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Keanu Reeves' Newest Role Is In The Video Game Cyberpunk 2077. Whoa

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right, pop quiz - who is the actor who played an action hero in "Speed," a cyber-criminal in "The Matrix," a killing machine in "John Wick" and who's now featuring in a new video game that takes elements from all of these roles?

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "CYBERPUNK 2077")

KEANU REEVES: (As Johnny Silverhand) Corps have long controlled our lives, taken lots, and now they're after our souls.

CHANG: Keanu Reeves lends his talents to the new video game, Cyberpunk 2077. It's a first-person game set in a dangerous city of the future. You play as the character V, who's an outlaw in search of a computer chip that's the key to immortality. And Keanu Reeves's character is there to guide you, as he is here with us. Welcome.

REEVES: Hello.

CHANG: (Laughter) So what got you into this role? Like, why did you decide to take it on? What fascinated you about it?

REEVES: Well, I love storytelling, and I have a lot of friends who video game. When I was approached by CD Projekt Red, they kind of laid out the story of the game and the character that they were interested in me playing, a guy named Johnny Silverhand, who's a bit of a rebel who's kind of asking people to wake up.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "CYBERPUNK 2077")

REEVES: (As Johnny Silverhand) Wake the [expletive] up, samurai. We have a city to burn.

And so this kind of relationship starts between you, the player, V, and my digital self, which only you can see and hear. Basically, we're both trying to survive. And so while you're playing the game, the relationship between you and me can go in different directions. So it could be adversarial. They could be friends. And then ultimately, you have a very important decision to make.

CHANG: And what is that decision?

REEVES: Of how you're going to live or die.

CHANG: (Laughter).

REEVES: And that sounded like fun to me.

CHANG: You know, I was reading about your character, Johnny Silverhand, and I had no idea video game characters had these, like, deep, personal backstories. The profile on this guy is long and rich.

REEVES: Yeah. I mean, I think - absolutely. I mean, in the tradition of gaming, starting with tabletop gaming - Cyberpunk is an original tabletop game; other people might be familiar with Dungeons and Dragons - the idea of storytelling and character development and the richness that's involved and that can be explored is profound.

CHANG: I mean, this is your first role in a video game, right?

REEVES: It is.

CHANG: So what's different about playing someone in a video game than, like, in a movie?

REEVES: They did some motion capture to get a library of movement of my interpretation of the character.

CHANG: Right. That's where you wear this funny suit and they trace your movements so they can replicate them on screen.

REEVES: Technical gear - I wear technical gear for digital image acquisition. And then with the voiceover that you do for the role, because this is a role-playing game that has different branches to it, you get to play different versions of that character. So I would say that's kind of the biggest difference, is that I can play Johnny as being, you know, a little adversarial or grumpy, or I can play Johnny who's friendly. And so there's different paths for the relationship to go on.

CHANG: Cool, like "Choose Your Own Adventure" with Johnny.

REEVES: Absolutely.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "CYBERPUNK 2077")

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: (As character) Bridge we might cross, but only might. We'll see.

REEVES: (As Johnny Silverhand) Glad we're on the same page. You never know what a dog's thinking.

CHANG: Well, what do you make of video games as a form of storytelling? Like, did you feel that you could dig in and tell the same sorts of compelling narratives that you can as an actor on film?

REEVES: You know, I'm not in control of a lot of the physical performance.

CHANG: Yeah.

REEVES: I think the experience definitely is very rich. I mean, you know, you can spend, you know, 70 hours playing the character or playing the game, if not more. I mean, I love the compression of, you know, a two-hour movie, but I think the expansion into a video game is exciting. And hopefully people will enjoy it.

CHANG: So I have to ask you this. You know, a New York Times list ranked you pretty high up recently in this overall ranking of the greatest actors of the 21st century. And also in the recent movie, "Always Be My Maybe," you were asked to play yourself. You were asked to play Keanu Reeves. There's been this kind of resurgence of attention on you. And I'm wondering, what has that been like as someone who's had a career as long as yours has been?

REEVES: You know, I always say nice is nice. So the nice has been nice.

CHANG: What does that mean?

REEVES: It means it's like, you know, you hope people enjoy what you do. And if people are saying nice things, that's nice. There's always a part of me that's waiting for the other shoe to drop. You know, nice is nice.

CHANG: Keanu Reeves - his latest role is Johnny Silverhand in the video game Cyberpunk 2077. It's released on Thursday. Thank you so much for being with us today.

REEVES: Thank you. Have a good one.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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