What Keanu Reeves Was Like Before He Impressed the World as Neo From “The Matrix”

year ago

Keanu Reeves is Hollywood’s favorite introvert, and although he’s never gotten a single Oscar, seeing his name affiliated with a film almost guarantees its success. Reeves can skillfully transform from the cool guy in a teenage comedy into the main hero of a major blockbuster, romantic comedy, mythical thriller, or sci-fi film.

We at Bright Side have found out what kind of life Keanu Reeves had long before he became famous for playing Neo from The Matrix.

  • Keanu’s childhood wasn’t easy — his parents divorced and his mother’s job as a costume designer required them to move frequently. They managed to live in Australia, the US, and Canada within 7 years. They finally settled down in Canada.
  • His father was arrested in 1994 for heroin and cocaine use and was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment.
“No, the story with me and my dad’s pretty heavy. It’s full of pain and woe and freaking loss and all that crap.”
  • The boy changed schools 4 times and never received his school certificate. He had difficulty learning academic sciences due to his dyslexia. Reeves’ talent in acting brought him to a prestigious art school but he was later expelled from there.
  • At the age of 17, Keanu got his green card and moved to Los Angeles. According to Reeves, his mother left her home when she was 14 or 15. So she’s probably where he got his independent spirit from.

The actor’s mother Patricia Taylor and his half-sister Karina

  • Reeves would dream about playing for the Canadian National Hockey team in the Olympics as a child. He was a great goalkeeper and even earned the nickname, “The Wall”. If not for his trauma, we’d probably know Reeves as a famous athlete and not an actor.

  • Reeves used to drive to New York by car 8 hours every day to attend acting classes in the famous HB Studio that housed alumni like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Matthew Broderick.
  • Reeves got some attention after starring in the movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) where he played a simple teen. It was quite difficult to shake his young persona formed by the array of teenage movies he took part in but he managed to do it eventually.
  • The actor was carefully preparing for his next big role. The director Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, 1991) recalls, " I think I gave both River and Keanu John Rechy’s book, City of Night as a reference. River read a few pages and called it quits. Keanu read all of City of Night and as many other John Rechy books as he could find. He was always very thorough.“
  • Reeves has always been hard on himself. After the success of The Matrix in 2003, he said in his interview, “I’m a meathead. You’ve got smart people and you’ve got dumb people. I just happen to be dumb.” However, Reeves has read literature on string theory and the origins of the universe. He was interested in the biography of Alexander the Great and even listened to Stravinsky’s compositions.
  • Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix acted in 2 movies together and became best friends. River Phoenix died in 1993 at the age of 23.
  • The shooting of Little Buddha took place in Bhutan and in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. According to the actor, the principles of Buddhism promoted consistency and the ability to live in the moment which served as a revelation for him.
  • The actor was spending his nights in hotels and in his trailer for many years — perhaps due to his childhood spent in constant flux. Reeves bought his first house in 2003 after his success in The Matrix.
“There is a bit of a gypsy in me, and living that way seemed to make sense. I couldn’t settle down. Then I turned 40 and I bought my first house. I wanted a home.”
  • On the set of Dracula (1992), the director Francis Ford Coppola found a real Romanian priest to marry the characters played by Reeves and Winona Ryder. According to Ryder, she and Reeves would make a good married couple in real life too. Despite his growing interest in women, Reeves has never officially been married.
“It’s always wonderful to get to know women, with the mystery and the joy and the depth. Men don’t have that — they just have really smelly underwear, or at least that’s what I’ve found. Anyway, if you can make a woman laugh, you’re probably seeing the most beautiful thing on God’s Earth.”
  • The turning point in Reeves’ career was his participation in the action movie, Speed (1994). The movie became a hit and brought its creators $350 million with a budget of $30 million, 2 Oscars, and critical acclaim.
  • Despite his success in the first film, Reeves refused to participate in Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997) as not to miss the chance to play Hamlet in a Canadian theater for a payment of less than $2,000 per week. He did this even though his participation in the movie would earn him about $12 million.
  • The actor’s next remarkable performance was in The Devil’s Advocate (1997). In order to give the team a chance to afford Al Pacino for the role of John Milton and meet his financial requirements, Keanu Reeves agreed to reduce his salary by several million dollars.
  • They say Reeves has given a part of his earnings from The Matrix ( $75 million to be exact) to those he considered to be the true heroes of the movie — the special effects team. According to Reeves, money is the last thing he thinks about because the amount he had already earned would be enough for him to live comfortably for centuries.
" It’s when you start doing things for free that you start to grow wings."
  • The Matrix trilogy by the Wachowski duo brought Keanu Reeves the biggest reward in the history of cinema — a total of around $250 million. The actor got his fixed pay and percentage from the box office. In second place is Robert Downey, Jr. who earned about $200 million from acting in the Marvel Universe franchise.
  • Before the shooting of The Matrix, the actors were supposed to undergo 4 months of training because the stunts in the movie required special flexibility. It was twice as difficult for Reeves because he was restoring his health after a neck surgery at the time. He had 2 damaged disks — one was compressed and one was completely shattered. This meant that whenever he wanted to turn his head, his shoulders and chest would follow due to limited flexibility.
“One of my spinal disks started sticking to my spinal cord. I was falling over in the shower in the morning because you lose your sense of balance.”
  • While working on The Matrix, Reeves’ life was shaken by tragedy: he and his girlfriend Jennifer Syme were expecting a baby girl but sadly, she didn’t survive. The couple broke up. After a year and a half, in April 2001, Jennifer died in a car accident.
“I miss being a part of their lives and them being part of mine. I wonder what the present would be like if they were here — what we might have done together. I miss all the great things that will never be. All you can do is hope that grief will be transformed and instead of feeling pain and confusion you will be together again in memory, that there will be solace and pleasure there, not just loss.”
  • 5 years after the tragedy, the actor said in an interview, “I’m trying not to be alone so much. And man, it’s a struggle. I want to get married. I want to have kids. That’s at the top of the mountain. I’ve got to climb the mountain first. I’ll do it. Just give me some time.”
  • In his interview with Esquire (2017) Keanu Reeves gave a totally different answer to the question about whether he was going to ever get married. He said, “It’s too late. I’m 52. I’m not going to have any kids.” The journalist interviewing him objected saying 52 is a good age for having kids and added that Mick Jagger became a father at a much older age which proves it’s not too late for Reeves to have kids. The actor answered, “I know, I know.”

Bonus: stories about Keanu’s good deeds

  • family friend builds movie sets and he worked on the set of The Matrix and Keanu heard about family trouble he was having and gave him a $20,000 Christmas bonus to help him out. He also was one of the only people on the set that genuinely wanted to know people’s names, would say hello and mean it, and would talk to people as they were his peers and not below him just because they were practically making nothing to build a set. © kahi / reddit
  • Back in the late ’90s and fresh out of college I got my first job as an assistant prop designer on the set of Chain Reaction. Every day for the last few weeks of filming, Keanu treated the stagehands and “grunt workers” (including myself) by taking us out for free breakfast and lunch. Since then, I’ve worked on about 30 different sets and have never met an actor as generous and friendly as him. © bo2dd2 / reddit

What do think about Keanu Reeves’ personality? Wouldn’t it be nice to have more people like him in the world? We’d be glad to hear from you in the comments!

Please note: This article was updated in March 2022 to correct source material and factual inaccuracies.
Preview photo credit HEMDALE / Album / EAST NEWS


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He is unique ❤️ He is an inspiration for me. I like him a lot. I hope he finds a good woman to marry with, he totally deserves it.


Impressive. His good deeds inspire me to be softer and pore compassionate about other people. He is a great person


what a beautiful soul he is!!! I know exactly the way his life has went, I too lost my spouse early in life, and the wall is so high and so thick....but you still remain so very compassionate!! may god bless him always!!


He doesn't have an easy life, and still manages to stay such an amazing and kind person. I'm deeply impressed :)


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