Why Keanu Reeves Passed Up Co-Starring With Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino

Keanu Reeves remains one of Hollywood’s biggest box office draws. Starring in a wide range of films, the actor catapulted to superstardom in the action hit Speed in 1994. Reeves was soon getting bombarded with offers, and surprisingly turned down sharing the screen with two acting legends to take on a different challenge.

Keanu Reeves in a tuxedo attends the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland
Keanu Reeves | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Keanu Reeves nixed the movie ‘Heat’ for Shakespeare

After the massive success of Speed, Reeves began navigating the flood of opportunities he was receiving. Given the part of Chris Shiherlis in the 1995 film Heat, Reeves backed out of the project despite the chance to work alongside movie icons Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino.

Instead, Reeves chose to go the full thespian route and perform Hamlet at Canada’s Manitoba Theatre Centre.

“I do love it,” he told Rolling Stone in 2000 of Shakespeare’s works. “It’s like this kind of code that once you start to inhabit it with breath and sound and feeling and thought, it is the most powerful and consuming and freeing at the same time. Just, literally, elemental in sound, consonants and vowels.”

The actor was so committed to taking on the Shakespearian play that he studied the script in between takes of Speed. Reeves had already gleaned some experience with the Bard after appearing in Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film Much Ado About Nothing.

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Keanu Reeves also turned down ‘Speed 2’

With Speed being such a powerhouse at the box office, a sequel was the next logical step. Reeves got a visit from director Jan de Bont and co-star Sandra Bullock in an attempt to convince him to reprise his role as Jack Traven, but the actor wasn’t happy with the script.

“When I was offered Speed 2, Jan came to Chicago and so did Sandra, and they said, ‘You’ve got to do this’,” he told the Telegraph in 2015. “And I said, ‘I read the script and I can’t. It’s called Speed, and it’s on a cruise ship’.”

Fox Filmed Entertainment didn’t like being turned down twice by the actor. The studio head offered Reeves $12 million to reconsider, then shunned him for over a decade after he rejected it.

“That’s a good old Hollywood story!” the Point Break star remarked. “That was a whole, ‘Hey, kid, this is what happens in Hollywood: I said no to the number two and I never worked with the studio again!’”

The film studio apparently got over their grudge and recruited Reeves for the 2008 film The Day the Earth Stood Still.

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Keanu Reeves’ movies became Val Kilmer’s movies – and vice versa

Val Kilmer landed the role in Heat after Reeves passed on the film. Reeves had tried out for the iconic role of Jim Morrison for Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic The Doors, which went to Kilmer.

“I auditioned a few times, but I don’t think I was ever seriously in the running,” Reeves said, according to Collider. “I just read some of Jim Morrison’s poetry and listened to some of his music and did what I could.”

Ironically, the two actors would overlap again for the 1995 film Johnny Mnemonic. Kilmer was originally committed to the lead role but dropped out, with Reeves taking his place for a mere $2 million.

Kilmer will appear in the highly-anticipated Top Gun 2, and Reeves has a busy schedule with the next installments of The Matrix and John Wick franchises.