He also talks about one of the trickiest scenes to pull off, the “neon-noir,” “art film” vibe of ‘Chapter 4,’ & who’s who in the ensemble cast.
The man, the myth, and the legend returns in John Wick: Chapter 4, stuntman-turned-filmmaker Chad Stahelski’s latest installment in his lore-rich action franchise. Starring Keanu Reeves as the titular legendary assassin, the director informs us that Chapter 4 will dig even deeper into the posh underworld that deals in death and debauchery while maintaining a high degree of class, and adhering to a strict set of guidelines. From John Wick’s 2014 debut, each film has expounded on screenwriter Derek Kolstad’s universe of masterful assassins, revealing more about the fearsome High Table of crime lords, the killer safe space known as the Continental Hotel, and the intertwined lives of these calculating underworld denizens.
During his interview with Collider’s Editor-in-Chief Steven Weintraub, Stahelski revealed that John Wick 4 will be the saga’s longest-running entry, with “at least a third more scenes than the last one,” will take place across some of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes, and will explore some of John Wick’s familial past. The director also discussed filming in the Louvre, who Bill Skarsgård plays in the film, the experience seeing Donnie Yen and Hiroyuki Sanada in one-on-one combat, Clancy Brown’s “pivotal” role, what's next for Stahelski and more. If you're looking forward to the next John Wick sequel, you'll learn a lot reading or watching this interview.
COLLIDER: The John Wick 4 trailer looks good. I think I'm going to see the movie.
CHAD STAHELSKI: That's good. I'm glad we were trying to push that audience into the theater.
You have a release date of March. I'm sure everyone is wondering, where are you in the editing process?
STAHELSKI: As we sit, I'm about to go to my next DI session. We're pretty close. The picture's pretty much locked. We're just getting in our VFX and doing our coloring, and we're starting our sound mix in a week or two. So we're in the final death throes.
Is it going to be the longest of all the movies?
STAHELSKI: It has the longest runtime of all the movies. Hopefully, it won't feel the longest of all the movies.
Listen, if you released a 4-hour version of this movie, I'd be the first one in theaters. But most people can't take that. How do you debate as a director? Because there's a lot of people that love a 2-hour movie, but I'm fine with a 2-and-a-half or a 3-hour as long as it justifies its running time. So can you talk about, was there a big debate in terms of how long this movie was going to be?
STAHELSKI: Oh yeah. I mean, yeah, I get it. It's where commerce meets art. It's always going to be that. You'll hear the excuses about more trailers, more showings, more stuff like that. I don't agree with that argument, but I get it. Look, I'm from a different generation. I'm with you. I could watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid all day long. I watched Lawrence of Arabia in one sitting. I can literally watch, and I have watched, in less than a weekend the entire Peter Jackson extended cut of Lord of the Rings on all three films. I'm good, and I soak it up. Yeah, there are slow spots, and there's all that kind of stuff. I get that. Look, we know there's a certain kind of pacing for action movies. We get that there's this certain kind of appetite. Luckily, we have a little bit of margin because we have a little bit of world-building with the action in John Wick.
Look, I've watched this thing now, this version of the cut, close to 100 times, and another 100 by the end of the month at least. And this is the first one that we watch. and I don't get bored at all. It's my own film. I know it's weird to say, but I watch it and I was like, “Oh, I'm still in the movie.” It doesn't take me out. I don't ever feel like, "Fuck, just end this thing already. I can't watch it again." You know what I mean? Other than my other misgivings of choices, and scenes, and writing all that stuff, I feel pretty good about it. Keanu [Reeves] and I, and the really tight circle that I have around us, we've watched it every week. We have a little group. “Let's just watch it one more time to make sure we're not talking ourselves into something.”
As long as that gut-feeling feels good, what else do you go with? I can't go off somebody else's gut-feeling. I've had people who I trust and know say, "Well, it's too long. Cut 20 minutes out." And you're like, "Okay, that's your feeling, that's your opinion." If I go with anybody else's opinion other than mine, which I haven't done in any other decision in the movie, where's that going to go? I mean, we wrote a longer movie. We wrote a bigger movie. We wrote a longer script. We wrote at least a third more scenes than the last one. We expect it to be more. We've always expected it to be more. And I think the test, or at least what we're judging ourselves by, is if it's worth it with how we executed what we want it to be more of or not? I think the answer's yes.
So if I watched it, and I have a pretty good endurance like you, but if I watched it and I start looking at my watch I know it's time to cut. But I don't look at my watch in this. So I feel pretty good where it's at.
Last question on the runtime. Do you want to tell me how long it is?
STAHELSKI: Still not entirely determined, and I'd hate to give you a number because I haven't given the studio the overall number yet. So I want to give them the number first.
Can I ask you, is it close to 2 and a half hours or- ?
STAHELSKI: It's in that zone. I think. I'm different. The definition of runtime is that first logo to that last credit. You know what I mean? So the movie itself, I know what it runs at. I don't know the full runtime because I don't know the credit scroll, and all the other stuff that's going in. So you'd have to add on that. But it's in the zone of over the 2-hour mark, but it's under a lot of the other big marks.
I understand. When I do a story, I'm just going to say it's around 2 and a half hours because it sounds like that's probably what it is.
STAHELSKI: Somewhere in there. Yeah, we're somewhere in there.
So right now the trailer says it's called John Wick: Chapter 4. Is that the final title, or are you going to add a word?
STAHELSKI: It's a work in progress right now. We're trying to find the right theme, and hopefully it'll work out the way we thought. I don't want to give it away, but yeah, it's a working title. We still have the proper title to come out yet.
I'm going to ask you some questions about the trailer. Is that John Wick's mom in the trailer?
STAHELSKI: John Wick's mom. Which one's John Wick's mom?
There's a woman near the box that's on fire with the glowy thing, and it's because Winston says something about your family.
STAHELSKI: Oh no, Natalie [Tena]. No.
I mean, by the way, I'm just taking stabs.
STAHELSKI: I would say in the familial zone, like a stepsister. I wouldn't call her a stepsister but in the zone of that, yeah. It's his former family, yes.
In the trailer, there is a huge action set piece it looks like it’s around the Arc de Triomphe. I'm just curious, what the hell is it like filming a huge action set piece in one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe?
STAHELSKI: I would say the greatest word would be tricky, very tricky. Obviously, we do what we can where we're at, and then we try to movie-magic our way through some of the trickier stuff. But we had an amazing location diversity on the scout from Sacré Coeur, to Arc de Triomphe, to the Louvre, to the Eiffel Tower, to some amazing places throughout. I mean we were in Aqaba, Jordan for our opening sequence. Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Osaka. We got around on this one. So hopefully, we brought all that great imagery to screen.
Did you actually get to film in the Louvre?
STAHELSKI: We actually shot in the Louvre, yes.
Is there action in the Louvre?
STAHELSKI: I didn't push it quite that far. Let's just say we shot a really cool scene in the Louvre. You start shooting and blowing shit up next to a Caravaggio, they get a little edgy. But no, they were wonderful. They let us come in and do a great scene there.
Yeah, I'm assuming it's a dialogue scene because I don't think they want you touching, or risking, anything.
STAHELSKI: Yeah, no, I would agree with that. Yeah. That's the first thing they asked, too. And they laughed, "You're not going to shoot anything, are you?" I was like, "I don't know. Can I?" And I was like, "Just kidding. We just want to shoot in the Louvre."
Who does Bill Skarsgård actually play in the film?
STAHELSKI: His character's name, his broad name, is The Marquis. The Marquis is, without giving too much away, I wouldn't really say the antagonist, but he's the one in charge of cleaning up all the messes from the first three movies.
Right. It does seem like in the trailer there's a little bit of a reboot of the pecking order.
STAHELSKI: Yeah, complete reboot to the pecking order. He's being brought in to reset the calendar.
There's a scene where Bill, Donnie [Yen], Keanu, and Laurence [Fishburne] are sitting around a table near the Eiffel Tower, and Bill is saying the table will honor its word. I know that location, assuming that there's no green screen there.
STAHELSKI: Real deal. That's the Eiffel Tower.
Yeah. That's where, for people that don't realize it, that's where they did the Mission: Impossible red carpet right around there. So what was it like filming there and having these great actors with the Eiffel Tower in the background?
STAHELSKI: It's always good. I don't tell my cast too much. I give them the setting. We have a little chat. But there's nothing like it's 5:00 AM, we're just setting up the lights. It's still dark out. They get out of the car. We're going to do our read-through, and then they get out of the SUV, and it's the fucking Eiffel Tower right there at this great table. It’s, “Okay guys, let's warm it up.”
You do all these read-throughs in these studio rooms beforehand, and you do your little acting rehearsals. But when you really see it, that was like my Barry Lyndon set where, I don't know if you remember Barry Lyndon, but big fan of the Kubrickian way he did that. So, we placed everybody in this really, really renaissance kind of way. When you explain that in a room, in an office, it's one thing, but when you see it with the Eiffel Tower and the symmetry, they all started to get the symmetry and the artistic nature of what we're trying to do when they get there. And there's nothing like seeing their faces when they go, "Oh, I get what you're saying now." It was pretty cool.
You have dogs in the trailer, and dogs have played a big part of the John Wick movies. With Halle Berry there was a lot of dog stuff. How is it in this movie? Is it on that same level or is it just it's a part of the movie?
STAHELSKI: It's a part of the movie. It's slightly different. But when the dog does his, sorry, does her thing, it's a cool thing. So it's a different character that has a different type of dog, and how they use him is a little different.
When Halle spent a lot of time with the dogs, and training, and you taught the dogs that this is a movie and you can play. How long did you work with her, the new dog, to get ready?
STAHELSKI: Well, the character of the dog is a her, but we had, let's see, three females and two male dogs to comp all one dog together, depending on what the stunt, or the gag, or the acting bit was. This time we learned a lot from last time, but we wanted a little bit more out of this one in specialty stuff. We had the dog, I think it was just over five months, to work with cast and on stunts. It's just when you're bringing in the stunt teams, and we have different stunt teams on this one because it's so much bigger, the dog is just like friends. You have to get to know your friends. So in order for the dog to be very playful, and safe, and have the confidence just like a human would, they have to spend time with each individual stunt guy.
So we had to rotate every hour. One of our 10 main stunt team guys would go and play. That was his job. He had to go play with the dogs, and get tackled by the dogs, and play Frisbee with the dog. So you get acclimated to our canine friend and then that's how we started working it. But it was about a little over five months.
Yeah. I'm always wondering if the dogs ever go home with any of the stunt performers to really bond.
STAHELSKI: Yeah. No, they go home with the trainers. Every trainer is in charge of one animal that goes home and they live with them, and go. But the stunt guys spent a lot, if they're not in the stunt rehearsal hall with Keanu or cast or choreographing, they're with the dogs. They don't take them home. But they spend a lot of time with the animals.
Clancy Brown makes an appearance in the trailer. Listen, I love Clancy. Anytime I see Clancy, I just see Highlander.
STAHELSKI: I do too.
So does he have just a small role? Who does he play?
STAHELSKI: He has a pivotal role. He plays a character called the Harbinger who is everything that word stands for.
STAHELSKI: He gives the whole sentiment, and he's like our High Table referee.
Oh yeah, because he is giving out the guns.
STAHELSKI: He's our officiate.
Same question about Shamier [Anderson].
STAHELSKI: Shamier's a whole different kind of character. His character's name's the Tracker. Again, name says it all. Everyone's got a purpose. Everybody's got a reason. Everybody's got a motivation. His is, at least initially, he's self-motivated. He becomes a character that's in the gray area between the two worlds, the Wick world, and the real world.
Who does Hiroyuki Sanada play?
STAHELSKI: I've known Hiroyuki forever. Been a fan of his forever, like 30-year fan. And finally getting to work with him. Because he works with Dave [Leitch] a lot. Dave's always been able to get him, whether it's Wolverine or Bullet Train, or anything like that. He was originally going to play a part for me in John Wick 3, but he tore his Achilles tendon right before he came. So that's how the whole Mark Dacascos thing came out. Hiroyuki had to bail, had surgery. So then we went to our friend Mark Dacascos. On this, he was literally, as soon as I knew what I was going to write, I was like, "Don't take another gig. Make sure you tell me you're in John Wick 4. Now I've just got to write the part." So he was cool. He plays an old friend of John Wick's.
If I'm not mistaken in the trailer, there's footage of him fighting Donnie.
STAHELSKI: He has a moment with Donnie Yen. Yes, he does. I mean, when you have Hiroyuki Sanada and Donnie Yen going at it, it's always fun. When you have guys that come from the action genre world, and they both love to act, it's funny, they all have that similar thread. They just don't want to tread on, they don't want to be trope-y. They want to try something new. They're very brave. It's not falling back into the same, "Let's just do the style I'm good at." Hiroyuki is used to the Japanese way of doing things, very precise. And you have Donnie that's really the epitome of Hong Kong action of, “Let's just be great and make it up on the day of, and get the energy.” So to put them together and to find a little organic mix was really fun.
They had a good time. I think the respect was there, and super courteous to each other, and literally just, we had all our grand ideas of choreography and stuff, and then it comes down to two guys just doing it really well. And you watch and you're like, "Oh yeah, okay, I'm going to shut up now. Let you guys do your thing."
When they were fighting in the film, did you notice that an awful lot of people needed to be on set that day?
STAHELSKI: Yeah, there was no shortage of stunt people on the sidelines. Everybody came out to watch. They're great humans, incredibly creative, and super talented. So yeah, of course, you just want to watch these guys do their thing. And the funny thing is, these guys couldn't be happier doing their thing. There's no insecurity. You yell, "Cut,” and it's supposed to be a serious scene, but you yell, "Cut," and they're high-fiving each other, and you're watching Hiroyuki and Donnie Yen high-five each other going, "Good job. Thank you. What can I do for you?" Just like great stunt guys, “How can I make you look better?” So giving.
Talk a little bit about the trailer. How much did you debate how much to show, and can you talk about that line? Because, obviously, you want to hold stuff back, but you also need to get people in the theater.
STAHELSKI: Look, brutally honest, I don't know a single director, including myself, that would want to do more than a ten-second trailer. If it was up to me, I wouldn't show anything. I'd give you 15 seconds, and make it all a mystery because that's what I dig. And I get into the argument with marketing all the time. And look, I've learned my lesson on that. You and I are hardcore genre guys. But to get the movie out there, to get the fans… Look, this is a new one. Adam Fogelson just came on board at Lionsgate. So he literally landed, and John Wick dropped in his lap. Like, "Here, go market this movie." And his response to me is like, "We're the biggest one yet. We're the longest one yet. You got to go market. You've got to get the new audience. You've got to get the old audience."
I can't imagine what stress he was going through. So his gig is to come up with a marketing, not just a trailer, but a strategy of how to get this movie out there. How to show them that we're bigger, better, stronger, faster, whatever we are. It's always the same. I'll come back to, whether it was Adam or any of the other people I've had the opportunity to work with, and I'm always the same. I'm like, "What the fuck are you doing? There's too much. You got to cut it down." And Keanu's the same way. We're all the same way. And they're like, "We get it. You've got to protect your baby and stuff." And then they go through the rationale behind it. You're like, "All right, maybe I should just shut up and let you guys… " So I'm fairly resistant right off the bat.
I'm like, "Oh my God. Show me only me 15 seconds." Then, you got to listen, after I blow my fuse, yell, and go freak out and bang my head, and scream and threaten, then they go, "Okay, crazy director guy, let's talk how we're going to market you." “All right, that's pretty smart.”
I think being a director that knows how to market something is being a director that knows how to shut up and let the pros do their thing. They invite me in for the creative, which is cool, about if there's a better shot, if there's a better way. You try to help with that. But I try not to delve too much into the marketing plan. I've been proven wrong before. Again, if it was my way, you wouldn't see any of the movie until we got there. So I'm going to go with what I learned in the last couple years of trust your marketing team, and try to support them as best you can, and help them out creatively and logistically as much as you can. Hopefully, that'll be a good campaign.
Yeah, I've always wondered, and I've mentioned this to marketing people, but with the internet and everyone always looking for content all the time, I mean, was there ever any thought of you and Keanu just sitting around, looking at the camera, being like, "Hey, I'm Chad." "Hey, I'm Keanu. We have a new John Wick movie coming out in March and it's going to be pretty good, blah blah blah… " Some bullshit kind of a thing, and then at the end, you're doing 10 seconds of footage.
STAHELSKI: I think, you know what? That's a great idea on the next one, for sure. John Wick 5. I think it's just a personality thing. Look, we all know movies that do market like that. And it also comes with that personality. That's a Ryan Reynolds thing. Ryan's got that personality. He's out in it. And that works for him. He's got the personality to pull that off. I, personally, am not that guy. I just want to sit there. I love riffing with you about, I could go down every toy in back of you right there and have a story with you. I'm good with that. And if you want to have a glass of scotch over it, we're good.
I'll try to stay out of the land as much as possible. You've met Keanu and stuff like that. He's a reserved guy that wants to nerd out with you too in the back room. Plus, I think Keanu and I are both the same. We want you guys to experience John Wick. We want you to have it. You don't need us to talk about it. Go see it for the character. Go see it for the guy. If anything, we'll give you the cool, "Hey, this is Chad." "This is Keanu. Thank you." It's more of a thank-you. Thank you so much for liking the crazy stuff we put on screen. Best of luck. Take it for what you will and have fun.
You are collaborating again with Dan [Lausten] on the cinematography. I really love Dan's work. Can you talk about the aesthetic that you guys were going for with this taking place around the world and not really in New York City, the way the previous films have been? And maybe are you trying to use different colors to try to differentiate this world?
STAHELSKI: Totally. Look, the whole vibe on this whole thematic was, okay, let's try to be an art film. We're going to blow shit up, but we're going to try to be very artsy. We're going to take all this modern art lighting stuff, whether it was like Olafur Eliasson, or Turrell, or any of these great modern artists that use light. Let's try to imitate, and try to use that in every set piece. So we up our lighting game, and we let you know that it's, again, “neon-noir” is probably one of the best descriptive terms I've heard of our franchise. And that's what we wanted to do.
Combine that with thematic set pieces that happen in Japan. So you have your cherry blossoms, your reds, your pinks, your purples, your softer colors that you don't get in action movies a lot, combined it with the greens and the grit of Berlin at its techno best. Then you can go with the shine and the glitz of Paris, and then you can tie that all together with the rich magic-hour gold of the desert, of the Sahara Desert, or the Jordanian desert. I mean, that's where we went. We're going to go, "Okay, we're going to go big artsy lighting film and we're going to take cues from the locations we're in." What's your best anime version of Osaka? What's your anime version of Berlin? And what's your anime version of either New York or Jordan?
In the previous films, there's always been one set piece that really was the pain in the ass, the one that you fucking hated. Which set piece is it in this one, and how did you solve it?
STAHELSKI: Well, I love them all, Steve. I love them all. Some are harder to bring up. I would say there's three. Like you've already mentioned, the Arc de Triomphe. Trying to pull that off and do it – we did in it with 100 drivers – was interesting. We have a club sequence that we did in Berlin, which you see in the trailer, it uses a lot of water features. So if you don't mind being under about a million gallons of water every night with 300 dancers and stuff like that, it's a cool vibe, but it can wear on you a little bit. Then we have a sequence that's not in any of the trailers, so I don't want to give anything away, but that was the trickiest, logistically and mathematically, hard to figure out how to pull everything off as we did. And I think that's the one that'll pop the most in the movie. So we'll talk about that again soon, I'm sure.
100%. I know I'm just about out of time with you. So I'm just going to ask, you've been linked to a whole bunch of projects in terms of what you're going to direct, and I am curious, are you, what is actually going to happen after Wick 4? Are you actually going to make a different thing? Do you know what that's going to be? Or is it too early to figure out?
STAHELSKI: It's not too early, but I haven't quite figured it out. Look, the projects I'm attached to, I do love our latest version of Highlander. I do love the script I currently have for Ghost of Tsushima. There's just a couple of other things that are filling out between cast and logistics with the studio about where, how, when, and how the thing actually comes out. We're at that weird spot in the industry now between streaming, and features, and theatrical, and what is and isn't, and where do studios want to put their money? I think I'm tied to a lot of genre stuff like Wick, it's a weird thing. Highlander, I have a weird take on it. Ghost of Tsushima, all-Japanese cast period piece in the Kurosawa kind of anime aesthetic. And they're just trying to figure out where I can reach the biggest audience. Where can we do the most work? Where can we get the best budget for it, and go?
So creatively, I would love to do nine out of 10, you read about Black Samurai, which is an incredible series of books from the ‘70s that we've had a fucking fantastic take on that I'd really love to jump into, too. It's just, unfortunately, they're all big specialistic genre projects that take a lot of prep. So we're in a little race who can get there, literally who can get their shit together first. And then that's the one I'll probably go with.
That's the thing that so many people don't realize is that you are attached to all these different projects, but it's about what script is the best one that has come up? What has the actors’ scheduling availability? It's these weird things that people don't realize that really control your decisions.
STAHELSKI: If you rush into any one thing, you can get, I don't think most people realize how bad… I get asked, "Why are there so many bad movies?" And if you knew the working parts, the real question is how are there so many good movies? Because it's astounding to realize how fast so much money, and so many moving parts, can go to shit. It really can. Just because you're a little too anxious, or you miss a step, or you don't get the right financing. The next thing you know, that actor falls out and this location falls out. So next thing you're doing a sound stage in Budapest for a Bahama movie.
It literally goes to shit that quick over groupthink thinking. "Oh yeah, we'll get through that one problem." Well, it's not one problem. The ripple effect is 1000 problems. So you try to get as many fucking positive things. You get your cash, you get your crew, you get your location, you get your budget, you get your schedule. You've got that much, you can make a movie. You miss any one of those things, you've got problems. That's the trick always.
The other thing though is that Lionsgate, being blunt, the John Wick universe is now expanding with Ballerina, with The Continental, with the whole John Wick movies, and I don't even know what else they're thinking about. I'm assuming they’re also going to say to you, right after you finish four, "So when do you guys want to make 5?"
STAHELSKI: They did that a couple of weeks ago, Steve. It's all good.
Well, by the way, I'm sure they are because it's a very, very popular franchise.
STAHELSKI: We're lucky to have them. I mean, Nathan Kahane and Joe Drake, and all the guys over there, they're super positive. They love it. They love seeing the smile on our face. They're super supportive. They get it. And if it was them, I'm sure as long as Keanu wanted to do it, I'm sure they'd find a way to make it happen. So that's always something that just makes you feel fortunate, makes you feel lucky. So that's good.
Oh no, completely. Everyone who gets to work in Hollywood is very lucky. So basically you really don't know after you wrap on 4 what you're going to do next.
STAHELSKI: I have my hopes. I have my hopes, Steve. Let's see if they come true.
John Wick: Chapter 4 arrives in theaters March 24, 2023.
Tamera Jones is a PR Editor and News Writer for Collider. When she isn't writing she devotes all her free time to fangirling over horror movies, the MCU, and her own cats and Shibe.