For the first time in decades Keanu Reeves, star of John Wick and national treasure, appeared to publicly confirm that he’s in a relationship. On Saturday, he was spotted strolling down the red carpet at the LACMA Art + Film Gala hand in hand with artist Alexandra Grant. The pair reportedly met roughly a decade ago and have been friends ever since, even collaborating on an adult picture book in 2011. The photos of Reeves and Grant hand-clasped went viral on Monday, sparking mostly congratulatory light sobbing but also discussions around what it meant for one of Hollywood’s leading men to date someone “age-appropriate” (Grant is 46, while Reeves is 55).
To help explain the significance of a public, albeit quiet, declaration from Reeves, who is well-known for keeping his personal life private after the death of his daughter and girlfriend in 2001, I talked to the hosts of Slate’s Thirst Aid Kit—and Keanu Scholars—Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins.
Rachelle Hampton: I know y’all are generally reluctant to comment on the personal lives of Thirst Objects, but what were your first reactions to hearing the news?
Nichole Perkins: When I saw that Keanu was trending on Twitter, I was scared, honestly. I thought maybe he’d been accused of doing or saying something terrible, or worse, that he’d been in an accident. I didn’t think he was dead because I know one of my friends would’ve texted me something like that. After I clicked the trending and saw him holding hands with his longtime business partner and friend, I was shocked—then I relaxed into feeling happy for him, even as my teenage crush dreams faded away.
Bim Adewunmi: I’m a romantic, so I am almost always delighted when someone I like (even a distant celebrity) appears to be in love. That it was Keanu fostered something a little warmer than most other famous people; I’ve enjoyed him for literal decades and I had a little “oh, yay for him!” feeling.
Hampton: Contrary to a lot of public announcements of beloved celebrities getting into a relationship, it felt like this one was almost universally met with positivity. What do you think it is about Keanu that inspires that kind of universal adoration?
Perkins: It seems like Keanu is one of the last good guys in Hollywood. Good guys, not Nice Guys. Anecdotal evidence points to his kind and generous nature with people from fans to crewmembers to any number of retail workers, and there have been few, if any, controversies about him, even at the height of his early fame. As our perspectives on celebrity and power shift, we often find ourselves grappling with unpleasant truths about many of our favorites, and so far (knock on wood) Keanu has not disappointed. It makes people feel protective, both of him and of our perceptions of him. Also … all that kindness with such a pretty face and great head of hair! Hard to resist all of that.
Adewunmi: As far as we know, Keanu is a decent, modest, nice guy. It’s true that the bar is so low as to be several meters underground, but it feels like people just … like Keanu, and that really came to the fore with this news. Also, Alexandra Grant is not some 23-year-old Hollywood ingenue. In 2019, that’s just plain refreshing.
Hampton: This is the first time in decades that Keanu’s gone public with a romantic relationship. What do you think the significance of that is?
Perkins: I think this means this relationship is something serious and meaningful for him. He’s been in the business for 30 years or so. He knows the nature of paparazzi and extreme fandoms. I think him making such a sweet, open declaration means he also knows his partner can handle the scrutiny that comes with being with him and that he trusts the strength of their relationship. And the mushy, romantic part of me thinks he must be bursting with love to be ready to share even such a small gesture with the public, since he is notoriously private.
Adewunmi: We know that Keanu is a pretty private guy—he promotes a project and then disappears from the public eye pretty regularly—and so stepping out and doing PDA (Linking hands! Ugh, so 1950s, I love it.) is a big deal for him. And you know, there are two of them in the relationship: I like what it suggests about Alexandra, too. That she’s happy to be seen with him. I loved how relaxed and happy they both looked in those photos. They seemed at ease with one another—however “lucky” many people think Alexandra is, Keanu looks like the equally lucky one too.
Hampton: There’s been some discussion on Twitter around the fact that Keanu’s dating someone who’s actually within his age bracket. At the same time there’s been backlash to that, since Grant is still nine years younger than him. What do y’all make of the Age Discourse?
Perkins: I think the Age Discourse is reductive and lacks nuance. Yes, the fact that many were excited to see a middle-aged man with a middle-aged woman is both sad and telling of what we’ve come to expect from men, especially celebrity men. But a nine-year difference at this point in their lives is not worth the scorn people are trying to screw up. Also, I think some people feel compelled to be a part of the larger discussion so they pretend they’re adding significant criticism when they should probably send their thoughts to a group chat.
Adewunmi: This is hardly an older city-dwelling gentleman swooping in to dazzle some sheltered mountain girl. … It just seems like a weird thing to glom onto with this much fervor. On the other hand, there has been a real over-egging of this “age-appropriate partner” pudding, where people are doing too much. She’s a grown woman, he’s a grown man; they’re not unicorns.
Hampton: Bim, you tweeted that you saw some “obtuse reactions” to the news and Nichole, you retweeted that. Could you tell me a little bit more about those reactions?
Perkins: I was annoyed by people harping on the age difference and the people who were claiming that Keanu’s soft declaration was trending because people were surprised to see him with a woman close to his age or the fact that Alexandra seemingly doesn’t dye her hair. But I also know my annoyance comes from wanting to protect Keanu at all costs. He’s one of very few people I become a stan for. KEANU, YOU HAVE MY SWORD.
Adewunmi: It just seems weirdly dour to come on Twitter and complain about people being happy one of their faves appears to be happy in a new relationship. Especially because there was a noted sad incident in his past and this felt like a huge W for him. It was a tiring day in the internet, man.
Hampton: Your Thirst Aid Kit episode on Keanu was one of the very first ones that y’all did. For people who are newer to the podcast, could you tell me a little bit more about your personal relationships to Keanu?
Perkins: Keanu’s been in my pop culture life since I was 11 years old, and he has always been one of the most strikingly handsome men I’ve ever seen in my life, even to this day. When he is onscreen, I am riveted. He entered my life right at the time when I could begin to articulate what gave me funny feelings in my tummy and he still makes my heart flutter.
Adewunmi: I’ve loved watching him since I was a kid. And as I get older, my appreciation for his body of work just grows and grows; he’s a consummate screen performer. I always thought he was beautiful too, just as a fact, the same way you know what warmth feels like, or the weight of your own hand. The feeling of being drawn in hasn’t gone away in more than 25 years. That’s staying power.
Perkins: He seems very self-aware and doesn’t mind poking fun at himself. And I love that he builds motorcycles and has been wearing his hair long for the past several years.
Adewunmi: Self-aware and good-natured: That’s classic bae behavior.
Hampton: Keanu occupies a very interesting place in celeb culture and he’s managed to do so for a pretty long time. Why do you think he has this incredible staying power even while keeping his personal life relatively private?
Perkins: I wouldn’t be surprised if Keanu has very strong, very healthy boundaries about who he allows in his life, professionally and personally.
Adewunmi: I think the privacy thing is a huge part of his longevity: He doesn’t generally let us get sick of him.
Perkins: Keanu does not seem to be an impulsive person so he probably puts a lot of thought into the projects he takes on, at least now that he’s older. And if even half the positive stories about him are true, his kind behavior on set probably endears him to everyone from the director to the caterer so I’m sure people want to continue working with him.
Adewunmi: People like to have their good choices reinforced and Keanu has been a solid investment for more than three decades. Plus he’s still so damn beautiful. Ugh, I love him.
Hear Bim and Nichole discuss three more of their celebrity favorites: Stephan James, Bobby Cannavale, and Winston Duke.