At least one person wanted Keanu Reeves to be in Death Stranding, filling Mads Mikkelsen’s role as Cliff, according to Hideo Kojima.
In a tweet, Death Stranding creator Hideo Kojima mentioned that film director Nicolas Wending Refn had originally recommended Keanu Reeves to take the role of Cliff.
“However, [Refn] recommended Keanu every time we meet. His experience in “The Neon Demon” made him think it was a great choice. So he highly recommended him”, the tweet reads.
That wasn’t a jab at Mikkelsen, however, and from the tweets it sounds like Kojima never considered the option. According to Kojima, the role of Cliff was tailor-made for Mikkelsen.
“From the beginning of the project, we decided to go with Mads for Cliff. The character was sculpted to fit Mads”, he says.
Still, it’s an interesting 5-second glimpse into the mind of auteur directors- presumably Refn knew the major story beats involved with Cliff in Death Stranding, and saw a reason to suggest Keanu Reeves for the role. Meanwhile, Kojima had envisioned the role with Mads Mikkelsen in it.
Despite that, Keanu Reeves did go on to get a big break in videogames, having been Johnny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077. While the game itself faced mixed reception, praise for Reeves’ portrayal of the Rockerboy was almost universal.