Keanu Reeves and his costar Winona Ryder had legendary Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola at the helm of their 1997 movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But even with such a respected artist giving him direction, Reeves bravely refused an on-set order. Now, the actress that was by his side that day has revealed precisely why.
Ryder and Reeves have worked together multiple times, creating flicks such as 2006’s A Scanner Darkly and Destination Wedding in 2018. But it was the actor’s behavior on the set of their 1992 film that made a huge impression on his co-star. However, she waited more than 30 years to tell the world about it.
At that point in the early ’90s, Reeves was a star, but not quite the revered actor and humanitarian we know today. So, for him to stand up to a director like Coppola would have been a big deal. But Ryder revealed he had no hesitation in doing so – and he had good reason to hold his ground.
Keanu Reeves wasn’t much for academia, but auditioning for the Etobicoke School of the Arts changed his high school experience – at least for a little while. The performing-centric curriculum suited him, but he eventually proved too energetic for a rigid program. So, he went to another school and focused on sports instead.
That transfer almost prevented us from knowing Reeves as the Hollywood star he is today. He played goalie for the school hockey team, and he decided to pursue a professional career in the sport. But the aspiring athlete got injured – and that made him decide to become an actor instead.
So, Reeves headed to Hollywood in 1986 and he ended up getting his start on the silver screen. He acted in teen films including Permanent Record and River’s Edge, which came out the same year that he moved to Los Angeles. His big break would come three years later, though.
In 1989 Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure came out, with Reeves starring as the second-billed titular character. His performance as the smart stoner named Ted shot him to fame, even if the film itself wasn’t appreciated by every critic. Still, the movie did well at the box office and opened the door to even more opportunities for the young actor.
Reeves had another banner year in 1991. After all, that was when he starred as an undercover FBI agent opposite Patrick Swayze’s bank-robbing surfer in Point Break. The same year, Reeves’s acting took a more serious turn in the indie drama called My Own Private Idaho, with critics lauding his performance.
But Reeves still hadn’t starred in the elusive Hollywood blockbuster. His first – a high-paced crime flick called Speed – would hit theaters in 1994. The actor starred as a detective trying to save riders on a bus rigged by explosives. Off the set, though, he curated a much sweeter reputation. Rumor has it, for instance, that he would leave presents for his co-star Sandra Bullock.
Yet Speed wasn’t the biggest blockbuster of Reeves’s career. He starred in the 1999 sci-fi movie The Matrix as its protagonist, a skilled hacker who can free humankind from its dystopian oppressors. The success of the movie pushed the actor into superstardom and made him into a name known all over.
For several years after The Matrix, Reeves dabbled in a slew of different movie genres. For example, he played a hunky love interest in the romantic comedy Something’s Gotta Give. The actor then took on a more serious role in a dramatic love story which was called The Lake House.
Reeves also headlined thrillers including Constantine in 2005 and A Scanner Darkly a year later. These films led up to a starring role in the action movie John Wick, which came out in 2014. That flick became a surprise hit at the box office and has spawned two successful sequels.
Through it all, Reeves has built a reputation for himself as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. Plenty of fans have shared their warm interactions with the star – and sometimes, they’re caught on film. In June 2019, for example, he attended the E3 convention and a spectator shouted out at him, “You’re breathtaking!”
When Reeves heard this exclamation, he didn’t hesitate in returning the compliment. He said, “You’re breathtaking.” Then, he motioned to the rest of the audience and added, “You’re all breathtaking.” The video of the touching moment went viral online – and inspired fans to repeat the compliment to Reeves when he made public appearances.
On his way to the set for the third Bill & Ted movie, Reeves noticed a fan-made sign for him. The poster read “you’re breathtaking,” a throwback to the actor’s E3 appearance the month before. So, he hopped out of his car and signed the poster, even scribbling a message to the person who made the sign – of course, it said “you’re breathtaking,” too.
Reeves’ fans have shared more kind gestures than just those related to “breathtaking” subject matter. For instance, SBNation.com writer James Dator wrote on Twitter in May 2019 that, as a teen, he had worked at a movie theater. And one day, the movie star strolled in to watch a film.
Dator wanted to get an autograph from Reeves, but he didn’t have the chance to get one. Then, though, he heard a knock at the door of the theater box office. When he opened it, there was the actor with a concession-stand receipt, which he had signed for the future journalist. Better yet, the Matrix star immediately threw out the ice-cream he bought so that he could get a receipt – and something to sign for his young fan.
Kindness to children has long been part of Reeves’ repertoire. The actor supposedly runs a charity that supports healthcare for young people, but he didn’t give his name to the organization. He explained Ladies Home Journal in 2009, “It helps aid a couple of children’s hospitals and cancer research. I don’t like to attach my name to it, I just let the foundation do what it does.”
Of course, Reeves has stepped in and helped when on the scene himself. He was on board a March 2019 flight that had to make an emergency landing far from its destination of San Francisco. So, the Bill & Ted star chartered a bus to take everyone to the city by the bay, even sharing stories about California as they drove there.
One of the actor’s first virally chivalrous acts took place on another form of transportation – the New York City Subway. Someone filmed Reeves as he gave up his seat on what appeared to be a Brooklyn-bound Q train. He had noticed that a fellow passenger had a heavy bag to carry and probably needed to sit more than he did.
Reeves has proven selfless for the sake of his art, as well. In the two sequels to The Matrix – The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions – he didn’t earn the entire Hollywood salary that outsiders might’ve expected. And that was reportedly because he wanted to ensure that special effects and costumes designers had enough money to perfect the sci-fi film’s esthetic.
Beyond that, Reeves has taken pay cuts so that his movies could feature other big-name stars. For instance, in 1997, he accepted a smaller sum so that he could co-star in The Devil’s Advocate with legendary actor Al Pacino. And, sometimes, Reeves has used his paycheck to treat his colleagues – he purchased all of The Matrix’s stuntmen with motorcycles for their hard work on the movie.
Indeed, hard work on set is seemingly one of the ways to get into Reeves’s good graces. Cecep Arif Rahman and Yaya Ruhian – a pair of martial artists and John Wick 3 stars – were supposed to be killed off of the film franchise. But their work impressed the actor to the point that he decided that the storyline should change so they didn’t die on-screen.
Finally, fans have pointed out that Reeves makes clear his respect for women, too. In a viral Twitter thread in June 2019, they realized that the actor never puts his hands on female counterparts when snapping photos with them. Instead, he lets his hand hover just above the lower back area.
One of Reeves’s former co-stars has come forward and corroborated these last two points. That is, he does, indeed, have great respect for his colleagues and women. Winona Ryder acted alongside him in the 1992 movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Their director Francis Ford Coppola, though, employed visceral methods to get his actors to become emotional.
Indeed, the stars of Bram Stoker’s Dracula would have to be vulnerable in their roles. The movie stars Gary Oldman in the titular role, and the plot meets him just as he suffers immense heartache. His wife Elisabeta commits suicide when she is falsely informed of his death in battle. So, he renounces his church and God and becomes a vampire to avenge her loss.
More than 400 years later, a lawyer named Jonathan Harker – played by Reeves – meets with Dracula to close the sale on some of his London properties. That’s when the vampire sees a photo of the lawyer’s fiancé Mina Murray, who’s played by Ryder. She looks exactly like his late wife Elisabeta, which pushes him to lock up the lawyer – and go to London in search of his beloved.
Playing the damsel in distress role required Ryder to appear scared and shocked. But as she recalled to The Sunday Times in 2020, her acting wasn’t cutting it in the eyes of director Coppola. He wanted her to cry more, so he supposedly started slinging insults in the actress’ direction.
Coppola allegedly started shouting things like “You whore!” at Ryder in an attempt to get her to tear up. He then encouraged the rest of the men on set to do the same. But the actress revealed that her on-screen love Reeves had no interest in partaking in the harsh bombardment.
Ryder recalled her memory of the incident, saying, “To put it in context I’m supposed to be crying. Literally, Richard E. Grant, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu… Francis was trying to get all of them to yell things that would make me cry, but Keanu wouldn’t, Anthony wouldn’t. It just didn’t work.”
Luckily, the supposed insults from Coppola did little to affect Ryder’s performance. She said, “I was like, really? It kind of did the opposite.” Still, the actress revealed that her relationship with the director had improved since then. She described them simply as “good now” in spite of the harsh methods she recalled.
Of course, Reeves’ fans lauded him for yet another example of thoughtful behavior – and one that came from the early part of his career, no less. On Twitter, many commented to call the actor a “gentleman.” Another wrote, “He is a real man.” And someone even pointed out how great of a role model that the Bill & Ted star was.
For his part, Reeves has only had kind things to say about Ryder. In an August 2018 interview with People, he described her as a “lovely person and a talented actress.” Indeed, the pair had co-starred in more films than just Bram Stoker’s Dracula – they also collaborated on Destination Wedding, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee and A Scanner Darkly.
But the pair’s experience on the vampire-centric film may well have been the most memorable project they worked on together. And not just because of their director’s allegedly abrasive tactics. Ryder told Entertainment Weekly in 2018 that the on-screen wedding between their characters may have actually been an official tying of the knot.
Ryder explained that Coppola had “used a real Romanian priest” to helm her and Reeves’s on-screen nuptials. The actors filmed the entire wedding ceremony, too, which led her to believe they “actually got married in Dracula.” She added, “No, I swear to God, I think we’re married in real life.”
In a 2019 appearance on The Talk, Reeves revealed that Ryder jokingly referred to him as “husband,” but it may not have been fake at all. He said, “I didn’t really believe her, and then… Coppola, the director of Dracula, contacted Winona and said publicly that, yeah, that really happened, the priest did a full ceremony, and Winona and I got married.”
And while Coppola corroborated that part of Ryder’s story, he released a statement to People in June 2020 that denied her allegations regarding his on-set methods. He said, “While I think Winona is a wonderful actor, the incident she described is not how it happened, and shouting or abusing people isn’t something I do as a person or as a filmmaker.”
Instead, Coppola said he recalled the moment in question. He described, “In this situation, which I remember clearly, I instructed Gary Oldman – in character as Dracula – to whisper improvised words to her and the other characters, making them as horrific and evil as he could. I don’t know what was said, but improvisation is a common filmmaking practice.”
For Ryder, though, the biggest takeaway from the Dracula set may have been her relationship with her co-star, Reeves. She said in her Sunday Times interview, “I love Keanu. We’re great friends. I miss him so much, and it’s hard because he’s not far, just over there,” pointing out of the window of her Los Angeles home.
Of course, Reeves’ fans feel just as fondly of the actor as she does. And they’ll get to see him reprise two beloved roles as part of his upcoming slate of features. Firstly, he’ll headline August 2020’s Bill & Ted Face the Music. Then, he’ll star in John Wick 4, set to release in May 2021.