Keanu Reeves Was a Reluctant Action Star: Why He Had to Be Convinced to Star in ‘Speed’

Keanu Reeves has had a variety of film roles in his career, but it turns out that starring in an action movie wasn’t an easy sell at first. Jan de Bont, who made his directorial debut with Speed, said that Reeves was “afraid” of the role.

Keanu Reeves attends the John Wick special screenings at Ham Yard Hotel
Keanu Reeves | Dave J Hogan/Getty Images for Lionsgate

Keanu Reeves wasn’t on board with ‘Speed’ at first

In a July interview with Vulture de Bont explained the reason why Reeves had to be convinced to do Speed, saying, “he hated action.”

Reeves, according to the director, hoped to do more dramatic roles and the actor’s manager had to convince him to take on the part. “He hated stunts, and he hated action! He was afraid of it. He was more like a happy-go-lucky guy at the time, with high aspirations of dramatic theater,” de Bont said.

He continued, “Let me tell you this, it took me a lot of effort to get him to do the things I wanted him to do. But then near the very end, he finally started to enjoy it, because I showed him some footage and he realized, ‘Oh my God, that is such a different thing now. That is not a stunt person. People can see it’s my face. It’s not over my shoulder. It is in my face while things are happening around me.’ And then he started to enjoy it.”

Keanu Reeves’ reluctance appealed to the director

Reeves’ worry about stunts and action scenes were appealing to the director because it added a dose of reality. “But it took him a long time, and he was always a little grumpy about it,” de Bont noted. “He said, ‘Oh, I’m not an action hero. I don’t like it. I don’t know how to do it.’ Initially, of course, that’s what I liked about casting him, because I didn’t want those gung ho action heroes.”

He added, “I wanted a guy who happened to be thrown into a situation that is not normal to him, too. And seeing him respond to tough situations that he physically and mentally had to really respond to instead of act is a completely different work experience.”

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‘Speed’ had a lot of real moments

The director also revealed some of the elements that added to the realness of Speed, including some of the people on the bus. “I only cast people who actually had ridden buses in LA and knew what it was to sit on a bus for hours and not get bored with it,” de Bont said. “They never got bored. They were talking to each other. They were looking outside. And you always got really interesting-looking actors. They were always involved in what was going on. You could never get that with the professional cast extras.”

Additionally, Sandra Bullock, who co-starred in the hit action movie opposite Reeves, was really driving the bus. “Those reactions as things are happening around her, hitting whatever structures around her — quite often, it is her driving the bus,” the director revealed.

He assured, “Of course, there is a safety stunt driver laying on the top of the bus with a steering wheel and brakes as a first assist, who can immediately respond if something started to go wrong. But Sandra doesn’t know that, in a way; she knows that he’s there, but she doesn’t know if it’s her driving, because she still has to steer, she still has to push the gas pedal and brake.”

It allowed the actors’ reactions to be more authentic, deBont said. “In Speed, there’s never a tow car pulling the bus. It’s always a person in the bus who’s driving. And what you achieve is that the people on the bus, all the extras, too, they feel like, ‘Man, we all are on our own here.’ Because they never see the driver. They just see Sandra driving the bus. The reactions are so real, and that energizes almost everything immediately.”