They killed his dog. They stole his car. That’s pretty much all you need to know about the ‘John Wick’ movies — Chapter 3 out now in the UAE — to get them. Keanu Reeves’ ridiculously skilled assassin is a man of few words but infinite moves. The first film, which showed that Reeves had plenty of action skills post-’Matrix’, became a surprise hit and built a legion of fans for action sequences that have grown in technical complexity over three films. In an interview, director Chad Stahelski spoke about five scenes from the movies and what it took to pull them off.
1. John Wick vs. Ms. Perkins
In the first film, John is resting at the Continental, the hotel meant to be neutral ground for assassins and off-limits to business (killing business). That doesn’t stop Ms Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), who is fine with trying to take John out while in his pyjamas.
The fight, while intense, also shows how the filmmakers are open to humour.
“I thought I’d let myself in,” Perkins says as she shoots up the hotel room. “Thinking about the scene, we asked, what’s the most vulnerable you can make John Wick?” Stahelski said. “So we decided we’ll have him in bed. ” When Stahelski spoke to Reeves about it, he said the actor suggested that John be in his boxers. “I said, no one looks cool in boxers. But he insisted. He thought it would be best for the character.”
“We reminded Keanu that if he’s going to wear boxer shorts and a T-shirt in this fight scene, there’s no elbow pads, no kneepads. She’s going to be in a leather jacket so she can pad up all she wants. We called it the theatre of pain. How bad can we beat up the lead character to make you feel empathy for him?”
2. The Car Fight
Near the end of the first film, John Wick uses his car as a weapon to take down bad guys. Stahelski said that he and that movie’s other filmmaker, David Leitch, had planned to make this an elaborate chase at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But then budget realities set in.
“We were doing our calculations and we were 10 cars short of doing the sequence we wanted,” he said. They opted for something smaller, assembling this scene with their stunt coordinator, Darrin Prescott. “Rather than kung fu, we did car fu, keeping Keanu in the car and whatever comes at him, he hits.”
Reeves does some of his own driving in the scene. He took a stunt driving course with Jeremy Fry, who taught him tricks like executing a sliding drift with one hand while shooting out of the window.
3. John Wick vs Cassian
‘John Wick 2’ (2017) takes him to Rome to do a job for an Italian crime lord. That job involves murdering the crime lord’s sister, Gianna. But Gianna’s bodyguard, Cassian (played by Common), wants to stop that from happening.
He tracks down John for this intense fight on city streets and down a few flights of stairs.
In casting Cassian, Stahelski said, “we wanted someone who exuded cool without ever having to try, look great in a suit and could not just physically hold up to John Wick, but match him in couth and class.”
Stahelski continued, “We put Common through firearm training and martial arts training. For three months he just lived the life of a stunt performer.”
The filmmakers wanted the two to have an epic fight through Rome. “I like close-quarters stuff, having it all in one tight frame where it’s all messy,” Stahelski said of the fight. The spare nature of the clash, on a Rome street amid parked cars, was inspired by John Woo films like ‘Hard Boiled’ and ‘The Killer’.
One moment has the two rolling down a staircase to another level of the street. Stahelski said he came across those stairs on a walk through the city to scout locations. He used the stunt doubles Jackson Spidell and Daniel Graham, who were game to take a stair roll.
Hoping to avoid shooting the scene multiple times, they completed all the levels of the fall without a break. Stahelski said he left in some of the audio of the men pumping each other up as they complete each part of the stunt.
4. The Library Fight
Yes, an action scene in a library is as outrageous, and inspired, as you might think. Stahelski said that he liked juxtapositions in fight choreography. He didn’t want to pit Reeves against a similarly sized opponent all the time.
“I love the New York Public Library and wanted to do an action scene in the stacks,” he said. “So it’s very tight, and Keanu can just get shoulder to shoulder. But the idea was to find the largest individual we could fit within that and have a fight-in-the-phone-booth kind of feel.”
Enter Boban Marjanovic, the 7-foot-3 NBA player who dwarfs Reeves (and just about everyone else).
Because they couldn’t find a stunt double for someone this size, the filmmakers needed Marjanovic to do his own stunts. The team spent two weeks training him for the performance.
At one point Marjanovic must kick John Wick in the chest. He performed the scene with Jackson Spidell, but was afraid of kicking even a stunt double with the force of a Size 20 shoe. So a cautious Marjanovic did a mild kick at first. Then the filmmakers assured him it would be fine to kick at full force. “When he does, you can actually see the stunt double go out of frame,” Stahelski said.
5. The Dog Fight
In ‘Chapter 3’, John finds himself in Morocco meeting Sofia (Halle Berry), with whom he has a history. He asks for her help, and that turns into a fight against bad guys in which Sofia’s two dogs attack alongside her and John.
To pull that off, five Belgian Malinois had to undergo extensive training, Stahelski said, that treated their attacks like playtime. They would go after green canvas straps on the stunt performers.
The scene was performed by a small group of stuntmen who all became comfortable with the dogs. Those men were used over and over again in the scene, playing multiple guys who are killed.
On most sets, the trainers would be just off camera shouting commands. But because Stahelski was doing wide shots and long takes, trainers couldn’t get close enough to speak to the dogs. So he had Berry herself be the one to give the commands. She spent a couple of hours a day in pre-production learning how to train dogs for this complicated sequence.
Don’t miss it!
‘John Wick 3’ is out now in the UAE.