Imagine putting on that bright red cape, the matching boots and the blue shirt with that giant "S" branded across the chest. Soaring into the air, you stick out one arm, let the other dangle by your side, and fly off to rid the world of injustice.
Now imagine you're offered that opportunity and you turn it down flat. For most of us, this is a daydream as plausible as outrunning a speeding bullet; for Keanu Reeves, it's reality.
In late 2002, with the much-anticipated "Matrix" sequels on the way, Reeves was the hottest property this side of Boardwalk and Park Place. When the handsome, dark-haired savior stepped out of a phone booth and flew into the sky at the conclusion of "The Matrix," the role of Neo felt like a big-budget screen test for the most iconic of superheroes.
As Reeves took flight, director Brett Ratner (the "Rush Hour" movies) was searching for the perfect Man of Steel for a big-budget film based on a script called "Superman: Last Son of Krypton," and the role of a lifetime was offered to Keanu. "When Superman came around," Reeves remembered, "I think I was one of 110,000 people who got asked to do that."
"Whoa," you're probably thinking to yourself, "a laid-back actor whose name translates as 'cool breeze over the mountains' playing the square-jawed last son of Krypton?" Keanu felt the same way, calling it one of the clearest cases of miscasting ever presented to him.
"When studios have a big film like that," the black-clad superstar insisted, "everyone wants to be a part of it, so it's kind of like this feeding frenzy, like raw meat thrown into the ocean. So yeah, I've been around those, but it's never been real. But it's nice to be asked."
Reeves said he's dreamed of playing superheroes ever since he first broke into acting at age 15. His pride in selecting offbeat roles, however, allowed him to suppress that desire despite numerous opportunities during the current comics-to-film explosion.
Now, with the Superman movie progressing under a different director and star, Reeves is beaming over his first comic-book adaptation in this month's "Constantine." Ripped from the pages of long-running DC/Vertigo "Hellblazer" series, demon fighter John Constantine is unlike all those other superheroes movie audiences are familiar with, Reeves said, calling him "hard-edged, hard-boiled, world-weary, cynical, fatalistic, nihilistic and self-interested ... with a heart."
Dodging kryptonite and polishing Lex Luthor's chrome dome, it turns out, isn't the only superhero fantasy the leading man has flirted with over the years. "It would be cool to be asked to play Batman," Keanu said, revealing some jealousy toward names like Keaton, Clooney, Kilmer and — soon — Bale (see "Holy Psycho Killers! Christian Bale Cast As Batman"). "That would be fun."
Between the chain-smoking Constantine and the revenge-fueled Batman, it's obvious Reeves prefers heroes who have issues — in both senses of the word. Dressed in black from head-to-toe, the man who stared down the ultimate demon in "The Devil's Advocate" admitted he enjoys exploring the darker side of humanity. This explains his answer when asked to name the comic-book hero he dreams of portraying more than any other.
"If I could, I'd like to do Wolverine," Reeves said, referring to the beer-swigging, Adamantium-clawed "X-Men" antihero recently incarnated by Hugh Jackman. "But that's taken already and done really well, so I think my luck ran out on that one."
Hey, bub, we're just two cool mutants, just hanging on the bus, OK?
For more from Keanu on making "Constantine," plus an exclusive peek at the film, catch "Never Before Scene" Thursday night at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Check out everything we've got on "Constantine."
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