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– by Joseph Jammer Medina

John Wick is back. He didn’t want to be back. But, he is.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is the sequel to the surprise movie hit in 2014’s JOHN WICK.

Keanu Reeves reprises his role as the vengeful and determined assassin hellbent to punish who did wrong to him.

However, in the sequel, the assassins’ world significantly expanded with more lore, kung-fu, gun-fu and even car-fu.

Here’s the official synopsis:

John Wick is forced out of retirement by a former associate looking to seize control of a shadowy international assassins’ guild. Bound by a blood oath to aid him, Wick travels to Rome and does battle againstsome of the world’s most dangerous killers.

Ian McShane, Lance Riddick, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan and Thomas Sadoski also returned to this sequel. The cast also expanded with Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Common, Laurence Fishburne and Claudia Gerini.

LRM had an exclusive sit-down interview earlier this month with director Chad Stahelski on returning to the helm for the sequel. We talked about the secrets of stuntwork, preparing actors for action roles and even the legend of John Wick himself.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 will be playing in theaters nationwide on Friday, February 10.

Read the interview transcript below.

LRM: I saw your new movie JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 and I didn’t know you could make it even more badass than the first movie.

Chad Stahelski: We tried. [Laughter] We tried.

LRM: Let’s start with this. If you had to describe in a few words on who John Wick is—how would you define and describe him as?

Chad Stahelski: Determined. Force of will. Committed. A man of etiquette, yet he got a code. We designed his character based on the Arthurian mythology. It’s about King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table and everyone’s got a code. It’s how you see the code. The good. The bad. The positive. The negative. It’s all up for interpretation.

LRM: This is the second time you’ve directed a John Wick movie. How did you want to approach this film differently to keep things fresh?

Chad Stahelski: Great question. Always the trick, right?

It’s hard to do a sequel. This is my first sequel obviously. In the original, it’s easy to be wacky and different. To do it again and still have that punch of originality—you have to throw caution in the wind. Bigger and better is not necessarily always better.

We try to do something more creative. I love this world. We spent a lot of time walking the streets of New York to come up with some ideas on how to elaborate the world of assassins. I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe to answer things like, “Who really looks good in a suit? Ah, the Italians.” So we should check that out.

We try to give the audience a little bit more on what they loved in the first one. At the same time, we also wanted to delve more into Keanu’s character. Hopefully, that will establish a fresh vibe that we sustained from the first movie.

LRM: What did you learn the second time around that you didn’t realize in the first movie?

Chad Stahelski: Sequels are a bitch. [Laughter] All experiences are good experiences. Every time and every day, you’ll learn something. No two days are alike. Even though you’ve done the same shot a 100 times, it’s always a little bit different. It’s a different guy holding the camera. It’s a different guy in front of the camera. It’s in a different location. The sun is going in a different direction. You’ll always get something different.

I got to work with a much more expanded cast this time around. I love to workshop with actors. For me, it’s all about the process. It’s the methodology on how to make something great. It’s not just the stuff on camera. It’s all about on what’s behind the camera that gets us to the point with the time and insight to develop on what’s going on camera.

If you don’t prep something properly and kind of wing it, you’ll spend your whole day just getting it done rather than workshop it. We’re prep freaks. We try to rehearse all the action and all this stuff. The entire crew knows we’re going to shoot in the catacombs. You have to hide the lights. You have to have the hair. You’ll have the muzzle fire. The stunt guys better be ready. When we get there, everybody knows their job.

Now if we want to change, to improve or be more creative to get a better shot, that’s what we’re focused on. It’s not saying, “Oh, my God! We’re running out of time. We don’t have enough shots of people getting shot in the face.”

It helps the way we shoot. When I edit, it is through a choice. It’s not because I have to hide something from the audience. If I put a camera in a spot, then it’s because I want to see it and not trying to hide the lights, the wires or even a stunt double. I’m trying to show you on look at the hard work my crew did. Now enjoy it.

LRM: The one thing that amazed me was that I lost count on how many kills there were in the movie. Then I was thinking, “How did he found all those stunt people for one film?”

Chad Stahelski: It’s a terrible term. In the stunt world, we call it “gerbiling.” You die and once the camera is not on you—you turn up on the other side and “Argh!” You fall down again. We learned that from some of our Hong Kong friends back in the day with Jackie Chan.

They will fall down, crawl over and get behind the camera again. We always thought that was pretty funny.

We used a lot of guys from the 87eleven stunt team, which are our choreography team. There are always a reason you’ll see our guys in balaclavs. It’s a way to desensitize you. You will enjoy the action sequences more with this trick. And we also do that so I can reuse [the same stunt guys].

[Chuckles] I’m going to give away a lot of stunt secrets now. You remember in the first scene of the movie that everybody had long hair and beards?

LRM: Yeah.

Chad Stahelski: By the time you get to the third sequence, everybody has shaved heads and no facial hair. You’re changing the looks of the stunt guys as you go along. There are knit caps. There are masks. There are so many ways to hide it.

You’ll be surprised to know that not every stunt guy is the same. To do long elaborate takes especially with martial arts choreography—there are only a small number of people in the community who are experts to that timing and that choreography.

Funny enough, some of the best guys we’ve worked with are from Bulgaria. You’ll see in them in the catacombs as part of the Italian team, but sixty percent of the stunt people were Bulgarian running in and out of the museum and catacombs. They’re very good friends of ours. They are very, very tall and not the shorter stuntmen. It always look good when the big guys fall down.

LRM: Does it really make it much easier to work with the same stunt folks over and over again?

Chad Stahelski: Very much. Use short hand. They know what you want. They know the level they expect. They train harder and work at a much higher level.

It’s just like anything. You’ll have good doctors and bad doctors. You’ll have good mechanics and bad mechanics. You’ll have stuntmen who are great for certain things. But, may not have the skillset to be excellent in other things. The team we used are quite excellent at choreography.

LRM: Talk about taking the acting cast and placing them into the fight choreography and stunts, which is a totally different world for them. And you mentioned before, you have a much more expanded cast this time around.

Chad Stahelski: In any great action design or start of a choreography, it’s not about getting a bunch of stunt guys together and come up with a bunch of cool moves. The stunt guys are not the performers. Granted, you’ll come up with the cool moves. We learned from our friends in the Hong Kong world back in the 80s and 90s, that you don’t…..are you a Jackie Chan fan?

LRM: Yes, I am.

Chad Stahelski: How many Jackie Chan films have you seen?

LRM: Oh, my. I think it’s like around ten to twelve movies.

Chad Stahelski: Give me a name of his character in one movie.

LRM: [Long pause] Oh, boy. I think…..you know what? I don’t think I can recall one name.

Chad Stahelski: You just thinking Jackie Chan and Jackie Chan and Jackie Chan. Why?

LRM: It’s his persona.

Chad Stahelski: You can’t see the difference between Jackie Chan and his character. To you, Jackie Chan is his character. Jackie Chan is very honest and up front. I’ve dealt with him. I know him on a slightly more professional level.

What you see is pretty much Jackie Chan. He loves life. He’s very hard-working. He’s persistent. The character he plays in the movie is pretty close to the real guy. He is that loving. He is that cheerful. He is that professional. He is that diligent. And he is that tough. There is an honest portrayal. He wants you to see that.

We’re trying to bring that across to you. We want you to see Keanu Reeves as the determined, hard-working professional actor playing the part that does all these things at the level of proficiency that exceeds the normal human being. The best way in fake being good is to be good. So we want to train the guy to be great.

We trained Keanu to be an excellent three-gun firearms professional. We trained him to be great in jiu-jitsu. We trained him to be a judo guy. We developed everything in that process.

Now you take that same method and apply it to Common. You apply to Lance [Reddick]. You apply it to Ruby [Rose]. You will apply it to any other action performers in the movie. We take them and rather than teaching them a few moves—do you want to be in the movie? They will say yes and I will sit down to give them the talk. You can’t miss rehearsals. I want six weeks out of your life. You will live and breathe this character. You will be this stuntperson. You will fall down yourself. You will learn how to pad up. You will learn how to fall and stand back up. And you will deliver lines as you are shooting for your life.

Are you sure you want to do this? It’s not as easy as you think.

Every film says that. A very few will actually do it.

LRM: As you’re working with Keanu the second time around, you are trying to mold him perfectly into this John Wick character?

Chad Stahelski: If we want JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 to be better, then who do we have to start with? We can’t just give him another fancy move. We have to give him a whole new level of professionalism.

Keanu—awesome. Good to see you again. Welcome back. We need you to be better.

He will say, “What do you mean?”

Whatever you did in JOHN WICK, we will need you to be better.

And here we go, we just got to make him better.

LRM: With an expanded cast, you brought in some people who could do perfect action scenes like Laurence Fishburne or Peter Stormare—but they didn’t have action scenes. Did you purposely wanted to water their roles down despite their past backgrounds?

Chad Stahelski: It wasn’t about watering them down or putting them in an action role. We were inspired to write in some great characters. We sifted through all the people we had these characters in mind. In my head, there were never anybody else but Laurence. We never really thought that we would get him. After knowing him so well and also knowing Peter from before, we knew that these were our guys.

Lo’ and behold, when we called in for scheduling—they were very interested and available. I was about to shit in my pants actually to tell you the truth. I couldn’t believe I got both Laurence Fishburne and Peter Stormare.

Both had approached Keanu earlier [about this movie]. I thought Keanu was just messing with me. Laurence was an associate with him and Peter at his gym, they were like, “What’s up? Can I be in JOHN WICK 2?”

Keanu called me, “Yeah. I just talked to Peter Stormare. Could we use him?” I responded, “Are you shitting me? We’ll get him a role.”

The whole thing karmically came together. To your point, we just wrote great characters and got the best we could from them. Just because of Laurence’s background, it wasn’t right for him just to do certain things. Maybe for the third movie. Who knows? Everything just felt right in the way it was. We didn’t want to mess with it.

LRM: You also had to create creative ways to kill people. You finally had to introduce the pencil thing. [Laughter] That was pretty awesome.

Chad Stahelski: It was something we wanted in the first movie, but we couldn’t. It went through a couple of incantations in this film. We shot a whole scene that didn’t make the movie. There were three men in a bar with a pencil. It just didn’t fit the plot. We had to redo it again with our other assassins/stuntmen. You will finally see that Ticonderoga Number 3 in the cerebral cortex.

LRM: I’m curious. Since this is all about the assassin’s world, when do we see the assassins finally get to kill regular people?

Chad Stahelski: In their spare time when they’re not hunting down John Wick. Well, $7 million is a lot of money.

LRM: And by the way, you left a nice cliff hanger for JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3.

Chad Stahelski: We were torn over that. If everyone watches it and everyone thinks we did a decent job, let’s not rush it and try to finish the plot. We shouldn’t come up with a fairytale land where everything is going to be okay. It’s not okay. John Wick fucked up. Let’s see the consequences.

I like that. It’s more of the TV mentality nowadays. Let’s give you a great little story. It doesn’t have to begin or end exactly. We left it like that so we want the story to continue.

LRM: You mentioned it before [in previous interviews] to be a trilogy. If it becomes really successful, can you see it to go beyond a trilogy?

Chad Stahelski: I leave that to the audience. It’s really up to their palette and apetite for John Wick.

LRM: Let me talk about your other future project—it sounds like HIGHLANDER is a go. Could you talk about that?

Chad Stahelski: We are currently in the development process. I know the film that I would like to make. It’s the matter of compiling a creative team to put that pen to paper and whatever in my head into a script format. We’ll take things from there.

LRM: One last question—did you get to keep one of the gold coins for yourself? If I had a chance, I would’ve kept a gold coin. [Chuckles]

Chad Stahelski: Yeah, I would hate to think my prop master would giveme a gold coin. Let’s just say the man in charge of the gold coin is nice enough to give me a souvineer.

LRM: Awesome. Thank you very much.

Chad Stahelski: My pleasure!

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 will be playing in theaters nationwide on Friday, February 10.

Source: LRM Exclusive

Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.