Twenty-five years ago today, Keanu Reeves looked into the camera and said he wanted to do something that no other actor had done. Having just delivered the performance of his career in The Replacements at the Toronto International Film Festival, he didn’t get around to it — the next movie he did was the shark thriller Jaws, which he does not remember from memory. But it is at that point that, in a New York Times Magazine interview from his hotel room, he asks writer Michael Tolkin, “I don’t want to do an action movie, but what about a talk show? Because you can’t do a talk show unless you’re making movies.”
It is an intriguing thought and one that Reeves has since toyed with as he moved from the sci-fi action genre to the glossy — and sometimes cheesier — comedies of his later years.
Of course, talk shows aren’t just about the shooting of them and the huge egos that reside in the sound booth. There are also the production and writing departments, where scheduling can be far more hasty than the schedule for an actual movie. In 1994, with one year off between The Matrix sequels, Reeves was hired by David Letterman to make his late-night debut as host of The Late Show. The schedule call, Reeves discovered, was the same that the producers of The Late Show use for movies. “But that wasn’t an excuse,” he told the New York Times. “It’s a schedule, it’s not a movie schedule. And that is an excuse for giving me an attitude of, ‘Go back to Earth because I’m not doing an action movie!’”
The actor became resentful of that attitude, and he wasn’t sure he was quite ready to watch his colleagues go on auditions (the latter for Jumpered and Gilded, a show in which famous people read everyday slang from the phone book). He still hadn’t made it into movies and worried that his money could go toward more of those — “the prospect of making another mediocre action film was very daunting,” he told the magazine in 1994 — which is why, against the advice of his agent, he decided to check out Letterman. “I hate going out into a big promotional tour,” he said. “And I know exactly how it would work for me.”
The experience has stuck with him, as he makes the rounds of talk shows to promote his new role in Passengers, a romantic drama also starring Jennifer Lawrence that lands in theaters on Friday.
Watch Keanu Reeves interview David Letterman.
Enjoy a few shots from The Late Show, that he said he once won.
The retired talk show host starts the interview by asking the actor which one of the show’s many contests he won on air: the movie sweepstakes, the car sweepstakes, whatever. Reeves claims to have won all of them.
The trio met at a cocktail party the following day. “At 6:30, he said, ‘What was that last night?’” recalls Letterman. “He asked me what I was doing?”
“I was going out to shoot Jumanji,” said Reeves.
“Oh, there’s the ticket,” the late night host said. “All the guests who come on this show have tickets to whatever movies they want to see. He had won the Jumanji movie ticket for winning the contest.”
“Well,” says Letterman, “it was the ballgame.”