[WARNING: This interview contains SPOILERS for the end of John Wick.]
Both Chad Stahelski and David Leitch have worked in the entertainment industry for decades. Staheliski got his start working as a stunt man for Keanu Reeves on Point Break, while Leitch did stunt work on TV shows like Sherman Oaks, 7th Heaven, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Since then, they’ve moved on to stunt coordination and second unit directing for films like The Matrix Reloaded, The Expendables 2, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Jurassic World, and on.
And John Wick is their directorial debut. While untested directors might usually be cause for concern, the action-revenge film has thus far received near universal critical acclaim. By most accounts, it’s action-packed, compelling, and really, really fun.
At the recent John Wick NYC press day, we had the opportunity to talk to Chad and David about their first film, its cinematic influences (from John Woo to Akira Kurosawa to Sergio Leone to film noir and more), the excellent world-building in the film, and not killing any dogs in John Wick 2.
Screen Rant: So this is your first movie as directors. What was it like transitioning from stunt coordination and second unit work, that kind of thing, to calling literally all of the shots? Was it intimidating?
Chad Stahelski: No.
David Leitch: [Laughter] No…we directed a lot of action for a lot of different people. We were fortunate to mentor under a lot of good directors. I think it was like – it was time. Choreography, stunt-coordinating, there’s a lot of directing that’s involved with that, and you work with the actors closely. So it didn’t seem foreign, it wasn’t intimidating, I think we were ready for the challenge. It was good timing.
SR: It was like the next step.
CS: It was actually easier in some ways. We get to make all the decisions instead of running it by someone else’s decisions, so it was nice.
SR: I’m a huge fan of classic John Woo movies. This movie seemed to be influenced by his work in some way. Was that the case and were there any other influences you guys had?
CS: I think it was more influenced by John Woo’s influences. More than – just John Woo.
SR: Like what, specifically?
CS: Some of the ‘70s films.
DL: I mean, definitely ‘The Killer’ is sort of a vibe that was playing. But I think Chad’s right – maybe the influences that led him to make those types of genre movies [influenced us] as well. But to even be – to even have him as an influence is great. He’s amazing. We love his stuff.
CS: Yeah, definitely.
SR: And there’s a lot of film noir, too.
CS: Very much so.
SR: Did you have any specific noir films that you pulled from?
CS: All the way back to Kurosawa up to Sergio Leone. We like the spaghetti western sensibility there, some of the composition. But from ‘Point Blank’ to ‘The Red Circle’ to…what else did we do? Ooo, I don’t know. Yeah. [Laughter] A little John Woo, a little Tarantino, a lot of Steve McQueen in there.
DL: Noir maybe was sort of less impactful for us than the other sort of westerns and Kurosawa and things like that. I think we wanted to make this hard-boiled character. And – we love noir, but –
CS: It’s more noir in composition.
DL: Yeah, and look.
CS: The simplicity of the story and how we drove through it.
SR: I loved the world-building in [John Wick]. I know you’ve probably heard a lot about that. It felt to me like it was sort of like this supernatural movie or Harry Potter where there’s this world underneath our own that we don’t really see usually. But instead of Muggles [note: I know that Muggles are the non-magic humans!] and whatever, it was assassins and crime and what not. Can you just expound on that a little bit?
CS: [Laughter] Being compared to ‘Harry Potter’ –
DL: [Laughter] No, that’s a great – that’s perfect.
DL: With guns.
CS: Yeah, ‘Harry Potter’ with guns.
DL: You know, we wanted to create a world so you could have fun. So we could get away with the choreography that we wanted to do. And we go to movies to escape and to have a good time. Things that take themselves too seriously – we don’t enjoy them as much.
CS: There’s always a fit. And we just wanted to create a world that had a fit for the kind of action we wanted to do, which we thought was slightly hyperreal but very fun. So in order to do that we just kind of created a world that we thought we could get away with. Car-fu and gun-fu and all the different styles of martial arts we put in it and the kind of action we wanted.
DL: Yeah, and there’s the wish-fulfillment of an underworld that you’d like to spend time in. It’s like, you’d want to spend time in Harry Potter’s school, you’d like to spend time at John Wick’s nightclub of assassins.
CS: The Continental.
For those that don’t know, the world-building in John Wick has been one of the more praised elements of the film. In John Wick’s New York City, there’s this really bizarre and interesting secret assassin underworld, which has its own assassin currency, lingo, nightclubs, code of honor, and so forth. It makes what could’ve been a somewhat typical action film a more tangible and unique experience.
SR: Last question. I’m a – well, this is a little bit of a SPOILER for the end of John Wick. I’m a huge fan of dogs. I have a pit bull and I know you have a Pit Bull.
DL: [Nods] Uh-huh, yep.
SR: I thought the ending was fantastic. I had this huge grin on my face. John Wick gets a dog at the end and it’s a Pit Bull. And my question is – if you made a sequel to John Wick, can you guys promise me that you will not kill that dog? Because I just don’t think my heart could take it.
CS: No promises. He might be a cat person in the sequel.
SR: You are a cat person, right? Isn’t that what it is?
CS: I am. But cats just didn’t pull at the heart strings.
SR: You could have a Pit Bull and a cat and they could be friends.
DL: Cats don’t reach the same demographic.
CS: [Joking] Different demographic. It’s about marketing, we decided it should be a Pit Bull.
DL: We’re thinking of our ways in for ‘John Wick 2.’ I don’t know if it’s killing a dog. We can’t do that twice.
SR: Good, well – I appreciate it.
John Wick hits theaters October 24th, 2014.
Follow me on Twitter @benandrewmoore.