The times when Keanu Reeves cut his salary to help get a film made

Keanu Reeves
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The stories of the various times Keanu Reeves has been willing to cut his own take from a movie in order to help it get made.

It’s worth noting from the outset that Keanu Reeves is a man not short of a few quid. Off the back of his prolonged and deserved movie career, he’s amassed enough money to see him through, well, we can comfortably suggest a year or two. Yet one of the many factors about Reeves that makes him such a force for good is he realises it. And as such, having long concluded that he’s got all the money he needs, he’s on at least three occasions cut his own take from a movie just to ensure the broader production gets the personnel it needs.

I’m always a bit wary of ‘rich people being generous’ tales. But I’ve always felt there’s something a little different about the way Reeves carries being a movie star, and that these are the kind of stories that deserve a bit more of an airing. Hence, this article.

Firstly, there was The Devil’s Advocate (above).

Reeves had starred in the film Speed a few years previously, but that had been a surprise hit. Still, his salary for that film would pay the bills to the point where he could afford to decline the offer of $11m when he read the script for Speed 2: Cruise Control.

With The Devil’s Advocate, Reeves was thus offered a deal to take on one of the two lead roles in the movie. It was going to be a pricey movie for Warner Bros to make, and the final budget would come in just shy of $60m. It was going to be a big payday for Reeves too, one of the first films he’d signed up to following Speed, and he ultimately picked the film over its sequel. But the problem came with casting his co-star.

Al Pacino had long been in mind to take on the role of John Milton in the film, yet he’d been reluctant to sign on the dotted line. In fact, he turned the movie down a few times before finally saying yet. Then the problem hit: the budget wouldn’t stretch to both Reeves and Pacino.

When presented with the problem, Keanu Reeves had a simple solution: cut his own salary, so that they could get Pacino on board. As he told Total Film’s Aubrey Day, he went to the producers and queried “is that all I have to do?” when the discussion got on to cutting his fee. He duly sliced a couple of million of his price, without much of a beat.

Pacino said yes. Warner Bros matched his asking price. Both were cast. The film would prove to be a solid hit, and just as importantly for Reeves, he got to work with one of his idols.

It wouldn’t be the last time he did this, either.

Granted, by the time 2000’s The Replacements had come out, Reeves was one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, and had comfortably banked ten figures for The Matrix. The Matrix trilogy as a whole – even before the upcoming fourth film – would reportedly make him nine figures and change. Still, casting The Replacements was proving a problem again, when the producers wanted Gene Hackman but couldn’t afford his price. The budget was $50m, already pricey for the kind of film it was. And there was no more money the studio would put into it.

Reeves, keen to work with Hackman and figuring he’d got more than enough money to keep him secure, dropped his price again. It was this move that unlocked the casting of Hackman, and thus the pair got to work together on the film.

Reeves talked about the experience of working with both Pacino and Hackman in that aforementioned Total Film interview, adding “to hang out with him and to see how – both actors – just see how they go about their craft…”. He clearly had a great time.

Reeves’ benevolence hasn’t just stretched to his co-stars, though. He’s shown generosity to the crew of films he’s been involved with as well. In fact, there’s no shortage of stories as to how easy Reeves is to work with on film sets, and how he takes time to get to know the crew.

Still, most would have to concur that he went a bit further than many when he was making The Matrix original trilogy. Notably, the stunt crew on The Matrix Reloaded found themselves each the recipient of a Harley Davidson motorbike on completion of the film. A dozen of them were each gifted a brand new bike, with Reeves explaining “we were all in this thing, and we were training together beforehand… I just wanted to give a bigger thank you to all the guys who helped me make this”.

Furthermore, Reeves cut his take from the Matrix movies too, so that further funds could be injected into effects, design and production on the features. Sure, he still did extraordinarily well out of the films. But also, he could have made a lot more, and chose to invest it back into the movies instead.

His willingness to vary his fee continues, too. Bill & Ted Face The Music has a total production budget of $25m, and that’s the money Reeves could easily charge up front for the next two John Wick films alone. Reeves is known to quietly fund charitable work too, and he’s consistently played down the importance of money in pursuing his work, now that he has enough to be comfortable.

Even appreciating that it’s easier for rich people to be sizeably generous compared to the rest of us, there aren’t many other movie stars we could write this story about. And in a world that seems to thrive on bad news at the moment, this seems like just the kind of collection of stories worth sharing. Be excellent to each other…


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