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September 10, 2023

Rare Promotional Stills of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves for “My Own Private Idaho” (1991)

Q: How do you spend time between takes?

“All silly things. When River is bored he does imitations. He may speak with a strange accent and make his characters German... He always makes me laugh. He could become a comedian.” — Keanu Reeves (1991)
River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in a promotional still for My Own Private Idaho, photographed by Abigayle Tarsches in 1991.⁠⠀

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix were great pals in the early 1990s, as they starred together in I Love You to Death before Phoenix tragically passed away two years after My Own Private Idaho. But initially, after the director wrote the script for the film by keeping the two actors in mind, thus sending them the offer, apparently River Phoenix’s agent didn’t want her client to see the story. But after director Van Sant asked The Matrix star to pay his pal a visit at his family ranch in Florida, Reeves hop on his Norton Commando motorcycle, traveling thousands of miles to meet Phoenix in person.

Fortunately for The Matrix star, it didn’t take a lot of convincing to make River Phoenix agree to play the tragic character of Mikey Waters, a drug addict, and a male prostitute, suffering from narcolepsy. Although they were aware of the risk that was involved in tackling such sensitive roles, the two did go on to commit to the material, delivering an excellent job.
“We were excited. It could have been like a bad dream—a dream that never follows through because no one commits, but we just forced ourselves into it.”
For Keanu Reeves, working in My Own Private Idaho was a significant turn in his career, as it made him synonymous with handling such layered characters, and the actor remains grateful for that.


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