‘John Wick’ Franchise Director Chad Stahelski On Permanently Retiring Keanu Reeves’ Hitman & Why Academy Must Add Stunts To Oscars Categories

Chad Stahelski and then-partner David Leitch came from the area of martial arts and stunt and made their mark choreographing huge stunt sequences and second unit directing for many films before getting the shot at steering a franchise with John Wick. Leitch went his own way and Stahelski remained welded to Keanu Reeves in one of most fascinating director-star relationships that concludes with John Wick: Chapter 4, the final installment of a action-heavy sleeper hit that grew into blockbuster status as each film grew in ambition and box office grosses.

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The most fantastical gun violence Hollywood has brought since The Matrix films has only been part of it, as are the close-combat brawls, knife and sword fights and car crashes that left Wick bloodied but undaunted. For their fourth and likely final time out, Stahelski and Reeves added iconic Asian action heroes Donnie Yen and Hiroyuki Sanada to ramp things up even further.


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Here, Stahelski breaks down why the franchise’s mythological underpinnings was its secret weapon, how they pulled off an endless string of eye-popping action sequences — 14 in the finale — for much less than a pricey rom-com and why stunt professionals deserve Oscar recognition as much as any other category. Getting that recognition for his bruised and battered brethren might be his next production.

DEADLINE: This franchise started with the modest premise of a hitman roused from retirement when the son of a crime boss steals his car and kills the puppy his late wife gave him, in a violent home invasion. A mythology grew with each film. When you co-directed John Wick with your then-partner David Leitch, how much of that franchise potential did you see?

CHAD STAHELSKI: [Laughs]. Let’s see … almost none. Dave and I had done quite a bit of second unit work in action and worked on some pretty big fix-it jobs. But when you step into the director’s seat? It’s a very different world. We came in full of blatant arrogance and confidence: “We got this! How hard could it be?” Turns out, it is pretty hard [laughs]. I don’t mean it in the work part of it; I mean, well, there’s these little things called pacing and tone and storytelling. How do you balance all this and still keep all the cool shit?

We learned a lot on the first movie; we were just so happy to have a chance to even direct. We made a shit ton of mistakes. I think if we didn’t have an experienced producer like Basil Iwanyk, and Keanu Reeves — a good friend who helped us through it — I don’t know if we would’ve succeeded. It was a lot of listening to guys who’d been there, and really taking advice and being mentored by smart people. And having the confidence to keep pushing through. To your point, we were handed a script that was very spare. It was about a Cold War veteran, which John was much older than, and the movie was very, very grounded. The body count was three or four people. But what the original writer Derek Kolstad had was The Continental, a bit of a sanctuary, a Brotherhood of the Rose kind of situation. They worked in the gold coins because you couldn’t trace the value of ’em, that kind of thing. And it had a little bit of the service industry thing. It had Charon [Lance Reddick] and these crime scene cleanup guys like Charlie [David Patrick Kelly], the guy that collected the bodies. But it was all very, very grounded, and we had an idea to somehow make it a bit more mythological. I was a huge fan of Greek mythology and a massive J.R.R. Tolkien fan. Someone was doing a version far out in the future, with Dune.

How do you make a modern-day fantasy, with a mythology? We put this hidden-world layer on it that suggests there’s this whole other world, but we only barely touched on that. Jimmy the Cop is my favorite scene in the first movie…

DEADLINE: Where he peeks inside, sees a body bleeding out on the floor and casually asks John Wick if he’s working again…

STAHELSKI: You see into a crack inside, like, “Oh, other people are aware of this whole other thing going on here.” We thought that was interesting. And then the movie ended and we had no idea. Dave and I both went and took second unit jobs because we were broke and we thought we’d never direct again. So we’re like, “o”Oh, that was a good one-off.” And then the movie comes out and people liked it, fortunately.

DEADLINE: Did the second film come together quickly?

STAHELSKI: We didn’t know if we were gonna do a second one. Six months after we had done the first one, Keanu called and said: “How are we gonna do this? Do you want to do this?” It took months to crack it. We thought, “Well, if there’s a Continental in every city, what’s the chance we can really blow that out?” It wasn’t until we started writing the second one that we realized something. As long as we get rid of reality, as long as we don’t care about being this a grounded, gritty action movie and could be more of a fantasy film … well, that opened it up. That started with the second one, the idea to strip it down and go big Greek mythology. We could add all these layers in.

DEADLINE: I remember the original Highlander movie, which you’ve tried to crack as a remake. Great mythology presented in that film, which allowed for historical flashbacks and an eventual there-can-be-only-one outcome. Subsequent films felt repetitive, though the series with Adrian Paul was quite good…

STAHELSKI: I’ve worked on Highlander for years now, for Henry Cavill. Being retroactive is hard. What’s different between Wick and that? With Wick, you weren’t serving seven seasons of TV plus two spinoffs plus five films. If I were to do a remake of Highlander right now, you’d expect a lot of mythology in those first two hours; you couldn’t explore stuff without it. Now, Highlander as a TV show now would be amazing. You’d have time to build it out, see all those flashbacks and the potential of it. It’s trickier when you’re trying to do something with that big of a mythology. But I agree, that would be one to take a really big stab at. Here, we just had the opportunity to really learn as we went on with Wick.

Donnie Yen and Stahelski
Donnie Yen and Stahelski

DEADLINE: Each one got bolder and bigger. As you, Keanu and your cohorts try to go out on a high with John Wick: Chapter 4, what were the questions you wanted to answer and different action styles you wanted to inject?

STAHELSKI: I always come back to the “why do another one?” question. If you don’t have an answer for that, in my weirdly philosophical outlook, don’t do it if the only answer is for money. There’s gotta be more story to tell. We put this off a bit until one day Keanu and I were riffing again, just talking about something else. And we agreed, we never really got to do that spaghetti western vibe we love or the samurai vibe. We wanted to do this love letter to films we love.

I’m a huge David Lean fan, so I just wanted to do something there. He was like, f*cking, I love the Moroccan desert scene in the third one. Then Keanu just looks at me and gives me this evil little smile. He’s like, “You know what?” We were in Japan at the time and we were talking about this whole samurai vibe, and some of these treatises I was reading. And he’s like, “John Wick’s gotta [face death].” I’m like, “Come again?” He’s like, “We never tied any of these things together.” And I’m like: “Yeah, I know. We always say that, but like, you know, you’re saying a lot. We have three somewhat jointed together films that were done independently.” He’s like, “I know we got time together with the theme of consequence, and we gotta do this.”

And then I just read this book called The Hagakure, this treatise on samurai ethics. And it’s like, you can only have a good death after a good life. And we’re like, “w”What a great little scene that would be.” And we’re big fans of Hiroyuki Sanada. What if we had him and John talking on a Japanese rooftop about the philosophy of the way of dying, the samurai code of preparing yourself for death? That’s where the fourth movie started. And then it became, how do you expand? We’ve spent three movies following John and seeing the journey with John as our guide to this world that we’re trying to introduce the audience to. We were like: “Well, we’ve kind of pushed that one. What would make it fun? How do we blow this out?” That’s why we wanted a character like the Marquis [Bill Skarsgard]. We wanted to see it from the High Table viewpoint. And from somebody just getting in, Shamier Anderson’s Tracker character. How do you deal with the relationships in it? Like the father-daughter thing with Hiroyuki and Rina Sawayama’s Akira. And we wanted to see, well, what happens if one person’s in, and one person’s out?

DEADLINE: There you placed Donnie Yen, whose Cain character is as blind as he is lethal…

STAHELSKI: Donny’s character is retired, but his daughter’s out there and knows nothing of the life. He has to protect her. We thought the best way to expand No. 4 was to tell a story from all these viewpoints. I’m a big fan of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. How do we get that frenemy thing going? Why should John just fight enemies when — what’s the quote? “Our choices define us, not our skills.” In every scene in John Wick 4, we wanted a character to make a choice. Never a choice between good and bad, but a choice between bad and worse. Do you save your daughter and kill your friend? We let that define who our characters are. Throughout this movie, everybody’s gotta make a choice. And then we put everybody in this box where if John Wick doesn’t make it to the top of the stairs for the final battle, nobody wins.

DEADLINE: This is the scene where Wick faces a deadline to show up at sunset for the final battle, and there is a squadron of villains in his way…

STAHELSKI: I wanted to go back to Buster Keaton, find the tallest staircase we can in Europe. And make John fight his way up, just to get thrown back down. We use that as a metaphor for the whole movie.

DEADLINE: You mention The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Buster Keaton. What other influences were North Stars for you?

STAHELSKI: There’s a reason Laurence Fishburne is quoting Dante in the beginning of the movie. And David Lean, with the famous cut of Peter O’Toole blowing out the match. One of the most famous edits in cinema. I thought I’d have the balls to do it as well, having Laurence blow out the match and cut into this beautiful sunrise that we shot literally where they shot Lawrence of Arabia. And you can see a Seven Samurai reference, and one for Yojimbo. Obviously The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. And Two Mules for Sister Sara. Little things from all the Sergio Leone stuff, and you gotta see the Walter Hill reference with The Warriors.

I love music, couldn’t get enough needle drops in the movie. Because I’m so much into orchestration and score. How do I get more music, some more cool needle drops? We have this long action sequence, and I kept telling everybody, “We gotta figure something out, something like The Warriors. Finally, I said, “OK, f*ck it. We’ll just put the DJ and play The Suicide Girls in the Eiffel Tower. It’ll be a DJ, we’ll do ‘Nowhere To Run‘. We’ll play tribute to Walter Hill’s The Warriors. It’ll be great.

DEADLINE: It jumps right out at you, if you are a fan of that film…

STAHELSKI: Man, we went all in. I’ve never met Walter Hill. Hopefully he’ll be OK with it.

DEADLINE: You came to directing from stunts, and that’s where you developed the shorthand with Keanu, as his stuntman in Constantine and The Matrix movies. Why do you guys click so well? You can see he put the work into weaponry use, reloading…

STAHELSKI: Let’s start with the second question first. How often in Hollywood do you hear, “‘”I do my own stunts? I’ve trained for this.” It has become a behind-the-scenes push, part of the marketing plan. I get that. Somebody that puts in four to six or four to eight weeks of training in anything, it’s big. Whether you are learning medical terms to play a physician or physical fight moves to have a good action sequence, they should all be commended for their effort. Then there’s next level of that, doing action-specific shows where you need really specific skill sets, like driving. Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible films, the amount running and driving and fighting … that’s all Tom. Far above even the high expectations in our industry. He’s one of two that stand apart. I haven’t worked with Mr. Cruise, but from what I hear from the stunt teams, he’s that guy. There is no limit to how far we will go. My experience is Keanu, and that’s what I’d say about him. There’s a love of what he does, a love of the suffering to get to what he does there. There’s a love of the journey, the craft and this personal conviction to just … “I’m gonna do the best I can.” And that’s all there is to it. That will power and commitment, that’s Keanu and that’s not normal. It’s a Keanu thing, just who he is.

Keanu Reeves and Stahelski
Keanu Reeves and Stahelski

As far as our relationship, a couple things. One, we have similar tastes. If Keanu were on this call, he’s gonna geek out on you, man. Like, he just loves movies. Not a cinephile — insane fanboy love. We’ve seen the movie eight times in the last week, and every city we go to, he sat through the movie like everybody else. He enjoys the movie, loves being in a cinema with an audience that is enjoying the same things he enjoys. Remember, the John Wicks weren’t written to be a movie as much as a love letter to what we love about movies, what we love about life. I love classical literature, Dante, Latin. I love languages, museums. I love dogs. I love cars. I love martial arts. I love Sergio Leoni. Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen. Korean cinema, spaghetti westerns, The French Connection, the samurai. That’s all in the movie. The John Wicks aren’t some script that was handed to Keanu and me. We wrote this one from scratch and it started on a napkin, us going, “w”What do you love?” Yeah, and then insert shotguns. We love dogs, we love weird staircases. I love car hits from my stunt world. We’ll make this massive list. And that’s what goes into the writing.

I met Keanu when I was a very new stunt guy, like 24 or 25. I think we met on The Matrix, when Keanu was coming off Point Break, still early in his career. But Keanu Reeves was already a household name, and to come in and be his double when a lot was put on the stunt double? I had doubled a few people before, did their action. And then you come to Keanu who’s like, “F*ck it, I’m doing everything.” I saw the level of training that he already had. By the time I got on The Matrix, he had already been training with Yuen Woo-ping and already knew most of the fights, and he had already done a lot of training in wire work and all stuff. So you get there and you see the level that he’s at, which is far above anybody I doubled before I worked with, then you’re like, “I gotta up my game.” You have the star giving it 200%, you better put in 210%. That became the standard, and it still is.

DEADLINE: That’s where you developed a shorthand?

STAHELSKI: I did the first Matrix, and I was a stunt double on 2 and 3. The Wachowskis were cool and allowed me to become one of the stunt coordinators and choreographers. I got to work with R.A. Rondell, one of the biggest stunt coordinators, doing these amazing sequences of learning from him. And then I got to, you know, be part of Yuen Woo-ping’s fight team and work on the choreography and train all the martial art people. Keanu and l grew up together there. When I started directing on the first John Wick, there was grounding to go with the confidence of arrogance, or ignorance, depending on how you want to put it because what you don’t know sometimes will kill you. But sometimes that gives you that confidence to survive. And there’s a couple times that you really have to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, “If you don’t know what you don’t know, how you’re supposed to know what to learn?” We tried to be very honest with ourselves. And there’s a lot beyond that I didn’t know in the first week. Like, “How do I talk to Ian McShane and Willem Dafoe,” these great actors? How do we figure out the story? Keanu, even after a 14-hour day, he’d come over to our trailer and we’d work. He never called us f*cking idiots, never looked down on us. He just became an equal-level collaborator in the creative process, and we tried to craft a better film to showcase what he’s capable of. He’s done the same with us in mentorship about directing and story and characters. There has never been any hierarchy with our partnership. He knows when this is my gig and he asks the questions and is completely supportive. And there’s other times when he is in the writing process when we’re creating characters where, you know, he’s taken point and tried to getting from the inside out about what he would do and what John would be. That’s probably one of the most unique things about it. We’ve had this ever-shifting relationship where we’re both trying to help each other out and get better, both knowing if we don’t get better, the movies don’t get better. And if the movies don’t get better, we don’t make these movies. It has been a mutual learning experience for both of us.

DEADLINE: Lance Reddick became a vital part of the John Wick canon, but he died right before the latest film opened. Aside from his signature commanding presence he displayed in The Wire, Oz, Bosch and others, describe what he brought as you built a deep mythology that elevated these films well above simple revenge fare?

STAHELSKI: I remember back when we had to go to cast and explain the movie and hope they want to work with you, you pitch this modern-day assassin story where the guy comes out of retirement because somebody killed his dog. On top of that, the character doesn’t talk much and we’re going to do like this Odysseus Greek mythology layer on this modern-day assassin thing. I got a couple strange looks. Lance was the first or second person we cast after Keanu, and Dave and I were still practicing our pitch and weren’t very good at it, at that point. “We have no money, but will you work with us anyway?” We told Lance, “This is why we need you. Your character Cherone is the guardian, the gatekeeper, the man between the River Styx and the underworld.” Lance took off his glasses, cleaned them, put them back on and said: ‘I totally get it. Very smart idea. I think I’m going to do it like this…” He just got it. Cut to shooting at The Continental in New York City, and he says, “This guy should be a world traveler; he should have a kind of African accent and he should be very stoic.” We knew Lance from The Wire, where he would own the room, yelling at people and stuff. Here he said, “‘”I’m going to be as still as an Oscar statue, the epitome of concierge. I’m the concierge’s concierge.” Dave and I just looked at each other. My God, he just gets it, the gatekeeper to the Greek gods, the mythos of it all.

RELATED: Lance Reddick: The Projects The Actor Left Behind

The hardest thing is to establish tone. Keanu, Lance and Ian McShane and Willem Dafoe all carry a gravitas, and we could be as crazy as we wanted with action as long as we grounded the characters. That rock-solid foundation of casting started with Lance, who gave us that mythos of the caretaker to the greek gods.

DEADLINE: Cheron was always very nice to John Wick, like there was some backstory from back in the day before John Wick retired?

STAHELSKI: When we were doing John Wick 3, and we wanted Lance’s character to do some action. And they shared a mutual respect that went way beyond concierge and client. I was talking to Lance, and said it would be kind of cool to have one of the most peaceful members of the cast do a little action. He said, ‘Whoa, wait.’ I said, ‘Charon has always been this gentle giant and he said, “In my mind, Charon has always been the worst of them. He has done so many terrible things and that’s why he is on this path of redemption, this way out of it.” I was shocked. After four movies, it would have been easy for someone to phone it in. Lance understood the picture and the characters better than most everybody else.

RELATED: ‘The Wire’ Actors Wendell Pierce & Isiah Whitlock Jr. Remember Co-star Lance Reddick As Hollywood Pays Tribute

DEADLINE: I interviewed Burt Reynolds, who told me that for him, it was not macho to turn down stunts. The stuntmen were all his friends. And he would do way too many stunts. When he got up in the morning and felt the aches and pains from what he did, he said he could trace all of them back to some stunt he shouldn’t have done. Do you feel that when you get up in the morning, and what do you do with Keanu? He wants to do it all, but he’s your star. You see Tom Cruise hang off the side of a skyscraper or a plane. It’s dangerous and if he’s injured, the movie could be over. How do you balance all this?

STAHELSKI: There’s a lot of faith and trust, but safety is always first and you always gotta look at it that way. But it’s also to us, defining what’s a stunt. If you’re a world-class motorcycle racer, is it a stunt for you to ride down a street on a Harley-Davidson? No. That’s just action. Like, if you came from a martial arts background, or you’re a professional dancer or professional gymnast, doing a shoulder roll is not a stunt; it’s a skill set that you already have. We try to determine, what’s skill, what’s action? A stunt by definition for us is something above and beyond the person’s capabilities. Going beyond limitations brings a probability of injury. Keanu Reeves doing a fight scene with nunchucks, based on his skill and his experience as a martial art stunt performer, there is a super-high probability of success, and so maybe a bump or bruise. Keanu owns his own motorcycle company; he rides better on the track than me on my best day. He’s what I would consider, even in the stunt world, an expert on a motorcycle. Hundreds of hours with the best rally and drift drivers and stunt drivers on the planet. He’s better in a car than me, and most of the stunt guys I know ever were. So is that a stunt, for him to drift against traffic? No, it’s action. There is risk, of course. But I have trust in my team and their skill sets. Now, Keanu’s getting hit by a car. Could he do it once? Yes. But is there a high probability of injury? Yes, that’s two tons of metal hitting you. One wrong move and that’s it, we’re done. Everybody pack up and go home. Do we put him in big high falls or light him on fire? No. I mean, we’d have to look at the situation, but the probability of something happening versus what the skillset is not where we want to go. We try to be clever and very diligent in what we decide is and isn’t a stunt. Keanu’s part of the conversation as well.

Stahelski and Bill Skarsgard
Stahelski and Bill Skarsgard

It might surprise you, but Keanu’s not…macho. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but the ego has nothing to do with it. He’s not trying to be macho. He’ll look at something and go, no. Like in the scene with the stair fall. He looks to his stunt double Vincent [Bouillon] on this one. He just looks like, “No, that’s Vincent, all day.” But there’s overlap on that stair fall, off the hood of a car, and he says, “I’ll do that.” He wants to help whatever’s best for the cut. We’ll say, “This is where Marco is gonna kick Wick in the chest, and into the side of the van.” And he’s like, “All right, pad me up.” He wants to do what’s best for the shot, what’s best for the movie.

DEADLINE: That scene on the stone staircase is one of 14 action sequences. Maybe I saw that in a Roadrunner cartoon, but I have never seen anything like the car stunts staged on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. You have gunplay, fighting between speeding drifting cars that run over people. Netflix pulled the plug on a Nancy Meyers rom-com over a budget north of $130 million. How the heck do you bring this in at around $90 million with all those action sequences?

STAHELSKI: [Laughs]. Two things. One is a woman named Louise Rosner, the best line producer in all of Hollywood. I used to work for her when I was a second unit director and when I finally could afford her and she was available … that’s Reason 1. Getting every penny onscreen is a nice saying, but to actually do it is to suffer, be really smart and force decisions and that’s her gig, man. The second thing is, there’s this hardwired methodology, an algorithm that for whatever reason is how people budget and plan. And no one ever questions it.

It’s 10 weeks of prep. That’s what you budget for. It’s 10 weeks of shoot, and then it’s 25 to 29 weeks of post and then you deliver. Right? And for a movie with a $50 million budget, it’s $4 million for an effect. It’s like they’re pulling numbers out of their asses. I mean a script is a piece of f*cking paper. And then somebody sits in an office who hasn’t been on set in years and without talking to me or anyone who actually does it for a living, they put a number, they put a price tag on it. By the time most directors or cast members get involved, they’ve already been boxed out. Like, you got $4 million for prep. You start, you know, your camera guys come in a week out cause that’ll save this much. It’s all about savings. And when they have to crunch the numbers, prep is the first thing that gets crushed. And then post gets crushed, and then your day count gets crushed and you got people telling you how to spend. So I come on, they say, “Chad, you got $50 million to do something.” And they proceed to tell me how to spend it. “You have 10 million for wardrobe, you got this for that, you got 10 million for that.” And I’m like, “Can you just give me the money?” They are like, “We’re gonna tell you where to spend it.” I say, “So you got people that don’t make the movies telling you where to spend the money on your movie?”

Stahelski and Keanu Reeves
Stahelski and Keanu Reeves

Having done so many second unit fix-it jobs, you’d see that from the outside and we got ballsy. We said, “We know we’re new and young, but 10 million?” Some movies need less, some more. The guy was like, “Well, that’s just the way we do it.” And we kept getting that answer, for months. “Well, that’s the way we do it, that’s the way it’s done.” We’re like, “All right, but what if we didn’t do it that way? What if we spent all the money in prep?” And we prepped for 30 weeks with the camera guys. Most times the cameramen, even the directors, don’t see the fight scene until they walk on set. The stunt guys are shooting the pre-vis and all this stuff, but the actual camera guys and the actual cinematographer don’t. And then you get on set and you wonder why they only get five setups a day. I get 30 to 50. You see Keanu running through traffic in the Arc de Triomphe, and you don’t realize it but there are two camera crews in that traffic as well; these camera guys are dodging the cars as are the actors. That’s how we get those shots, and if you think you can get that without rehearsal, you are wrong. I spend at least twice as much location scouting, at least twice as much as like literally the biggest shows that you can go see. I’ll spend more on location scouting and rehearsals than they ever will. I bring in my wardrobe, makeup teams, everybody for the stunt rehearsals. So when people walk on set, we have a plan. We know exactly what we’re shooting. It’s not just everybody running around with their heads cut off, trying to get their head around what we’re doing. Everybody’s seen it a dozen times by the time we shoot. That’s why we are so efficient. We actually prep. Most people just spend the money on prep, but they don’t actually prep. The next thing is, you know bring the right people. What good is it for me to spend $5 million on my stunt guys with Keanu training for 10 weeks, and not train the camera guys? Who do you think shoots it? This is madness to me. Like every other show, they don’t pay for the camera guys to be in the weeks of prep. So how do you think that’s gonna go? [Laughs]. Or, they’ll only pay for like three stunt guys to do the rehearsals and then on the day they’ll bring in the local stunt guys to save money. But the local stunt guys haven’t seen the fight yet. And then Keanu’s gonna fight with guys he’s never met before. Again, how do you think that’s gonna go?

DEADLINE: How did you get around that?

STAHELSKI: We just threw all that out the window. It drove everybody mad for the first two films, like I’m the mad man going out of control, spending all this money up front. But then you finish on time and you get the shots we do. And then everybody goes, “Oh my God, how’d you get those shots?” Well, there’s no magic to it. Everyone talks about the fights and the genius camera work. Being honest, is there any shot in the fight scenes that is so epic that you can’t get your head around how I did it? They’re the simplest camera moves. That’s not the magic. The magic is the time we put in to get the shit that’s going on into camera. To do the wide shots timed, and all the stunt guys to get the cars to do it. It is the attention to detail. That’s the secret. The Arc de Triomphe scene took 14 or 15 days, but it was four months of prep, a lot of it figuring out shit. There’s nothing left to chance.

DEADLINE: You’ve spent most of the past decade directing four John Wick films, one bigger than the next. You have other things percolating including Rainbow Six with Michael B. Jordan. Highlander with Henry Cavill. Do you want to continue to lean into John Wick and its spinoffs, prequels?

STAHELSKI: That’s a good question. I can give you the director’s answer that I wanna do something that expands my whatever, but I’m much simpler. It’s that algorithm of pulling off a movie in Hollywood, it’s availability versus budget versus creative vision versus creative freedom. If that’s all in line, you take the gig. Rainbow Six, I love Michael Jordan and the creative team behind that. That’s gonna be something that’s definitely on the slate, and we’re working on the script now. We’ll see where and when that all comes together. The other project I’m super stoked for is Ghost of Tsushima. It’s such a diversion from what I’ve been doing with John Wick, but it still deals with ethics and loyalty, these big themes I find fascinating. I love the idea of a code of honor, chivalty and all that stuff, and the way this twists those thematics around. As for John Wick, you will never Keanu or I say, “We’re done.” We’re proud of what we’ve done, flattered people want to see more, and we want to continue that and will be there to help out. What Lionsgate decides to do with the properties is up to them. But like with Ballerina, that’s Len Wiseman’s baby, and Ana de Armas. When he came to us and asked us our thoughts on things like the look and vibe, we were happy to share everything we have. But we also want him to do his own thing with it. I’d love to stay involved in all aspects of John Wick. It’s fun for me. I love the world. There’s a reason we did 4 and it wasn’t anything more than we love the world. It gives us freedom. It gives us a chance to flex those muscles, and you can’t help but be proud when you create something from nothing and people actually like it.

Rina Sawayama and Stahelski
Rina Sawayama and Stahelski

DEADLINE: They give out a lot of Oscars but never one for stunts. Make a case for the Academy to reconsider this. It certainly would be a way to work in the big commercial tentpoles, which is the domain of stunt people.

STAHELSKI: Well, let me dissect that a little bit, when you say “reconsider.” What makes you think they’ve ever really considered it? Have you ever talked to anyone in the Academy about it or talked to anyone in the stunt world who has talked to the Academy about this?

DEADLINE: I have not.

STAHELSKI: All right. So you see the fundamental problem here. I think if I went to the Academy right now and asked, “Are there any of you who think stunts shouldn’t be in the Oscars?” Could you find a single person? I don’t think so. So OK, what seems to be the problem here? The problem is no one’s having the conversation.

DEADLINE: Have you raised it with them?

STAHELSKI: I’m raising it right now with you, and you’re gonna help me raise the question back to them. There’s not a single arguable reason not to have stunts in the Academy Awards. No one’s gonna deny that we are at least equal to every other department. We’re part of every film, as much part of Hollywood lore as music, costumes, technical achievements, directing or cinematography. And none of the people in those departments will deny that. I just think we haven’t had the talk. I think there’s some challenges in it. The stunt department works very differently. Cinematographer is one person, same with costume designer and director. Stunts?

Scott Adkins and Stahelski
Scott Adkins and Stahelski

DEADLINE: Is it a team game?

STAHELSKI: I have Scott Rogers, he’s my supervising stunt coordinator, but he deals with the cars and the rigging and the safety. I have Jeremy Arenas, a choreographer that puts all these great moves together. I have three other riggers and three other choreographers and two assistant stunt coordinators. And I myself coordinate half and my editors put it all together. Say we win the Oscar for Best Stunt. Which of the nine people who should get it? And what are you given the Oscar for? There is the great staircase fall for John Wick, and a couple great car hits. There’s a great high fall out the window. But the effect of John Wick is the overall action of the movie. So are you giving the award for Best Stunt or Best Stunt Sequence, or Best Stunt Constant? The stunt guys don’t know the answer. And I guarantee you the Academy doesn’t either. But I have faith that if all the smart people at the Academy and all our smart people sit down at a table, we can figure it out and make it happen. So I’m asking you to throw down the gauntlet to help make it happen. I am happy to be a representative for the stunt community among other great people in it, to sit down with the academy and go, okay, we’re all on the same page. How do we do this? Let’s figure it out together.

DEADLINE: I have heard that some actors don’t want it because it dispels the notion they don’t do all these stunts. But I’m thinking back on films like Mad Max: Fury Road or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Including the big films can only help Oscars grow back its audience, and why not give a collective prize to a film and all the people who risked their lives to get onscreen the kind of stuff you see all through John Wick 4?

STAHELSKI: We are as a relevant as any department, and I’m gonna be a little arrogant and say, I think we’d add a little something to the Oscars. It’s a legitimate win-win situation. No great stunt person or performer I know is doing it for accolades or statues. It doesn’t mean that much to us. But it is nice to be recognized by your peers. It’s time.

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