Keanu Reeves has enjoyed a career that has spanned four decades, and he’s had parts in some of the more memorable films in that time. The soft-spoken star has also aged well, some say a little too well, but why is it that Reeves has morphed into a pop culture phenomenon? He’s been dubbed the “Internet’s Boyfriend” and is the inspiration for countless memes, but what truly sets Reeves apart from his peers?
In the late 2010s, Reeves helped create the successful John Wick movie franchise, landed a spotlight-stealing part in Always Be My Maybe, and got a piece of the Toy Story empire. This Keanuassaince has introduced him to a new generation of fans and rekindled the torch for many other supporters, but make no mistake, his ascension began long before all this. In fact, his mythic status has been slow cooking for many years.
Wondering why everyone loves Keanu Reeves? The truth is, there is no one thing that made Reeves what he is today. The cult of Keanu was forged through a combination of events and personality traits that have endeared him to his ever-growing audience. Let’s take a look at some of his biggest moments along the way.
Keanu Reeves has a 'peculiar' acting style
Keanu Reeves doesn’t have the perfect film reel. No actor does. He’s had roles that have been slammed by critics, such as his turn as Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and others that some celebrate in hindsight for their awkwardness, like him playing Johnny Utah in Point Break. His acting style has been classified as “vacuous” and even strange, part accurate and part bleed-through from his early roles playing airheads in some capacity.
Throughout his career, Reeves has managed to both impress and disappoint audiences with the same performance. As Film International stated in 2011, “His biggest asset as a performer has simultaneously been the largest source for his derision in critical and public circles: his instinctual, reactive ability to capture a character in a series of empty-eyed stares and monosyllabic line readings.”
In time, Reeves’ past performances, even the reviled ones, would be viewed with a new appreciation. According to The New Yorker, “The peculiarities of Reeves’s acting style have come to be seen more generously.” Filmmakers, too, came to understand the actor and utilize his strengths. Film International suggested that Reeves is a reactor, and his popularity is a result of good timing and good usage. “Thanks to Reeves,” the outlet notes, “the acting component of prior generations is finally an inessential piece of the filmmaking puzzle. Plugging in a vacuous body and allowing his personality to be refracted onto him as a reaction to everything else is, at long last, totally acceptable.”
Keanu Reeves is a quiet kind of celeb
Despite his long-held superstar status, Keanu Reeves has managed to remain relatively unknown. He doesn’t say much, and, when he does, he adds in a touch of mystery, a dash of humility, and a sprinkle of thoughtfulness. His reserve helped create an allure, even amongst his coworkers. “He’s very quiet, very introverted,” Dina Meyer, Reeves’ Johnny Mnemonic co-star, told People. “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?'”
In addition to some of his roles, Reeves’ quiet demeanor has led some to think him dim. In reality, it’s given him the chance to surprise people. “I’ve never played stupid to keep someone distant. I don’t play stupid,” he said to Vanity Fair in 1995. “Either it’s been a failure on my part to articulate, or my naivete, or ingenuousness, or sometimes it’s the nature of the form.”
As stated in GQ‘s “The Legend of Keanu Reeves,” he is acutely aware of an interview’s trappings: “When you ask him a question on the record, he’s already thinking about how his answer will read. He can see the celebrity profile he’s being interviewed for, like it’s streaming past him as a wall of green code.” This isn’t new behavior. In 1991, Reeves erased and re-recorded a portion of a Los Angeles Times interview because he, humbly and self-consciously, didn’t think his thoughts on acting were worth reading.
Keanu Reeves is good when no one's watching
There are plenty of stories of celebrities doing nice things, especially when the cameras are on. Yet, few actors seem to be caught in the act as often as Keanu Reeves. Even the paparazzo who sued Reeves in 2007 after allegedly being struck by his car testified that the actor was “cordial to him even after the trial began,” as per The Hollywood Reporter.
Small, random acts of kindness have helped elevate Reeves into a symbol of benevolence. In 2011, a video began circulating of the actor on a subway. Seemingly unaware that he was being filmed, Reeves showcased his gentlemanly side and gave up his seat to a female passenger. In 2019, Reeves got his name trending again after his flight was cancelled, and he took a bus to his destination with other passengers, regaling them with Bakersfield, Calif. trivia.
Reeves’ kindness predates cell phone videos, as well. Octavia Spencer told Meredith Vieira that, before she was famous, her car broke down in an intersection, and Reeves stopped and pushed her to safety. James Dator of SBNation tweeted out his own personal story from 2001, when Reeves showed up at the movie theater he worked at. He tried to trick the actor into signing an autograph by giving him an employee discount. A confused Reeves refused because he didn’t work there, but he returned later with an ice cream and a signed receipt. “I realized you probably wanted my autograph,” he said.
Keanu Reeves: the anti-celebrity
Keanu Reeves seems different than most celebrities. Sure, his performance style has been called “anti-acting,” but it’s more about how he’s carried himself during his lifetime in the limelight. His seemingly unconscious and unconventional fashion choices led GQ UK to call him the “prince of grunge,” as much of his style would later become trendy. Particularly early on, he also rejected the lavish lifestyle of the Hollywood elite and chose a nomadic path.
“I’ve had a vagabond life,” Reeves told People in 2006. “There is a bit of the gypsy in me, and living that way seemed to make sense. I couldn’t settle down. I liked going to new places — renting apartments, staying in hotels.” Not only does he emit an anti-celebrity energy, Reeves also has a documented history of making decisions that run counter to the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
According to reports, after the success of Speed, Reeves went to Winnipeg, Canada for a three-week theater stint of Hamlet that paid $2,000 a week, turning down a role in Heat along the way. Years later as a bona fide superstar, Reeves was caught waiting in line to get into a wrap party for his own film, in the rain. If he acts like he doesn’t care that he’s famous, it’s probably because he never wanted for that side of the business. In 1992, Reeves told TV Hits (via Whoa Is Not Me), “I don’t want to be super famous, man! That would be awful.”
Keanu Reeves and the great Matrix money myth
Money doesn’t rank high on Keanu Reeves’ priority list. He made this clear when he turned down Speed 2 and its reported $12 million contract. He later told Jimmy Kimmel that he shied away because “a cruise ship is even slower than a bus.” That makes sense. According to the Wall Street Journal (via ABC News), Reeves took a significant pay cut on The Devil’s Advocate, so that they could pay Al Pacino’s contract demands. Apparently, he did the same on The Replacements for Gene Hackman.
Yet, that was peanuts compared to what he was rumored to give away on The Matrix. According to Hello! magazine and numerous other reports, Reeves decided to donate most, if not all, of his earnings from those films. Depending on the source, the value of his donation ranges from $35 million to $100 million. One thing most agree on, however, is that Reeves gave it to members of the film crew. However, Kym Barrett, one of the rumored beneficiaries, spoke to Fox News and dispelled that myth. “I mean, he’s very nice,” she said. “He plays with my kids. We love working with him, but no, no checks.”
The truth of the matter is still flattering for Reeves. According to Fox News, before the first film got rolling, “He put some of his upfront money back into the production budget to ensure the creative staff — costumes, special effects etc. — could continue working on the trilogy.”
Keanu Reeves is known for his kindness and good manners
One of the biggest reasons that Keanu Reeves is revered by fans, the media, and coworkers alike is because he presents himself in a very positive way. He is a nice person and he treats others well. He’s been filmed traversing an airport on his birthday, being stopped by nearly every fan to take a picture with them, which he does without objection.
In a 2000 Rolling Stone interview, it was said that Reeves “seems to make a huge effort to be polite.” The magazine also noted that “there is an agony involved,” suggesting that the actor’s lengthy pauses during interviews were a consequence of this. But Reeves once said that he inherited good English manners from his mother, explaining they are “so ingrained it’s now second nature.” Those manners were on full display in a 2019 viral Twitter post, which showed Reeves using a “hover hand” technique in photographs with various women, an international sign of respect and good etiquette.
Keanu Reeves has experienced tragedy and grief
They say that misery loves company, but there’s something about Keanu Reeves’ perceived sadness that has enthralled fans for years. He’s had videos about his tragic life story, misattributed quotes, and Sad Keanu memes go viral. Now, he has certainly experienced more than his fair share of grief, and he rarely speaks about it, so there’s definitely intrigue there. Reeves has a broken relationship with his father and was good friends with River Phoenix when he died, and understandably, he isn’t willing to discuss either of these topics much.
When he does open up about painful experiences, though, Reeves has shown himself to be rather eloquent and thoughtful, as he is with most things. In an interview with Parade magazine (via People), he spoke about the death of his former girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, and the still-birth of their daughter, and how they impacted him. “Grief changes shape, but it never ends,” he said. “People have a misconception that you can deal with it and say, ‘It’s gone, and I’m better.’ They’re wrong. When the people you love are gone, you’re alone.”
During an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Reeves was asked what he thinks happens after we die, a question that was meant to be comical. Without much of his trademark pause, Reeves said, “I know that the ones who love us will miss us.” The profound answer undoubtedly gained him some new fans, but for others, the universal truth spoke to Reeves’ own personal history.
Keanu Reeves' quiet charity
Keanu Reeves is a charitable man. It is known. There are countless publications citing this knowledge, but most tell of the actor donating millions upon millions of dollars. In reality, the specifics are unclear. That’s not to say that he doesn’t donate, it’s just that he does it quietly and without much publicity. Sure, the media and fan sites make it known that Reeves is a saint, but there seems to be plenty of myth mixed in with real examples.
Here’s what we know. In 1999, it was revealed that Kim, Reeves’ younger sister, battled lymphatic cancer for eight years. This, it appears, motivated Reeves to get involved in cancer charity and research. In 2008, he participated in the Stand Up to Cancer telethon. The following year, he revealed in a Ladies Home Journal interview (via Snopes) that he began his own foundation in secret. “I have a private foundation that’s been running for five or six years, and it helps aid a couple of children’s hospitals and cancer research,” Reeves said. “I don’t like to attach my name to it, I just let the foundation do what it does.”
In 2010, Long Beach’s Press-Telegram reported that Reeves visited the Miller Children’s Hospital and spent time with some of the young patients. In 2020, the actor still continued his efforts, in spite of pandemic lockdowns, donating a 15-minute Zoom date to the highest bidder, with proceeds going to Camp Rainbow Gold, a children’s cancer charity out of Idaho.
Keanu Reeves' beloved films
Many elements, the truths and the myths, have come together to create Keanu Reeves’ popular image. But no one should overlook the actor’s immense film resume. Reeves has been part of an exceptionally large number of movies with cult followings — and for good reason. It all began in 1989 with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a flick that would surprise just about everyone, generating huge audiences, and spawning two sequels, including one more than 30 years later.
In 1991, Reeves appeared in two eventual cult classics, the Kathryn Bigelow movie, Point Break, and the independent Gus Van Sant film, My Own Private Idaho. While the latter is now recognized as a triumph of queer cinema, Point Break, too, was far ahead of its time. With Bigelow’s master touch, the film avoided the usual machismo markers of ’90s action films. In Speed, three years later, Reeves cemented himself as an action movie icon. The exceptional 1994 flick is still celebrated as one of the great action films.
The wildly popular Matrix trilogy helped reshape the film industry in the early 2000s and was given new life in contemporary film theory. Reeves’ 2005 film, Constantine, would find a small cult following for years, but was later hit with renewed interest after the ridiculously popular John Wick franchise showed similarities in spirit in the late 2010s. Some may call it luck or good fortune, but Reeves appears to have a knack for choosing films that break boundaries and stand the test of time.
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