Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele talk debut film ‘Keanu,’ kitties

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Nicole White/Senior Staff

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This year, 4/20 was lit up in an unexpected place — Cat Town Cafe in Oakland. In support of their new feature film “Keanu,” which stars an adorable kitten, it was only fitting for the highly popular comedy duo Key and Peele to hold a meet-and-greet for fans in the presence of a multitude of roaming cats. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are widely known for their Comedy Central television series “Key and Peele,” but “Keanu” is the first time they have taken the big screen together as budding movie stars. With cat posters plastered on the walls, Cat Town Cafe was a purr-fect venue to house the promotion events as it is both a cat-themed cafe and an adoption center.

Opening in theaters this Friday, “Keanu” was co-written by Peele and Alex Rubens. The film was specifically written and tailored for Key and Peele to perform in the roles of Clarence and Rell, respectively. The duo is cast as two cousins that lack street smarts, and the movie follows them on their quest to take back Rell’s prized kitten, Keanu, which has been stolen. Entering a world they were not prepared for, Clarence and Rell transcend their typical social bounds and impersonate members of a street gang in attempts to reclaim their beloved kitten that they refuse to leave behind.

Keanu is seen as the mascot of the movie to which the audience becomes increasingly emotionally attached. The actors, however, could not get too attached to any individual kitten. Humorously enough, the role of Keanu is played by seven different brown tabby rescue cats. The size of Keanu needed to be consistent throughout the movie, and thus, cats of different ages were adopted along the way to ensure the correct on-screen visualization as filming progressed.

In Hawaiian, Keanu means breeze, but the title goes beyond a simple translation. Key explained, “The name Keanu, which of course is synonymous with one person, also becomes synonymous with a movement of certain types of films that were being made at that time.” Key believes that mid-’90s action films had more pizazz than the movies of today because of the care that was put into them. With the name Keanu, the actors wanted to pay homage to the movies that influenced them and made them excited about film in the first place.

Used to having more flexibility to joke around in their television sketches, Key and Peele were bummed that they did not have the budget to spend any of their production money on behind-the-scenes pranks, given that this is their first movie. Their favorite behind-the-scenes moment during the production of the movie was taking a break from filming in the New Orleans heat to celebrate the Fourth of July with a heap of fireworks. Key and Peele agreed that the cast and crew spent a lot of time together and became very close because they were shooting on location, which meant they were away from home and other responsibilities.

Some of the most important members of the cast and crew of “Keanu” were the trainers. The trained performance of the kittens was fundamental to the production of the film. Trained stationary movements panned out to be the hardest thing to train the kittens to execute on cue, such as raising a paw up to glass. Patience was a virtue, as the cast had to improvise quite a bit in some scenes in order to capture the perfect moment on camera.

Key and Peele clarified that even though they were in Oakland on 4/20 in support of their film, it’s not intended to be a stoner movie. Peele sees “Keanu” as a way to sum up the style of comedy that the duo had on its television show. Key and Peele currently have a substantial following from their previous work, and this is expected to help propel their careers on the big screen with the release of their first major motion picture.

Contact Nicole White at [email protected].