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How Keanu Reeves Pushed Against 90s Action Stereotypes & Studio Pressure For Iconic Role-TGN

Summary

  • Speed script doctor Joss Whedon recalls how Keanu Reeves’ character suggestions for Jack Traven broke away from action movie norms of the time.
  • Reeves spent time with real SWAT officers as prep and suggested that his character be more polite by calling people “Sir” and “Ma’am“. The actor even suggested that his character not pull his gun, but that wasn’t going to fly.
  • Reeves’ combination of likability, charisma, and physicality make many of his action roles truly memorable, with Traven being a perfect example.


Speed remains one of Keanu Reeves’ most iconic roles, and the movie’s script doctor now reveals that the actor made character suggestions that pushed back against 90s action movie norms. Released in 1994, director Jan de Bont’s action classic stars Reeves as LAPD officer Jack Traven, who must prevent a bomb from killing a bus-load of people by keeping the vehicle’s speed above 50 mph. The movie also stars Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, and Jeff Daniels.

In a recent interview on the 50 MPH podcast, which chronicles the making of Speed, the movie’s script doctor, Joss Whedon, who has been largely absent from the public sphere lately due to the misconduct allegations against him, reveals that Reeves was crucial in bringing Traven to life. Whedon reveals that Reeves brought with him several character suggestions that bucked action movie hero trends at the time. Check out Whedon’s comment below:

“(Reeves) talked about (researching the role) with the SWAT guys and how they were unfailingly polite. (Reeves said) they’re only about defusing the situation, they call everybody ‘sir or ‘ma’am.’ It was like click — that was it. I understand this character now. My take on it was: He wasn’t a hot shot, he was a lateral thinker. He was going to do what felt right and have an odd approach to it, but generally speaking, it would work out.

“That ‘sir or ma’am’ gave me so much, because bluster (in action movie heroes) was the order of the day and this was the opposite. He also said, ‘I don’t want to pull my gun.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t want you to either, but you kind of have to … (the studio is) not going to let you not pull your gun.’”

Related: Why Keanu Reeves Was Recast For Speed 2: Cruise Control


Keanu Reeves Is The Perfect Action Hero

As Speed demonstrates, many of Reeves’ best characters work because he is able to play them somewhat against type. Part of why Traven is such a memorable hero is because the role allows Reeves to bring a lot of his own unique energy to the part, avoiding the brash, loud, and more relentlessly commanding action heroes that were popular at the time.

Traven, instead, has an immediate degree of likability simply because Reeves is playing him, with the character just coming across as having softer edges. Crucially, however, in addition to a degree of likability and charisma, Reeves also brings a powerful sense of physicality to his action-oriented roles, which carries over into his stunt work. This combination is also on display in something like The Matrix, with Reeves’ Neo being somewhat dopily charming at first before then becoming a Kung fu master and weapons expert.

More recently, of course, Reeves’ has brought this energy to the John Wick franchise. Wick is most certainly more no-nonsense and stoic than Traven, but it could be argued that the franchise wouldn’t work (or at least wouldn’t be as successful) without Reeves bringing a certain softness and likability to the assassin as he guns down hundreds of enemies. Speed remains one of Reeves’ best and most iconic movies, and it’s now clear that Reeves himself had a key role in making Traven shine.

Source: 50 MPH

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