Johnny Mnemonic
by Pauline Adamek
reviewed 28 November, 1995

Johnny Mnemonic is the latest sci-fi thriller based on an early story by writer William Gibson, the man who says he invented the word "cyberspace" then had to work out what he meant. New York artist turned filmmaker Robert Longo took Gibsonís futuristic fable and, by applying loads of visual flair, has brought it to the screen.

Johnny Mnemonic, played by Keanu Reeves, is a cynical courier who transports valuable information in his head by directly downloading it into his brain. He has dumped some of his own long-term memory, i.e. his childhood, in order to accommodate the volatile data and to provide this service. He agrees to take one final and highly lucrative run from Beijing to Newark so he can buy back his memories and upgrade himself. But some seriously bad dudes want to get their hands on the material and pretty soon Johnny has everyone from the vicious Yakuza to bounty hunters on his case.

Johnny is equipped with enough dogged determination and Valley boy wit to face all life threatening set-backs. Not only is Johnny trying to elude those who want his head, he is also racing to get to his destination and purge the data before he suffers terminal brain meltdown.

Dolph Lundgren plays a weird prophet and Jesus-freak bounty hunter called the Street Preacher. Having only seen him in combat-action films opposite Stallone and Van Damme, itís great to see this towering, rock-jawed actor in a role that stretches him a little. In Johnny Mnemonic he is a demonic killer with wild tresses of bleached-blonde hair. Although you couldnít help but notice him, Lundgren in person is quiet and fairly unassuming.

How much of the Street Preacher is you - are you spiritual?

"Yes! Tremendously spiritual. Aren't we all? You have to be spiritual not to go a little crazy in this business."

Did you enjoy playing a bad guy?

"Oh yeah. Strangely enough, if you do a good villain in a big picture opposite a big star and you do a good job that can be a nice springboard. This may not be it. Playing villains is fun but the trick is to know how to play a hero and have just as much fun with it. That's harder. You're more constrained. Normally they're not written as theatrically."

Did you know Keanu Reeves before you made this film?

"No I didn't. It was very easy to work with him. I only had two scenes so we didn't have to do a great deal of preparation together. With Keanu, my character is so dissimilar to his that it's a whole different trip. We don't invade each other's spaces. Whereas with Universal Soldier it was a little more 'head to head' with Jean Claude."

Do you keep up the karate?

"Yeah. If I have time I'll take up my third dan, one of these years. It takes about six months of hard training. When I'm performing I do a little less weights and more cardiovascular, more swimming and karate and stuff like that. I try to stay away from the weights because I don't want to get too bulky."

When is the time for you to start getting worried about the body --

"Falling apart? Now, I would say. I'm 35. I think if you're an athlete you are always thinking about those sorts of things. I'm actually enjoying my training much more now than I was six years ago or when I was doing weights and thinking about dieting all the time. Showing my abs and always looking buffed in every shot. You get so stiff you can't even express anything. I could never have done this character four years ago because the movements and gestures are a bit more effeminate. If you're worried about your triceps in every shot you can't do it."

Where are you based now?

"In New York, actually. I moved from LA this year. I don't like LA too much. There's too much show business there and people are fake and they only think about money and success. That's part of it. The people are much more human in New York. Everybody mixes more, in the street. In LA they're more isolated. You go to a meeting, you go back to your house - you never see anybody else. It's more exciting there and there is a real acting community. It's a whole different trip. You can stay more grounded."

Do you ever wish you'd pursued your academic career?

"No because it's too boring. There's not enough pressure. You don't get the same chance of finding out who you are. Here you really find out what you're made of. I discovered I'm more emotional than I thought I was. That's good for my work. When I was brought up in Sweden, I had a Scandinavian father who was always saying 'Don't cry.' That kind of thing. A being an athlete, doing contact sports, you were always taught to suppress all that."

You're an intelligent person - you have a Masters degree in chemical engineering from Sydney Uni at the very least - how do you feel when people look at you and treat you as if you are thick?

"Yeah I get that. I've learned to not take it to heart because I know why; if I'm making a movie where guys walk around like studs and shoot people right and left. So I've learned to just be secure in the knowledge that if they get to know me they'll change their mind. I would like to change that but the only way is to do different work as an actor."