How Keanu Reeves joined the ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Universe

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How Keanu Reeves joined the ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Universe

Ethan Alter

·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
·3 min read
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When the SpongeBob SquarePants vocal cast first assembled to read through the script of Sponge on the Run — the first feature film based on the beloved Nickelodeon animated series — they were one actor short. Writer/director Tim Hill’s screenplay featured a supporting character named Sage, a spirit guide for underwater pals SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) and Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) who aids them on their feature-length quest to recover the sea sponge’s kidnapped pet snail, Gary. And Hill had a specific, if seemingly unlikely, idea in mind for who was going to eventually play that part. “[Tim] was like, ‘This will be Keanu Reeves,'” Fagerbakke tells Yahoo Entertainment now. “We were like, ‘Yeah right.’ You’re always waiting for very much not Keanu Reeves.” (Watch our video interview above.)

But viewers who stream Sponge on the Run, which premieres on Paramount+ and VOD starting March 4, will see that Sage very much is Keanu Reeves. The in-demand actor took time out of his busy schedule of making action blockbusters like John Wick: Chapter 4 and The Matrix 4 to film his extended cameo. And it’s a good thing, too, because as Hill tells us, he didn’t really have a back-up plan had Reeves turned him down. “Never have a back-up plan — that’s my motto,” the director says. “We would have found some way to do it. But [the role] was so him that we would have had to totally rewrite it!”

Keanu Reeves has a scene-stealing supporting role in the latest 'SpongeBob Squarepants' movie (Photo: Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection)
Keanu Reeves has a scene-stealing supporting role in the latest SpongeBob SquarePants movie. (Photo: Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection)

From the beginning, Hill created the character with Reeves specifically in mind. “We wanted a spirit guide character who was a little bit of a sensei and it just kept coming up Keanu in my head,” he remembers, adding that early storyboards featured sketches and then photos of The Matrix star as Sage. He then used a personal connection to slip the script to Reeves. “One of our producers knew him and reached out. When he saw some of the stuff we were contemplating for his role, he was like ‘Yup, I’ll do it!’ We lucked out, honestly.”

Reeves has a long history of making surprise cameos in movies: In 1993, he popped up as Ortiz the Dog Boy in the cult comedy Freaked, directed by and starring his pal and Bill & Ted co-star, Alex Winter. He’s also had scene-stealing appearances in Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s Keanu, the hit Pixar sequel Toy Story 4 and the Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe, where he played a hilariously villainous version of himself. Now that he’s entered the SpongeBob-verse, he joins a list of celebrity guest stars that includes David Hasselhoff, Betty White and, best of all, David Bowie.

Naturally, both Fagerbakke and Kenny were delighted to see Hill deliver on his promise that Reeves would be the cinematic spirit guide for their onscreen counterparts. “Keanu is my spirit guide in life for real,” Kenny jokes. Unfortunately, the trio never got to meet in person during the recording sessions, and the coronavirus pandemic scuttled any plans for the kind of red carpet premiere where they’d all be able to hang out together. “I was looking forward to talking to him, and I still haven’t gotten to do it,” Kenny bemoans. “I look forward to meeting Keanu some day.” That’ll be a most excellent adventure.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is currently streaming on Paramount+ and VOD services including iTunes, FandangoNOW and Redbox.

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