In addition to working on the fourth chapters of JohnWick and TheMatrix, filmmaker Chad Stahelski is also knee-deep in his long-gestating Highlander reboot
In a wide-ranging interview, the director dives into 'Chapter 4,' ' Highlander ' and helping Lana Wachowski: 'What do you got in your bag of tricks to make it absolutely crazy?'
Justice League. How do you feel about fan campaigns to get a different cut of a movie, or even a redesign of a character likeSonic the Hedgehogended up doing?That’s a good question. To tell you the truth, I never really thought about it. I know it’s different now because there’s so many more products and much more content. The studio, the development systems work really differently. When I was growing up, if you saw one movie a month at a theater, you were, wow, you were going out a lot.
(Laughs.)So, quality’s all over the place on anything. There’s some really horrible stuff. There’s some really cool stuff. There’s some good stuff. There’s something for everybody. All of the streamers are putting out a lot of content. I’ve been involved in projects where maybe the director hasn’t been very qualified or the studio for whatever reasons… It becomes directing by committee, and it’s never a good thing. It becomes a mish-mash, and I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of movies where you can feel that. Okay, using myself as an example, you don’t like the way
John Wickends. No one wanted to see the puppy die because it was too much for some people. So, what do you want me to go do? You want me to recut the movie? That will intricately change the DNA of everything. I think fan input is super cool and super important, and I couldn’t be more thankful and shocked for the amount of comments I get all the time about why people love the
Wicks. But,John Wickis not your normal action movie, I get it. We do thematics. We’re super simple plot-wise sometimes. I get a lot of love and I’m flattered and thankful for all of that. By the same point, there is a contingent out there that thinks the movies are dumb and stupid and horrible
(Laughs.) If you like the movie, you probably like it for kind of the same reason I do, but you might have something different you don’t agree on. “Yeah,Wick 3was really good, but it kind of left the humanity and the personal-ness of the first one. It got too big for its own britches.” I’ve heard that comment. But I didn’t want to make the first movie over again, so I went somewhere else.
Now, if you didn’t like my choice, should I go back to number three and cut out the opening scene? Should I cut out the horses because it was a little too extreme? Should I cut out the dogs because it was too crazy? Or is that what you liked about it? I’m very fortunate as a director. The cuts you see in the movie, I would say, for whatever reason, those are 95-99 percent my cuts. The studio’s been very cool with me. They let me do whatever I want. So, what you’re seeing is kind of my cut. I might’ve had to trim things back because of certain time restrictions or limitations of my own poor directing skills.
(Laughs.)But they’re kind of mine. There are cases, and I do have friend directors that the movie that came out wasn’t all theirs. It might be, like, 75 percent their cut and then because of test screenings and the studio, and because they were trying to do a four-quadrant film, it didn’t come out the way they wanted it. Or it didn’t adhere to a specific property enough. Look, if fans want to say, “Hey, let’s see the director’s cut,” I think that’s a cool thing, if the director’s into it. If the director goes, “No, this is my cut, this is what I wanted to say, this is my vision,” then I think that’s fair enough. That’s his cut. That’s what he wants to see. If the director goes, “The fans really want to see this and I have that footage. I really think I’m on to something,” then I’m with them. Point being is, I love fan interaction. I think it should definitely be heard. I think directors pay notice to it. I’m super thankful for it. In fact, I’ve got to be honest with you. There’s a lot of decisions I kind of went down on
John Wick 3because I have such a loyal and such a great fan base that wanted to see certain things. And without giving them exactly what they want, but kind of subverting it a little bit, that helped me a lot and it helped guide me. So, I’m super thankful for that. So, on one side, I’m all in, man. I love hearing from the fans. And I think if you mean it that way, yes, I think fan opinion kind of drives the creative process. But I would hopefully think it drives it forward instead of just being retroactive. I’d hate to go back and cut a film just because a lot of people wanted something a certain way that I didn’t choose to do. If it wasn’t my cut to begin with, to go back and recut something to help not just appease a mass group of people, but to appease myself and really get across what I was trying to say? So, I guess, yes, I would like the fans to drive creativity, but in a forward way. That being said, I love seeing Ridley Scott’s director’s cut of
Blade Runner. I’m happy he did it. There are other director cuts I don’t think are great, but I love seeing the director’s cut ofThe Abyss. I think they were wise to do, at least at the time, a more commercial version ofThe Abyss, but I love the extra scenes. I’m a nerdy director guy, so I kind of dig seeing director’s go long. You can never do too long for me. I’m all good with that. I don’t know. But that’s an interesting thing. I’ll have to think about that more.
Theoretically, if 300K fans signed a petition that demanded Common’s return inJohn Wick 4, you would listen at the very least?I would absolutely listen. I mean, I read all kinds of stuff; you can’t help it. You get bored. I’ll read what fans want to see in
John Wick 4— the unanswered questions, what works, what doesn’t work. DidJohn Wick 3lose its steam? How do we reinvent number four? I get all that. I read. Of course, I’d be stupid not to listen to the fans. I mean, that’s how I get the creative leeway to do what I want, by really listening to my fans. But you’ve got to realize too, the fans don’t know what’s in my head and they haven’t read the scripts that we’re working on and all that. If I have a story idea in my head, like I do for
John Wick 4, that I feel is really, really good and I’d have to ask myself if they want so-and-so in the movie, I’d be like, “You know what? That’s a great idea. I love that guy. I love that character. It’s just not going to fit in my story. We’ll save it for another time.” I would stick to that. But if I was a little on the fence about something and I felt like it wasn’t going to disrupt anything or blow what I already had, then I’m open to it. I don’t think I’d change my entire thematic of the film. But little bits? At least in certain processes. If I already have a script ready and I get that email, I’d be like, “Eh, we’re going to do it this way first and see what happens.” But when you’re developing and coming up with stuff, again, it’s what’s in your head.
John Wickis, creatively speaking, a very open kind of project where really anything can happen, so it’s always good to get input. It’s not like I’m trying to stay within a certain comic book mythology that I can’t break from. So, again, always listen to fans. For sure. Now, whether or not that fits with what’s going on, again, directorial decisions.
The Continental spinoff TV series has had a writers’ room for a while now. Is there any update you can offer at this point?I haven’t really heard anything from that side of things since COVID started and all that. I know they had come quite a bit… They had put together a fairly detailed approach to how they wanted to get it. There are still a few things left to crack. Currently, I just don’t know where they are. That’s one of the first things we’ll get back to when this is all over.
Tom Cruise and Keanu’s hands-on approach to stunts, fight choreography and gunplay are selling points in the marketing of their respective films. Consequently, are you noticing more actors wanting to do their own action a la Keanu and Cruise?The actors I’ve worked with, the majority of them, male or female, young or old, they want to participate to bring the character to life as much as possible. All the really good ones I’ve worked with, they all want to do their own stunts, meaning they want to take it as far as they’re able to. That’s a big difference than actually doing them, though. I think the want is there for everybody. Now, half the time, it’s us saying, “Okay, that’s as far as we’re going to go.” Everyone has limitations. If we get a cast, no matter who it is, if they have an injured back or they haven’t been trained a certain way or they have physical limitations or something like that, then yes, we do our best as illusionists to do whatever we can with our team, the behind-the-scenes and the cast member to bring those characters to life. And however the scene happens, between stunts and character, that’s where it lands and we do our best to hide it. Then, you have a different classification. You have Jason Statham who was a professional athlete before his movie career. Hugh Jackman is a dancer with an incredible memory. He remembers choreography. Keanu was an athlete. He played hockey. He rode motorcycles. He had that background that allows us to take that line a little further. Somebody like Keanu has a background in sports or physical activities that lend themselves to stunts. You have a guy that has the willingness in his down time to upgrade. Point being, you have people that say they want to do their own stunts and then you have people that get off the couch and spend three months learning how to do more than their skill set is. When he’s not on the show, Keanu is doing something. He is riding motorcycles. He’s riding horses. He’s with our stunt team. He’s getting better. I mean, look, he goes right to
Matrix. He has to learn a specific skill set for what they want him to achieve on that. And literally at the same time, as well as right afterwards, he goes right into training for the nextJohn Wick, learning an entirely new set of skills that he has yet to master for that. The willingness to do that? That’s not normal. That’s where you take it to the next level. That being said, remember, a stunt happens when the individual or the situation dictates it’s beyond that individual’s capabilities or limitations. So, Keanu is very good on a motorcycle — better than a lot of stunt people. It’s just his background. He’s done Grand Prix racing before. So by putting him on a motorcycle and having him round some corners, that’s not a stunt. If you’ve never ridden a motorcycle before, and I’ve got to get you to just ride down the street ten feet, that becomes a stunt because it’s dangerous to you; you don’t have the background. So, Keanu does what he can do. His fight scenes, his stunts. But we wouldn’t want Keanu to actually fall down a flight of stairs and get hit by a bus.
(Laughs.)That’s where we kind of draw the line. But, if we were to put him in a wire and have him do a double twist into a backflip, he’s done that before. He has that capability. We train him and we make sure it’s safe. How does the stunt community feel about more and more actors potentially taking away their bread and butter, so to speak?
As far as I know, everyone that I know in the stunt community and my stunt team, no one is concerned. That’s not even a thought, because actors, in general, want to bring their character to life and push the limitations of their own capabilities to further bring a character to life. That’s awesome. Every stunt person I know and everyone on my team, we want the actor’s involvement as much as possible. I want to see the guy’s face. I want him to bring his own acting to it. I want him to participate. We just want to keep it safe, and when it’s beyond that person’s limitations or capabilities, we’ll insert the double to bring that character to life. If he becomes a mystical vampire and he can’t stick to the ceiling and walk backwards, okay, that’s obviously sleight of hand, stunt double or VFX. We’re going to help with that. Again, at least the stunt people that I know, no one’s worried about cast taking their jobs. There’s always going to be that line where we’re going to do our thing and we’re going to see the capabilities and limitations of cast members. They’re going to be great at what they do, and we’re going to be great at what we do as stunt people. And hopefully, we come together. It’s always been a collaborative process, and I think it’s always going to continue to be a collaborative process.
You’re helping Lana Wachowski with a sequence inThe Matrix 4. Did she come to you with an idea and tell you to run wild? Or did she give you a clean slate to do whatever you wanted?First of all, creatively, Lana’s one of the most unique people I’ve ever worked with in the industry. Just a fantastic mind. She’s a great director who loves to direct her own action. I mean, with her, you never discuss an action sequence. It’s the sequence. You hear me say it all the time; you probably hear Dave Leitch say it all the time. Action and story don’t cut; they don’t separate. So you have somebody like Lana, who’s going, “We’re going to do this and this and this.” She’s got some really great ideas. She knows the visual style. She knows what she’s trying to say in the sequence. She wants to collaborate and see how high you can take it in collaboration. So, to answer your question, she comes with this idea. She comes with this set piece. She comes with, “This is the character. This is what’s happening. This is the conflict. This is where I need him to be emotionally or psychologically or whatever plot-wise at the end of this sequence. What do you got in your bag of tricks to make it absolutely crazy?” And that’s where we bring in the stunt guys and our choreographers. It’s literally just day after day of bouncing ideas off of each other. What’s the bigger, better, cooler thing? How do we help Lana achieve what she’s trying to do with whatever visual concept she’s trying to mold? She’s one of those great people that she’ll tell us something and we’ll say, “Okay, we’ve got this.” Then she’s like, “Oh my God, that’s awesome. I didn’t think of that, but what if we took this and made it this?” She always kind of one-ups you and that’s a challenge.
(Laughs.)She’s probably still the most challenging person,in a good way, that I’ve ever worked with because she’s always taking your ideas and going, “Okay, how do we make it better?” So, I hope that answers your question. The ideas she came to us with were, you know, not only were they cool, but they were fun. All I can say about what she’s doing on the next
Matrixis, if you love theMatrixtrilogy, you’re going to love what she’s doing because she’s brilliant and fun and understands what the fans want.Because he made such an impression on me in a limited amount of time, will we see Kevin Nash’s Francis in a
John Wickmovie again?(Laughs.)That’s funny, man. I love his character. I love Francis. Everybody’s been asking for Francis, Charlie and Jimmy the Cop. Love all those. I still love Aurelio, John Leguizamo, of course. Tom Sadoski, who’s done me two incredible favors on these movies as Jimmy, I keep promising him an action sequence and I haven’t given it to him yet. Look, this is my theory. One, as we go on with
John Wicks, in order to create the world, in order to dive back down and try to hold the audience’s attention and keep trying to show you something new, I think it’s important to keep introducing new characters. So I want to keep pushing the ball forward. If a character were to return, it’s because it serves our story going forward. I don’t ever want to go, “Okay, people love this guy, so I’ve got to bring him back.” Look, I love all of my characters and especially my cast. If their character really services the story we’re trying to tell and the thematic we’re trying to get across, great, that guy or woman is in there. For sure. But I don’t try to carve things out. I think a lot of sequels have suffered from trying to get the band back together again. It forces the story in a certain direction in hopes of bringing back some hopefully well-deserved nostalgia. I just don’t want to be that guy. I want to keep trying to show you something new. And if characters fit, they fit. If they don’t, no problem. We’ll catch up with you in a different chapter.
What happened to the marker that Winston gave John at the end ofWick 2? I presume it was the completed marker between John and Santino.Yes! Another good question. See, that’s good. You’re paying attention there. Good. Now, was that the marker he pulled out? Was that the marker that he gets back? Or was that the marker he’s saving for something else?
In a post-world, has an executive called you to pitch aWickfilm that’s one big sequence or a series of sequences?(Laughs.) Yeah, there have been discussions. Look, this is strictly a personal thing, and it’s just an opinion. It’s not overall. Let me start off: I really like the movie
1917. There are some really interesting parts of it. I like the character. I’ve never met Sam Mendes, but I think he did a good job. But from an action standpoint or an opinionated director’s standpoint, I have never had the desire to do big long one-takes. I know people think that’s funny coming from me, but I love to edit. I think editing is one of the most important tools that a director can learn. What to show, what not to show, how to show it, what pacing is. I never want to do a shot based on a gag.
Children of Menis one of my best examples. When that shot happens with Clive Owen walking out of the coffee shop and the explosion happens, that was meant to build suspense and shock. I get that. An action example would be inTom-Yum-Goong, the Tony Jaa movie, when he goes all the way up the staircase and all the way back down. You could even see Tony getting tired at the end of it, like, “Oh my god, I’ve got to keep going. One more time.” The question is, yes, it’s impressive for people that know how to do it, but even then, it was a gag. And was that worth decreasing the shots or anything like that? That’s a director’s choice. I don’t feel the need to do anything like that. I’ve never loved super long takes or whole movies. I feel like it’d be more creative — and you’d have more fun — to augment the pacing with editing. That’s not to say I haven’t seen some great oners. I love the beginning of
Snake Eyes. I like what my partner Dave did inAtomic Blonde. There are some really fun ones. It’s just never been a priority to me to use that particular style. This is nothing against the filmmakers who do it, but those aren’t one-takes. Read more: Hollywood Reporter »
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