These days, the nigh omnipresent Keanu Reeves steals any show he attends, and Microsoft’s E3 conference on Sunday was no exception. Immediately following the debut of a new trailer for CD PROJEKT RED’s upcoming RPG, Cyberpunk 2077, Reeves took to the stage to introduce a second batch of footage along with the highly anticipated game’s release date (April 16, 2020). Just after the show, EW caught up with Reeves for a chat about his Cyberpunk character Johnny Silverhand, his introduction to gaming as a storytelling medium, the future of John Wick, and the Keanaissance in general.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: That Microsoft conference was very exciting!
KEANU REEVES: Yeah, the people were so nice.
You were the highlight of the show.
Well, it’s CD PROJEKT RED too, right? They’re pretty renowned, and I think there’s a lot of excitement for the people who knew that this title [Cyberpunk 2077] was going to be there. It’s cool to be part of launch that actually gives a release date, you know?
What was your experience with previous CD PROJEKT RED games? Have you played The Witcher series?
No, I haven’t played any video games. When I grew up, in my era it was more arcade stuff, so it was pinball and, you know, Pac-Man. Yeah, so I never played any games.
So this is all sort of a new experience for you then, coming into this industry?
Yeah. I met with CD PROJEKT RED in July of last year, and they had a bit of a demonstration, and they walked me through the character, and what they knew of the game. I had mo-cap experience through The Matrix, so that idea wasn’t foreign to me, in terms of being able to play a role, and being able to embody a role and then do the voice. The game, and the world and the story they were talking about is really cool. Especially as an open world role-playing game, I think as far as those games go, they do it really well. I could see from the quality and from the depth of the storytelling.
What can you say about your character in Cyberpunk 2077?
I can’t tell you too much about what the ultimate thing is, but the character I play is a rebel, and he’s a cool character.
He’s described as a “rockerboy.”
Yeah, he has this kind of corporate para-military background and got injured, and he has this kind of bionic arm now. He started a band called Samurai that he’s the lead singer of, and, you know, he’s kind of a rebel leader against the corporate-ocracy.
In the trailer, the protagonist, V, has a Samurai logo on his jacket. Is he a fan of Johnny Silverhand?
Yeah, and what that group represents. The voice of what Silverhand was singing about.
You mentioned that you’ve done motion capture before for The Matrix. How did the acting part compare doing that for a video game as opposed to a movie?
There was more of it. We did the gestural library, face capture and then played some scenes. For me, it was fun just because, you know, there are certain things in games that you have to do that you don’t do in movies. Like, how do you stand there and wait and prompt people like you’re impatient? So you have to do these gestures of impatience, and like, what’s Johnny’s? So I had this kind of head tilt to the side, like “come on,” basically a “come on, man.”
So you had to think a little bit more about how your character spends idle time.
Yeah, stuff that was in between moments and not just kind of playing the drama of a scene. That’s an example of the super specific kind of thing that’s unique to a game. Like, while the character is making a decision, you’re in the shot and you’ve got to be like, [heavy sigh].
What was it about Cyberpunk specifically that made you want to jump into the game industry? Why did you say yes to this project?
From the outside, the idea of storytelling. The technology of storytelling has changed so much, right? It’s developed, and the evolution of it, what does that mean? For me, even though the RPG is a legacy format, the sophistication in that [is appealing]. As opposed to mass-player games or battle royales, this is kind of a closed world, but you can move in that world, and it’s your personal journey through it. That’s really a legacy idea in terms of a format in gaming, but the sophistication that they can do it now, technologically. You can have a list of choices of how you want to be. What’s your character? Not only how you look, but how do you behave? How do you think? What’s important to you? Is it strength, is it intelligence? You can play the game changing your character like that, which means that you can play the game once one way and play it a myriad of other different ways and get different scenes, like, play the same scene multiple different ways. And so, as a storyteller, I think that’s cool. Right now, [media] is often like choose your ending, and in a weird way, that’s how a lot of entertainment is getting reviewed. Like, “oh I wish the movie did this. Why didn’t they do that?” So that impulse can be satisfied, or engaged with.
Do you find that you want to get more into the gaming space, having worked on this project?
After I went through another development of the game today, like 45 minutes with it, I was like, “I think I’m going to upgrade my player, learn how to play this game.” Yeah. What I could see today was just really engaging, and I think just with the quality of the image and all the detail of the light and the production design, it’s a really cool world, and the characters are cool.
This is the most in-depth you’ve gotten with a game, but your likeness has been in games before. Have you heard much about the John Wick character in Fortnite?
Yeah, sure. I talked to Donald Mustard about that, from Epic Games, and he had a really cool idea about how to integrate the character in it. I think it’s a limited time, and the flexibility with what they can do with Fortnite is really fun. For me, I started to hear about [Fortnite] almost two years ago because they had the Reaper character that people were calling John Wick, so I would have kids on the street saying, “Oh my God, it’s John Wick!” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” And that’s when Fortnite kind of came to my world. Which I thought was really cool. John Wick wears a white shirt now, though, in Fortnite.
Speaking of John Wick, John Wick 3 was a wild movie. Did you have any favorite scenes to film?
For me, what were two sequences that were really different were the knife fight and the horse gun sequence. And then, of course, there’s the swords on motorcycles.
Are you preparing yourself mentally and physically for another one?
If I get the chance to do it, that would be really great. It’s really up to the studio and the visionary. It’s really up to [director] Chad Stahelski.
I can’t imagine they wouldn’t want to do more with how great they’ve been.
I don’t know. Well, that’s kind of you to say. I mean, I love the character.
Have you heard anything about the fan response to your character in Always Be My Maybe?
I’ve gotten a couple of things from my friends. Like I just got a text from a friend of mine saying like, “I’m watching this scene and oh my god, it’s so funny.” So that’s really nice. Ali Wong is great, Randall Park and Nahnatchka Khan, the director. They really were collaborative and open arms and playful, and so good.
How much of that persona in the movie was written out and how much was improv on your part?
Most of it was written. I had a couple of moments that I improvised, like the Chinese dignitaries and there were a couple of lines in the dinner scene, like that whole riff with my character and Ali, like “I miss your face. I miss your soul.” All of that was improv.
Are you familiar with the term “Keanaissance?” Like “McConaissance?” It’s a term some people are using to describe your sort of resurgence as a dominant force in pop culture.
No. Oh my gosh! Oh, that’s funny. Well, that’s nice.