Chad Stahelski interview

John Wick: Chapter 2 isn’t a sequel that delivers more of the same. There are familiarities, but it’s more like the same engine in a slightly bigger, more stylish, and more aggressive car. The simplicity of the first movie remains, but the titular character finds himself in a larger and more dangerous world this time. The world, which takes a few ideas from Arthurian mythology, grows along with John Wick in the sequel.

Director Chad Stahelski, who co-directed the first movie with the uncredited David Leitch (Deadpool 2), shows audiences a different side of the character, while also delivering on the quality action sequences audiences now expect from a John Wick film. The director ups the stakes and increases the scale in the sequel without ever abandoning the titular character’s arc during all the beautifully orchestrated madness.

We recently spoke with the 87eleven co-founder at the press day for the sequel. We discussed finding the right story to tell, the film’s opening and closing action scenes, the influence of Buster Keaton, workshopping scenes with Keanu Reeves, and more with the filmmaker. Below, read our Chad Stahelski interview.

How did you decide on John Wick’s introduction in the sequel? 

We’re big fans of silent movies, or silent storytelling, or visual storytelling as opposed to just exposition. So I had to reveal what we’ve already determined is kind of a mythological figure. Once again, let’s just stick to what we know, we’ll just do it with … When I say action I just don’t mean stunts, I mean let’s just tell a story [visually]. It’s a wacky city.

I was trying to make a movie that was a good introduction to those that hadn’t seen the first film. So how do you introduce that wacky world that half the audience is in on and the other half is not in, and satisfy both? So we’re like, all right, let’s do a little bit of action. Let’s figure out what would be an interesting way to show them you’re not in for a Bourne or a reality-based action movie. It’s a little wacky, so let’s start with some wacky aerials. We’ll come down, and as a little nod to our established audience, we want everybody to know that we’re making fun of ourselves. We’re gonna start with Buster Keaton.

I went to Montreal on a scout for something different. Up there they had all these great projections going as part of an art thing in Montreal. We went to New York, and we saw all these kids from the NYC film school, and it was awesome, they’re just walking around with his little projector on a little red wagon. It was really funny. With a little generator, they’re projecting all these silent movie images up on buildings and taking pictures, and that was part of their art project. Like, that’s fucking genius. Yeah, I just talked to the kid, “I’m gonna steal your shit, man.”

So I was like, I’m gonna get the right to a Buster Keaton film, and I’m gonna project it on a wall, to let everybody know out there we’re making a fun action movie. We’re gonna tilt down off that, we’re just gonna see it fucking crash, and we’re gonna get right into it with “What the fuck is going on?” And then we want to do what I call The Shark and The Fish. We’re gonna design the music so it’s, “Da, da, da, da, bo, bo, bo, da, da, da, bo, bo.” So you see this little guy, “Why is he being chased by this car? Ahh!” And it’s like, “Oh my God, the shark’s chasing the fish. What’s going on? What’s going on?” And then we’re just gonna slam them in the car, and everybody goes, “Whoa.” And then John Wick’s gonna get up. All right cool, that sounds like an interesting way of doing it. But that’s not it, we’re not gonna show his face, and you’re gonna go, “Who the fuck is this guy?”

And then we’re gonna get into, let’s see who can we get? We need a very mythological, we need an orator, we need an Ian McShane. And Keanu is friends with Peter Stormare, and like I’d work with Peter on Constantine, and we’re like, “He’ll never do it. I know he’ll never talk to us.” And Keanu’s like, “Actually, Peter came up to me in the gym the other day and goes, “Why am I not in John Wick 2?” So, I’m like, “You’re kidding?” Keanu’s like, “No, no, I’m serious.” I’m like, “Don’t fuck with me. You’re serious?” He’s like, “No, no, no, really you should call him. Call Peter.” “[Stomare voice] Chad, what’s going on, my friend, I’d love to be in your movie.” We’re like, you’re shitting us. I said, “Okay, well I tell you what, you’re gonna be the orator, you’re gonna introduce John Wick to us in this.”

Derek, I, and Keanu all sat down, and we wrote, “The man, and the myth, and the legend.” And we wrote this little intro about how to recap the first movie. “He killed my brother, my nephew.” We wrote that. We’re just gonna do it as a cool little intercut.

What did it take to get the rights to the Buster Keaton film?

Phone call.

Just a phone call?

I have a great line producer, a guy named Jeff Waxman, who literally went in and said, “Are you’re sure about this?” I was like, “Yeah!” A couple of phone calls, and we paid the licensing rights, it was very, very easy. Actually, I was shocked, too. I was like, “Really, it was that easy?”

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