Rage against the MACHINES; It's Smart, It's Sexy, It's Action-Crammed. Rob Driscoll Meets the Cast of the Year's Most Anticipated Film, the Matrix Reloaded, to Talk about High-Octane Action and Some of the Deeper Questions of Life, the Universe and Everything. There's Also Some Mention of the Joys of Bathing in Ice-Cubes

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Byline: Rob Driscoll

Keanu Reeves as Neo

Keanu Reeves stares straight ahead, looking deadly serious. Of course he does. He is The One.

Or, at least, that's what they call Neo, his character in The Matrix, and now its mega-hyped sequel The Matrix Reloaded.

He's a one-time computer hacker transformed into a Messianic, spiritual and physical superman who can conquer impossible hurdles, fly impossible speeds, interrupt the flight-paths of bullets, even bring people back from the dead.

So he's living proof that it's not the meek who will inherit the earth, but computer nerds.

And that's some weight to carry on your shoulders.

So who wouldn't be enigmatic, even monosyllabic, when some people are suggesting that your iconic screen role is the New Age answer to Jesus Christ?

And you thought this was just another action movie.

Well yes, there's still that spine-tingling fusion of kung fu, martial arts and wire-work acrobatics, but this time around Neo and his po-faced cohorts must battle against a dark future-world dominated by machines.

All of which gives the film's creators, the mysterious (and never-present) Wachowski brothers, the chance to throw at us themes of mythology, philosophy, technology, evolutionary psychology, literature such as Alice in Wonderland, and theological references a-plenty.

``What Larry and Andrew (Wachowski) are trying to achieve in their storytelling, the physical action they present, and the elements of new cinema and technology they have invented to create images, is unparalleled,'' says Reeves. ``You can enjoy the films on a purely visceral level and if you want to go deeper there are some very profound ideas to consider.''

Deep stuff, eh? But anyway, back to the action. In preparation for The Matrix, Reeves and his co-stars Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving spent four solid months during the winter of 1997-98 training with master martial artist and wire-work specialist Yuen Wo Ping to learn the Kung Fu and wire skills they would need to perform the film's complex and demanding fight scenes.

While the cast embraced this unprecedented approach to Western action filmmaking - in which they would execute fight scenes normally performed entirely by stunt performers - they were somewhat unprepared for the gruelling experience that lay ahead.

When the actors returned to training for Reloaded and Revolutions in November 2000, they were ready.

Reeves devoted at least seven hours a day to Kung Fu work. While training for and filming The Matrix, he was recovering from neck surgery, which restricted his movements, and Wo Ping accommodated his injury by choreographing routines that featured more hand-to-hand combat than kicking. This time around, Reeves had no such limitations.

``The more I could do, the more they pushed me,'' he recalls.

`` It was all very good fun, but very hard work as well.

``And painful - ice became a friend.'' (During training, Reeves was known to sit in a bathtub full of ice to ease his aching limbs.) ``What happens, especially in the first few months, is that you are tearing micro tissues every day, and you get inflammation. And I'm 38-years-old, not 22, so some ice and salts help recovery.''

Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity

Trinity, the woman warrior in a shiny jet black catsuit, comes into her own in The Matrix Reloaded. She kick-blasts the movie into action with an extraordinary slo-mo, mid-air gun battle with evil Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving).

``Trinity is all about the kick and the chop,'' says Moss. Although her performance doesn't betray it, not all went well for Moss during training. ``I trained for six or seven weeks before we even officially began, to be in great shape so I could really, really, really kick some ass,'' she says. ``And then I landed wrong during training, and basically, my thigh broke my knee. …