To play a character rumored to have once killed three men in a bar with a pencil, Keanu Reeves went through three months of John Wick boot camp: intensive training in martial arts, gun work, fight choreography and stunt driving.
Action propels the story in John Wick: Chapter 2, in theatres February 17, with Reeves reprising his role as the title character: an unflappable and inventive assassin reluctantly drawn into an international criminal underworld. Returning director Chad Stahelski knows his star and material well: Stahelski is a former stunt coordinator who doubled for Reeves in The Matrix movies.
“Chad is so interested in not just action, but the character in the action, and what’s the storytelling,” Reeves said in a recent interview. “In the second (film), I really fought for getting the pencil fight. It was talked about in the first one and I was like, ‘Guys, we gotta do a pencil fight!’”
So add pencil training to that boot-camp regimen.
Reeves’ preparation for the sequel built on his action-star past and skills he learned for the original Wick film, including training in judo and jiu-jitsu.
There are more guns in Chapter 2, so the actor spent countless hours drawing, shooting and reloading various firearms.
“Basically just take the gun home, start walking around, practice spying rooms, practice your draws,” he said. “And with John Wick, it’s practice your reloads, transitions from weapon to weapon, footwork, and then kind of coming up with the John Wick style.”
Reeves trained with a champion marksman and logged months of live-round practice to develop it.
As with the original, John Wick’s prized 1969 Mustang Fastback plays a central role in the sequel, so Reeves had to also ratchet up his driving skills.
“In the second one, they actually let me be in a car and drive into another car,” he said with joy in his voice. “I was surprised about that. They said, ‘Get in the car, drive backward 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.”
Most of the driving tricks, though - which stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott refers to as “car fu, where we use the car as a weapon” - were handled by Reeves’ driving instructor and behind-the-wheel stunt double, Jeremy Fry.
Five ‘69 Mustangs were used in filming, Fry said, “and then we just smashed them all. It was really a little heart-wrenching to see it.” Many other vehicles, including a motorcycle and fleet of New York taxicabs, meet the same fate in the film.
Reeves was John Wick before any of his stunt training began. Friends with Stahelski since their Matrix days, the actor brought him the script for 2014’s John Wick and encouraged Stahelski to make it his directorial debut.
Reeves was drawn to the mysterious environment and compelling central character: “I love his will, his passion. I love the depth of his feeling. I like his honour. I like how he fights for his life. I like his sense of humour.”
He’d gladly go back to his “boot camp” for a third time.
“I love all the training,” Reeves said. “I’d love to play the character again. I’m curious to see what happens to him.”
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