In April 1999, a sci-fi hit sneaked under moviegoers' radar, taunting them with the cryptic tagline, "What Is the Matrix?" Now, nearly two years — and a significant box office/home video haul — later, fans of that vanguard film anxiously await an answer to the question, "What Is the Status of The Matrix Sequels?"

"Filming begins in late March," Keanu Reeves, the centerpiece of the original Matrix, tells TV Guide Online. "It's very exciting. I've read both of the scripts, and they're fantastic. Fantastic."

The Matrix 2 and The Matrix 3 — to be shot back-to-back, allowing post-production work to get underway during the imminent strikes — will commence shooting next month in California, before moving overseas to Australia. But before the first frame of celluloid is exposed, there's the none-too-small matter of getting the principals primed for the type of physics-bending combat that was the hallmark of the first film.

"We started training two months ago," says Reeves, referring to himself and co-stars Laurence Fishburne, Carrie Anne Moss and Hugo Weaving (Singer Aaliyah and Malena's Monica Bellucci round out the cast). "I show up at 9:30 and leave at 5. [The training] involves stretching, kicking, punching, choreography and weightlifting."

But how can Matrix 2 (let alone No. 3) push the special effects envelope further than the original? "Hmm, what would they be okay with me revealing," Reeves hedges, before responding. "Well, there are some [new] weapons. And before, all the fights were one-on-one. Now there is going to be some more [group] fighting."

All things considered, Reeves is prepared for the on-screen workout of his life — and is confident the new installments will wow the crowds. "From what I've heard, I'm working [on the sequels] until September 2002," he reports. "I'm 'going out to sea,' and I hope to come back bearing great gifts."