No, Keanu Reeves doesn't have a "power animal." And he's never sucked his thumb. But he will allow one weird thing about his teen years in Toronto, in keeping with the general oddball thrust of the movie Thumbsucker.
"When I was a teenager, I always fantasized about robbing a bank," he said yesterday. "I mean, it just sounded like fun. All the plotting and planning, the danger, the treasure.
"I mean, teenagers, that's a big stretch in development, what you go through."
Going with it, Thumbsucker director Mike Mills offered his teen fantasy. "I wanted to live in a whale," he said. "It'd be a safe place, all the pressure would be off."
An "alternative" movie about being true to yourself -- and a darling at Sundance and other film fests -- Thumbsucker stars Lou Pucci as Justin, a teenager whose stubborn thumbsucking habit is seen as an obstacle to his achieving his potential. Much of this criticism comes from his parents (Tilda Swinton and Vincent D'Onofrio) who are, in fact, more childish than their son.
Reeves plays "transcendental dentist" Dr. Perry Lyman, who sees the habit as detrimental to the orthodonty he's applied to Justin's mouth. So he offers him hypnosis and gets him to envision his "power animal" (a deer in this case) to give him strength. It's just one of a number of avenues Justin turns to, including Ritalin, romance, illegal drugs and his school debating team.
A transcendental dentist is the kind of role you'd think might come naturally to a guy whose name means "cool breeze over the mountains," in Hawaiian, but the often painfully-laconic Reeves will have none of that. "I have (a sense of humour about my image), but I didn't think I was doing that with this role. But maybe I'm naive. I did like (Perry's) richness of feeling, I don't know how to describe it."
But the subject of dentistry does remind him, "I had two of my wisdom teeth pulled out around the corner from here. And I'll never forget the sound of the pliers and my knee in my chest. The dentist gave me like four shots."
In fact, the whole Film Festival gives Reeves flashes of nostalgia. "I remember I saw Blood Simple at this film festival (in 1984, when he was 20), it was the first time I experienced this incredible film festival, and it was from that angle. Now you get that film guide and you're just like, 'Oh my God! There are so many incredible movies!' And (to) have a film here is exciting."
Keanu was just one of the guys, according to Mills, staying in a crappy condo in suburban Oregon like everyone else during the shoot. "He never said in any way, 'I'm special' or 'I'm different,' " Mills said. "Working with Keanu is a lot like working with one of my electricians or a grip. It's just someone who wants to come to work. The worst thing you can do is pay too much attention to him."
The indie-film camaraderie is short-lived, however. In the next week or so, the man who once was Neo in The Matrix will fly off to start early work on Stompanato, a Hollywood-sized film about Johnny Stompanato, the mobster boyfriend of screen legend Lana Turner. Stompanato was murdered by Turner's daughter Cheryl Crane, ostensibly to protect her mom.
"I'm meeting with Adrian Lyne and Catherine Zeta- Jones to do a reading of some of the scenes and hopefully we can get that picture made," Reeves said.