Keanu Reeves, leaves the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles. (Nick Ut / Associated Press )
When Keanu Reeves encountered a paparazzo on a dark street last year, neither man exchanged a word. They knew their roles and they got right to them. The photographer illuminated his flash and began snapping away. The movie star hid his face and ducked into his car.
What happened next led them Tuesday to a courtroom where words were all they had.
"To my recollection, I didn't hit him," Reeves told a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury.
"The car hit me, and I went backward," the photographer, Alison Silva, countered.
The men were the first witnesses in a civil suit brought against the actor by Silva. The photographer, a 28-year-old Brazilian, alleges that Reeves, 44, struck him in the knee with the bumper of the actor's Porsche as he took pictures. Silva alleges he suffered a career-ending wrist fracture. His attorney estimates his past and future medical bills at $140,000.
Reeves' lawyers have said that Silva was not hurt at all and that the wrist fracture was an old soccer injury. In court papers, the actor's lawyers have said the paparazzo was desperate for cash because his car had been repossessed. They contend that he saw the confrontation with the actor as a way to make money.
Both sides agree that Silva followed Reeves to a medical facility in Rancho Palos Verdes on the evening of March 19, 2007. When the actor emerged from an hourlong visit with a relative, Silva approached and began photographing him.
Reeves, dressed in a dark gray suit and blue tie, told jurors that Silva planted himself firmly in front of the Porsche. When he inched forward -- to demonstrate his intention to leave, he said -- the photographer took a few steps backward, stumbled over his own feet and fell to the ground.
Reeves told jurors that he left his car and tried to help the man. He verified that someone had called 911, fetched a glass of water and inquired as to his condition, the actor said.
Photographs Silva took that evening showed Reeves with shoulder-length hair and a scruffy goatee and mustache, but in court, he was clean-shaven with a short, neat haircut. He seemed to take the proceeding very seriously, hesitating when asked to estimate a distance and choosing his words carefully.
Asked if Silva was disrespectful before placing himself in front of the car, Reeves paused and then called it "an interesting question."
"It wasn't great that he was there," Reeves said, "but he wasn't rude per se."
When the photographer's attorney later noted that Silva and a second paparazzo hadn't scaled the walls of the facility or tried to sneak inside, the actor shrugged.
"They didn't shoot any flaming arrows either," he said, drawing a laugh from the jury.
Silva's testimony gave jurors a glimpse into the world of the paparazzi. He said he was filled with nervous excitement when he saw Reeves enter what he wrongly assumed was a private residence.
"I was hoping he would come out with a girlfriend," he said.
Explaining why he had positioned himself in front of Reeves' car, Silva pointed to a photo he had taken of the actor shielding his face.
"That's not salable," he told jurors. "You need a face photo."
He added that Reeves was considered a "shark" -- a paparazzo's term for a big star who rarely ventures out and whose photos therefore bring a high price.
Silva said he had no illusions about his talent. When a lawyer beamed one of his photos from that evening -- a blurry picture of Reeves hunched over his steering wheel -- the paparazzo shook his head in disgust.
"It's really bad," he said. "I'm not a photographer that went to school for photography."