mark dacascos interview

For Chapter Two, you considered getting Keanu Reeves on a motorcycle for some action, but you got to do it in this one. How does shooting a motorcycle set piece compare to car action?

We’re a vehicle movie just like we’re a dog movie. We like muscle cars. To do a big car sequence like on Marvel level, that’s four or five weeks with the second unit, plus the car unit, plus the first unit guys on the green screen. It’s anywhere from two, three, four, five upwards of almost ten million dollars for great car chases. It just takes time. We don’t have the time or money, so we went with demolition derby stuff in number one and number two. Like, John would just use the car to bash it.

We thought we did a pretty good job in number two, so we didn’t want to duplicate ourselves and we said, “Okay, let’s just go on a motorcycle.” And then we started thinking about all the stuff we could do, like, that’s fun, that’s fun. But then we’re like, “Eh, crashing a motorcycle, yeah, we’re still costing ourselves a little bit…” I love ninja movies, I love Joe Catucci. We wanna do ninjas, and we had this idea for Zero. And we have this little chase through Grand Central and I’m like, “Eh. That’s not really working so good either with a sword.” They suggest let’s just do the sword fight on motorcycles, and we’re kind of joking with ourselves. Then we had seen the movie The Villianness and we said, “Okay, they got it right. Fuck it. That’s so good. We were so impressed by that. We’ll try to do the same. We’ll pay a little tribute, rip ’em off, see what we can get, and see if we can do a better job.”

We combined all the ideas together and then it kind of gravitated. Keanu can ride. We had a great choreography team and we had a great special effects team that built these motorcycles gimbals that were safe enough to put the actors on and move them around and have them drive and actually sword fight. That was probably one of the most fun things to figure out, trying to put that sequence together. Just straight up logistics, trial and error, smart people figuring things out. It was a blast.

This series has been so consistently good with its adversaries for John. That final fight between John and Zero, what did you and [cinematographer] Dan Lauston want those reflections and colors to bring to that showdown? 

This is the second film I’ve done with Dan. He did number two with me as well. He was the first guy I really talked about doing the whole fight sequence in a mirror room. He’s super cool, didn’t even miss a beat. I’m like, “How are we gonna do it?” He’s like, “Have no idea, we’ll figure it out though.” “Okay, great, we’ll film the reflections.” What I really wanted to do with number two is what I did in number three: I wanted to build a glass house. The idea was already in my head. We just couldn’t afford it at the time, we couldn’t get the logistics down, so we ended up doing the mirror room, which I thought was pretty cool and a tribute to Enter the Dragon.

We built the glass house this time. Ninjas in a glass house, they can’t hide anywhere, which is really cool. All this lighting in the fore, Dan was like, “Great, let’s figure it out.” He’s the one that yelled let’s put a video screen in. “We’ll do this, we’ll get lights in here and we’ll keep changing the sequence for every fight scene.” Dan is one of those magic cinematographers that still loves to light in-camera. He believes that lighting is still one of the main characters of the film, not just a part of the mise en scéne. He’s very active in helping to choose the color palettes and guiding me through why they all look the way they do; he’s a guru with lights.

So I base a lot of choreography on the character, and they’re the ideas and opinions Dan tries to light with, and I think that’s cool. Our lights, teals, reds, oranges, you look at the subtitles, they contradict the background. Dan’s very good with the overall palette of the film. And again, he’s just incredibly collaborative and honestly fearless. You want more black, you want to do things in alleys, you want to do things in tunnels, he just smiles and goes, “Great, okay.” Most fearless guy in the light crew.

The movie and series have such a wide variety of action, so I was wondering, with Chapter Three, was there anything you finally crossed off your bucket list for what you wanted to see in an action movie?

John Wick is an amalgamation of everything Keanu and I love about film. We have a tribute to  Steve McQueen and Bullitt with the turtle neck. We have Kurosawa references, Bernardo Bertolucci references, Spielberg references, and obviously, Wachowski references. Everything we love about film, art like Caravaggio, or music from [Antonio] Vivaldi to [Joseph] Haydn to [Ludwig van] Beethoven to Da Vinci, it’s all in there.

So you asked is there a bucket list, yes, I’m slowly crossing it off. The great thing about John Wick is the probably the no boundaries and we invent as we go. Everything I love about westerns or martial art films I put in for people that enjoy the same things I do. I have a notebook with a couple more pages of ideas that I’d be happy to see in a John Wick project either as a TV show or a feature. I’d love to see that.

You’ve definitely made the kind of movies where you can feel it’s packed with a director’s obsessions and interests, and I think that’s a part of what gives these movies such a unique, strong identity. 

I would say, yeah. Keanu’s a pretty confident guy, and I mean, confidence in we know what we like. We know we made a film that we like, but you always get nervous, like, do people get what you’re trying to say, do people like the same things you like? It’s not just getting a job done because it’s just like you said, it’s baring who you are, it’s showing your personality to the world.

I’m not gonna lie to you, it makes you a little nervous on opening weekend because if you don’t like the show, I get that, but they’re also saying, “We don’t like what you like, we don’t like how you did it, we don’t like how you tell stories. We really don’t like you.” I guess that my insecurity, but I don’t know another way to do it. I’m a new director, so I don’t know how else to express a story without putting your own personality in the storytelling. So, of course, it reflects what’s going in, I haven’t learned not to do that yet. I would agree with you.

If Chapter Three was the end of this series, would you have been completely satisfied, like, “I did everything I set out to do and I’m happy?”

I felt really good after the first one, like holy shit, I did it. Keanu’s a great friend, he stuck himself out for me twice now. When I was a stuntman he helped me out in a really great way. When I was a director he helped get me and my partner, Dave Leitch, on the first job, and that’s what really started my career. To have something from a small action movie go to a number one film in America and be coded as one of the better action trilogies of cinema or changing the way they do action, just having a little bit of influence on the overall of cinema, those accolades are staggering. It’s a little overwhelming.

You just put it aside and go, “I’m really happy for my cast.” Those guys, everybody, from Anjelica Houston to Michael Nyqvist to Willem Dafoe to Asia Kate Dillon to obviously Laurence Fishburne, everybody we used in all three films, they trusted us in what’s, to say the least, a weird project [Laughs]. So, the fact that it’s successful and they feel fulfilled and they feel like we took good care of them and that my crew worked so hard to come up with a product that people like, that’s pretty fulfilling. That’s always the way I look at it. I’m happy. I’m happy that they’re happy. Is it enough? It’s probably enough two movies ago, so the answer would be yes. You get a little greedy because you like the love, and I love being with the people I make these movies with, so in that aspect, I’d always love to do more, but yeah, the answer’s yes. I feel very good about what we’ve done.

Before we end, I just wanted to say – this is random – but my aunt texted me before this call about how much she loved the movie, and I just thought, it’s great how all kinds of people love this character and world. 

And the last thing I’ll say to you as well is look, that’s super flattering, but when you talk to people who are into it, ask them why they like it, and I think a big part of it is, and this is not to be underestimated… Look, I try to do fun stuff, we try to have cool action, but at the end of the day, it’s Keanu Reeves. I’m trying to bare my soul and who I am and how I tell the story, but never underestimate that that is Keanu Reeves up on screen giving it his all. If you saw the guy work it would choke you up. He leaves nothing on the table. This guy is putting everything into every shot. Doesn’t leave set, last guy to leave the gym at night, always comes with ideas. This is his gig and this is his franchise. This is him pouring himself onto that screen. So, just the love he puts in, I think that’s a big part of the magic sauce that makes John Wick such a brilliant thing to so many different types of people.

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John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is now in theaters.

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