Keanu Reeves talks John Wick
After an opening set up, in which a retired assassin is forced out of retirement to seek vengeance, John Wick declares itself a different type of action movie. It is both violent and beautiful, dirty and majestic. The body count piles up while our hero uses gun shots and martial arts to inflict pain. Keanu Reeves stars as the mythical killer, and upon reading a script that delves into an underworld of paid-guns and deadly gangs, he had an idea for who should helm the project.
Coming out Friday, John Wick is co-directed by a pair of former colleagues in stuntmen-turned directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, who bring to the screen an action-packed and mesmerizing film.
“They’re such fans, but they have such love for creating worlds and not just action, and they have a love for literature, character, storytelling,” said Reeves to a group of journalists while promoting the film in Toronto. “Chad really knows everything there is to know about “the hero journey” in all of its incarnations in literature and cinema. They had their instruments and they were working in their craft. I never thought of them as first time directors.”
“They were really collaborative with the script and the character, the whole thing. I’ve had some experience making movies, so… I just wanted to help them out to fully realize their version of the script. So I was around. Doin’ stuff,” continued Reeves, laughing.
It was clear in discussions with him about the movie that this was a project he was not only passionate about, but excited to remember. He chatted about the energy on set surrounding such intense fight sequences, scenes that were to combine gun play and physicality and realized on the screen in long cuts in lieu of frenetic editing.
“This film is personal in ways that a lot of films like this aren’t,” he explained. “I go way back with these fellas, so there’s a real “let’s go team” feeling that makes it more personal for me in ways that films often aren’t.”
While having a history both working with the directors as well as filming action movies, there were still novel aspects to this film – and Reeves embraced all of it.
“I learned a lot of new things, especially the Ju-jitsu and the driving. I’m pretty familiar with what it takes to do those kinds of action sequences, though, so that gives you a better efficiency,” he said. While Reeves trained for three months, he had to be prepared on set right away due to the desired look of the finished product and the natural restraints of the shoot. Conversely, Reeves explained, for just one scene from the second Matrix film, he trained full time for six weeks.
“I gained what they call a toolbox, and I added to that because I got to work with an Army special ops guy who showed me different techniques, so Wick has a lot of different techniques.” At my offering, Reeves agreed that it was akin to ‘action improv.’
“It definitely was “action improv,” yeah,” he said. “But that’s where the directors’ experience comes in and knowing who to play off of and hiring the right people for the job. A couple of these guys I had worked with before…so we already had a fighting history. It’s just shorthand and trust. We could work things out fast, but it’s intense. It’s a high wire act to a certain extent because you only have so much time. But that’s what gives the film both its formalism and grace, and this improvisational immediacy that I think really comes off the screen in different ways. John has to register in the middle of a fight, ‘Oh, fuck! That’s happening!’”
He continued: “The fight I have with Adrianne Palicki I learned maybe two hours before we shot it. The scene when I first come into the nightclub was like that, too. A lot of it was learning through walkthroughs. It was pretty intense.”
The more Reeves discussed the film, the more he got into it, recalling decisions made on set when it came to creating dramatic and exciting fights.
“That stuff is just a whole bunch of fun! Yeah. That was really fun. And how can you not have fun on a movie when you come into work for a driving scene, and someone says something to you, like, ‘You’re going to stop and do a 180 and you’re going to hit someone and they’re going to go flying over the car and while they’re flying through the air, you’re going to shoot them.’ And then I just add to that and ask, ‘Can I shoot at them while I’m driving, too?’ ‘YEAH!’”
“So you’re just there driving and shooting. There was a lot of fun stuff like that.”