Franchise Fred Interview: Chad Stahelski on John Wick: Chapter 2 and Highlander

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I was at Sundance when John Wick 2 did its press, so I didn’t get a chance to interview director Chad Stahelski before its theatrical release. Now that John Wick 2 is on DVD and Blu-ray, I finally got to ask Stahelski all my John Wick 2 questions from earlier this year.

Wick (Keanu Reeves) is forced back to work by D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who calls in an old marker, embroiling Wick with other new hitmen in and out of the Continental. Stahelski is also developing a remake of Highlander and several TV series, including one in the John Wick world and Rain for Reeves.

Franchise Fred: Did any of the sequences you had in John Wick 2 come from ideas you had for John Wick 1?

Chad Stahelski: Mm-hmm. Actually, yeah. There’s some characters in there that we couldn’t squeeze into number one that we liked. Derek Kolstad came to us one day I think right in between, right when we were wrapping up John Wick 1. He’s like, “Ah, I’ve got this idea for a sommelier.” “We’ll put that in number two.” And we laughed, like there’ll never be a number two. Action ideas, we always wanted to do a much bigger gun sequence than we could afford in number one. We had a substantially smaller budget in the first one. That’s where we kind of got out to what you saw, the rock concert in Rome into the catacombs. The rock concert is something we originally wanted in the first one. There was just no way we could afford it or stage it, so I got to do it in the second one. So that was fun.

Franchise Fred: Did you build a subway platform and a museum for those gunfights?

CS: No, those were real and functional. That was the PATH system in New York. I still don’t know how they let us use it, and that was the Metropolitan museum of contemporary art in Rome that we used as the museum.

Franchise Fred: Was taking gun fights in public a lot more complicated?

CS: Logistically, you’re just dealing with all the extras and police, the nature of what we do. It’s tricky, you do action movies, I get asked a lot, “Are you making a statement about gun legislation.” No, I’m just having fun in this world. I have my personal beliefs but the movie is about we’re in a world of assassins. This is a tool of the trade. How do we do it? So we’re in public, we’re just thinking what would be the interesting, creative art form thing of doing a silent gun fight, how would it happen? What are the cool moves? How do people react? We’ve created a meta reality where in New York, you can have a little gunfight and people are so into their own world, they’re not really paying attention to what’s going on, to the five dead bodies on a subway terminal.

Franchise Fred: Was it hard to keep John Wick 2 under two hours with all the story and action you have in it?

CS: Not hard, hard. Not like impossible. You’re asking the director, so I’ve got to kill my own babies. I’ve got to cut three of my scenes to get it under two hours. At the end of the day, you’ve got your studio, you’ve got your producers, you’ve got all these guys. As long as you don’t tell me or the director, “You’ve got to keep it under two hours because marketing says…” then you’re just like, “Fuck you, I’m making a movie.” But luckily, all the team that I value opinions on, from the studio, from our producers, from Keanu, myself, you just get to this organic place where you start going, “Do I really need this scene?” I like test screening. Some people don’t. I like seeing it with an audience and you kind of get the flow that’s hard to watch until you watch it with a real audience. There’ll be that dead spot. Every time we kept getting this dead spot and it wasn’t getting the laugh we wanted. So yeah, we loosened that scene. Or, does the scene confuse and it’s not supposed to confuse? We had two of those in this. Once we took them out, even though I love the scenes, the audience seemed to enjoy the movie better without them. I was fortunate. I didn’t have the studio, producer or anybody telling me I had to be under two hours.

Franchise Fred: Are the deleted scenes on the DVD?

CS: They are. All three of them. They’re all about world building. One was Aurelio’s, one we call the Cardinal scene, and a little bit more of the Continental.

Franchise Fred: How would John Wick handle people texting during the movie?

CS: Ooh, good question. John’s not much of a texter so if he did see texting and you weren’t paying him attention, he would just make a mental note that you’re fodder. I don’t think he’d shoot you in the head but he’d mark you down as potential fodder.

Franchise Fred: Was Laurence Fishburne interested in learning gun fu?

CS: Oh, it’s funny. I go way back with Laurence. I think he’s a great guy too, but I respect him a lot. He’s a great actor. He takes his job very seriously, very professional, he’s awesome. Literally, it was very cool, when we did the first press thing, Comic-Con in New York, he literally came up to me after seeing the trailer for the first time. He kind of takes me aside like what did I do wrong. He’s like, “No, listen. If you want me back in the third one, I’ll do whatever. I’ll do jujitsu, I’ll do judo, I’ll do gun fu. Just let me know. I’ll do whatever you want.” That’s a big deal because he wants to put in the time to train. He’s like, “I’ll train. I’ll do whatever. I love this movie.” I was like whoa, okay. Maybe we give the Bowery King a little gun fu next time.

Franchise Fred: There’s gonna be an “Oh” in every John Wick movie, right?

CS: That’s our little gig, yeah. We like that. We like “Oh”s. We like our “Oh”s.

Franchise Fred: Did D’Antonio really think he’d have the upper hand on John Wick?

CS: I love intelligent characters. I think everybody knows fate is there. Live by the sword, die by the sword. I don’t think there’s anybody in John Wick 1 or 2, at least in the Wick world, that doesn’t know they got it coming. It’s like a shark. They can’t stop swimming, they can’t stop plotting, they can’t stop going down those dark roads, even though they know where they’re going to lead. I think that’s the fun part.

Franchise Fred: I see it as those types of people will never learn.

CS: They learn. I don’t think they ever accept.

Franchise Fred: It seems very apropos of the real world that sensible people don’t have that kind of bravado. People with that kind of bravado aren’t sensible.

CS: I think you are who you are. You can’t fight your nature. Like I said, if you were born a shark, you’re a shark.

Franchise Fred: I hope it’s just coincidence that the majority of home video reporters here today are men. Are you aware of the strong female following for John Wick?

CS: I hope so.

Franchise Fred: Do you take it into account when you create an action franchise that women like this genre too, and they’re often underserved?

CS: I don’t think we set out going, “We’re going to make a movie for women.” Honestly, it comes down to your own palette. I like movies that seem to go with women too. I like Bridget Jones’s Diary.John Wick: Chapter 2

Franchise Fred: Isn’t that the cliche that that’s for women and John Wick is for men?

CS: Right, but the point is, Bridget Jones’s Diary, guy or girl, that’s a good story. It’s funny. I think she does a good job. One of the best fight scenes ever in cinema is the first Bridget Jones. I love that fight scene. Colin Firth? I think that’s hilarious. You try to tell a good story. To me, every action movie you see is usually about revenge. You killed my master, you killed my wife, you killed my dog, whatever. John’s is a little bit more of a love story. He’s doing it for love. I like that. I think love is the best motivator. If you can do like The Princess Bride with great action, I think that’s a great story. That gets me. Does that appeal to women? Of course it does. It’s love. Who doesn’t like love?

Franchise Fred: Will Highlander be the John WIck of sword fights?

CS: I don’t know if I’d use that exact description but I’m going to say yes. It is my goal and my intention to somehow do what we did with gunfights and gun fu to redeveloping sword fighting in the cinema.

Franchise Fred: I’ve asked Russell Mulcahy this question and even he didn’t have an answer. If you slice an immortal down the middle, does each half stay alive until the actual neck is severed?

CS: You’re talking directly in half? That’s a really good question. It’s funny, I’ve never met Russell but I’m a big fan of what he did in the first movie. Honestly, the more you talk about immortals, the more you come up with, “What if you get into a sword fight and his arms got chopped off? Do they grow back?” We’re knee deep in that right now. I think he was genius for avoiding all those questions. We have a series of films planned for Highlander. The first one, I’d want to keep it as grounded and as realistic without reaching over all the different interesting problems you have. I’d like to introduce them but not go too crazy into them. I want the audience to be really vested in the Highlander world. Then the second and third films, those seem like very fun conundrums to get into. Rather than shy away from them, I’d really like to engage them wholeheartedly. What is an immortal character like who’s only got his sword arm? He’s got one hand taken off. They touched in the TV show a little bit, what happens to an immortal that’s born when he’s only 15? There’s all these interesting immortal questions which I think can be really fun for the series, but first I gotta get it started and get you interested in it.

Franchise Fred: Is Rain more for premium cable or streaming?

CS: Still in the development stage. We’re kind of more into the John Wick TV show right now and seeing where that’ll go for Lionsgate. Then we’ll see what Keanu’s overall schedule is for the other stuff.