Oral Histories

How Keanu Reeves and Chad Stahelski Expanded the John Wick Universe with Chapter 2 and 3

Send him to Rome! Bring in Laurence Fishburne! Intensify the action... a lot! In a special oral history, the actor and director break down how they built up the John Wick universe.

by | March 23, 2023 | Comments


“There’s not supposed to be a sequel.” That was the first thought director Chad Stahelski had when approached to make a second film about the stylish, vengeful assassin, John Wick. But both he and star and collaborator Keanu Reeves were up for the challenge. The two set to work immediately on continuing the story and expanding both the universe of the film and the character at its center. Wick can use sign language, they decided, and he could speak Italian, and, they were going to take the story to Rome. Because, why not? There would be blood oaths and shifting allegiances and an epic fight between Keanu Reeves and Common because… why not? It was that attitude, that almost anything was possible with this world and this character, that drove the evolution of the John Wick series from Chapter 2 and right into Chapter 3 – Parabellum. In this exclusive extended interview, Reeves and Stahelski – who directed the Wick sequels solo after co-directing the first film with David Leitch – reveal how they developed the sequel ideas, upped the action ante, and convinced their old friend Laurence Fishburne, with whom both had worked on The Matrix, to join them for the ride. (In the process, they doubled the box office of the original film.) Plus, the pair offer new insights into Chapter 3, detailing Halle Berry’s arrival in the John Wick universe and sharing which new action scene they love the most.

What was your reaction when Chapter 2 was greenlit?

Keanu Reeves: What are we gonna do?

Chad Stahelski: Yeah. That was literally it. We both looked at each other like, it’s not supposed to be a sequel. I think we both, when they came back and Lionsgate asked us to do the one, we said we’re interested, it’s great, but just give us a little time. Again, our big thing is we just don’t want it to suck. And we’ve seen a lot of sequels go downhill, especially in the action genre. So we’re like, look, we made a deal with each other. If we can come up with something the next couple weeks that we are really excited, like something that we’re gonna give up a year and a half of our life for, we’ll do it. If we can’t, then we’ll pass.

And I don’t know, after it was like a couple weeks. Came up with the idea of the marker, and Ken was like, well, let’s stay with the guy. Let’s follow him to see what he’s gonna do. Let’s reverse the whole thing on him. Like now that he’s in, that’s the trigger thing. And I think you’re the one that came with the consequence, let’s stay with the fate thing, and if the first movie didn’t happen, the second one didn’t happen. And then we decided, well, let’s have it happen the next day. Hey, just like this whole thing has caused this ripple effect.

How did they expand the John Wick universe?

Chad Stahelski: And we’re like, yeah, mirror room! We’re like, all right, that’s awesome. We’ll have a bulletproof suit. We’ll do this. And we just started and just started tumbling out. And we had this list of ideas, no script, but ideas. And we’re like, all right, this Right.

Keanu Reeves: Ruby Rose’s character.

Chad Stahelski: We’re like, we’ll have a mute, good.

Keanu Reeves: Sign language! Let’s sign. John can do sign language. John can speak Italian.

Chad Stahelski: So after like a week of just riffing and we just realized that every time we talked about it, we’re just started giggling, going, this is ridiculous. And we said, okay, we’ll do it.

Favorite Fight Scene in Chapter 2

Keanu Reeves: Gosh. I’ve got favorites on different levels, right? I think the pencil fight. We had to do the pencil fight because in John Wick, he killed the men with a pencil. I love the setup of the common fight in the subway. Kind of sixties, seventies, kind of hard-boiled. And then the common fight for aficionados is pretty tasty.

Bringing In Laurence Fishburne

Keanu Reeves: While we were doing these other things, it’s like, okay, so how’s John gonna… Bowery King, the Underground!

Chad Stahelski: Look, we’re walking around scouting a lot. Ken’s really familiar with New York and was trying to familiarize myself more with New York. And you walk around and you saw some of the homelessness, some of the stuff. And it was like, if you had to be an assassin, we just rationalized, you wanted no one to notice you, that would be the guy I’d pick. And they hear and see everything, but people ignore him. What a great analog way to be your NSA or your CIA of the city to be that. And we started thinking about, I don’t think you can have Bowery King, like King of the Bowery. Okay. And that just clicked. You hear the voice already in your head, obviously, and it was kind of a no-brainer choice. It was like, let’s call Lawrence Fishburn.

Favorite Fight Scene in Chapter 3

Chad Stahelski: Each one’s got a vibe, from ridiculous to fun. Like the knife fight for me is just fun and interesting, but the glass room with Cecep and Yayan is really fun. And then Boban is a blast for me. You know, and I love the underwater thing. I dunno, I have a million of them.

Working with Halle Berry

Chad Stahelski: We get, we get notices that people are fans and like little hints. Halle, she searched us out and said she’d really like to be part of it. You can’t get more flattered than that. I mean, that’s pretty cool.

Paying Homage to The Matrix in Chapter 3

Keanu Reeves: Yeah. That moment with lots of guns, in the script, the original line was “guns.” Was it your idea to do an homage to the…

Chad Stahelski: Yeah, to the 20th anniversary of the Matrix.

Keanu Reeves: Yeah. To do guns, lots of guns.

Chad Stahelski: Talk Keanu into giving it one go. One take.

Keanu Reeves: It’s a little meta, you know, and I think that’s kind of modern. I mean, there’s always been kind of nods to things.

Chad Stahelski: Yeah, we try to put a little of that in every John Wick about what we’re really influenced by.

Keanu Reeves: It’s kind of personal.

Should the Oscars Have a Stunt Category?

Keanu Reeves: I don’t know. I think they’d have to have a technical part of that, and then I think you would have to go into what did people love?

Chad Stahelski: Yeah. No, I love the idea of it. Having been a stunt performer and all that stuff, and a stunt quarter and an action director. It’s tricky, because a lot action is a big group effort. More so I think than any other department, we combined all seven or eight departments together. The director comes up with ideas, segueing the special effects guy. I think if you needed a technical award, that would be great, and then an individual achievement based on creativity, how to apply it to the story, would be interesting. But there’s so much influence. Like, you can get a stunt coordinator, and then the choreographer does the work. Or you can get a choreographer that’s okay, and the editor does all the cutting. I’ve seen great action done, but then lost in a director’s cutter, lost in the edit. Or a director comes up with a great idea and maybe it’s shot incorrectly. So I don’t know. It’s still a tricky, it’s still a big thing in the stunt community right now. Who would get the award and how you would marginalize that.

Keanu Reeves: But then if we went in front of the curtain, down back onto the big screen, then it would be what action sequence people were like, pow!

Chad Stahelski: Yeah. I think that’s the way, Keanu’s got a good point. That’s the way you’d have to judge it. What made it to screen? This is awesome. How did it make you feel? You stood up and cheered or closed your eyes. I think that’s worth an award on any level.

John Wick: Chapter 4 opens in theaters on March 24.

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