From lamebrained teenage time traveler to metaphysical sci-fi Superman, Keanu Reeves has portrayed just about every character type imaginable in his sometimes wildly fluctuating career. Frequently lambasted by critics and often polarizing audiences suspicious of his talent's true extent, Reeves has nevertheless managed to maintain his lucrative career by balancing his lesser efforts with intermittent direct hits at the box office.
Born in Keanu Charles Reeves in Beirut, Lebanon, in September of 1964 and named for the Hawaiian word that means "cool breeze over the mountains," the future actor was a world traveler by the age of two, thanks to his father's career as a geologist. His mother, Patricia Taylor, worked as a showgirl and later a costume designer of film and stage, and after his parents divorced, Reeves followed his mother and sister to live in New York; the trio would later relocate to Toronto -- where Reeves' interest in ice hockey and acting took a substantial precedence over academics. His formidable presence in front of the goal eventually earned Reeves the nickname "The Wall," and it wasn't long before all interest in school waned and the talented goalie decided to pursue acting.
Later working as a manager in a Toronto pasta shop, Reeves soon began turning up in small roles on various Canadian television programs, making his feature debut in the 1985 Canadian film One Step Away before American audiences got their first good look at him in the 1986 Rob Lowe drama Youngblood. Subsequently going back to television and garnering favorable notice for his role in 1986's Young Again, it was the release of Tim Hunter's The River's Edge later that year that would provide Reeves with his breakthrough role. A harrowing tale of teen apathy in small town America, The River's Edge provided Reeves with a perfect opportunity to display his dramatic range, and the film would eventually become a minor classic in teen angst cinema.
Appearing in a series of sometimes quirky but ultimately forgettable efforts in the following few years, 1988 found Reeves drawing favorable nods for his role in director Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons. It was the following year's Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, however, that would transform the actor into something of an '80s icon. Reeves' performance of a moronic, air guitar wielding wannabe rocker traveling through time in order to complete his history report and graduate from high school proved so endearingly silly that it spawned both a sequel (1991's Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey) and a Saturday morning cartoon. In an odd twist of fate, Reeves and co-star Alex Winter had initially auditioned for the opposite roles from those in which they were ultimately cast. Though he would later offer variations of the character type in such efforts as Parenthood (1989) and I Love You to Death (1990), it wasn't long before Reeves was looking to break away from the trend and take his career to the next level.
After drawing favorable reviews for his turn as a rich kid turned street hustler opposite River Phoenix in Gus Van Sant's 1991 drama My Own Private Idaho, Reeves battled the undead in Francis Ford Coppola's lavish production of Dracula (1992). Showing his loyalty toward fellow Bill and Ted cohort Winter with a hilarious extended cameo in Freaked the following year, Reeves once again teamed with Van Sant for the critically eviscerated Even Cowgirls Get the Blues before surprising audiences with an unexpectedly complex performance as Siddhartha in Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha (1993).
Just as audiences were beginning to ask themselves if they may have underestimated Reeves talent as an actor, the mid-'90s found his career taking an unexpected turn toward action films with the release of Jan de Bont's 1994 mega-hit Speed (Reeves would ultimately decline to appear in the film's disastrous sequel). Balancing out such big-budgeted adrenaline rushes as Johnny Mnemonic (1995) and Chain Reaction (1996) with romantic efforts as A Walk in the Clouds (1995) and Feeling Minnesota (1996), Reeves spooked audiences as a moral attorney suffering from a major case of soul corrosion in the 1997 horror thriller The Devil's Advocate. The late '90s also found Reeves suffering a devastating personal loss when his expected baby girl with longtime girlfriend Jennifer Syme was stillborn, marking the beginning of the end for the couple's relationship. Tragedy stacked upon tragedy when Syme died two short years later in a tragic freeway accident. His career in fluctuation due to the lukewarm response to the majority of his mid-'90s efforts, it was the following year that would find Reeves entering into one of the most successful stages of his career thus far.
As Neo, the computer hacker who discovers that he may be humankind's last hope in the forthcoming war against an oppressive mainframe of computers, Reeves' popularity once again reached feverish heights thanks to The Wachowski Brothers' wildly imaginative and strikingly visual sci-fi breakthrough, The Matrix. Followed by such moderately successful films as The Replacements (for which he deferred his salary so that Gene Hackman could also appear) and The Watcher (both 2000), Reeves took an unexpectedly convincing turn as an abusive husband in Sam Raimi's The Gift before returning to familiar territory with Sweet November and Hardball (both 2001). With the cultural phenomenon of The Matrix only growing as a comprehensive DVD release offered obsessive fans a closer look into the mythology of the film, it wasn't long before The Wachowski Brothers announced that the film had originally been conceived as the beginning of a trilogy and that two sequels were in the works. Filmed back to back, and with both scheduled to hit screens in 2003, excitement over The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions began to reach feverish heights in the months before release, virtually ensuring that the films would become two of the year's biggest box-office draws; they delivered on this promise despite mixed critical receptions.
Reeves ensured his liberation from typecasting with a drastic turn away from The Matrix as the curtain fell on 2003, by appearing as heartthrob Dr. Julian Mercer in Nancy Meyers's romantic comedy Something's Gotta Give. Although he played second fiddle to vets Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, Reeves scored a bullseye, especially with female viewers. In 2005, he joined the cast of the collegiate arthouse hit Thumbsucker as Perry Lyman and fought the denizens of hell in the occultic thriller Constantine. Reeves's 2006 roles included the animated Robert Arctor in Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly and Alex Burnham in Alejandro Aresti's romantic fantasy The Lake House (co-starring Sandra Bullock.
Famously playing bass for the band Dogstar in his cinematic down time, Reeves' other personal interests include motorcycles, horseback riding, and surfing. When he's not filming, Reeves maintains an everpresent residence in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi