Stuntman turned stunt coordinator turned movie director Chad Stahelski has an incredibly impressive career, and is now renowned for his work on the John Wick series, having co-directed the first film with longtime collaborator David Leitch and then going on to direct the sequels on his own. Stahelski recently joined us for a new installment of our interview series, Hey Fandom! and the subject of the John Wick TV series spinoff, The Continental, came up. Chris Collins (The Wire, The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy) is serving as showrunner on The Continental, which is currently in development with Stahelski as an Executive Producer.
As the John Wick films have continued, an entire mythology has been established within it, and Stahelski said, “The angles they’re working on The Continental TV show right now is a different perspective on the whole world. It’s coming at it from different characters’ point of views and what the breadth of the world is actually. Whereas in John Wick, I’m following one time period, literally almost a week in the life of one man, where everything spirals out of control.”
By comparison, Stahelski explained, “The angle the other producers and the writers on the TV show are coming from are a very different timeline structure and a very different perspective of character about how deep the world goes.”
Focusing on the fabled, assassin-friendly hotel seen in the films, Stahelski said the series would elaborate, “Not just about assassins, but everything that’s included and a lot of the origin stories of some of the characters you see in Wick. So it’s got some very interesting things, it’s a very interesting take on the Wick world which I think is very cool, but it won’t be from the John Wick perspective. Not that John Wick won’t be involved, but it won’t be from his perspective.”
FROM NEO TO WICK
Stahelski and Leitch go way back with Keanu Reeves, having worked as stunt coordinators on The Matrix trilogy — they are also involved in the upcoming fourth film, albeit in a less hand-on capacity – and developed John Wick with Reeves.
Comparing John Wick with Neo, the other beloved Reeves character they’ve been involved in, Stahelski said, “In a religious, iconic way you could equate Neo, at least to how the Wachowskis wrote him, he’s the Neo Jesus. He’s the world saver, that kind of thing. Whereas John Wick is just the everyman wrapped in a weird world, I guess you’d say? John Wick is a man of amazing fortitude but deals with grief just like the rest of us. Well, probably in little bit more of an extreme way!”
Stahelski had a lot of praise for Reeves, remarking, “Process-wise, all of the other roles that Keanu has taken he’s added his professionalism to it and all of that stuff. With John Wick, I have the benefit of knowing Keanu since ’96 when I did the first Matrix so you’re looking at twenty years of knowing somebody and working with them throughout in pretty crazy intimate and professional situations. A lot of John Wick – and I don’t mean the violence part, I don’t mean the shooting people in the head over a puppy part – Keanu brings a lot of his own being to it. Keanu is a very precise guy. He loves to collaborate, he loves classical music, he loves Sergio Leone films, he loves mythology, he loves hero’s journey, he loves fractured heroes, he loves Asian cinema, he loves chanbara films, he loves Kurosawa, loves Tarkovsky, so a lot of the same likes and he knew we were trying to make that movie. He brought a lot of that somberness or, I guess like Clint Eastwood in any of the Leone films or Toshiro Mifune in a lot of the Kurosawa films, he says a lot without saying anything. He says a lot with a look. He says a lot with just the natural empathy he brings to the character and by allowing Wick to be a little bit more, I guess Keanu you could say, and collaborating and re-writing the scenes around how Keanu is going to play the part.”
Looking back at the first film, Stahelski said, “John Wick was done in a very, I guess, non-professional way. We had the script. We put this overlay of Greek mythology over it. Keanu became involved. He was with us literally every day as we were writing the character for Wick. You know when you have that kind of freedom creatively to mold the scenes around the character not just write a character and have an actor perform and trust in that it you get, I think, a deeper level of things, a deeper level of performance. I mean Wick in general is not the tough guy. He’s tough when he needs to be but he’s not trying to act tough and I think that’s the important thing. Wick is definitely on a journey and if you ever hang out with Keanu he’s definitely on a journey to discover things. Everything fascinates the guy, he loves everything, so I don’t know, that’s it – he just brings a lot of himself to the role.”
WICK’S GREATEST HITS
Asked about his favorite action sequences from the series so far, Stahelski said, “One of the funnest things for me to see is Keanu Reeves on a horse [in John Wick 3]. I’ve been dying to do that for three movies so just to get Keanu, in any movie, on a horse was super cool. I dug that.”
Among other highlights, Stahelski named, “The first movie, the very first time you see John Wick do something, is one of my favorites, at least in my top three. The second movie, the fight with Common [as Cassian] — the quick draw at the rock concert — was one of my favorites.”
Stahelski said the most fun action sequence of all to pull off was in the third movie, but stressed, ”The one I didn’t know if it was gonna work, the one I was kind of s**ting my pants on, was probably the dog stuff in number 3. I don’t know if you know this, but in movies when a dog attacks a human being, this may come as shock, but the dog doesn’t know it’s a movie. [Laughs] When you see a dog attack, the dog is actually attacking a human. There’s rare exceptions but we had to find a way for the dogs to know it was play and to be that aggressive and to do that stuff so none of ours guys actually got hurt or bit or anything like that and of course not hurting the animals. So to find a trainer who believed in the concept to train five of the coolest dogs and some of the smartest dogs I’ve ever met in my career and to have the cameramen shoot it in a foreign country way out in Morocco was one of the most challenging and one of those, until we started shooting the first night, I didn’t know if it was actually going to work. Having Keanu and Halle Berry [as Sofia] in the scene and the dogs and the cameramen and the fifty stunt guys… That was my favorite one to conceptualize and put together because I love dogs, I love stunts, I love movies, I love Keanu, I love Halle, I love my cameramen so that was a big love fest there.”
Stahelski threw in one more highlight, remarking, “An individual stunt, golly gee, I really, really like hitting people with cars. In the third movie we threw the John Wick character off a high rise and he went down and he ping-ponged through two buildings. We actually shot that — that was Keanu’s stunt double Jackson Spidell — that literally did it in two pieces. He went over, did about a forty-five foot fall off an awning and bounced onto a fire escape then fell off the fire escape onto the ground. And the stunt guy actually did it. That was one of the ballsiest things ever done. Just out of sheer skill from the stunt man, that was probably one of the coolest ones I’ve seen in person.”
So with John Wick 4 in the works, how do you deliver something that can continue to satisfy after so many great action sequences already and is there pressure to keep making sure things get bigger?
Said Stahelski, “Look, I’m sitting in one of my offices right now. You walk into the next room, it’s a gigantic board room with over a thousand pictures of every action kind of thing and location you could imagine. It’s our vision wall. It’s our war room. And yes, there are things on that wall that go, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we rolled over a tank with this and did this, and a horse…” There’s a notebook, right here, that has every choreography idea I’ve ever had for John Wick 4 and whatever happens after that for sure. But if I just worried about that it would be exactly what you said. There’d be pressure to ‘I gotta go bigger!’ And that’s what happens with most sequels. ‘Well, we did it on airplanes so let’s do it on a submarine!’ ‘Well, we did it on a submarine so let’s do it on a rocket ship!’ I’m sure you can imagine some of the car franchises and other action franchises out there that just ‘What’s the biggest gag we can do? We’ll sky dive! We’ll halo jump!’ Look, that’s cool, I appreciate that and we do a little of that ourselves. I just go, ‘Okay, look, what do we need here, where it is?’ We’re doing things practically, which limit me a little bit in a good way. I’m not going to jump out of a CGI 747. I’m not going to jump off the world’s highest building. I’m not going to do a submarine chase with all digital work. I’m just going to figure out how to make a cool location work with the cars and bikes that I have. I believe in human talent, at least for the Wicks. Not that I wouldn’t love to do spaceships and all that stuff. But for the John Wicks I’m gonna rely on Keanu, the stunt teams, the other cast members we get and I’m gonna push them to their limits.”
Stahelski evoked an action legend he knows, explaining, “One big thing I learned from Jackie [Chan] is the old golden rule of Hollywood. Give the audience what they want, just show it to them in a different way. How many of you out there have seen fight scenes? Alright, like in the third John Wick, you’ve seen a knife fight a million times. Okay, we just did a fight scene where you throw knives and in every movie, every single movie, anybody picks up a knife, they throw it and it sticks in on the first go. So we’re like, ‘How about we have John Wick throw knives and nothing sticks in? They’ll bounce off and they’ll f**k up,’ and that’s what we do with that. You try to subvert it a little bit. So I like finding, ‘Okay, we’re going to do a fight scene here, I know I’m going to do this but we’re going to do it in a way that you haven’t seen before.’ That’s kind of my driving force, I don’t try to figure out what’s bigger or better. I just try to entertain. I want to show you something you haven’t seen. I want to show you something that makes you go, ‘Wow!’ If it doesn’t make you laugh or make you go ‘Wow!’ I’ve failed.”
You can check out our full Hey Fandom! conversation with Chad Stahelski below!