- In this episode of “Good & Bad Acting,” LA acting coach Raquel Gardner reviews 12 classic Keanu Reeves acting moments, from the “Matrix” franchise to “Bill & Ted.”
Gardner deconstructs the hits and misses of the Canadian actor’s career, which has spanned virtually all genres – from superhero adaptations like “Constantine” to costume horrors like “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”
- She also analyses Reeves’ cameo in Ali Wong’s Netflix rom-com “Always Be My Maybe” and picks apart the subtleties of his performance alongside River Phoenix in “My Own Private Idaho,” Gus Van Sant’s critically acclaimed classic.
- Throughout the episode, Gardner highlights the acting skills that have helped Reeves succeed in some of his most legendary roles, from John Wick to Johnny Utah.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
John Wick: And your son took that from me.
Raquel Gardner: The change in his voice is what makes the whole entire scene. Hi, there. It’s Raquel Gardner from The Actors Mark. I’ve been an actor for 30 years and an acting coach for the last seven and a half years, and today, I’m going to be reviewing scenes from Keanu Reeves performances.
[dramatic orchestral music] Neo: Let me out! I want out! [gasps]
Trinity: Easy, Neo. Easy. Neo: Get this thing out of me. Raquel: I wanna talk a little bit about Keanu Reeves’ emotional progression in “The Matrix.” It’s really important that you see how he’s transitioning. You know, in the beginning of this scene, he’s in utter denial.
Neo: I don’t believe it. It’s not possible.
Raquel: But then he wakes up from the dream; he realises that there’s something happening within himself. It’s almost like he’s trying to get out of his own body.
Neo: Get this thing off! Stay away from me!
Raquel: Which is where he drops to the ground, which is almost like a surrender. It’s the beginning of his transformation. You take a scene like that, that is basically three separate scenes that were shot probably on three different days, but the job as the actor is to connect them all. And this is not easy for actors because this is another thing that people don’t realise: Movies are shot out of sequence. The directing is amazing, and then Keanu brings his own emotional choices to it to connect up with the actions in the scene.
Jonathan: I’ve seen many strange things already! Bloody wolves chasing me through some blue inferno!
Raquel: So, I think that the place in his performance that probably suffered the most was the accent.
Raquel: I probably would have been very specific about him working his accent more than anything else. I just felt like he kind of popped in and out of it a little bit.
Jonathan: I didn’t hear you come in.
Raquel: What I love most about Keanu’s performance in this movie, you feel his innocence. And I’m sure that that was the director directing him to play on that innocence, because he came in, he’s a younger actor then, and I feel like you can really get the sense of, he’s learning as he goes.
[dramatic orchestral music] [Jonathan shouts]
Raquel: That’s what I got from watching him in this movie. Him learning from Gary Oldman in every scene that he was playing, and you could tell that Keanu was starting to grow as an actor from working on this movie.
Jonathan: I will not let you go into the unknown alone. [lightning zaps] Ted: Whoa! Raquel: So, he’s just super natural with his performance there.
Both: Not bad.
Raquel: He’s reacting to things that aren’t even there, really, because all that stuff is brought in afterwards, all those special effects. Everything happening in the sky, what would he do to help him connect with that? There’s a technique, it’s called an inner object, and an inner object is a person, a place, or a thing that we reference in our memory. So, in his mind, he’s thinking, “What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me?” And then he would react off of it.
Rufus: Greetings, my excellent friends.
Ted: Do you know when the Mongols ruled China?
Raquel: The timing of his delivery of his words is very drawn out, which adds to the comedy of the scene.
Ted: Excuse me! When did the Mongols rule China?
Raquel: And that’s something that he created, I’m sure, when he was developing this character. Rufus: Gentlemen. I’m here to help you with your history report.
Ted: What? Raquel: What’s funny about comedic actors is they’re never playing the comedy. They’re playing the reality of their character. He’s really playing this kind of dopey character stoner guy.
Ted: Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.
Raquel: And he’s playing the reality of that, because that’s his best friend, and that’s how they talk to each other. And that’s what’s so funny about it, is the audience sees the humour in that. You know, it’s his tone of voice, and the way he’s like, “Bill.”
Both: Whoa. [intense electric guitar music]
John Wick: And your son took that from me.
Raquel: The change in his voice is what makes the whole entire scene. In the beginning of the scene, he’s very soft.
John: When Helen died, I lost everything, until that dog arrived on my doorstep.
Raquel: As he talks about his wife, and he talks about the dog. But then you hear a change in his voice when he starts talking about this man’s son taking all that away from him, where it starts to go deeper, and it gets more gravelly.
John: Took that from me. Stole that from me. Killed that from me!
Raquel: And it gets down in here, and then it goes right down deeper into his gut when he starts telling him that he’s back.
John: People keep asking if I’m back, and I haven’t really had an answer. Raquel: It’s like he builds, and he builds, to where he says, “Yes, I’m back!”
John: But now, yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.
Raquel: And he can’t use his body at all, so he’s using his voice to make the transitions, which I think is fantastic. John: So you can either hand over your son, or you can die screaming alongside him!
Sasha: Oh, there he is. [lively electronic music]
Raquel: He totally makes fun of himself in this movie. He brings his “Matrix” action-star, slow-motion movement into a rom-com. He’s just like, OK, I’m just gonna give everybody what they want. I’m gonna give them that, you know, self-involved actor that is completely full of himself, and making him into somebody that everybody can like, which is not an easy feat to do. The way he shakes the guy’s hand, and he walks over to his girl, and he’s so engrossed in her face, like nobody else matters.
Keanu: I missed your spirit.
Raquel: There’s also an importance for Keanu’s character to be likable so that she has an ability and an opportunity to fall head-over-heels in love with him. He is embodying absolutely, like, the character that you’re expecting him to be.
Keanu: The only stars that matter are the ones you look at when you dream.
[intense electronic music] [Johnny shouts]
Raquel: He’s effortless in that movie. I always love watching actors when they have to recreate an injury. He has to remember how it’s gonna happen when he comes off the fence, how he lands, and when he lands, he’s got to do the same thing every single time. What kind of face do you make when you feel that pain? What does the pain feel like running through your body? It takes a lot of preparation. The character opposite Keanu in this scene is a guy that Keanu befriends. We know he’s a good shot. All he has to do is pull that trigger. You see the camera stop on Keanu’s face and close in on his eyes, and you know, at that moment, he has to let him go. And that vulnerability, that is a struggle, because he’s letting himself down, and so it’s so perfect to watch him let out his aggression in the weapon.
[Johnny shouts] [gun fires]
[eerie music] [Chas grunts]
Raquel: From an acting coach’s point of view, this has to be a lot of internal work that he has to do as an actor. In the beginning, you feel his exhaustion, and then, all of a sudden, the demon possesses Shia LaBeouf’s character, and he’s feeling there’s nothing that he can do, so it’s almost like a hopelessness inside of him.
Chas: It’s not like the books.
Constantine: No. It isn’t.
Raquel: As he’s talking to Shia LaBeouf’s character on the ground, and then all of a sudden he looks up, you see this transition happen in his character where he has had enough. He rolls up his sleeves. You see the change in his face. He realises he’s gonna have to fight this demon to the very end, and he is willing to do it.
Constantine: Into the light I command thee.
Raquel: So you’re watching this character transform in one small scene, which gives us a lot to watch, which is great. Hi. My name’s John.