Keanu Reeves may not appear in another “John Wick” movie until next year, but with “Siberia,” the moody action star gets to flex a different sort of muscle — his producing skills. Taking on double-duty as producer and star for the third time since 2010’s “Henry’s Crime,” Reeves has thrown his weight behind a project that fuses his instincts for suspense and comedy.
“It was a script that I helped develop so it was dear to me in a different way, and that’s part of the reason why I was producer on it,” Reeves told IndieWire. “Creatively, it was challenging because of the tones it mixes — it’s a thriller, it’s a romance, there’s some comedy, not quite comedy but humor in it, so I was really interested in the tonal complexity and ambition.”
Director Matthew Ross’ follow-up to 2016 Sundance hit “Frank and Lola” stars Reeves as Lucas Hill, an American diamond trader who heads to Russia to facilitate a shady deal for rare blue diamonds when his business partner goes missing. Hill soon finds himself drawn into a passionate affair with a Siberian cafe owner, Katya (Ana Ularu), which becomes complicated by both Katya’s family’s resistance to Hill, as well as by the dangerous men Hill is working with. As Hill falls in deeper in love, his entire world begins to crumble, forever altering life as he knows it.
It’s compelling material, but not exactly the easiest commercial pitch — which helps explains why Reeves decided to take on additional duties behind the camera. After his initial foray into producing with “Henry’s Crime,” Reeves began taking on that role with a handful of other passion projects, including his 2012 documentary “Side By Side,” which focuses on interviews with veteran filmmakers on the differences between shooting on film versus digital. He has at least five more producing projects in the pipeline, including “Replicas,” in which he stars, and a documentary about the nineties band Dogstar. (Reeves also made his directorial debut with the martial arts drama “Man of Tai Chi,” in 2013.)
He said that he saw his acting and producing efforts on a continuum. “They’re not separate, they’re connected,” he said. “It’s kind of like the actors and the actresses are performing in the house, and the producer is building the house they’re performing in, or the set, or the stage, or the world. In the past decade, I’ve been trying to support building nice houses.”
Reeves brought a perfectionist’s approach to the set. According to Ross, the actor-producer even had a say on which socks his character would wear. “If you know Keanu at all, getting things right, the perfectionism that he brings is infectious,” Ross explained. “I wanted to have that perfectionism reflected throughout the film. Along with starring in the film, he was a wonderful producer to work with as well. He really made sure to do whatever he could to give me what I needed as a director and that proved to be incredibly helpful on the film.”
Although Reeves’ Lucas Hill falls in love with the intoxicating Katya, he is a married man, and he has a few phone conversations with his wife back home, played by Molly Ringwald, where the audience can see the disconnection between the couple. The brief interactions between the two actors is sure to be a delight for any fan of 80’s pop culture, and sits along nicely with Ringwald’s recurring role on The CW’s “Riverdale,” where she co-parents Archie Andrews with 90’s heartthrob Luke Perry.
“Molly [Ringwald] just seemed like the perfect fit,” Ross explained. “It was also the ‘wink wink, nod nod’ aspect to having two actors who kind of came of age and were such huge stars while a whole generation of us grew up watching them, and then having them act together was obviously a real treat and a lot of fun.”
While “Siberia” fits nicely alongside Reeves’ more recent outings, like the “John Wick” trilogy, Ross had more classical film influences in mind when shooting the romantic thriller, including, perhaps most surprisingly, Robert Altman.
“Tarkovsky would be a very obvious answer,” Ross said of the film’s influences. “I think the number of themes that he’s explored in his films are themes in this as well. Also, just any excuse to watch Tarkovsky movies during prep and call it work is pretty great. Altman was also a big influence, especially the scenes shot outside. ‘McCabe and Mrs. Miller’ was something that my cinematographer and my production designer and I watched a couple of times.”
But beyond classic cinema influences, Ross also pointed to his time as a film journalist (including his years spent working as a film editor at IndieWire). “I started out as a journalist so I really learned to be a filmmaker from interviewing other filmmakers,” Ross said. “Using other films and filmmakers as inspiration for my own work is something that’s very intrinsic for what I do.”
While Ross had plenty of film journalism experience before “Siberia,” the director only had one feature under his belt, 2016’s “Frank and Lola,” which Ross had written himself. However, while the actor began his career working with veteran directors ranging from Gus Van Sant to Francis Ford Coppola, Reeves has gravitated toward greener directors in recent years — including “John Wick” directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch and Ana Lily Amirpour, for her sophomore effort “The Bad Batch.”
“Often, with first-time directors, they’ve written the piece, so it’s great to be connected to that kind of passion and vision,” Reeves explained. “And I’ve worked with a lot of women directors, which has been great. Once you get down to it, obviously, we all bring our histories, who we are and where we come from to our work, but where that meets the tip of the spear is really storytelling and vision, and I think that’s where it comes together for everyone.”
No matter how much new material he considers, he’s still eager to stick with a formula that works — in other words, get ready for “John Wick 3: Parabellum.” While Reeves wouldn’t divulge much about the film’s plot, he did say he was having a great time filming it.
“I love the character, I love the world,” Reeves said. “We’re opening up that world so there’s some new stuff for people who enjoy the films to learn about, and some great new characters. The action is really intense, but there’s a lot of different kinds of set pieces so it should be fun. John Wick is fighting for his life.”