Name game fascinating to Keanu Reeves


July 12, 1991|By Los Angeles Daily News

What's in a name?

If yours is Keanu Reeves, you've probably pondered that question once or twice. (Keanu, by the way, is a Hawaiian appellation.)

Names have had an unusual impact on the 26-year-old Lebanon-born, Toronto-raised actor's movie career.

Of course, there's Ted, the San Dimas heavy-metal kid Reeves is famous for playing in the comedy "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" and its sequel, "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey," which comes to theaters July 19.

Mr. Reeves is so natural as the good-hearted, air guitar-playing airhead that it's become his signature film persona. When he played a similar character in Ron Howard's "Parenthood" a few years back, the young man bore the Ted-like name Todd.

But Mr. Reeves also can be seen on screens this month as a guy far removed from the dumb-but-lovable California teen-ager. This guy's name is Johnny, Johnny Utah.

"One of the things I dug was his name," Mr. Reeves said of his undercover FBI agent in the unusual action thriller "Point Break." "I'm playing Johnny Utah, y'know? The energy from that name, like Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana -- it's all in there. I know, myself, I had an expectation of this guy."

For the role, Mr. Reeves learned to surf; despite having a Hawaiian father, he'd spent little time riding waves beforehand.

Mr. Reeves' next film, due for October release, is "My Own Private Idaho" by the acclaimed director of "Drugstore Cowboy," Gus van Sant Jr.

In it, Mr. Reeves plays a teen-age street hustler whose father, the mayor of Portland, leaves him a small fortune. The character's name, Scott Favor, jumps out as a description of his station in life.

"That is an exceptional film," Mr. Reeves said. "Because of the characters, because of the way it's written, and because of Gus van Sant, the way he shot it. He's an artist, a painter who makes films. And as a man, his integrity is passionate."

Unlike, perhaps, Johnny Utah, Mr. Reeves has had an inner compass for professional integrity in fine operating order since his highly praised film debut, as the conscience-stricken member of a gang of disaffected youths in the 1986 crime drama "River's Edge." The ethical questions that film brought up were echoed ** by other thoughtful performances in "Permanent Record" and "The Prince of Pennsylvania."

More recently, Mr. Reeves has been branching out into a wider variety of roles and films. He played the young swain Danceny in "Dangerous Liaisons"; a '50s radio writer infatuated with his sexy, widowed aunt in "Tune in Tomorrow"; and, alongside William Hurt, half of a stoned-out, inept assassin team (they were called Harlan and Marlon) in Lawrence Kasdan's "I Love You to Death."

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