes as “talking about one’s personal life to strangers. And we’re not even taking a train anywhere.”
In 2011 he wrote the narrating poetry for a book entitled “Ode to Happiness” illustrated by painter Alexandra Grant. Making a mockery of his own glum image, his narration is a self-pity/self-help book for the sake of laughter and happiness. One line reads:
“I draw a hot sorrow bath. In my despair room.”
The book ends with a single black hole and the words, “It can always be worse.”