"I've heard Richard Linklater say that in the States certain civil liberties are being taken away under the guise of safety - ‘We have your best interests and your protection [at heart]' - and it's becoming more and more not innocent until proven guilty, but you're guilty until proven innocent. I think A Scanner Darkly is kind of quietly dealing with some of those themes. Or something to get out of it is something kind of like, ‘Hey, you know the scene where that man who is on the street with the megaphone is being taken away by the police? You can't dissent.' So there is a little bit of a warning, I think, going on in the film. I think a lot of people, probably in their day to day lives in America now, are ill at ease. I know with my friends and everyone there's a ‘when is the shoe going to drop?' kind of thing. So everyone's not like running around all happy. And in terms of being safe, I don't think people feel at bottom safe."
I've been talking to your director on A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater, about subversion. Are you subversive?
"Oh, subversive cinema. What is subversive cinema?"
How would you define it?
"God, I just set myself up here, didn't I. It's an open question. I would say the Matrix films were subversive cinema in their intent. Subversive tends to be actions outside of practiced norms of change. When do you start calling something subversive I guess is what defines what something is, right?"
Would you call yourself subversive in the sense that you haven't led what one assumes to be the traditional life of a Hollywood star?
[Still pondering the previous question] "Subversive has an intent, right? It has an intent for change. That's good. Subversive means an intent for change. We don't know change what, but that's good. In my life, no. In my work, I'm attracted to it. Um, yeah."
Would you consider A Scanner Darkly to be subversive?
"Again, I think there is a quiet intent. I've heard Richard say that in the States certain civil liberties are being taken away under the guise of safety - ‘We have your best interests and your protection [at heart]' - and it's becoming more and more not innocent until proven guilty, but you're guilty until proven innocent. I think this film is kind of quietly dealing with some of those themes. Or something to get out of it is something kind of like, ‘Hey, you know that scene where the man who is on the street with the megaphone and being taken away by the police? You can't dissent.' So there is a little bit of a warning, I think, going on in the film."
Do you feel protected and safe in the States now or overprotected and controlled?
"Oh gosh, I don't know. Those are really strong absolute definitions and I think life is a little more mercurial than that. I think a lot of people, probably in their day to day, are ill at ease. I know with my friends and everyone there's a 'when is the shoe going to drop?' kind of thing. So everyone's not like running around all happy. In terms of being safe, no, I don't think people feel at bottom safe."
You've been through some dark passages in your life. You know how quickly things can change. How has that affected your approach to life and your outlook?
"Um, I think as you get older you tend to have a richer experience, a feeling and being affected by things, and I'd say appreciative but also, I don't know, I guess it's just a deeper understanding. I guess I can't say that either. Just a richer experience, preciousness, [getting quieter] type of thing."
Did the success of the Matrix films add something to your personal wellbeing?
"Yeaaaah. Really! I mean, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Artistically it was one of the best experiences I've had. So just that, you know? And the friends that I made out of it."
And the admiration of your fans? How was that?
"[Sighs ironically] That was so long ago."
Surely not. Everyone was screaming your name outside here.
"Well we're at a film festival. Hah! That's what people want to do, scream, and they're here to see people. No, I'm really proud of those films and I really love them. I'm glad that people enjoyed them. And in terms of work, from the business side of it, it helps to get this film made. Because of that Warner Brothers had an interest in me so they said, ‘OK, Warner Independent.' I did a film called Thumbsucker, an independent film, and my participation helped other people be more comfortable with spending money. So that's great."
Both Thumbsucker and A Scanner Darkly have drugs as one of their themes. What is your attitude to drugs?
"It depends what part of drugs you're talking about. Do you mind if I smoke?" [With perfect timing he takes a packet of Camels out of his jacket, smacks it on the table to dislodge a cigarette, and takes one out]
So this is your drug of choice?
"This one I don't mind, no. You'd have to be more specific."
I suppose there are all sorts of different uses, whether it be to drop out or get high or . . .
"To get through the day. . .Yeah, they're parts of our lives so they're things to talk about and things to think about. What is their place and how are we using them and all of these kinds of things. Yeah, these are things to think about."
Do you have any experience?
"Some. I don't have much experience with some of these psychiatric drugs like Zoloft or Adivan, I don't really know those. I've done drugs once in a while."
[Reeves lights up]
I don't mean that smoking.
"Are you asking me about illegal things? [Laughs] You want to know if I'm a criminal. And why is that criminal?"
How do you get your highs nowadays?
"Love and life. No, friendships, family."
But you're happy?
"Yeah, yeah. Well, I'm 41 now so . . . The kid days, oy, they're done with."
When you were at your lowest points, which we alluded to earlier, how did you get through that? Did you have a faith to fall back on, drugs, what got you through those very difficult times?
"Well I've learned that grief doesn't go away. That with some of these harder knocks, mortality, things involving mortality, it's like a wound: you can take care of the wound but you're still going to have the scar. I've learned that."
Okay. Is it different acting in this kind of way where you know that it's going to be animated and fixed at the end?
"Well it can't all be fixed. Maybe we hope that."
But there are certain things that can be tweaked, tricks that can be done. Is it more like acting in a theatrical piece?
"Yeah, right. Actually, I found that not because of the animation but it was my first experience in a film working with digital video cameras, because I've always worked with film cameras. Thn you have to change the roll every 10 minutes for a thousand footer, right? So you have to change the film and get the pause, the time; actions and cuts are very precise. But with digital it's a 45-minute cassette, so you don't have to stop. You and I could be having this conversation in a film and, okay, I'd finish, ‘Cut'. With this cassette it was like we could have a conversation and then Richard would walk in and we'd talk, and then he'd just say, ‘Go.' So really the tempo rhythm of performing was different. It was something to adjust to. Sometimes we'd have to say ‘Stop, we need a break'. Which you do, obviously, sometimes in film too, but this was different for me. So that was probably the most different thing."
How did you get along with Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey, Jr?
"Well the funny thing about the film was we never were in the same room at the same time [he's joking]. No, we got along really well [laughs]. It was really fun. Really simpatico. Really it was great. And that comes off on the screen, I think. I really enjoyed their dynamic."
What kind of audience do you think A Scanner Darkly will attract?
"I hope that people don't define who when they review it. Like I hope you wouldn't say, ‘I enjoyed it but I don't know if it's for everyone, it's a cult movie.' I'd rather that didn't happen. I'd rather, and this is true of all films, that films were allowed to exist how they are. But, um, our intent was to make it open. Yeah, who's going to be enjoying that film? I think if you're questioning what's going on in the world, in cities . . . I think it's really a film oriented towards people in cities. Some in the country, but I think it's got something to say about how you live in the West, in the city, what's going of with business and governments and people, rights and society, and how we live and how we are. So that's a pretty open thing."
Are you still into motorcycling and music?
"Um, yeah. I used to play in a band [Dogstar], but I don't anymore. We broke up and it hasn't happened again. Yeah, I still ride bikes. I like Nortons. I've got a couple of Nortons and then I have a Harley chopper. So kind of quieter, kind of hanging out bikes. But the Nortons are my love."
Do you still ride at night without lights?
"Once in a while. On a good day. On a good day. . ."