A hotel, a sommelier, a coin – in John Wick & John Wick: Chapter 2, these seemingly mundane things mask an elaborate underground, criminal network. The Hotel is no mere hotel, but The Continental – the headquarter and safe-haven for elite assassins. That sommelier – he’s not there to give you any guidance on wine; but he sure can direct you on the difference between a Colt pistol and a Glock. And that coin…. well, that’s actually – a blood-oath marker for a hit-you-can’t-refuse. In the John Wick universe, every single place and person is hiding a nefarious purpose, right down to the homeless begging for change at the subway (they’re assassins too). But the real magic trick to John Wick (and what makes the franchise so much fun) is that the films never tip their hand to camp. Yeah – a dry-cleaner doubling as a body-removal service is a fairly silly concept; but John Wick plays it straight and by doing so, sells the joke and, by proxy, the overarching world. Filmmaker Chad Stahelski (along with the first film’s co-director David Leitch) has crafted one of the most bizarre and fun modern action mythologies, turning the simple story of a hitman (Keanu Reeves) avenging his dog into a gateway to a vast, global web of criminals.
In the following interview with Stahelski, the director discusses this elaborate John Wick mythology, the influence of Greek myths and his plans to direct John Wick: Chapter 3. In addition – Stahelski gives a quick update on the planned Highlander reboot, which he’s attached to direct. For the full interview, read below.
Chad Stahelski (laughing): Acid. A lot of acid.
Of course… How much of this mythology did you have in place for the first film versus coming up with it when you were developing the sequel?
Stahelski: Like left over ideas from the first one?
Stahelski: Honestly… Not that many. [Co-director David Leitch and I] had no clue how the first movie would turn out. We were just wiping our brows, going ‘Whew – Can’t believe we pulled that off.’ We thought people were going to laugh at us for being so wacky. A hotel for assassins? But we wanted to make something fun and we thought that was fun. But once the first movie came out, David and I had a lot of down time before they asked us [to make a sequel]. There was a lot of time between when we finished the film and its release, so we went back and forth to New York twice during the period. Everything we saw we were like, ‘Oh, we could do John Wick here.’ Then we started asking each other – ‘What would be cool? It would be cool if… It would be cool if…’ Before we started prepping John Wick 2, I had a notebook of all the fight scenes and ideas that we want to do throughout our careers. John Wick doesn’t come from any [pre-existing property] so we could do anything. If we wanted to beat people with cars or we wanted to crash a motorcycle or we wanted to do a fight with a bunch of mirrors or a sword fight… We can do anything and that’s the gift of Number Three too. I don’t have to stay in the real world like The Equalizer or Bourne. I don’t have to fit into this mythology of The Magnificent Seven or a comic book superhero. For John Wick, if I showed you something tomorrow of John Wick doing… He just pulls out this hockey stick and starts beating people, you’d be like ‘Oh cool, John Wick beating people with a hockey stick.’ I’m free to do what I want… So as far as set pieces go, yeah – we have a few more things we didn’t use from number two. We want not so much to go bigger on the third one but [instead] to show you more of the intricacies of the world… I feel like there’s all these different subtleties that I skipped over in number two that I’d like to go back to in number three and show you the inner workings of different parts of New York. Rather than massive set pieces, I’d like to show you cooler, more intricate ones.
So are you actively working on part three right now?
Stahelski: Yeah — we’re currently in the middle of writing it right now…
Is there a tentative shooting date?
Stahelski: It’s more of a how fast can we get our shit together. But I would assume that if not by the end of this year, the beginning of next year.
Are you still planning on directing it?
Stahelski: Right now I’m super involved. I love the property. I love Keanu. Right now I say that I’m fairly…
Open to it?
Stahelski: Yeah. Currently I’m acting as prep director, as you would say. Hopefully everything will work out time-wise. Of course — I would love to. You’ve got to say weird stuff like that in Hollywood.
I know you mentioned expanding on the mythology for Part Three…
Stahelski: Definitely. You want to show something different, something original… Why do people like John Wick? Because it’s a little different. We’re showing you some cool stuff that you don’t see in the Bond or the Bourne movies… Rather than trying to emulate them and do the ‘same old, same old’, we’re trying to give you the wacky side of what those worlds would be… But again, I think it would be a mistake budget-wise and creatively to just go big and blow up a freeway. That’s not our gig. That’s a comic book or a Bond gig. We want to show you cool and intricate hidden details. What are those little details in everyday life? Hopefully we make people look at garbage collectors and cleaner vans and taxi cab drivers and homeless people a little differently now.