Most of Chad Stahelski’s press obligations for John Wick: Chapter 4 were over by the time we learned of the great Lance Reddick’s passing. For reasons that don’t matter, my interview with the director had been delayed until Wednesday and I assumed, given the circumstances — which were totally understandable — it wouldn’t happen.
But I did wind up talking to Stahelski and I asked if he wanted to talk about Reddick’s passing — and if he didn’t, again, completely understandable. It turns out Stahelski did want to talk about Reddick and had a lot to say about this man that he obviously so admired and is still trying to process what happened. But what he relayed to us are really great stories that I’m really happy he shared.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t first bring up Lance Reddick. What you wanted to say. If you want to say anything or not. If you don’t, that’s fine too. I understand.
Oh no, of course. I’ll just start from the beginning. When Dave Leitch and I were doing the first (John Wick movie), Lance is one of the first people we cast, obviously after Keanu, of course. We were big fans of his from The Wire. We had never met him, but you can remember this is back in 2013, we hadn’t directed anything yet. We were just second unit stunt guys coming in. And think back for a second about the first John Wick, let me sum it up for you: “So let me get this straight. You want to do a Keanu Reeves movie about an assassin in retirement, comes out of retirement, kills 86 people over a puppy. His wife is going to die, but she never dies on camera.” John Wick doesn’t read well on paper. When you’re going out to sell this, it’s Dave and I on the phone trying to convince people that we’re going to do something cool. That it’s going to be something different.
Right, it was literally your first movie.
We’re out there in the ether. We’re asking somebody to give a good five months of their life and risk their career. To Lance’s credit, when we explained it, we were like, “Look, it’s not just the concierge. This has got a Greek mythological overtone to it, so you are literally reading the character Charon to be like Charon from the river Styx.” Lance, he sat there and he looked up and goes, “I get it. I’m in.” It was that fast. And we’re like, “Oh, this directing thing is not going to be that hard!”
Oh yeah, smooth sailing from here on out. But that’s a great story.
Lance, for that tone that he created, because Lance is a very kinetic actor, to be that reserved and that zen? So Lance is a bit of a mentor. All the cast were in the first one, but Lance especially because he’s so easy to talk to. And he’s so infectious with his positive attitude. To actually direct someone that’s been your mentor at the same time, much like Keanu and Laurence Fishburne in the later ones, it’s been pretty incredible. So you find people that love what they do and if you love the same things they love, you’re usually going to get a pretty good result. That’s Lance.
And correct me if I’m wrong, but he had finished his work on Ballerina, is that right? He’s going to be in that still?
He has a role in that as well. Him and Ian McShane and Keanu. they all did roles in Ballerina.
That’s really cool to hear he got this movie right away.
I’m sure you’ve lost people…
You know what? You can go with the philosophy of being thankful of knowing him. You go through the sadness of it, and then you try to be empathetic with his family. I’ve known Stephanie for a while on and off. I met his family, so we feel terrible for them. But at the same time, we know Lance very, very well. Lance loves his job. You couldn’t get this man off set. He just loves to be on set meeting the crew and watching the process. He loved what he did every minute. So we found out about it. We had just gotten off the plane in Toronto, and we got hit with that phone call and you’re just like, “What? I just talked to him two days ago. We just saw him a week ago. We talked to him two days ago.”
And it hits you. It messes with your head. You’re supposed to be in this celebratory mode of promoting something that you just spent three years of your life on. And I’m very, very, very proud of my cast and my crew for the work they’ve done. Whether you like the movie, don’t like the movie? Whether you like what I do as a director or the tone? That’s apart from you cannot deny that my cast is fantastic in the movie. You cannot deny that my crew has done an amazing technical job. So you’re trying to really promote that and have that, and at the same time, you just realized someone that you were looking… [Pauses] Literally Lance and I high-fived each other four nights before going, “Now, I’ll see you in LA.”
And you share that. Because, now, we’re on the red carpet Monday night and it’s the first thing. As soon as you see Laurence Fishburne, it’s a hug. You see Shamier, it’s a hug. The first thing you do, every single cast member looked up and goes, “Fucking wish Lance was here.” Not one single person in the cast didn’t have that emotion.
I hope he knew how well people appreciated him as an actor. There’s been an outpouring of love for him on social media.
I hope he does, too. But Lance was… I mean, I would say all of them, no one’s in it for the accolades. I mean, it’s always nice to read a good review, I guess. It’s some kind of justification of why you spent so much of your life doing this job. But Lance did it for the work. He did it for the relationships. But everyone that worked with Lance – again, Keanu, Laurence, anybody in the cast – they loved working with him.
Well, I think for someone like me, or just any viewer, there’s something about his acting style that you feel a connection with. I think people connect with him in a way a lot of actors wish they could get that.
I mean, God, I wish I’d be so lucky when it’s my time just to have that kind of love and just to make people feel that connected. But I mean, that goes beyond that. On set, any day with Lance on set is a good day. We’d always joke, I’d jab him a little bit, “Are you ever not positive?” To your point, honestly, I think Lance had that much humility. Lance was a gentleman like a true gentleman in every sense of the word with etiquette and his humility. So I don’t know if he knows how connecting… I don’t know if he’s touched on that. Lance just tried to do two thing: be a great human and be a great artist. And I think that just comes across.
So there’s no great segue to go from a subject as emotional as that to back to the movie. But I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about it with you a little bit. You know this movie is better than the rest. Like, the Man with No Name movies are good, but now here’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
No, that was the roadmap. You just nailed it. Jesus, after we wrapped number three, or after number three had come out…. And then we’re just like, “Okay, we didn’t quite nail that one.” We didn’t feel like it was finished. We thought it was good…
Yeah, it is good. It’s really good, but this one is on a different level…
We just, look, well, it’s got to start with me. I have to be a better director. I have to have bigger ambitions. I’ve got to be brave. I’ve got to try. I got to be better at storytelling. I got to be a better writer. So we just went to work for the next year thinking if we could do it. It’s not about set pieces, it’s about different character perspectives. How do we have a story that when I’m not shooting people in the head, how do we make this more interesting?”
And we’re going to take this Good, The Bad, The Ugly model and kind of roll around into ethics and morality, and we’ll twist it in like that. Anyways, we just wanted to do something that was epic, but not just in look or scale, but in storytelling as well. And that’s hopefully, me and my crew, my cast, we all got a little better for the last one and collectively we got… If everybody gets this much better, you get a thousand people and you get that much better.
I’ve read you say the John Wick movies are on pause now. Obviously, this movie does end in a place where you could walk away. But I think you even said something like, “Unless people just go nuts for this one and we’ll see.” And that’s what seems to be happening. So it’s like, what do you want to do?
I can’t help but notice David Leitch has never directed a sequel… and you’ve only directed John Wick movies…
Yeah, no, everything you said is absolutely true. You got to remember, they see, just like myself at the time, you see Hollywood from the outside. You get all these things, like this is my first time here too. I’m not going to lie to you. We start off as this tiny little thing, and when we’re on sets, we still consider ourselves a tiny little action movie. Well, a couple of degrees off-center. We have weird methodologies, we have weird themes, we have obviously weird characters, a weird world, but it’s also so incredibly flattering when people want to see more of the stuff that’s coming out of your head.
Keanu and I look at them like love letters to things we love. Obviously, you’ll see The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. You see The Warriors? You see David Leitch? Lawrence of Arabia? You’ll see Crouching Tiger You see Tarantino, right? I mean, pick any film that we love!
I even saw a little Barry Lyndon at the end with the duel.
Sorry … you’re the first interview that got that with the rules of the duel. Thank you for noticing that.
Well, to be fair, I saw it on the big screen recently and it’s been on my mind.
No, that’s good. They all thought I was crazy! I’m like, “Nobody moves for the next day, so pick a comfortable spot. This is the way we’re doing it.”
Oh, yeah. I saw it right away. This is Barry Lyndon.
Look, it’s a new spot for me too. It’s always flattering. Yes, of course I have other ideas, but at the same time, I want to keep the mythology. There’s so much I can’t tell you! If you looked in this room and saw the stack of notebooks of John Wick ideas that didn’t make any of the films, we literally could write the most awesome TV series. We could write a series of films that doesn’t just involve Wick! And it seems like the studio’s very interested in what we have. So I’d like to continue it, but maybe with other mediums, the animation of video games or the TV show. If people were really that hungry for it, which couldn’t be more fortunate if they did, I’d like to stay involved and keep creating with that.
But at the same time, yeah, of course. I’m, again, so fortunate to be attached to so many other great things between Highlander and Rainbow Six and Ghost of Tsushima, these other TV shows I’m supposed to work on. That’s great. I mean, there’s only so many hours in the day, but I’m going to be a greedy bastard and try to do as much as I can. But make no mistake! Whether I did, or someone else did, or whatever my involvement is in the John Wick property, whatever you want to call it, I would be fortunate there’s someplace I want to keep a foot in at all times. I mean, I love it. You can tell…
So it sounds like what you’re saying is, “Yeah, I have other ideas for other stuff, but at the same time, if I made 20 successful John Wick movies and that’s my legacy, I’m fine with that.”
I think I’d already be happy. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, sir, I’d be pretty happy just to have the life I’ve had.
I’m out of time. I wanted to bring up Donnie Yen and how great he is too but…
I’ll give you a free 15 seconds.
Donnie Yen is awesome. He’s been a hero of mine since I was growing up. You know what it’s like the first time he comes on set?
No, I don’t. Tell me.
You walk up on set. He comes in for his first day, which is the fight scene with him and Keanu in the Japanese art room. Donnie comes in and Donnie’s so fast that we have to change the choreography. He’s not sped up at all in this movie. Like, him and Keanu were supposed to do the first little interactive. This choreo, it’s not going to work.
We don’t want to slow Donnie down. So we’re just going to make John Wick run away. No one’s going to believe it. So Keanu and I are like, “Well, John’s just going to run from it. Donnie’s going to do the cat and mouse.” But I actually got to stand up on set with Donnie and work moves out, so you’re actually touching hands. So I’m choreographing with him, with the camera guys, and I’m like in the middle, I just stopped and I’m like, Donnie’s like, “You okay?” I’m having a moment here where I’m like, “I’m choreographing with Donnie Yen.” You know what that’s like for somebody who’s been choreographing for 20 years and watched movies? I had a full fanboy meltdown. I actually took him on, we all started busting out laughing. I was like, “Hey, somebody get a picture of this. This is awesome.”
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