Action Star Today, Patron Saint of Kindness Tomorrow: Why We Can’t Stop Crushing on Keanu Reeves


Action Star Today, Patron Saint of Kindness Tomorrow: Why We Can’t Stop Crushing on Keanu Reeves

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Keanu Reeves has never won an Oscar, but that’s okay. Though I’ve been a fan ever since I first saw him dodging bullets as Neo in The Matrix, I don’t consider the way the Academy has overlooked him to be an injustice. This is because I have a feeling Keanu is going to be remembered fondly by thousands, or even millions of fans, regardless of whether his talent and appeal receive formal recognition. And whether or not he receives a golden statuette, his knack for performing random acts of kindness for strangers has surely earned him a Peace Prize at some point in the future. If it were up to me, I’d confer him full-on sainthood.

It might sound hyperbolic, but the stories of Reeves being the nicest person you can imagine are almost as common on the internet as the occupation of chowkidar. In fact, the legend of his kindness even predates the internet era – paparazzi photos of him sharing his lunch and shooting the breeze with homeless man on a pavement in Los Angeles became what passed for viral in 1997, and cemented his reputation as a man who is simply too good, too pure to live in this cynical world. He’s an internationally famous movie star, but he still unassumingly travels on the New York Subway along with everyone else, even giving up his seat like a real gentleman. And much before Gautam Gambhir gave up his IPL salary as an act of contrition for a miserable performance, Reeves was giving up his Matrix salary out of the goodness of his heart, just so that the movie’s special effects budget wouldn’t get slashed.

Movie stars normally have a reputation for being demanding and narcissistic. Clearly, nobody gave Keanu Reeves that memo.

Reeves has been around for over three decades now, and along the way, he’s starred in a bunch of instant classics that are still spoken about fondly to this day. Kind of like a reverse Abhishek Bachchan if you think about it. Jokes apart though, his list of triumphs is not only impressive in terms of their pop culture longevity, but also in their diversity. He’s been part of a cult-favourite comedy franchise, the Bill and Ted series. He’s essayed a serious lead role in an adaptation of a literary classic helmed by an esteemed director in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Still, perhaps the most baffling thing about his entire oeuvre is how in 2019, he’s probably one of the most bankable action stars in Hollywood.

It’s almost funny that a guy who’s racked up such a high body count on film is such a sweetheart in real life.

With his lean, lanky frame and soft-spoken demeanour, Keanu Reeves does not strike you as a grizzled ass-kicker the way stars like Bruce Willis or Jason Statham do. Still, beginning with Speed in 1994, Reeves began appearing in action-oriented films and surprisingly doing justice to the roles. Even 20 years after the film’s release, he is still best remembered as Neo from the Matrix trilogy – a franchise that propelled him to international superstardom. And in the past five years, he’s enjoyed a late-career resurgence thanks to the slickly made John Wick series, reminding audiences that the man who beat Agent Smith in a thousand-against-one battle hasn’t lost a step.

It’s almost funny that a guy who’s racked up such a high body count on film is such a sweetheart in real life. It just goes to show that you can never really judge a book by its cover – or in Reeves’ case, an action star by his string of blockbusters.

Over the years, Keanu Reeves has become something of a cultural touchstone. He achieved the 21st century equivalent of immortality by becoming the face of a meme, not once, but twice. Conspiracy Keanu and Sad Keanu are still hugely popular online, and in my head I like to imagine that Reeves is also aware of their existence, and finds them hilarious. Oh wait, he is, and he does. People who can laugh at themselves have the best sense of humour.

Recently, while cracking jokes while promoting the third instalment of the John Wick series (I told you it was successful!) on Stephen Colbert’s talk show, Reeves gave us, his loyal acolytes, another nugget of profound wisdom. Colbert asked him if he had any clue about what happens after we die, and the actor provided an answer that was beautiful in its simplicity. “I know that the ones who love us, will miss us.” It’s a response that’s heart-breaking in its poignancy, especially to someone who knows of Reeves’ personal history with loss and bereavement. In the 1999, while he was on the cusp of superstardom, his girlfriend suffered a miscarriage, and then died in a car accident two years later. To carry on even after losing everything, and go on to provide so much joy in the lives of others truly takes a brave soul, and all we can do is thank Keanu Reeves for all the memories.

That demand for his canonisation into sainthood isn’t looking so outlandish now, is it?