Keanu Reeves, 'John Wick' Directors on How Their 'Matrix' Past Helped With Assassin Film
"We know how he moves. We know his process"
by Hilary Lewis
Keanu Reeves and John Wick director Chad Stahelski first met on The Matrix. Stahelski later went on to work as the martial arts stunt coordinator on the second and third Matrix films, where he was joined by stuntman David Leitch. Now the three have reunited for John Wick, Summit's action movie about a retired assassin out for revenge.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter two weeks ago in New York, Stahelski and Leitch said they never thought when they were working with Reeves on the Matrix films that they would one day be working together again on their directorial debuts.
"I think back then we were just happy to be working," Stahelski said. "We were working on The Matrix, so we were like, 'This is great!' "
Reeves, similarly, said he certainly wasn't thinking in 1999 that he'd reteam with Stahelski in this capacity 15 years later.
And Leitch said they "never thought [they] would get Reeves" for their first official film as directors.
But Reeves had other ideas. The actor had stayed in touch with Stahelski and Leitch since leaving the Matrix, while the stuntmen went on to create their own one-stop shop for fight scenes, 87Eleven, and served as second-unit directors on movies such as The Wolverine, the first two Hunger Games films and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
"When I got John Wick, I sent it to them originally for the action part of the film but"—he leans in and whispers—"secretly hoping that they'd want to direct it, and then they did," Reeves said. "They had a great vision for the film, which I think they've realized very well."
Once they were on set, their familiarity with Reeves was an asset, particularly in the movie's many fast-paced acrobatic fight scenes.
"Chad spent a lot of time training Keanu on the Matrix movies, so you build this rapport and you learn how to speak to actors about their character," Leitch said.
Stahelski added: "This translates really well, just years later, having known him so long and having a really good relationship with him, on many different levels. We just have a very good dialogue with him, which also translates into the action we wanted. … We know how he moves. We know his process. He's just one of those actors who's phenomenal in an action sequence, so I think that really helped."
Reeves elaborated that with specific sequences, particularly long takes, their understanding and preparation was especially useful.
"When I walk into a room and I'm shooting 10 different people and it's one shot or it's two but they're wides, the timing of that is so key, essential," he said.
The actor added: "It was really cool to partner up with them in the sense of the history that we have, the shorthand that we have, the trust that we have."
That trust helped when the directors had to make last-minute changes.
"I think we changed some of the action on set. ... The way we trained Keanu was like he had a library of techniques. And when we found our locations, it was often last-minute, and because we're choreographers we were confident to just design something we thought would be compelling, and Keanu would step in and deliver. I don't know if other directors can do that," Leitch said.
John Wick co-star Michael Nyqvist added that the directors' experience made him feel comfortable on set.
"You felt safe as an actor with them," he said. "They knew what they were doing."