In 2014, John Wick opened in theaters and became the sleeper hit of the year. These behind-the-scenes stories from John Wick and its sequel John Wick: Chapter 2 will make you appreciate the assassin movie even more than you already did. Keanu Reeves learned everything from judo to a stunt termed "car fu" to prepare for his role as the titular assassin who is forced out of retirement. These stories about making the John Wick movies will bring you into the mindset of the film’s co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Both men served as stunt coordinators on The Matrix, but that isn’t the only link between the two franchises.
Reeves's preparation process for one of the most blood-soaked, action-filled, anti-hero roles in cinema history was extensive and fascinating, and he would do it all again. Stahelski had an incredibly specific vision for Chapter 2, and he went to extensive lengths to guarantee that the blockbuster hit was just as spectacular as the first John Wick.
Everyone warned director Chad Stahelski and stunt coordinator J.J. Perry that the mirror scene would be way too hard to shoot, but the men didn't listen. Stahelski wanted the John Wick sequel to be bigger and badder than the first, and he had the idea to pay homage to the famous mirror scene from Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon. To pull off the epic fight scene, it was going to take an incredible amount of time, patience, and of course planning.
"We'd have to go after hours and figure out angles. You're looking into a reflection that is a reflection that is a reflection of the real people. So we were trying to find those kinds of targets for Chad way back in preproduction," explained Perry.
It would take the crew months to coordinate just the preproduction stages of the mirror scene. "We started prepping all of our action sequences three months before anybody even unpacked a camera. And unlike a lot of other crews, my cameramen were in rehearsals," said Stahelski. "My cinematographer went to stunt rehearsals. My production designer came to the stunt rehearsals."
Of course the production team would have to work extensively with the actors as well. "Little bits [of the scene] that are great throws, that transition to another move... we train Keanu on those, even if we don't know where they're going to go," said Perry. In the end, the single scene took five days to shoot, which was 10% of the 50-day shooting schedule.
John Wick is one of the most violent, action-packed movies of the past decade. Reeves faces off against a number of professional fighters, and he didn't shy away from performing most of his own stunts. But Reeves is a humble guy, and he contends that he actually didn't do any stunts for the film. "I haven’t done any stunt work… I don’t do any stunts." He added, "If I’m doing it, it’s not a stunt. Stunt men do stunts."
When asked about what he does, Reeves explained his role as he sees it: "I get to do some physical acting. I get involved in some action, but they’re not stunts. I flip over guys, I get flipped, I run, I jump, I play."
In the first John Wick movie, there's a rumor that the assassin once killed three men at a bar using just a pencil. Reeves wanted to turn the rumor into a reality for the movie's sequel. “In the second [film], I really fought for the pencil fight," said Reeves. He said they discussed the scene in the first movie, and he was insistent that it be included in the second.
Reeves did most of his own stunts for both John Wick movies, but it wasn't until the sequel that he got involved with what the crew calls "car fu." "In the second [movie], they actually let me be in a car and drive into another car," he says. "I was surprised about that. [The director] said, ‘Get in the car, drive backwards, and smash into that other car.’ It was funny because I hit that car so hard, I ripped the steering wheel off the steering column."
Stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott called the more complicated driving stunts "car fu," where the movie actually uses the car like a weapon. Most "car fu" stunts were handled by professionals. There were five different '69 Mustangs used in the sequel's production. Reeves's stunt double Jeremy Fry said, "We just smashed them all. It was really a little heart-wrenching to see it."