John Wick 2 Director Discusses Franchise's World-Building

John Wick 2 - Relit Poster (cropped)

On February 10, Keanu Reeves returns to kill them all in John Wick: Chapter 2. Returning to the director’s chair for the sequel to his 2014 film was Chad Stahelski, who’s used the opportunity of a sequel to up the ante in every way, making a movie that’s bigger, badder, and bloodier than the first.

Screen Rant had a chance to sit down with Stahelski for an in-depth interview about the inspirations for the franchise, the new facets of the world revealed in Chapter 2, and the potential direction a third installment could take.

Aside from the action sequences in the first film, people also responded to the stylized look and the lived-in world. What were some of the inspirations that you guys had for that?

Chad Stahelski: Huge fan of, like I keep saying, Sergio Leone. The Man With No Name is really where we got a lot of John Wick, from all Clint Eastwood’s—the way he did The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Hang ‘Em High, For a Few Dollars More, A Fitstfull of Dollars. All of those things, they’re not very plot driven; it’s very simple, either revenge or get the safe, or revenge and get the safe. So you’re engaged by Clint, and I think you’re engaged by John, regardless of what he’s doing. We tried to keep it very simple and a character-driven plot, instead of a device-driven plot. [Also] Akira Kurosawa and Japanese animation.

I know that you were Keanu’s stunt double on Point Break -

Chad Stahelski: I was not actually. I came in just afterwards on the first Matrix.

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick Chapter 2

Okay, well you have that progression, to go to directing John Wick 2, how was that? Is that things coming full circle for you? Do you kind of step back and go, “holy s**t”?

Chad Stahelski: I’ve had moments of “holy s**t”, where I’m sitting on rooftops in Brooklyn and directing Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne. Yeah, there’s that moment of “holy s**t”, considering I met them when I was twenty-six years old, still a new stuntman. So yeah, there’s definitely those.

The first film hit me in the feels with the dog, obviously, it got everybody like that. This film actually hit me in the feels with the ‘69 Mustang getting destroyed, because I have a ‘65 Mustang. How many cars did you go through on that? Was it just that one?

Chad Stahelski: No—I’m trying to think, I wanna get this right. There were five Mustangs: one picture one, which we finished the movies with; four, let’s call them ‘69 Mustangs, but they were modified. They weren’t truly the right—you know we took out the insides, they’re modified to be stunt-ready, meaning the suspension, the engine, the brakes. And I think by the end of the opening act sequence we had destroyed all four. The whole point was in number two it was all about taking things away from John. And hopefully everyone gets it wasn’t about the car, that’s not why he wanted to go back, it was about the letter, it was about memories.

Sure. What can you tell me about the High Table, and will we see more of them in the third chapter?

Chad Stahelski: Yeah. Like we talked about at the press conference, it’s always good—I love showing the fin, as we call it. [laughs] They get tired of me saying it, “I don’t wanna see too much of the shark”. That’s where Derek [Kolstad] and I get that from. I think it’s important to know that there is an over—I just want you to know that the world is bigger than John could ever handle. There’s no way you can ever—the High Table is older and bigger than any government on the planet. It’s older than the Vatican, it’s older than the United States, it’s older than the European Union, it’s older than NATO. It’s much, much bigger than we think. It’s even bigger than Spectre in James Bond. But it’s steeped very deeply in human nature and tradition. Every culture’s got it. It is the one thing that keeps everybody running straight. Without the High Table nothing would work, that’s why rules are so—in fact rules are more important in our underworld than they are to the regular citizen who works within them. Ours always works on the fringe or the margins of rules, so rules have to confine, otherwise chaos would break out. So I think that governing body—and I wouldn’t look at it as a bad guy trying to take over the world body, it is a governing body of our underworld. And they do it for both benefits of the underworld and for the normal folk.

One character that completely scares the crap out of me is Winston [Ian McShane], because there’s so much -

Chad Stahelski: I agree, he’s the most terrifying character in the movie.

John Wick 2 - Ian McShane as Winston talks villain

To me yeah, because he’s a fatherly figure, but he’s definitely someone that if you get him on the wrong path, you do not want that guy on your bad side.

Chad Stahelski: For him, knowledge - and he’s a true believer in tradition and rules. You do not f**k with him.

Yeah, so a question about him, because he’s so intriguing to me. I know that you talked about just the fin, you don’t wanna show the whole shark, and I don’t wanna see it actually in Winston. But in your head do you have Winston’s backstory?

Chad Stahelski: Yeah.

Okay. And we probably won’t explore that, but as long as you have it.

Chad Stahelski: Oh no, we were very - he’s modeled after a very specific mythical figure. I’m a huge Greek mythology fan, that’s what I grew up reading, I don’t know why. Tragic tale of a wasted youth. But he’s modeled very specifically after - taken a lot from a lot of the Greek gods, and from one mythical character.

Interesting. Now, are you one hundred percent confirmed to direct Chapter 3?

Chad Stahelski: I’ll say this: we’ve been asked to give it thought. No one has been consigned anything specific other than, “we’d like to do one, would you be interested in doing another one?” Yes; what capacity? We don’t know, but we’d like to be - personally, I’d like to be involved in some creative capacity.

You can give me a John Wick movie every single year and I will be there. I left the movie like, “okay, where’s the next one?” Because I love the universe you guys created. Laurence Fishburne; do you think his character would return if you did come back for a third one? Schedule permitting, of course.

Chad Stahelski: If all the stars aligned I would love to have his character back. I think his character - in my head - plays a very integral role in the third film.

John Wick Tattoo

Interesting. Now, something that we haven’t seen in John Wick are flashbacks. Do you think we’ll ever see a flashback of the “impossible task” that was always spoken about?

Chad Stahelski: I’m going to leave that to another aspect of this project, which hopefully will come to fruition soon.

Oh okay. I like that answer. And I know that you’re doing something with Highlander. Any word on that, and are the MacLeods involved?

Chad Stahelski: Yes, Connor MacLeod will make a comeback. Right now we’re in creative development, which means, when I was brought onboard there was an idea, I brought a different idea, so we’re trying to flesh that out and find the right creative team to put pen to paper and make this come true.

[Back to] John Wick, that world is obviously huge. When he’s leaving New York I feel like everybody’s an assassin at that point. Can’t trust anybody, you know? Where do you think we would find him in the next installment of John Wick? Cause I have a guess that it would be somewhere in Asia.

Chad Stahelski: We have a couple different things. I’m a big fan of the history of the Middle East, and I spent a lot of my younger days in Asia, so I would Imagine we’d find him somewhere between the two.

I love that answer. Ruby Rose, I loved her character. What inspired you to do the ALS for her?

Chad Stahelski: We always talked about—when you start designing the action, we think a little differently. It’s not what who does, it’s who they do it with, or what is the interesting character behind it and what would they bring to the table? We thought, “a female assassin would be good, but we’ve kind of already done that, what would make this one different? Well we think this would be good.” We didn’t wanna force it, we just don’t wanna get an actress of a certain standing to come in, teach her a few moves, that’s what we didn’t wanna do because it never rings true to me.

We were very honest when we were talking with Ruby, and I was like, “look, the role could either be just a stunt henchman, or we could make something of it. It’s gonna be minimal on paper but it’s going to be a very large character.” And she’s like, “well what do you mean by that?” And I was like, “in my head I have this idea [of a] presence.” Rather than trying to force dialogue into this character like, “yeah, boss, we’ll get ‘em!” or having to be just—forgive the political incorrectness—but the hot girl with moves. We didn’t want to do that, because that’s a trope that’s in every—it seems to be in every single—let alone Bond, let alone everything else. We’re like, “okay, look, we’re gonna stay away from that. We’re just gonna make a cool character.”

Ruby Rose in John Wick Chapter 2

And just like any other characters we do in Wick, they speak a language. Now, maybe that’s an accent, maybe that’s a completely different language, maybe it’s with the eyes. If you look at every character, they all have a way of talking. John Wick is the mister and sir and politeness, same with Ian, Laurence Fishburne is a little bit more street, Common is a little bit more subtle. There’s all these sort of like—look, we do all these cool subtitles, we do all these things, I wanna do something with sign language.

And Ruby’s like, “so you wanna hire me, but you don’t want me to talk?” “Yeah, don’t want you to talk.” “Uh, yeah…” She didn’t hide her feelings about that, she was pretty -

Oh really?

Chad Stahelski: Well you know, as any cast member would be. It’s like, “look, we just wanna try and do something different.” And like, it gives us—it adds to the world. And I was like, “take some time, think about it, go back and watch the first John Wick. Get that the wackier the elements we add in this the more believable it’ll probably become. And it makes you more unique, and you will be—as far as I know—the first female assassin in any action movie that does sign language. Think of the fun you could have with gestures, and all this other stuff.” And she came back smiling like, “yeah, I’m in.”

NEXT: John Wick 2 Made Keanu Reeves Better

Key Release Dates
  • John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) release date: Feb 10, 2017
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