Written by: Ben
I feel pretty secure in saying that Keanu Reeves is probably one of the most well known actors working today. From as far back as Point Break and Speed, he has been bringing action movies to the theaters that have become timeless favorites for many of us. As such, when I found out he was bringing his new film John Wick to Fantastic Fest, I was excited to see it. But I also had the pleasure of getting to sit down with Keanu and talk with him about the movie.
The character of John Wick not only lives up to the action skill we come to expect from Keanu, but also to the level that is frequently on display at Fantastic Fest. Keanu went into some detail about the appeal of portraying a hitman:
They’re fun. With John Wick I was attracted to his grief, I liked the intensity of the emotion; the connection that he felt to the life he was living, leaving the past behind. Once the relationship to the memory of his wife is violated, the unleashing of this Old Testament, Greek Mythological force. There’s something about his power. I also liked the particulars of the story, but I like the vulnerability and the power to do something about it. Its something I feel the audience reacts to as well to be able to overcome odds. To proxy for us in the story
Next he delved into the suit John Wick wears as his ‘armor’ in the form described originally by Jean-Pierre Melville and how it got him into the character:
Absolutely. It was a big part of the pre-production and creative process with the directors and with the wardrobe designer. What is he gonna wear, what is that suit gonna look like? Then it turned into the hair and the beard;. Beard or no beard? How does the suit fit and what does that all mean? You know this armor, this character this transformation. It was fun to put that all together. The filmmakers had a real definite feeling of what they wanted to convey. When they saw the silhouette of John, it was there. It felt right. I also like when he looks at his own reflection there, he understands, he has a reticence and there’s an ambivalence to it.
I then asked Keanu about how he felt the more gratuitous violence set John Wick apart from other films:
I like Captain America, but I’m a Raid 2 guy. I like dramatic action, I like an emotional action, as opposed to ’spectacle action’. I love spectacle action like in the James Bond films, but I like it when there’s a story telling and that often is achieved by being able to put the character in the world like it’s really happening. I got lucky with who I worked with on Point Break and with Speed and with the Wachowskis. To be working with people that were able to put me in places where normally you couldn’t go; like if it was under a bus, or on a surfboard or some kind of gunfight. With John Wick, longer takes and not necessarily cutting to close-ups then cutting to wider or jittery camera. They wanted to do a different style. I like that in a way you can connect with the performer and then with the story get emotionalized because ’you’re there’. You believe that that’s happening you know. I’m a fan.
He then went into how he was largely the one doing the stunts and occasionally with limited rehearsing done for them:
The filmmakers really come from a stunt background and I met them on the Matrix Trilogy. I have since worked with them and they’ve worked second unit directing on The Hunger Games, The Expendables, 300, and a lot of Statham movies. They raised the bar really high and they wanted to do long takes, and not so many cuts. They wanted to integrate gun work, pistol work, with Judo, Jujitsu. They introduced me to some professionals to teach me those different skills. They wanted me to have a skill set because I didn’t get to do 2 months of training, I was learning choreography the weekend before we shot it, or 2 nights before we were doing it. For the fight with Adrianne Palicki, I learned it the day that we shot it. They were giving me a skill set and then would be like “OK Keanu, we’ve built you this room and we have a bunch of things for you to do. And everyone relse around you has been practicing…GO!.” I liked that challenge, but it was new territory for me.. It was really intense that way.
There was also the question about how the films interesting take on the criminal underworld that focused on rules and honor was constructed and what about that drew him to it:
Well, everything about that sounds really cool! I think the first thing is the breaking the rules. It feels like that’s the architecture of story telling and that’s the architecture outside of fiction, it’s just how we mature. Like “don’t do this, do this.” How you interact or culturally interact. Then when you go into a story, those lines are delineated and investigated. So for this one I liked the idea of fate, I like the idea of the underworld having a kind of honor to it. And then I like in this film, with the normal world, well its like a neutral place: what can you make of it. He’s made a life, he’s made a good life with his own rules and got out of those [underworld] expectations. When his wife dies, she leaves him the honor, this gift, this love from beyond. And its taken away. He’s taken back into this. I think of John Wick as an emissary, he’s almost an emissary for himself in this.
Reeves then discussed how critical he is of his own performances after viewing it with an audience:
I’m pretty critical of my own work before the audience gets there. If I’m in an environment with an audience, I hope they like it. I’ve had a couple of moments in screenings, when the audience connects to the material; you can hear that and feel that. For me, that’s part of that wanting to tell the story. Then the private dialogue sometimes intrudes, “we got that, cool, that was ok” etc. Also, as a performer, you’re looking at other people’s choices. You’re looking at the editorial decisions, if what you’d hope for in pre-production got realized. Like the suit! You hope that works.
John Wick is in theaters on October 24th.