Before he started filming his latest movie in and around Buffalo, Keanu Reeves was already connected here in many ways, even if just somewhere within his subconscious.
Reeves — who is currently filming some of "Henry’s Crime" here — said in a phone interview this week that the decision to shoot in Buffalo came in part from the film’s writer, Sacha Gervasi. But there is evidence that Reeves was familiar with at least some of the area’s charms.
"[Gervasi] kind of had the idea of Buffalo; it was kind of an intuitive thing," said Reeves. "We were looking for toll booths. And Niagara Falls kind of came up for an important scene so Buffalo was the place."
But Reeves spent his youth in Toronto, from ages "7 to 20," he said.
"When I was in school, we’d go to the Falls," he said. "But we got [Buffalo's] local news — [his voice goes down an octave and goes up a few decibels] IRV WEINSTEIN!"
Also, one of the co-stars in "Henry’s Crime" is James Caan, whose debut as a director once brought him to Buffalo to make "Hide in Plain Sight." Caan, Reeves said, "speaks very fondly about it. He was there before everybody. He had a good experience and has a lot of friends there now."
Reeves also had acted in a movie that was directed by Robert Longo, a painter and Buffalo- educated artist who was one of the founders of Hallwalls Gallery.
"Another element in Buffalo," Reeves said, "is that part of our story deals with a Prohibition tunnel. And there’s so many tunnels and kinds of places underground in Buffalo, which I didn’t know before. You can go underground in some places and show up someplace else a few blocks later."
Buffalo Niagara Film Commissioner Tim Clark said Reeves was "awestruck" when he showed him a tunnel under the Town Ballroom on Main Street. Currently a bar and concert venue, the Town Ballroom was once the Town Casino — one of the city’s hottest nightspots beginning in the 1930s.
The tunnel, Clark said, begins under the club’s backstage area, goes "beneath Main Street" and ends up across the street in a parking lot.
"Presumably they’re haunted too," Clark said.
Reeves’ most famous exploration of Buffalo locations thus far, though, was his tour of the Erie County Holding Center, which was conducted before officials refused such a tour to federal investigators looking into conditions there.
Reeves said he was told later that he’d become a bit of a local political issue completely inadvertently.
"I heard something about it afterward, yeah," Reeves said. "All I can say is we met some really nice people. We just weren’t aware of the situation that ended up happening."
Does that signify anything about the power of Hollywood and people’s regard for its figures?
"I don’t know if that’s the power of Hollywood. A lot of times people work on a film and accidentally become part of something [local]. It was just a nice day and really nice of them to let us go in."
Reeves is not only starring in the romantic comedy about a man wrongfully accused of being a bank robber, but he’s also the film’s executive producer. Unlike some films in which Reeves is a well-paid hired hand, he said this one is a film that he developed from the beginning.
Another film with Reeves is opening in Buffalo this weekend, Rebecca Miller’s "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee." The film isn’t funny but he is very funny in it, and "Henry’s Crime" is also described as a romantic comedy from the star whose early career was known for the likes of "Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure."
"It’s been a while, hasn’t it?" says Reeves of being funny again in the movies. "I really enjoy comedy. It’s a great pleasure to play it. It’s a little itchy because you don’t know whether other people are going to find it funny, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. It’s just something I enjoy."
Filming was also planned for "Henry’s Crime" in New York City and its suburbs, and filming was reportedly due to be wrapped up before Christmas.