MARQUETTE – Lindsay McRae pulled up to her neighbour's yard Tuesday to ask if she and her kids could come over and star gaze on her back deck after work.
The neighbour, Shirley Thevenot, confided she had no idea shooting a feature film took so much work. Her deck overlooks the set of Siberia, a romantic thriller starring Keanu Reeves in Marquette, a tiny farming community 50 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
As a freshly minted action star, Reeves made a bold pivot 22 years ago, signing up to perform the title role of Hamlet on the stage of the Manitoba Theatre Centre in the winter of 1995.
This time around, the 52-year-old veteran action star is hot off his role in the US$130-million gross of John Wick: Chapter 2.
In Siberia, director Matthew Ross has Reeves playing a diamond dealer trying to sell blue diamonds of questionable origin in Russia.The diamond dude falls in obsessive love with a Russian café owner along the way.
In February, the Hollywood trade magazine Variety reported Reeves launched international sales at the European Film Market in Berlin through Company Films, which is working with IM Global and a production company to sell the film to international markets. WME is handling the domestic rights on this side of the Atlantic.
The whole thing is a little heady for tiny Marquette. Nearly the entire town had been transformed into a movie set for the shoot this week.
"You don't get to meet celebrities all the time, especially when they're just outside your door, in the middle of nowhere," said Terry Dorge, wearing workboots and a carpenter's belt while building an addition at the home of his cousin Tayvia Dorge. Her selfie with Reeves, shot as he stepped out of the shoot's Porta Potty, is the talk of the town.
"It's exciting. It's good for the town, brought people in out of curiosity. We're all talking about seeing the movie," bank employee Melissa McMillan said.
To hear the buzz, Reeves is "chill," a friendly guy who blends in wherever he appears, when he's not in front of the camera.
Case in point: one moment Monday saw about 10 women, all locals, cluster around Reeves with cellphones in hand.
When the production crew moved to usher them off, the star stepped in to welcome them. "Let them come," Reeves was quoted as saying. He posed for all the selfies the ladies wanted.
Marquette's population more than tripled overnight when the cast and crew of about 130 descended on the community Sunday. Its population is about 50.
Thevenot's back deck, for example, overlooked the camera action Monday and all day Tuesday, as crews shot film from two homes they've rented from locals. The bungalows looks beaten up, with junk in the yards, all part of the movie set.
One homeowner said she's taking it in stride. She said she introduced herself to Reeves, got a handshake and ribbed him about the production crew transforming her yard into a junkyard.
"I told him he should get his stuff out of my backyard," said Bonnie Lawrence.
The Thevenot home is ideally located to watch all the action. The front picture window looks over the town's tiny restaurant, Grazzers, now transformed into a grim-looking Siberian café. The crew will shift from the houses across from her backyard to the café later this week, Thevenot has been told.
"I'm hoping my kids and I can catch something from her back deck this evening," McRae chuckled before driving off to collect her kids.
This week has proved to be a teaching moment for the town. It's seen various productions set up in the past, including Heaven is for Real — a 2014 Hollywood drama starring Greg Kinnear — but it's never hosted a crew for an entire week.
In addition to renting and renovating two of the half-dozen homes, the production has also rented out the curling rink and even added a small shed to Grazzers. Camera crews practiced their shots with stand-ins before Reeves stepped on-set for the real deal Tuesday.
Cars and vans scattered around the set have Russian licence plates. Two RCMP cruisers block the main street to detour traffic away from the productions. Huge trailers crowd the parking lot of the local co-op gas bar and convenience store and the back street of the town.
Cattle rancher Darren MacMillan figures Marquette will see itself in the film when it plays, but in the meantime, the rentals, renovations and general buzz are giving the town a little economic bump.
"They've been in town for a few weeks doing renovations, and we heard it was coming, but you never realized it until it's here. The town's shut down for a bit, and our little town has gone from 50 people to, probably it's 150 now... It all benefits the town," MacMillan said.
— with files from Randall King