Fantastic Fest Interview: Keanu Reeves Suits Up For ‘John Wick’

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Preston Barta // Critic

john_wick_posterAfter 2008’s THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Reeves took a bit of a break from the film scene in Hollywood. He starred in only three films over the course of five years, and all of them came from independent productions and were nothing of the action genre (THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE, HENRY’S CRIME, and GENERATION UM…).

Then came MAN OF TAI CHI (2013), which premiered here at Fantastic Fest last year, and then 47 RONIN. So it’s safe to say that Mr. Reeves has been on a roll lately and has been kicking ass (in his career and on screen).

Now, with JOHN WICK, Reeves continues to solidify his strong career with this new change of direction. JOHN WICK is one of the best films and most fun that this year’s Fantastic Fest had to offer.

Our review of JOHN WICK (click here).

We had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Reeves earlier this week to talk about his role in the film, doing his own stunts and working with his usual stunt coordinators as directors.

What attracted you to play the part of a hitman?

Keanu Reeves: “They’re fun! I haven’t played that many hitmen, but with John Wick, I was attracted to his grief. I liked the intensity of his emotion; the connection that he felt to the life that he was living and leaving the past behind. Then, once his life and honor is violated, the unleashing of this Old Testament, Greek mythological force. There’s something about his power. I like the vulnerability and then the power to do something about it. I think that’s what the audience reacts to as well. We enjoy seeing someone being capable of overcoming odds or to reclaim something that’s been lost.”

I was very drawn into that moment where he puts on the suit, because it’s like a warrior suiting up for battle. I imagine the suit made it easy to drop into character.

Reeves: “Absolutely. It was a big part of the pre-production and creative process with the directors and the wardrobe designer. What is he going to wear? What does that suit look like? And then it turned into the hair, the beard; length of hair, beard or no beard? How does this suit fit? What does it all mean, this armor, this character, this transformation? It was fun to put that together. The filmmakers had a real definite feeling they wanted to convey. When they saw the silhouette of John, it was there. When you put it on, it felt right. Also, when he looks at his own reflection, he has a reticence. There’s an ambivalence to it, but he’s also gonna do it. It’s there.”

JOHN WICK screening with Keanu Reees, Adrianne Pelicki, directors  David Leitch, Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad during Fantastic Fest at the Alamo Drafthouse- South Lamar in Austin, Texas on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Photo courtesy of Jack Plunkett.

JOHN WICK screening with Keanu Reees, Adrianne Pelicki, directors David Leitch, Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad during Fantastic Fest at the Alamo Drafthouse- South Lamar in Austin, Texas on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Photo courtesy of Jack Plunkett.

What about its action scheme sets JOHN WICK apart from other action films?

Reeves: “I’m a RAID 2 guy. I like dramatic and emotional action as opposed to spectacle action. I mean, I like when there is spectacle action, like with the James Bond and BOURNE films. But I like when there’s a story, and that’s often achieved by being able to put the character in the world.

I got really lucky with who I worked with on POINT BREAK, and on SPEED, and then with the Wachowskis. To be working with people who were able to put in me in places where normally you couldn’t go, whether it was under a bus or on a surfboard or doing a certain kind of gunfight.

With JOHN WICK, we had longer takes. Not necessarily cutting to close-ups and then cutting wide or jittery camera, they wanted to do a different style. I like that. I like that you can connect with the performer and the story because you’re there and you believe that that’s happening. It’s a different kind of wind, and I’m a fan.”

I know in the past the filmmakers helped you with your stunts, but here, it seems as though you did all the heavy lifting.

Reeves: “The filmmakers come from a stunt background. I met them on The Matrix trilogy and they’ve done second unit directing for films like THE HUNGER GAMES, THE EXPENDABLES, 300, and a lot of Statham movies. They raised the bar really high. They wanted to do long takes, and not so many cuts. They wanted to integrate pistol work with judo and jujitsu. They introduced me to some professionals to teach me those different skills. In this film, I didn’t get to do two months of training with choreography. I was learning choreography the weekend before we shot it or two nights before we were doing it. The fight with Adrianne Palicki, I learned the day we shot it. They tried to give me a skill set and then they said, ‘OK Keanu, we’ve built you this room and we have a bunch of things for you to do. And everybody else around you has been practicing. Go!’ I liked that challenge, but it was new territory for me.”

Fantastic Fest- John Wick

Drafthouse owner Tim League and JOHN WICK star Keanu Reeves. Photo courtesy of Jack Plunkett.

Because you’ve worked with the directors before (when they worked with you in THE MATRIX and various others as stunt coordinators and/or your stunt double), did you learn anything more about them as people or artists once they stepped into the director’s chair for the first time?

Reeves: “Yeah, I don’t know if I learned anything new. [Chad Stahelski] helped trained me. We kind of shared wire-work. Often times, it’s been teacher-student. With this experience, it was not only that, but I was getting to watch not a teacher but a director. It was cool to watch him talk about the film – his hope for the action, his vision for how people should look, and the style of it. And it was cool to see him deal with the responsibility – a physical production.

It was a challenging picture time-wise and with its budget. They had a big ambition for scale and scope. We didn’t have all the money and the days, but [Chad and David Leitch] found a way to tell the story and give it that scale.

So I guess it’s the talent, something that I thought he would have as a visionary and director. They had some challenges: ‘OK. We’re going to shoot this in five days.’ Then, the producer would say, ‘No. You’re going to do it in two.’ [Laughs] Then they are like, ‘No. We’re not. We’re going to find a way to shoot it in three.’ This became an interesting thing of how you’re going to maintain your vision when your time is being cut. However, I thought they really succeeded at that. So, it was cool to watch them do that.

And also, I think from my experience directing before with MAN OF THAI CHI, I had a different take on JOHN WICK. I was like, ‘OK, guys. This is what I learned.’ But they also have worked with so many directors in second unit. So they came with a lot of experience.”

JOHN WICK opens in theaters on October 24.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.

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