Meet Keanu, Anew
That's not the only thing Reeves has to be giddy about these days. Reloaded, the second installment of the blockbuster sci-fi trilogy in which Reeves stars as the humanity-saving Neo, earned a whopping $92 million in its opening weekend. "It's great to be a part of something that has the excitement that surrounds this picture," says Reeves, 38, who spent 11 months in Australia filming Reloaded and Revolutions, the series' conclusion, back-to-back. Finishing the project, he says, "was like stepping on the shore after crossing an ocean."
It hasn't always been smooth sailing for the ultraprivate Reeves, whose laid-back whoa!-is-me screen persona belies a history of heavyweight personal sorrows. But friends of the actor say that as he approaches 40, Reeves is finally in a good place. "He is a lot lighter than he used to be," says his Matrix costar Laurence Fishburne. "He has become okay with himself." Reeves is reluctant to do much self-reflecting: "I'll just say I'm older and older. With any experience you have, you know more about yourself."
Getting to know Reeves, however, can be almost as hard as cracking the mind-bending Matrix. Despite his $30 million salary for the last two Matrix installments, he continues to live primarily out of hotels. "I guess I'm not the settling type," he says. "Someday." But the star does have three constants in his life. "Wherever he goes, he takes his motorcycle, his hockey stick and his books," says Josh Richman, a pal since costarring with Reeves in 1986's River's Edge. Reeves's friends call him shy, loyal, generous—and a man of expansive appetites. "When we were playing in St. Louis, Keanu came knocking on everyone's door and said, 'We're in the land of ribs! Let's go find America's best ribs!' " says Bret Domrose, his bandmate in the rock group Dogstar. "Keanu makes a point to live it up, not on a five-star level but in a down-home way."
And not in a surfer-dude way either, despite Reeves's breakout role as slacker Ted in 1989's Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. The Shakespeare buff "is deceptively smart," says Alex Winter (a.k.a. Bill), a close pal. "And I don't mean that because people think of him as a Valley goof but because he's fairly quiet." Adds Matrix producer Joel Silver: "He knows everything about politics, music, but he isn't out there trying to show you how smart he is. He's very unassuming."
Especially when it comes to his Matrix work, which included five months of intensive physical training. Despite his cool moves onscreen, "I didn't learn martial arts," notes Reeves. "I learned movie kung fu." Not that the resulting aches were any less painful. On the set "he would just sit in a pool full of ice in full wardrobe because his muscles would hurt so bad," says Silver. By the end of shooting, Silver adds, "he had zero body fat. He looked like a hood ornament."
That sort of discipline is nothing new for Reeves, who has racked up 40 film credits in a 22-year career. "Keanu is clearly a man who has worked very hard for a very long time," says his stepfather Paul Aaron, a producer-director who split with Reeves's mother, Patricia, in 1971. "He started studying acting when he was 16. It's not as if 'Gee, isn't it wonderful you went to work and all of a sudden you're a star.' "
In fact, Reeves's road to stardom has been more colorful and, at times, rockier than most. Born in Beirut to Samuel Nowlin Reeves, who was vacationing in Lebanon when he met Patricia, an English-born showgirl at a local club, Keanu grew up in Toronto estranged from his father after his parents split when he was still a toddler. A convicted drug user, the elder Reeves, who lives in Hawaii and is half-Chinese, half-Hawaiian, says he hasn't spoken with his only son in years. "It's very sad, but I understand," he says. "I sit in the theater and I'm really proud of him. I always want to tell someone, 'Hey, that's my kid,' but who would believe me?" The actor is at peace with the situation, says his friend Richman: "As Keanu has gotten older, he has come to serious, concrete terms with it."
In contrast, Reeves is very close to his mother, sister Kim, 36, and half sister Karina, 26 (Karina's dad is Patricia's third husband, Robert Miller). He is especially tight with Kim, a horse breeder who has battled leukemia for years. They have "an exceedingly deep bond," says Richman. "He loves her so much."
His sister's illness is not the only trauma Reeves has had to cope with recently. Three years ago Reeves's daughter with his then-girlfriend Jennifer Syme was stillborn at eight months. Then in April 2001 Syme, with whom he had remained friendly after their breakup, died in an L.A. car crash. "It's still an open wound," says Richman. "It's not something you put a ribbon on and say, 'I dealt with that.' " Adds Domrose: "Keanu is not one to lean on his friends, so sometimes I have to say, 'Don't take on the world by yourself.' But he's tough."
These days the star "is really doing well," says his friend and bandmate Rob Mailhouse. "He seems comfortable right now." And bemused, say friends, by speculation about his love life (in recent years he has been linked with actresses Amanda de Cadenet and Claire Forlani). "People figure, 'Keanu Reeves, he should be going out with supermodels,' " says Richman. "But Keanu doesn't look at it that way. Does he have a girlfriend? I doubt it very seriously. Does he know how to have fun with women? Absolutely. He adores women."
Currently filming a comedy with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, Reeves has at least one idea for what he would like to do next. "Alex and I always wanted to do another Bill and Ted when we turned 40," he has said. "We always talk about where those guys would be now. I think they'd be in a Vegas hotel bar, strumming two guitars. And they'd be drunk and fat."
Carrie Bell, Rachel Biermann, Champ Clark, Sean Daly, Ruth Andrew Ellenson and Todd Gold in Los Angeles, KC Baker and Amy Longsdorf in New York City and Tim Ryan in Hawaii