Following the success of the original John Wick, Keanu Reeves has reprised the role of the world’s most feared assassin for a second time. He tells Susan Griffin what he loves about the movies and whether he’ll be back for round three
The John Wick movies do not scrimp on full-throttle fight sequences.
It’s part of the thrill for audiences, and also Keanu Reeves, who relished the opportunity to reprise the titular character for the sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2.
“I love playing him and I love the world of John Wick,” says the Hollywood star, who rose to fame in the late Eighties in Dangerous Liaisons and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
“I love the heightened world, and the underground world and the various characters. And I love the way the director [Chad Stahelski] shoots action. [He uses] longer takes and lets me play the role and connect with the audience and character.”
Reeves, sporting longer hair and stubble, and wearing jeans and a T-shirt beneath a suit jacket, doesn’t look like he’s aged since the likes of 1991’s Point Break and 1994’s Speed. But, at 52, he admits “it’s some serious action” that’s required of him, which does take its toll.
“You know where I feel it the most is probably in the recovery aspect of it,” he says, in his relaxed delivery.
“So yeah, definitely cold water baths and ice bags and heat. I do have to do a little more to recover.”
The original John Wick, also helmed by Stahelski, was a huge hit when it was released here in 2015.
Written by Derek Kolstad, who’s also penned the sequel, it told the tale of a man coming to terms with the death of his wife. Her last gift to him was a puppy and a reminder not to give up on love. When a criminal breaks into his house, takes his cherished car and kills his beloved dog, one of the world’s most notorious assassin’s is forced out of retirement and on the hunt for revenge.
The audience delighted in seeing Reeves back in uncompromising action mode and it was clear a follow-up was warranted.
“Producer Basil Iwanyk, Chad and myself had conversations about what direction we would like the story to go, both before Derek started to write and after he came in with the draft,” recalls Reeves, who was born in Beirut and raised in Toronto.
“In the second film, we wanted to expand the underworld, so we’ve introduced a new element. In the original we had the assassins guild known as The Continental, now we’ve added an association called the High Table, where all the different organised crime groups from around the world have a seat,” he explains.
This time, Wick’s forced out of retirement by a former associate plotting to seize control of this shadowy international guild, and bound by a blood oath, he has no choice but to help him.
“The fact that John Wick is obligated to honour this past debt shifts the film’s focus from the revenge-at-any-cost motif of the original, to the notion that even in the underworld, actions have ramifications,” notes executive producer David Leitch.
“In the original, John Wick lives in a world where there don’t seem to be any consequences for killing people. In the sequel, Wick’s violent past catches up with him and the hitman pays dearly for his crimes.”
Fellow producer Erica Lee highlights the fact Reeves “is one of those rare actors who both women and men love”.
“For a hitman, the way Keanu plays him, John Wick generates enormous empathy and we wanted to make sure the journey in our sequel kept audiences rooting for him,” she says.
And so the audience witnesses Wick try and protect the gentler aspects he’s embraced since retiring, but is unable to do so because of the debt.
“John Wick has given a marker to this character Santino, played by Riccardo Scamarcio,” Reeves explains.
“According to the rules, if the bearer of the marker comes to you and wants to cash it in and you don’t do what they want, you die. If you kill the bearer of your marker, you die. So John has a problem.”
Stahelski, who acted as Reeves’ stunt double on The Matrix trilogy, encouraged the actor to emphasise those opposing facets of Wick’s personality.
“In the assassin persona, he doesn’t feel remorse. The difference is that John Wick used to fight for other people. And now John Wick is fighting for his own independence,” notes the director.
Stahelski and Reeves weren’t the only people on set to hail from The Matrix days.
Laurence Fishburne, who starred as Morpheus in the blockbuster trilogy, makes an appearance in the sequel.
“We became friends working together, but it was the first time we got to work together since then,” says Reeves.
“He’s playing this epic character, The Bowery King, who John Wick is going to ask for help, but maybe he’s going to kill me instead of help me. That was a really great couple of days to work with him.”
The actor was also reunited with the rapper and actor Common, with whom he starred in the 2008 action movie Street Kings. He admits they took great pleasure in ramping up their characters’ rivalry.
“Common and I are playing them as having a bit of a past, but it’s professional,” comments Reeves. “Even when they’re fighting to the death, they have a salty-dog kind of respect for each other. Once they get onto the neutral ground of The Continental [hotel], they can sit down, have a drink and talk about life.”
Another person he goes toe-to-toe with is Ruby Rose, star of Orange Is The New Black, who plays Ares, head of security for Santino.
“You know, once you’re in John Wick world and you’re trying to kill me, that’s just it, it doesn’t matter [if you’re male or female],” he remarks of the pair’s epic action scene.
“I think that fight’s a good fight. It’s also pretty brutal.”
The end of the film begs for a follow-up and Reeves is in.
“I mean yeah, if the audience enjoys what we did, then it would be great,” he says.
“Personally, I would love to do a chapter three. I want to know what happens to that guy.”
:: John Wick: Chapter 2 is out now