Why Keanu Reeves Didn't Want To Work With Robert De Niro And Al Pacino


  • Keanu Reeves has been known to pick roles based on desire, and not money or fame.
  • He values working with legends over lucrative projects.
  • Shakespeare films may have deep personal significance for Reeves, and may be why he chose them over more lucrative roles.

Keanu Reeves takes the roles he wants the most with speed. The ones he doesn’t want, not so much.

Reeves will not do anything in showbiz if he doesn’t want to (unless one of his friends forges his signature on a movie contract, that is). He doesn’t really care about fame or fortune, keeping his career alive or staying relevant. In fact, he’d be completely content to go into the career he originally wanted or to disappear behind the camera directing.

He’s simply going to take a role whether it makes him a lot of money or not. He’d gladly take a pay cut to work with his favorite Hollywood legends and quickly turn down working on the sequel of one of his most famous films just because he doesn’t like the script.

Reeves has turned down more films than you might think, but he could have starred in one of the best movies ever if he wasn’t so much his own worst enemy sometimes. But we guess that’s why he’s so much of an inspiration. He’s not a people pleaser, does his own thing, and makes up for what he thinks are bad decisions later.


Keanu Reeves’ Worst On-Screen Kiss Almost Never Saw The Light Of Day

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Updated June 2024: Keanu Reeves always has the nicest things to say about everyone. As such, when it was reported that he said unkind things about Robert De Niro, internet sleuths took no time to debunk the rumor. In reality, while Reeves has never worked with De Niro, he has had nothing bad to say about him. As for Pacino, Reeves believed that woking with the actor upped his game and made him a better actor.

Keanu Reeves Could Have Co-Starred With Al Pacino Before ‘Devil’s Advocate’

Keanu Reeves turned down a role in Heat to do theater

Keanu Reeves when he was younger
Via: Deposit Photos

Al Pacino was the actor that Reeves wanted to work with so badly that he took a pay cut to give the studios back some money to afford to cast the legend. The movie was Devil’s Advocate.

ABC News reported that Reeves “shaved his salary by a few million dollars” for Pacino. Still, there could have been another ulterior motive behind the move, other than wanting to co-star with Pacino really badly. He could have taken the pay cut to make up for a missed opportunity.

Two years before Devil’s Advocate, Reeves turned down the chance to play Chris Shiherlis in Michael Mann’s Heat, which starred Pacino and his long-time pal Robert DeNiro. This was a shocking development in Reeves’ early career. He’d just begun to start making a name for himself in films like Dracula and, more notably, Speed the year before.

The reason why he turned Heat down is even more surprising, but not really uncharacteristic of Reeves. He wanted to take a month out of his skyrocketing career to appear in a stage adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Canada’s Manitoba Theatre Centre. The role eventually went to Val Kilmer.

This wasn’t the first time Kilmer was cast in something that was originally Reeves and vice versa. Kilmer got Jim Morrison in The Doors biopic, a role Reeves auditioned for, while Reeves replaced Kilmer in Johnny Mnemonic.

But Reeves was already slotted to appear in the play well before Heat started casting. He’d started studying the script in between takes on Speed in 1993.



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Keanu Reeves Was Clearly In A Shakespeare Mood In The Early ’90s

Keanu Reeves did back-to-back Shakespeare films in the early 1990s

Much Ado About Nothng

It’s worth pointing out that this was a point in Reeves’s career where he was clearly obsessed with Shakespeare. The year Speed started filming, he’d played the Bard in Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film Much Ado About Nothing (Branagh is very much a Shakespeare fan too), and more than likely got the script for Hamlet not long after.

Reeves has always spoken about his love for the playwright’s work. “I do love it,” he told Rolling Stone in 2000. “It’s like this kind of code that once you start to inhabit it with breath and sound and feeling and thought, it is the most powerful and consuming and freeing at the same time. Just, literally, elemental in sound, consonants, and vowels.”

Keanu Reeves May Have Turned To Shakespeare To Honor His Friend, River Phoenix

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix discussed doing Shakespeare together before Phoenix tragically died

Keanu Reeves attends the Los Angeles premiere of John Wick: Chapter 4
via Instar

Two years before starring in Branagh’s film, he and his pal River Phoenix were overheard eagerly talking about doing Shakespeare together by Interview magazine. Maybe A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Romeo and Juliet. Phoenix joked that he wanted to play Juliet. Sadly, it never happened because River died in 1993. Which makes one think that maybe he was doing all this Shakespeare to honor Phoenix.

It’s also interesting to think that maybe Reeves also turned down Heat because he saw how close Pacino and De Niro are and saw what his friendship with Phoenix could have been like through them had Phoenix lived. But that might be a bit of a stretch. Who really knows with Reeves anyway?

All that’s possible is that Reeves probably made up for not appearing in Heat and missing out on his chance to co-star with Pacino by signing on to a pay cut for Devil’s Advocate.

In the end, he did get to share the screen with one of his heroes, even though there were a couple of hiccups along the way that led to filming delays, including firings within the crew, Pacino’s continued tardiness, “a miscast and struggling Keanu Reeves, and a disliked director,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1996.

Devil’s Advocate grossed $153 million while Heat made $187.4 million. But while it might seem like the better choice may have been Heat, Reeves stuck by his decision to turn it down, and that’s all that really matters. On the plus side, Reeves received positive reviews for his portrayal of the often grueling role of the Prince of Denmark in Hamlet. We would be surprised if Reeves wished he had a time machine to go back to Shakespearean times.