He stepped off the set of “John Wick 3,” flew to San Francisco to deliver two of the most surreal movie scenes of the year (and make out profusely with Wong at a dinner table) — then went right back into John Wick mode to finish filming his stabby hitman threequel.
All to commit an act of absolute screen theft as the most unexpected character in “Always Be My Maybe,” the buzzy rom-com packed with wall-to-wall scene-stealing talent.
[“Always Be My Maybe” spoilers follow. You’ve been warned!]
Why is the internet obsessing anew over Reeves, weeks after “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” opened at No. 1 and days after going viral as a lonely guy looking for love in a now apparently debunked interview? Because in “Always Be My Maybe” Reeves doesn’t play just anybody. He plays himself.
You might even say Reeves is playing with himself. Co-writers Wong, Park and Michael Golamco wrote a heightened version of the real Reeves into the script as one of the rival love interests complicating the already-complicated friendship between Sasha (Wong) and Marcus (Park).
Many folks already knew, but the Asian American-centered “Always Be My Maybe” makes it official: It proudly claims Reeves, who has Chinese and Hawaiian heritage, on behalf of the Asian delegation. “He’s ours!” exclaimed Park, chatting about the film on a recent day in Culver City.
“We always knew we wanted him from Day One,” Park explained. “At that point in the story when Marcus finally knows he has feelings for Sasha and he’s going to tell her but she’s been dating somebody else, we thought, ‘What would be Marcus’ worst nightmare?’”
Reeves, 54, enters the film much like one might imagine he walks the actual Earth: In slow motion, with every living soul taking notice and launching invisible heart eyes in his direction.
That’s what happens, to Marcus’ horror, as Reeves is introduced as the hot new guy Sasha has been dating. After an extremely PDA-filled reunion with Sasha, Reeves takes his seat at the perfectly pretentious restaurant Maximal, expertly negs Marcus, requests a dish that “plays with time” and proceeds to weep over his meal, listening to the recorded melancholy wailings of his dinner being slaughtered as he eats it.
“He’s Marcus’ worst nightmare, because Marcus also idolizes him – because everyone does,” said a laughing Park, who’s also up against Daniel Dae Kim as Sasha’s slick restaurateur fiance in the film. “But to have him dating Sasha? It can’t get any worse than that, especially at the moment when he’s ready to tell her, after all these years, how he feels.”
The filmmakers recruited Asian American creatives from varied disciplines, from rapper Lyrics Born to n/naka chef Niki Nakayama, to be a part of “Always Be My Maybe.” For this role they wanted an Asian American icon who could act, be funny and would be willing to poke fun at himself. Reeves was perfect. But would he get the joke?
Nahnatchka Khan, the “Fresh Off the Boat” show runner who makes her feature directing debut with “Maybe,” had pulled off a kindred trick getting James van Der Beek to play a heightened version of himself on her ABC series “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23.”
“Keanu completely got it,” said Khan. “First of all, he read the whole script. A lot of the time somebody of his stature will just read their section. He read the whole script and realized how his character fit in. You’re tracking Marcus during that section because he’s trying to tell her how he feels and she throws this grenade, and it feels like his worst nightmare: It’s literally Keanu Reeves that she’s dating.
“He trusted myself, Ali and Randall to make the joke into what we’d talked about; he is not the butt of the joke — he is in on the joke with us,” she said. “It’s like James van Der Beek in ‘Don’t Trust the B----.’ They all think it’s funny as well, and it’s their version of sending up that actor-star culture.”
Plus his improv game was on point, riffing off seasoned comedians Wong, Park, and Vivian Bang as Marcus’ hippie girlfriend Jenny, who’s equally smitten with Reeves. Because of course she is, because everyone is — everyone but Marcus.
The “I missed your light”/”I missed your soul” exchange? Improvised, according to Wong.
Those lensless glasses he’s wearing for a role? All Reeves.
“And that’s in the movie,” said Khan. “When we were shooting on the day there were a lot of funny jokes he was pitching because he thought it would be funny if he knew a lot of Chinese dignitaries and started listing them. Of course Keanu would know that. He knows everything.”
When tensions boil over into jealousy and violence during an innocent parlor game in Reeves’ penthouse suite at San Francisco’s Fairmont hotel, Marcus does what few in movie history have done: He punches Reeves — who literally name-drops John Wick in the scene — and lives to tell.
“It was the best,” Park deadpans. “It was great in part because Keanu was so into it. He was in John Wick mode.”
Reeves, who could not be reached for comment regarding his cameo, was particularly amped for his big stunt, said Wong. “I think he just loves doing action. When he reacts, like, ‘Yeaaah!’ – that’s real. I really think he feels alive when people strike him.” (She’s kidding. Probably.)
Of course, it was never meant to be between Reeves and Sasha, who quickly realizes the fancy famous self-absorbed actor she’s dating isn’t The One and soon takes her shot with the non-fancy best friend she’s always loved. Reeves seems to take it well too, calling Sasha and Marcus an Uber home. Well, an Uber Pool.
Reeves might not have anyone in his life at the end of “Always Be My Maybe.” But if it did occur, he’d certainly respect and love the other person. Hopefully it’ll happen for him.
“He’s very self-aware and he’s aware of how he’s perceived in our culture,” screenwriter Golamco said appreciatively. “The dude’s a living legend. He’s somebody that has been beloved across generations… He just gives. That’s what Keanu does. He gives.”