How Keanu Reeves fought ’90s action movie stereotypes and studio pressure for an iconic role


  • Joss Whedon, writer of “Speed,” recalls how Keanu Reeves’ portrayal for Jack Traven was different from 90s action movie stereotypes.
  • Reeves spent time with real SWAT officers to prepare and advised his character to be more polite, calling people “sir” and “ma’am”. The actor even suggested to his character not to get a gun, but this idea was not accepted.
  • Reeves’ combination of good looks, charisma and physicality makes many of his action films truly memorable, and Traven is a perfect example.

Speed ​​remains one of Keanu Reeves’ most iconic roles, and now the film’s writer admits that the actor made suggestions for the character that went against the stereotypes of ’90s action movies. In the 1994 classic action film directed by Jan de Bont, Reeves plays LAPD officer Jack Traven, who must stop a bomb from killing the people on board a bus by keeping the vehicle moving at over 50 mph. The film also stars Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper and Jeff Daniels.

In a recent interview with the 50 MPH podcast about the making of Speed, screenwriter Joss Whedon, who has been largely absent from the public sphere of late due to misconduct allegations against him, revealed that Reeves was instrumental in bringing Traven to life. Whedon reveals that Reeves brought with him several suggestions for the character, which went against the trend of action heroes at the time. Here is Whedon’s comment:

“(Reeves) talked about learning the role with SWAT officers and how they were always polite. (Reeves said) it’s just to defuse the situation, they call everyone “sir” or “ma’am”. It seemed to click here, I understood this character. My idea was this: he was not a phenomenon, he was a non-standard thinker. He did what he thought was right and had a weird approach, but overall it worked.

“These ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ gave me a lot, because arrogance (of action heroes) was in the order of things, and it was the other way around. He also said, “I don’t want to get my gun.” And I said, “I don’t want you to do that either, but you have to… (the studio) won’t let you not pull your gun.”

Keanu Reeves is the perfect action hero.

As Speed ​​shows, many of Reeves’ best characters work because he can play them differently than usual. One of the reasons Traven is such a memorable character is because the role allows Reeves to bring a lot of his unique energy to the character while avoiding the brash, loud and overbearing action heroes that were popular at the time.

Traven, on the other hand, is immediately likable simply because he is played by Reeves, the character seems to be softer. However, it’s important to note that in addition to some charisma and charisma, Reeves also brings a powerful sense of physicality to his fighting roles, which is also reflected in his stunt work. This combination is also evident in films such as The Matrix, in which Neo Reeves is initially charming and slightly awkward, and later becomes a kung fu master and weapons expert.

More recently, of course, Reeves has brought that energy to the John Wick franchise. Wick is certainly more pragmatic and stoic than Traven, but the argument could be made that the series won’t work (or at least not be as successful) unless Reeves brings some degree of sweetness and sympathy to a killer who kills hundreds of people. enemies. Speed ​​remains one of Reeves’ best and most iconic films, and it’s now clear that Reeves himself played a key role in making Traven shine.

Source: 50 mph

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