John Wick 2: 12 Secrets From Director Chad Stahelski
by John Nugent
John Wick: Chapter 2 blasted its way into cinemas last week – and with it came an expanded mythology, new characters, and a couple of hundred freshly-killed corpses, courtesy of Mr Wick. Keen to learn more, we placed a shiny gold coin in the palm of the film’s director, Chad Stahelski, and invited begged him to offer up a few secrets from the shady assassin underworld for our Spoiler Special Podcast. Here are a few of the things he told us.
Warning: Massive spoilers ahead.
1. John Wick 2 was influenced by Greek mythology
"I am a huge fan of the benefits of a classical education. I have a lot of affection for classical and classical music. We tried to mix and match contradictory images with what’s being seen on screen. I don’t know, I want to make a fun action movie, a lot of it is ridiculous. We wanted to make something where if you watch it over and over again, you’ll pick little things up."
2. The homeless network is a counterpoint to the Continental
"We thought it made perfect sense. When we decided to do this movie, I flew to New York, and just walked around. Sadly, there are a lot of homeless-looking people – but more so than other areas, they are completely invisible to the populace. I started thinking: if I had to be in the John Wick world, it's not a bad way to move around the city. The cops don't care. Nobody cares. We just thought that was really interesting.
We figured it was a sub-world. If the Continental was the five-star, where all the rich assassins go, there had to be the Motel 6. We figured that was Lawrence [Fishburne]'s people. And if you had to reinvent yourself, that'd be a good way to go."
3. Despite that final scene, not everyone is an assassin
"Less than 0.5% of the population [are assassins], I would hope! It was probably everybody in that world in Central Park. John Wick just killed more than a hundred people, and [Ian McShane’s character] Winston was just laying down. But the people in the final shot in the parks – they're not all assassins. You just don't know. I like ambiguity. It's like that Invasion Of The Body Snatchers thing – you just don't know."
4. The gold coins have no fixed exchange rate
"People have been annoyed that we didn't explain the gold coins. You know what? I'm probably not gonna. They're currency. You don't explain the dollar bill! They’re a holdover from the Cold War where you couldn't do denominations. It's more of a membership card. If you don't have a gold coin, that's an identifier. If you pay in gold, they know you're OK, so it serves two purposes. We always approach it from a realistic point-of-view, even though it's completely absurd. We like visual storytelling, so gold coins is an entrance level thing."
5. Keanu is an absolute workhorse
"Whatever success John Wick had, it couldn't have been that way without Keanu. Keanu is a workhorse. We have one of the largest stunt companies on the planet, so we train everyone – from the Marvel world, the DC world, the Bourne world, everybody... and this guy just won't stay down. Keanu's got this determination which is rare, even in the stunt community. For a professional athlete, it's rare. He just commits fully. He's a freak. He really is. I don't know how he's still standing, actually."
6. Attention to detail is everything
"On John Wick, we call it porn. We have judo porn, jujitsu porn, gun porn, car porn. When the Sommelier talks, those are real terms that a gunsmith wrote for us. When we talk about cars, those are real terms that our mechanic department gave us. It's so easy to phone it into movies. 95% of what people learn about a gunfight is from movies, and 100% of that 95% is probably bullshit. So we kinda went real."
7. Reloading is hard – but Keanu’s a pro
"People run out of bullets all the time. You have to do mag changes. And it's not easy. The reason Hollywood doesn't do reloads much is because it's difficult and it makes people look goofy. The amount of time you have to go through that - it's not holding a gun, it's putting the fuckin' magazine in and aiming it.. Keanu does every kind of reload imaginable. He's actually loading a shotgun in a shot with no cuts. Sounds fun. Sounds easy. That's five months of shooting."
8. The bath scene was Keanu's idea
"We had it a couple of different ways: it was in her mansion, her house, and something wasn't feeling right. We thought, 'how many times have you seen somebody in a room?' One day, Keanu's in our office, he's just got done working out, we're talking, and he says "I've got an idea. It's a little wacky. I'm not going to kill Gianna. She's gonna slit her wrists in a bath house. She's gonna strip. It's gonna be confusing. We'll put this tension in." He talked me through it and I thought, that's pretty hardcore. That's a little creepy. I couldn't get it out of my head. We started sketching, I called my production designer and said 'bear with me on this'. It fitted the Wick world – that's just the way these people live. I thought it was a good way to show another side of the mythology. It's supposed to be this world with its own set of rules."
9. Ruby Rose’s character originally had dialogue
"Ares was always written as a very small part. It could have been a stuntwoman or a badass action actor. Some of the lines they give the girl over the bad guy's shoulder – it's gotta be a sexy line, it's gotta be kind of silly. I sat Ruby Rose down and said, look: I'm going to take away all your dialogue. ...It was not taken well. She had the look of 'what the fuck?' on her face. I was like, “Look, you could just be another girl saying the quippy lines, trying to be sexy, giving shit to John, and it's always going to fall false I think. But why don't you do sign language – and you'll be the action actor to sign language?” At the end of the day, to her credit, she trusted me enough to try it. She has a great face, great eyes. She always looks a little pissed, and she's very expressive.
I don't think I've ever seen sign language in a cool action movie. I asked a [sign language expert], 'if you had to curse me out, what would you do?' Some of the sign language was awesome. You could tell it was angry. Most people talk with their hands anyway, so I thought it was interesting."
10. Chad Stahelski loves musicals
"I'm a huge fan of musicals. I've watched The Sound Of Music. I don't give a shit. I love La La Land. I think it's the best fuckin' movie of the year. I'll watch Singin' In The Rain all day. Any old Danny Kaye stuff. You know the technical prowess they had to have with those giraffe cranes doing those master shots? It's phenomenal. It's absolutely phenomenal. I just appreciate live performances. I always like going to stage performances or musicals, just to watch the elements. There's no place to hide. Early on, I got into martial arts choreography, studying the Hong Kong guys – and it was all from Jackie Chan saying "Go watch dance! More like dance!" We were very conscious of that from the first one. I don't want to reach and say it was a musical, but it was meant to be a live performance based on dance."
11. The climactic museum shoot-out is timed to Vivaldi
"In the museum fight, it's classical music, it's Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Early in prep, we had the composer rip out the percussion, and we timed the gunshots to the percussion. So John's gun becomes the percussion. I know no-one will pick it up but for us, it was a challenge. The composer was like, “you have to choreograph it and edit it, and your edit would have to be locked. You can change the tempo a little bit, but you're pretty locked in.” We're like: yeah, fuck it. We got nothing else to do. Let's give it a go. Let's challenge ourselves. If somebody does pick it up, it'll be two guys going like, holy shit, that's Vivaldi!"
12. John Wick 3 will not end happily
"I'd say, if we were so lucky to continue the series, I'd like to expand the world maybe another 25%, but then I'd like to go deeper into the world that people already know, another 50%.
The audience has seen this kind of movie so many times, you just wanna stay ahead of them a little bit. How else can this end? There's no happy ending! He's going to kill everyone!"