Keanu Reeves

John Wick Chapter 4 Interview: Chad Stahelski On Oscar Chances, Franchise Future & Highlander

John Wick: Chapter 4 director Chad Stahelski talks the movie's Oscars campaign, the franchise's future and his Highlander reboot with Henry Cavill.


  •  John Wick: Chapter 4 expands the franchise’s world through multiple storylines, introducing new characters and locations.
  •  Director Chad Stahelski reflects on his time with the franchise, expressing awe and gratitude for its success.
  •  Stahelski credits his experiences working with acclaimed directors and stunt professionals for shaping his approach to filmmaking and his ability to push boundaries.

Keanu Reeves’ iconic action franchise has seen its biggest installment yet with John Wick: Chapter 4. The latest installment saw the eponymous assassin squaring against the Marquis du Graumont in the hopes of finally escaping the High Table’s thumb while also contending with multiple assassins hunting him down.

Alongside Reeves, John Wick: Chapter 4‘s ensemble cast included Ian McShane, Bill Skarsgård, Donnie Yen, Shamier Anderson, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, Rina Sawayama, Clancy Brown and Hiroyuki Sanada. Helmed again by franchise starter Chad Stahelski, the sequel seemingly closes the book on Wick while paving the way for future stories in the universe.

In honor of the movie’s Oscars campaign, Screen Rant interviewed director Chad Stahelski to discuss John Wick: Chapter 4, the movie’s award chances, the franchise’s legacy and future, and the development of Henry Cavill’s Highlander reboot and Ghost of Tsushima movie adaptation.

Chad Stahelski On John Wick: Chapter 4, Oscars & Future

Chad Stahelski and Bill Skarsgård on John Wick Chapter 4 set

Screen Rant: I’m so excited to talk with you about John Wick: Chapter 4, it’s probably my favorite in the franchise. It’s crazy to think that we are almost a decade in now in this franchise, and of course, you and Keanu go back farther than that. How does it feel for you reflecting back on your time with this character and with Keanu after Chapter Four?

Chad Stahelski: It’s pretty surreal. [Chuckles] I saw Keanu last week, the studio’s doing a documentary on the whole series. For us, we were very excited, so it was just like, “Work, work, work, work,” and try not to mess up too bad and try to make cool stuff that we would enjoy. It wasn’t until, like, last week, we hadn’t seen Chapter Four in a few months, and we definitely hadn’t seen all of it together, they had us watch a lot of the clips of all four movies just right after the other. I’m like, “Oh, my God, we shot a lot of stuff.” [Laughs]

You know, “We’ve been all over the world, we did all this stuff.” And then you’ll see an ad for the movie, or you’ll see it on the airplanes, and you kind of take a surreal moment to go, “Wow.” I think, in answer to your question, when I was talking to Keanu last Friday, you’re a little in awe, it’s kind of a little disbelief. Like, for me, it’s the first time through all this stuff, because it’s the only things I’ve directed, and you have someone that’s as humble and wise as Keanu. He’s had his career go all over the place, he’s had his ups and downs and his moments.

He said something very nice last week about this has been one of the nicest experience he’s ever had in is his career, and it’s not like this on all of them. I just assumed, “Ah, you’re Keanu Reeves. It’s all smooth sailing, right?” But he’s very realistic in how much he’s enjoyed doing the franchise, and just what a rare occurrence it is when you have a fan base, or you at least have audience reactions that seem to like what you’re doing and want to get behind the character a little bit. It’s very satisfying, it’s good to know that all the work you put in, people like it, because we like what we do. Yeah, it’s a different kind of experience, for sure.

I’m glad that you’ve got to have that throughout these years, and I love that Keanu has been as receptive to it as you have. Speaking of this being really your first directing gig across these four movies, you’ve worked with so many acclaimed directors during your stunt years, I’m curious if there was anyone who you really looked to, whether it be just for general inspiration, or for words of wisdom, when you were coming into this franchise to direct?

Chad Stahelski: A lot for sure. In answer to your question, like, look, I’ve been super fortunate, and if you look at my my resume of stunts and second unit from Albert Pyun, way back when I started, to John Carpenter, to Barry Levinson, David Fincher, to the Wachowskis, to Zack Snyder, to James Mangold, Guy Ritchie, Louis Leterrier, Francis Lawrence. I mean, the list just keeps going. [Chuckles] Gary Ross, M. Night Shyamalan, it goes on and on. I’ve had great pieces of advice from some of the best second-unit directors, action directors, Yuen Woo-ping, one of the greatest action directors of all time. I’ve worked with Wong Kar-wai, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, I mean, Sammo Hung, Chow Yun-fat.

I mean, it’s pretty insane list, that makes me laugh more than actually being a director, and when you see who all the people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with, the little pieces I’ve got from each of them — I guess I spent the biggest part of time with the Wachowskis during the Matrix trilogy, the original trilogy. So that, I think, hit me not just because of who they were and what the Matrix really was, it’s just that for whatever reason, that fit my natural esthetics. I didn’t know at the time, but I love color, I love palettes, I love composition, I love world building like they did, they exposed me to it, and they showed me how well it could be done. I think they’ve always provided the inspiration and what I aspire to be as a filmmaker, somebody that can take that kind of authorship over an original piece of property and make it.

You talk to anybody that came out of the Matrix, we call it the Wachowski Film School, which was actually like the Bill Pope film school, the Owen Paterson, like all these great department heads that were very established. When the Wachowskis started, they gave a lot of knowledge to the Wachowskis and had equal parts of creating The Matrix. So it’s not just the Wachowskis, it was th crews I worked with at that time, to see what you could really do. That’s always been something to stay by, the work ethic, just the capabilities of what moviemaking can be, like, there’s no limits. Once you truly understand that imagination is as far as you can go, when you realize how far passion can take you, and how important you can realize that your crew is, and your ability to transfer what’s in here [points to head] to your group, if you can master those simple things, you can do anything. It’s pretty incredible what they teach.

There’s cool little sayings I can talk to you about, or there’s just — when you witness these kinds of people work, it’s not telling you some little fortune cookie wisdom, it’s showing you the capabilities of what is possible. The impossible is possible and just don’t give in to probability. [Chuckles] But you’re actually seeing it happen in front of you, and that’s always been the biggest inspiration anybody could give you, right?

It’s through their actions they show you what’s capable, so I guess when it comes time to do your own thing, you know, we have this tiny little budget we’ve got Keanu Reeves, we’ve got our little stunt team, and a lot of favors that we’ve called in on the first John Wick and we just knew that we’re not going to sleep, we’re not going to stop until we utilize every little piece of knowledge we can to pull it off. [Chuckles] I know that seems very obtuse, but it was more about having an opportunity, not any one sitting, but just to be around those kinds of people. I mean, when I say around, that’s anywhere from a month to a year. The Wachowskis was almost 10 years, so you can imagine what we’ve witnessed in our days.

Chad Stahelski, Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves on John Wick Chapter 4 set

I love that you were able to absorb as much as you could from those experiences with everybody. Now, in looking specifically at John Wick: Chapter Four, I wanted to touch on your worldbuilding note, because this movie feels like it breaks open the world the most out of any of the sequels have so far. Was that the goal when putting this together, to really open the door for future stories, even if not John specifically, compared to the previous ones?

Chad Stahelski: I don’t think it was the goal, I think it was part of the necessary methodology to allow the story we wanted to tell to go. If you look at the structure of the first three John Wicks, the actual storytelling structure’s a little different, but we always stay with John. Very rarely will you see me cut away to another storyline or another character that didn’t absolutely, necessarily have to happen. In John Wick 4, we changed structure, meaning we had a lot of other storylines. We had Hiroyuki Sanada’s storyline, we had Bill Skarsgård storyline, we had Shamier Anderson’s storyline, Rina Sawayama’s storyline. We had all these different things going on with Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, we had all this stuff going on.

And in order to do that, by necessity, you have to have different chunks of the world you’d have to expand out. So, I think to accommodate what we wanted to tell of the story, it naturally grew, depth wise. The world building, if we just went, “We’re going to tell more story,” you’ve seen that in other franchises or other movies, right? Sometimes it feels fluffy, like, “Why are you showing me over here?” We tried never to go somewhere we didn’t want you to see for a reason, and we were trying to tailor fit that to our characters. So again, I think the world building — while cool and I love it — was just a byproduct of bringing those characters in from those different parts to support what we’re trying to tell of the three storylines that were circulating.

Well, I love the way they all mesh together, especially Caine, I cannot say enough how much I loved him.

Chad Stahelski: Yeah, everybody loved Donnie Yen. [Chuckles]

I loved him! But I love Mr. Nobody as well, he’s such a great and charismatic character to watch. You’ve talked before about how Caine you would love to see get a further storyline in this franchise, obviously Ballerina‘s coming up as well, The Continental just came out. Is there any other character who you would really love to help grow further within this franchise?

Chad Stahelski: Some characters are fantastic, and I know everybody wants to see a lot from the first, second, third, fourth, whatever. Some characters are great in their spots, because they’re — when I say supporting characters, I don’t mean on the cast list, I mean they’re great to support the storyline we’re doing. Like I love the world of the homeless, I love The Bowery King’s world, if there’s ways to tie that together to its own thing, I don’t know what that is yet. I like the worlds we haven’t explored yet, like I love China. I love Hong Kong. I love the idea of tongs and triads, and all the history of Kung Fu and all this, there’s a world there to be explored.

And that’s something I think we’re [trying to do], we’re currently developing the John Wick TV show now, I think these worlds are going to be explored there. I love Rina Sawiyama’s character, I like the hint of that, I would love to see the prequel to Halle Berry’s character in the third one. I love, love, love Jimmy the cop, I love Charlie, David Patrick Kelly’s character, the cleaner. I love John Leguizamo’s Aurelio in the first one. There’s these cool little worlds that haven’t been poked or prodded enough, I think. Now to do their own thing, I don’t know, but I’d like to bring them back in other storylines, and I think that’s why we’re so interested an so game to do a TV show, is to bring all these people in and about the world.

Ian McShane and Chad Stahelski on John Wick Chapter 4 set

I would love to see something like a Warrior-type TV show set in the John Wick world, I think would be such a fascinating idea.

Chad Stahelski: Yeah, I think that’d be pretty cool too. I mean, every culture has got [something cool]. I love the martial arts thing, so I love bringing in the martial arts styles. If I can make that with the criminal organizations and the actual cultures, between the Italians, the French, the Japanese, Chinese, the Middle East, the Indonesians, the Russians, there’s ways to play with all these cultures.

I couldn’t agree more, and I think there’s going to be so many different routes for you to take in the future with this. One thing I wanted to highlight, since you mentioned the color palette earlier, I still adore the shot of John with the sunrise in the background at the very end of the movie, it is, I think, one of the greatest hero shots in any movie. What was one shot, whether it be him at the Japanese Continental, or him in that shootout, wherever, that you felt was really important for you to nail just right during filming this?

Chad Stahelski: Off the top of my head, I would say the very first time you see John in Osaka, standing with the cherry blossoms blowing, the big wide shot, he’s got his back to us. winds blowing, you have the Kurosawa music going underneath there with the cello. I really wanted that, really bad, to show where this guy was in this spot. I think I really wanted the rack focus on Keanu [when Rina comes in] and like she’s profiling, “Everything you’re doing here is wrong and you’re gonna kill my father.” I thought that was very, very important.

One thing, I love the reveal of Bill Skarsgård in his little office against the setting sun, I thought that was pretty important how I wanted to reveal my new villain. And I’m with you, I like John Wick at the stairs at the very end. I think that was one of the most important things you could do, John at the end looking out into the sunrise. Let me think — oh there’s one, it’s a weird little shot, it may not be the most aesthetically, but when Hiroyuki Sanada tells John that they executed his concierge, there’s this little head tilt Keanu does. You can tell he’s like, “F–k.” I like that John showing that he’s really bummed, and then the realization that he caused his friend’s death, I think that was one of the most important close ups I did.

I think Keanu has nailed the art of subtlety throughout these four movies.

Chad Stahelski: He’s a big-screen actor, man, he’s got the eyebrow lift. I play with eyes a lot, especially with Keanu, I always show one eye when he reveals, Dan Laustsen and I do a lot of three-quarter lighting on him. The one-eye shot, the one-eye profile. I think Keanu stays very curious, but he stays very ingrained into how we’re shooting. He’s very good at understanding the cinematic language, like what I’m trying to edit how we light, so he’s always checking out the monitors going, “Okay,” and I think he modifies the style to what I’m trying to do with the camera. So, you don’t have to tell Keanu Reeves, when I put on a, like, 100-mil anamorphic lens, he knows he’s going into eye look, he’s got these little subtleties and tells, which say a lot. Again, Keanu couldn’t be a better collaborative partner, he’s fantastic like that.

Keanu Reeves and Chad Stahelski on John Wick Chapter 4 set

He truly is. One thing that amazes me about this movie, in a good way, is I love that you guys are pushing for Oscars consideration for this.

Chad Stahelski: I was pretty impressed. I don’t know if people know how it works, but it’s up to the studios to push forward, and they put up the money, and the time, and they get the whole crews together to help promote the film to the Academy members and to the public. You know what? It’s so funny, I made this joke before because stunts don’t have their own Oscar. I think that, I don’t know if you remember back to Bullitt, or any of these other great films, do you know what Bullitt was nominated for?

I want to say it was Best Sound.

Chad Stahelski: Best Sound and Best Editing. It seems those are the default. [Chuckles] If you think a movie’s got really good action over the last 100 years, you put them up for Best Sound, or Best Editing, it’s pretty funny. But I think that’s changing, the Academy has been super helpful in the last year to move things forward. I really think within two years we’ll have an Academy Award for stunts, they just need to figure out the hows, not so much the whys, everybody’s good with the whys. It’s a little bit flattering, but look, I’m really proud.

I know action movies always have this stigma around them about it’s not this or that or whatever. I will put up my cinematographer, Dan Laustsen, I’ll put it on my production designer, Kevin Kavanaugh, my sound teams, I’ll put up my wardrobe and makeup teams, I’ll put my stunt teams against anybody out there. I think Chapter Four, whether you like the story, like the movie, you don’t like the movie, you don’t like my directing, you like my directing, you think it’s too much, it’s over the top. Technically, as far as some of the craftsmanship goes, I’m like, “Sure, bring it, man.” When it comes to my crew, I’m an incredibly arrogant person, I think I have crews that work so hard and do a fantastic job. “You can pick on me, but don’t pick on my crew.”

I’m really proud of them, I’m really proud of my crew and what they did. Like a lot of actions, I think the crews work just as hard, if not harder, than a lot of other genres, and when you do good work, it’s good work, it shouldn’t matter the genre. So, the fact that the studio saw that and they realize, between the lighting, the editing, my sound, all that stuff, it’s like, “Yeah, those people should be recognized.” I’m very stoked about that, it’s kind of cool, man. And there’s nothing better than when you get to call up one of the department heads and going, “Hey man, the studio is pushing for this, so if you wouldn’t mind giving them your information.”

And some of them, like Dan Laustsen has been around way longer than me, he was like, “Are you really? Really?” He’s all humble about it. Anyone that I’ve worked with in this industry that’s really good does it because they’re super passionate about it, and when they get a call up to do John Wick, they know I’m passionate about it, so we have like minds. And you want to do something good and create something pretty, something beautiful, something to be proud of. So when someone else sees that in your work, that’s flattering. That’s pretty cool.

I spoke with Dan last week and I loved how much of a team player he wanted to be for this movie.

Chad Stahelski: Everyone I just mentioned, from Nate Orloff to Evan Schiff, my editors from the previous ones and this one, Kevin Kavanaugh, my production designer, to Louise Rosner, my line producer — who they don’t give awards to anyways, either. They all have a lot of stake in these things. It’s, “A film by Chad Stahelski starring Keanu Reeves,” but there isn’t one of them that hasn’t left a significant amount of their own DNA on the property, and I don’t know if it would have been the same movie without any one of those.

Well, I’m glad that you found them throughout the ride of this franchise, they’ve all brought incredible work to it. Before I let you go, I did want to look away from this franchise for a couple of final questions. As a big Highlander fan, I’m so excited that Lionsgate is finally on board for you and Henry Cavill’s take on it.

Chad Stahelski: Yeah, we’ll see. Hopefully that’ll happen. [Chuckles]

Characters in Highlander II: The Quickening with static energy in their hands.

Now, obviously, Henry’s recently got some high fantasy work with The Witcher, and there’s the original movies and show for Highlander. What is your vision for this property that you hope really helps set itself apart from previous efforts?

Chad Stahelski: If you’re a fan at all, you know about the TV shows and the mythology there, the things that worked in the feature aspect of the franchise, what didn’t. I would like to think that it has — I guess, I hope I’m bringing to it the realization of the potential that we all see in that franchise. Now, we probably don’t love all the other ancillary stuff that’s come out of it, but we love the potential of it.

There isn’t an episode of the TV show that I didn’t watch hoping for more or wanting more. That’s not to say they did a good or bad job, just that I want more. For whatever reason, 20 years later, I want more Highlander. I think that franchise with the mythology of people going through the centuries, and the burden of immortality as much as the wish fulfillment of immortality, you know, how you relate to people you love and don’t love, both mortal and immortal, and what you can do with that is some of the most romantic, interesting, existential stuff I’ve ever seen.

I think it’s a playground for everything that I love about the John Wick series, and everything that I can’t do in the John Wick series, because I’m dealing with mortals, so it gives me another realm to play in. So, I just look at it as a natural evolution of worldbuilding and potential behind that is more than any other property that I’m attached to. And I know that, so hopefully, that’s where I’ll put my energies and whatever talent I have.

Jin in Ghost of Tsushima prepares to draw his sword

I love that, it sounds so promising for when you do finally get to get this thing going. Another thing I wanted to ask about was, given how inspired by Japanese culture you are, and Keanu has been, with the John Wick franchise, I love Ghost of Tsushima, I’m so excited that you are hopefully getting to bring that to life soon as well. What’s the progress like on that?

Chad Stahelski: We have a script, we’re very close to getting our s–t together on that, as well. Development is always tricky, it’s studios, it’s strikes, and availabilities, and scouting. You have to will things into existence. I think the two things that I am closest and most interested in are Highlander and Ghost of Tsushima. Both amazing, amazing properties, the story of Ghost is, also, one of my favorite properties of all time.

About John Wick: Chapter 4

Following the events of Parabellum, John Wick has found a new path to defeating the High Table and is taking the fight to them. But before he can try to earn his freedom, a powerful new enemy will turn even more people against Wick, including one of his oldest and most dangerous friends.

Check out our other John Wick: Chapter 4 interviews here:

  • Keanu Reeves
  • Laurence Fishburne
  • Chad Stahelski (Pre-Release)
  • Ian McShane & Lance Reddick
  • Scott Adkins
  • Natalia Tena
  • Writers Shay Hatten & Michael Finch
  • Marko Zaror
  • Stunt Coordinators Scott Rodgers & Steven Dunlevy

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