Keanu Reeves Tells Us All About 'John Wick,' the Best American Action Movie of the Year
by Peter Hall
John Wick is the badass, hard-core, R-rated Hollywood action movie you probably didn't even know you'd been waiting all year to see. It stars Keanu Reeves as a former mob hit man who is quietly living a retired life when some dumb mobster goon decides to steal his car. In doing so, said mobster inadvertently takes the one thing Reeves still cared about in the world. His response is an unrelenting war path to teach this kid the ultimate lesson.
And when I say warpath, I mean it. The amount of action in this movie is stunning. And since John Wick is the directorial debut of a pair of A-list stuntmen (who were Reeves' stunt doubles going way back to Point Break), you can understand why the action is the best you'll see all year from a Hollywood production.
I do keep mentioning Hollywood because it's worth noting, as Reeves does himself in the below interview from the movie's world premiere at Fantastic Fest, that this is the kind of intense action international movies like The Raid 2 have been delivering but that America has backed off of in favor of PG-13 ratings. Combine that with a very amusing graphic-novel tone (though it's not based on any source material), and John Wick isn't just the best Hollywood action movie of the year, it's easily one of the most entertaining and rewarding movies of the year.
Movies.com: You're known for being a very Zen guy, but between Man of Tai Chi and now John Wick, it seems like you're entering a phase where you play angry characters. Is there any reason for that?
Keanu Reeves: Well, it's fun. There was no intention two years ago to look for that kind of role, at least to my limited view of things that happen, but in hindsight there definitely might have been. But playing a villain in Man of Tai Chi and then playing John Wick, who has that Old Testament journey of action and circumstance... it's just fun.
Movies.com: How involved were you in developing the personality of the world all around John Wick?
Reeves: There was a script that the producer wanted developed. I read the script, but it was originally written for an older character, so I worked with the writer Derek Kolstad. He was amenable to me playing the role and working on it, so it went through that pass. Then I was looking for a director, and I was thinking of Chad [Stahelski] and Dave [Leitch] for the action but I was secretly hoping that they would read it and want to direct it, and then they did, and so they pitched their vision of how they saw it and [producer] Basil Iwanyk said yes and we made a movie.
What they loved was the dialogue, the world, the graphic-novel aspect of the humor and violence and themes. I think there's a lot of cinematic reference, but synthesized, but isn't that all art?
Movies.com: It reminds me of Escape from New York, where all of the criminals understand the rules around them, and every single one of them knows who Snake Plissken is and what he's capable of. And here we never meet the normal people of the world, we just meet everyone who knows John Wick.
Reeves: That's really interesting, and going on that riff, it's almost like John's looking for his anonymity, in a weird way. He got out of the life, fell in love and buried his past, and then that's taken away from him and he has to go back down into the underworld and has to dig his way out of it.
Movies.com: Is that the arc that existed from day one of you being on the project?
Reeves: Textwise, for sure. That was our intention.
Movies.com: When it comes to the violence of the movie, how'd you handle knowing when is too much?
Reeves: That was all the directors. Even The Raid 2 didn't get an X, or Restricted. I call it X, because I'm from the old days. The directors had more of a tableau idea, less cuts and really seeing the action without close-ups except for a few broken bones. They just had a different take on it. I think how they wanted to do the violence was to have this hyperreality around it, but that you could still identify with it emotionally and understand what's happening and why. And keep it fun.
Movies.com: Lately action fans have had to turn to international movies like The Raid to get some next-level action, and John Wick is sort of like the American answer saying, "No, we can do it too." Was it always your intention to say, "I'll do this movie, but the action needs to be at this level."
Reeves: That was definitely my decision and why I wanted to come to Chad and Dave in the first place. They have an action design company called 8711. I met Chad on the first Matrix, he was the stunt double for Neo, which is me. And I already knew Dave, and then the two of them kept doing action stuff for years, like 300 and The Expendables. They are big-time second-unit directors, so the expectations were high.
It's interesting, I'm usually trained to choreography, and in this one I was trained to be able to do choreography. Meaning, "Here's a bunch of judo, here's a bunch of ju-jitsu, here's a bunch of tactical and practical training with a pistol and a long gun, and here's how to drive a car f**king radically. Okay, you know how to do all those? Now on the day, we're just going to make s**t up."
During the night club sequence... I didn't rehearse that until the day.
Movies.com: That's absurd.
Reeves: Yeah! It was just like, "Here we go!"
Movies.com: That's unbelievable.
Reeves: It's all just a testament to the people I'm working with. Because it's all just dancing, it's all timing. If I go too early, they're cut out. If they come in late, it's too slow. It all has to gel.
Movies.com: Looking forward a bit, can you tell us about a project you're involved with called Rain?
Reeves: The Rain series was a bunch of novels by a guy named Barry Eisler. I think there's eight of them. And I was actually brought the Rain series by Chad and Dave. We were looking for other stuff, so I read the book and loved the character. And originally it was, "Let's make a movie of this," but you can't really make a movie of that character. There was one movie done before, I think they did Rain Fall. It's got Gary Oldman in it, but I've never seen it. But now we're looking at the idea of making a television series out of it.
Movies.com: And when will you direct again?
Reeves: F**k, I love seeing "Directed by..." I don't know. I'm looking for a story. The past year I've been really fortunate because I got to work on John Wick and then with Eli Roth on a movie called Knock Knock that's a sort of home-invasion movie where I got to play the victim. Then I worked on a movie with Courtney Hunt called The Whole Truth where I play a defense attorney in a movie where no one is telling the truth. But I am still looking for a story to direct myself.