Male Lead (as narrated by Keanu Reeves during an "Inside the Actor's Studio" interview)
by Lidia Yuknavitch
This book I read, well, it's one that, no shit, changed my life. I know everybody says that kind of thing. This or that movie, this or that book, this or that song changed my life. It's a cliché is what I'm saying. I know that. For sure. But what I'm saying is that this book really did change the shape, direction and movement of my entire life. Hold on. I know what you're thinking. That guy, he's full of shit. He's just being overdramatic or self important or some other kind of crap. But I'm telling you. If you just give me a chance, I can explain. You'll see. You'll see it all.
I'm not saying I'm old or anything, but I'm at a place in my life where I can, you know, look back at things. For the first time. I mean, I'm half way through my thirties already. Fourty's just around the corner, you know what I'm saying? And I've got this . . . well, sort of different sense of my life. I can see patterns and shit. I can see shapes and the past as a kind of story type deal. So that means I can also see the parts that are more meaningful. And you know what the pisser is? It's not the stuff you thought was important when it was happening. The stuff you thought was the crisis. It's the stuff you thought was no big whoop that turns out carried all the importance. I think you know what I'm saying. Maybe not exactly, but pretty much you do, don't you?
The actor stops speaking momentarily and looks a little off into space. It's almost as if he's pausing to smoke, only the actor isn't smoking. As we've seen from several of his movies, he's not a very convincing smoker. He has this extraordinarily blank look on his face that it is quite possible only he can achieve. In fact this may be his true gift, his singular brilliance as an actor. That sort of "stunned to the point of drooling" look.
The man, on the other hand, is feeling self conscious as hell. He's having that old feeling he's had so many times before. The one that goes, what the fuck. What the fuck. Why am I doing this? Who are these people? This is the stupidest thing in the world. This is more stupid than sitting on your own toilet taking an enormous crap while drilling your own fucking nose.
The audience is filled with students. They are there to learn. Some of them feel lucky as crap to be there, such an accomplished actor, not old and out of touch but right there in it, man, living it. They just want to soak up what the man has to say. Others are more skeptical, they are waiting for profundity to reveal itself, or if not profundity, just something they can make direct and speedy use of. I'd be lying to you if I said that was everyone. There are also some students in the audience who think Keanu Reeves is an idiot, that he can't act his way out of a paper bag. Pretty much the only reason they came was to go drink later and make up one-acts spoofing Keana Reeves every move, every word, every gesture. They think it's a sorry ass racket when this Hollywood hack-of-a-loser no-talent stoner like can make it. And yes, they've heard Dogstar and it only confirmed their suspicions. They think things like Keanu Reeves is like Johnny Depp's retarded inbred cousin. They think things like this class is a waste of time. They think things like good thing we're stoned or this whole afternoon would be a bust.
The actor continues.
I mean, it's the weirdest goddamn thing, but art can truly change your life. I'm living proof. Case in point. Have you noticed that every movie Brad Pitt has made since he did Fight Club, he's just repeating the same character, the same mannerisms, the same movements? It's that book, that Fight Club book by that Palachuck guy . . .
Someone from the audience corrects him--Palahniuk. Chuck Palahniuk.
. . . yeah. That guy. Whatever. I heard Pitt fucking loved that book, that he thanked that guy that wrote it in the middle of filming a scene. I mean, that book changed his life, since it changed him as an actor.
Someone from the audience asks Keanu Reeves what book he's read that has changed his life.
Oh, I don't remember right now. All's I'm saying is you have to read literature. You have to get back in touch with stories and characters . . . that's where the art of it is.
In the audience, at least one woman's twat is itching. Even some of the guys' crotches twitch. I mean, he's a good looking motherfucker, in that sort of Alaskan white boy kind of way. Remember the guy that played Ed on "Northern Exposure?" Either somewhat Alaskan, or partially Japanese or Pacific Asian…He kind of has that look only more GQ. Right? So lots of the people in the audience are horny is what I'm saying.
There is also, however, a guy from Seattle with an MFA in fiction writing and a couple of published novels. He's smoking. He smokes like a guy who could be filmed smoking. The smoke barely escapes his parted lips and he doesn't squint or blow the smoke away. You know what I'm saying. And his hand doesn't look like a guy trying to hold a cigarette. It just looks like his hand's supposed to look. With the cigarette. Total screen success. He's pretty much Gapped out in his look, from Brook's Brother's glasses to fitted matte black jersey long-sleeved T to stone-washed khakis to black relaxed leather zip on the side sort of bourgeois leisure shoes. But his consumerism and name-brand exterior pales in comparison to the Keanu effect--some mix of Urban Outfitters/Used Puma pretend poverty/Sacks Fifth Avenue--and thus he looks rather minimalist next to Keanu. Classier than Keanu is what I'm saying. Less like an actor.
This guy is sitting there going jesus god, what a fuck. What a pretentious, clownish fuck. How does this asshole do it? I can see how he may have gotten his foot in the door, but christ, after he'd been around a while, opening his mouth and saying these kinds of things, didn't anyone notice? This guy decides right then and there that he will make a movie parodying Keanu Reeves in which a guy acting like Keanu Reeves plays James T. Kirk in a "Star Trek" episode where the aliens are books. Telepathic, bodiless, books.
Two rows back, one seat over. Her tiny shoulders. Her edged white face. Her ribs like those of a bird's. Black as a record album hair, tinted blue. She is so sharp and tight she is like quicksilver. As fast as shutter speed or clicking light. She has the kind of breathing that rushes to that place just under the throat. Her lungs keep it up there. Her eyes barely hold in their little sockets. They stutter from head to head. She can see words in the air around everyone, singing up then sputtering out like ashes from a fire. She stares so hard at times she feels she might go blind. See one thing she has to tell herself. See just one, small, thing. She almost can't do it, and for a moment it seems as if her eyes will jut away and out from her head altogether. And then a single, palm-sized object magnetizes her vision. Her breathing slows. Her shoulders let down. Her jaw and mouth slacken. Even her hair calms, her head tilting slightly to the left. It is an indigo blue earring dangling from the ear of a woman several rows up. She cannot see it, but the woman has no arms.
Looking at the backs of peoples' heads too is a sort of brains above average jock guy. He's looking at the Seattle guy going I bet that asshole has a goatee. I bet he smokes Dunhills. I bet his cigarette lighter is sterling silver. He's looking at the twitchy black and blue haired girl thinking this girl, she's gorgeous. Not in the conventional, anorexic, Gwyneth Paltrow way, the firm high barely there tits way, but in the I just got socked in the face and rolled in puddles on the bad side of town way. Like a bruise. If you ever saw She's So Lovely you know what he means by gorgeous. I'd bed her, he's going in his head, hell yeah. He's very close to becoming a Keanu, but he might get saved and become something more like a beefy stock broker. Of what Keanu has been saying he thinks dude, I know what you mean. I read a book like that once too.
What I'm saying is you have to have some mental gas man, some stimuli, inspiration, some juice to drive you. You can't just stumble along into things without some inner resources (Here the Seattle guy is going that's a fucking stolen line and I bet shit for brains doesn't even know it. That's a line from a poem. I confess, I have no inner resources. That's the fucking line. If he had any idea what he was talking about he'd know that the poet was making exactly the opposite point. This guy's like all surface … probably every experience he's ever had simply slides off of his skin like he's a linoleum table top. All sheen and glare (here the twitchy chick is thinking that is the most beautiful blue I have ever witnessed… it is so beautiful I think I might not be able to breathe, I think I might need medical attention. Her heart is racing faster than hummingbirds' wings and her forehead feels tight (Here the jock thud headed guy is thinking yeah, like how I always keep a book of Bukowski around, you know, to take the edge off of things…it's better than drugs. That Bukowski man, he knew what was what). ). ).
The actor stops speaking because the interviewer is engineering some more especially designed for Keanu Reeves questions. You know what I'm thinking, as I watch the way he sort of tilts his head to listen, and how he is gripping the arms of the chair in a kind of man way, and how his jaw occasionally looks strong, but from other angles slides into his neck (what's up with that?), and even how his eyes are almost black, I mean they must be dark brown, but they look black at times…I'm thinking that he wasn't so bad in My Own Private Idaho. I know, I can't believe I'm saying it either, but what I'm thinking is, in that role, there was this almost Shakespearian threshold which was both a limit to the character and a place of possibility. And that meant that his character could say truly idiotic things alongside truly profound things. And that was interesting. And he was good at it, and I think he was good at it because I get the sense that in real life he might be like that. He might say things once in awhile which are mainline brilliant but have no idea at all what it is that he has said.
And another thing. That movie The Matrix. On the one hand, this is a movie almost tailor made for quintessential Keanu Reeves ridicule. No question. All that running around with his head cocked to the side like an over-aged child, all that "am I the one" crap looping the plot along exactly like the plot line of Jesus, and Keanu with a hole in his head…you can't beat that. On the other hand, there was this sort of beauty to the aestheticized violence which, one could argue, could ONLY have been achieved by one Mr. Keanu Reeves. And I say that because he's as aesthetically pleasing-and as equally empty, as a greek statue. So all of those slow-mo shots of him dodging bullets or twirling through the air in a weird stop action wrestle flight thing…it's like animating a Michaelangelo, to a certain extent. Taking something static and making it dynamic. I mean think about it, if they had chosen a thinking man's actor, he could have never pulled it off. Can you picture Johnny Depp in that role? Or even, and I'm serious here, Brad Pitt? I think not. Maybe Tom Cruise…
Pretty much every other movie he ever made sucked ass. And I think you know what I mean.
It's like… it's like …. (long pause. I mean a pause so long it looks directed) like an actor has to be three different beings. First, you have to be a guy who can absorb words and actions and through a kind of transformation, morph yourself into something you are not. Secondly, you have to take your thinking and release it-no, really, shoot it out over a landscape away from yourself like you are sending thought across some giant corn field in Iowa. I mean you have to let your brain go that far away from yourself or you can't let the art inhabit you. Thirdly, you have to live the art while you are doing it, you have to be that thing, which means you can't be whoever you are in your ordinary life. It might even mean you have no ordinary life, because there isn't space or time, especially if you are getting a lot of work, there's no room for you to be you since you have to be these other…people. One hundred percent. So then what I'm saying is that acting alters being and knowing (Right this second the Seattle guy has something like a seizure, a flash, he is caught in a moment of almost pure understanding, like he's just comprehended Nietzche perfectly and without exertion (Exactly at this moment the girl made of points starts, her eyes suck open and lock onto the actor, her breath catching in her throat, but wide and long and true, not hitching at all (Instantaneously the bulky nearly cognizant but not quite there for the thickness of his muscle matter feels a slight tingle in his neck, which is actually a subtle rearranging of DNA, why, the boy may have a chance yet, it is entirely possible he will see something out of the corner of his eye which moves him toward thought, real thought, thought which forces one through crucibles of struggle, thought without answer or ending, thought driving one to be a hunger artist, a perpetual explorer, aimed at nothing and everything, as wide as the white of a blank screen). ). ). Yeah.
I have to admit, I like these "Actor's Studio" interview thingees. Did you see the Saturday night live spoof on them? Funny as shit. As I am turning the television off to go write, I notice that next week is Brad Pitt. I hope he talks about working with Robert Redford. Now that would be a good show. I'd bring popcorn and beer for that one. An actor on an actor turned director and independent filmmaking Saint. Fuck yeah.
I make my way to my desk. I've just now realized what I want the new screenplay to play out. It will feature a man whose conscious mind and subconscious mind are in reverse order. So that everything he thinks and says is as if he is using dreamspeak, as if he's crazy, as if he's not entirely here in the way that the rest of us are, but rather somewhere other, where language, image and thought break back down into arbitrary parts. On the inside will be his order and logic, the distillation of chaos into patterns one can live with, the image by image splicing together of a life into a linear narrative one can understand.
Sometimes ideas just come like that.