In preparation for the release of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (opening May 17, 2019), cast members: Halle Berry, Keanu Reeves, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Riddick, Ian McShane, and director Chad Stahelski, all joined the NYC press conference to talk about the highly anticipated film.
Can you talk about the complicated relationship you have with John Wick?
Mark Dacascos: “Well, it’s interesting because of course the adjudicator assigns me the with the task of taking John Wick out and in Zero’s mind, he absolutely is capable and will do it, however, he’s also a huge John Wick fan. And it was interesting for me to play it and very fun because I myself am a huge Keanu Reeves fan, so all I had to do really, quite a fluid and organic transition, was take that energy that I had for Keanu and put it into Zero’s skin and voila — we have the killer and the guy who loves Mr. Wick.”
What does it mean for you to be involved in this movie?
Asia Kate Dillon: “You know, I feel incredibly proud as a non-binary identifying person to be playing a non-binary identifying character. It’s such a huge franchise that has an international fan base. Visibility and representation are incredibly crucial. Not only does this film accurately represent the diversity of the world, the first two movies do that incredibly well, you have people of all different shapes, sizes, colors, different ethnicities. And now adding gender diversity to this film I think is a really important step in the movement forward for visibility and representation for historically marginalized communities. It’s a credit to Chad and Keanu that they are forward-thinking and we’re open to the character being that and so for me it’s an honor.”
Keanu Reeves: “I love the high table, the idea. So in the first one, we went to The Continental and the second one we came with the high table and the idea of a marker expanding the universe and in chapter 3, we kind of go a little bit more into the high table so we have the adjudicator, the idea of the elder. These ideas kind of came up before we started to go with the script, so they were conceptualized, just like Chad wanted ninjas, and I’m like, ninja? Ok. And then I said the adjudicator and then we also see some of John Wick’s history. So by opening up the idea of the high table, we could introduce other characters and introduce other characters that are bound to the systems that’ve been introducing, the rules. The high table is also almost an extension of the rules, it’s almost handing over your soul, your personhood. And with that, we could also keep the marker and we could introduce characters like Sophia that are moving in all of those [sorts]…. She’s running a continental, I have her marker and she’s working for people in the high table. And I’m looking to get out so what do I do? I’m going to go to Sophia. So it was fun to create the situations that were organic to the plot. So that’s what’s really fun for me participating and collaborating with Chad and being in these films.”
What are the challenges as actors jumping into an existing franchise, third film in, where there’s already an established world and established characters?
Asia Kate Dillon: “Coming into the film as a fan of the first two, was incredibly exciting. Everyone is these movies, they are all bringing their best game. So they’re challenging anyone who’s joining this team to bring their best game as well. And that’s a standard that I hold myself to personally. So for me, the chance to do something that was emotionally challenging, physically challenging with other people who are working at the top of their game, I know is only going to make me better at what I do. So for me it’s a win-win situation.”
Halle Berry: “Well I approached it just wanting to earn the right to be in the same room with Keanu. Because he was one of the reasons I loved the series because he did all that fighting himself. And I knew that and so, it was a lot of pressure. But when I thought about my character, I thought I wanted her to be a force of nature to deal with. As a woman, I thought that was a really important message that we send with this film and this character. Being a woman of color, being a woman of a certain age, I thought it was really important that she be fierce. But also, the way I saw my character was like earth mother and I tried to incorporate that even in action. And Chad has taught me through this experience, it’s not the drama and the action, but it’s all connected, so even while performing the action, there’s so much drama in the action and the reality of what’s really happening. And I also love the way Chad choreographed my scenes. I was a real woman who happened to be talented, smart and capable but she’s still a woman. And the truth is, men just sort of out muscle women. They’re bigger and often stronger, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t be fierce competitors with them and so every fight that I got into, I handled it as I really would for someone my size and I had to foil the men in a way a woman would, taking nothing against women, but we have to use everything we have in our awareness of who we are to the best of our abilities. Having those dogs actually gave her that edge that kind of equaled the playing field. The things that she didn’t have physically, she had these dogs to sort of put her on equal footing with all the men in the movie.”
Mark Dacascos: “I, too was a fan of John Wick one and two. And actually my wife who is not an action film fan saw the movies first and she loved them. And she said you gotta see this. Of course, I did, and I, too became a huge fan and so when the opportunity came with Chad’s phone call, I said yes before I even read the script. I mean, to jump into a show that is so loved by so many people with top notch, stellar, warm-welcoming, gracious, kind, humble cast, and hard-working crew, it was a joy. It was a privilege and an honor.”
What was it like to have a bit more fun and action in this installment of John Wick?
Lance Reddick: “It was just fun. The funny thing about it is, when I saw Chad, it might have been my first-day filming, ironically we were shooting my last scene in the film, and he said, ‘how are you doing?’ And I said, ‘good, I wish I had more [action].’ And he said, ‘wait for the third one, the third one you’re going to have more [action].’ So when I got the call to do the third one, I actually got a call to schedule gun training before I even got the script. So I said oh I guess I am going to be doing more. So yeah, it was good.”
About the responses from audiences…
Asia Kate Dillon: “You have this man who is emotional, vulnerable and really fighting for his life. Fighting to get back to and find a new way of being alive since he has lost these, you know he’s gone through these great losses. And I think we’ve all lost something. So we can immediately identify with him, then we find out he used to be an assassin, so the way he seeks revenge is particular to his situation, but you’re already on his side, so there’s that. But then the film, also particularly this one, is dealing with major philosophical questions: every action has a consequence whether it’s good or bad. You’re going to have to pay for what you’ve done in the end. There are rules, do we break them, do we adhere to them? Not only does this film take you somewhere else for a couple of hours but it leaves you asking questions that we all think about. Life, death, and so it really achieves everything that I go to the movies hoping to get out of movies.”
How much freedom did you have as an actor to improv on screen?
Mark Dacascos: “In developing Zero for example, the one particular scene when we find out that Zero is a bit of a fanboy, before our takes, Chad asked Keanu and I [and said], ‘before I direct you, why don’t you guys give me what you feel, and we’ll work from there.’ So we were able to go in there and give him our take, and improv and play and tweak, and from there developed the character and the relationship.”
Can you talk about your preparation process for the film?
Ian McShane: “Everybody has their own way of working, so I think the respect of the other actors, when new actors come into it, it’s like guest stars on a TV show. They’re there to spice up your show. I’m glad about this movie because [my relationship with Lance’s character] comes more to the forefront. We actually never met before in the [previous] movies; we speak to each other on the phone and [our characters] meet in this movie. And by him breaking out into his action mode, you get to know something about him.”
On choreographing the fight scenes…
Chad Stahelski: “When we choreograph, it starts with the character and what we’re trying to create. It always comes down to the most based denominator, which is the cast, the people actually doing the choreography. It doesn’t work without the actual performer. Just like a great ballet. So months and months and months and months of prep for the performer to do, elongated takes, no cuts, and if you look at the logistics of some of those sequences dogs, horses, motorcycles, we try to immerse the audience in sort of like a live performance vibe like you guys watching us right now. But again it can only be done when you have a certain amount of commitment that doesn’t exist too often. So thanks to these two here, that’s how we got through.”
On training for becoming the queen of the hounds…
Halle Berry: “Well, first of all, the training was like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my whole career. And I had done a few action movies before. I trained for Catwoman and learned Capoeira, I had [also] done Storm, and I was a gymnast as a teenager/child, so I had a great base, but I was not prepared. Well, I was prepared because I saw Keanu doing it. After I saw John Wick 2, I researched how they did this and I saw many videos of Keanu and his training, so I knew how hard it was, it’s just to be in it that was life-changing. I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder, or longer to prepare for a part in a movie. I learned parts of jiu-jitsu on Keto, I learned how to fire a gun. I never worked with firearms, really in that way before. I became a dog trainer, I mean, I went through the gamut. To answer your question, I don’t have a black belt or anything, I didn’t get any belts in this training, but I will tell you this, if someone thought they were going to snatch MY purse on the street, they better think again [laughter].”
On the training with the dogs…
Halle Berry: “I trained with them for about five or six months. They were always the last part of my training after I had done the fighting with Chad and the guys, I’d go hang out with the dogs. It was the best part. They are really smart. I worked with five of them. My two main dogs had a stand-in each. And each dog had their own personality and was good at certain things, some snarled good, some bit well, some jumped higher than the others, some liked to just sit and look pretty, so it just all depended, but it was the most enjoyable part of the day actually because I am a huge animal/dog lover.”
On not using CGI in the film…
Chad Stahelski: “I’m certainly not against digital effects. I’m not against using them to make things safer or more elaborate or bigger. Just for John Wick, we’ve always considered the action to be character based; we’ve always considered it to be more of a live performance, that’s why you see, again, the longer takes and the wide angles that we use. We want it to be immersive. All three of us have gone to the Wachowski school of filmmaking at some point. The Matrix was a big influence on me, about how Wachowski really built their world of The Matrix. That sunk in for everything from a prop, to a set to lighting. So one of most the immersive ways we use in John Wick is through the action–to ground it and then we see Halle and Keanu doing it, you quickly dismiss that there’s a separation between character and cast. They’re doing it as you see them so that you can actually believe that John Wick and Sophia will be able to do them. I think it’s very immersive. When you go to a live theater or you watch a ballet, you’re not looking for stunt doubles, you’re not looking for wires, you’re not looking for CGI or cuts. You sit back and relax and you watch the performance–human beings doing cool stuff. That’s just the attitude we took. You’re going to see cool humans doing cool things and hopefully, that’ll immerse you into the character and their world.”
What did you learn about yourself that you were surprised to learn?
Halle Berry: “Just surviving the training taught me that I can probably do just about anything. I broke three ribs in my training and I worked probably five weeks with three broken ribs before I knew they were broken. Then I came back even better and stronger after breaking those ribs so this process really taught me what I’m made of and it was really good for me to learn that.”
What did you learn from each other?
Keanu Reeves: “Our characters have, in the script, a really connected past and with that past, really connected to actions and consequences in the film. And as artists you go into the back story and you want to fill what’s coming behind the moment that you’re presenting and I thought that it wasn’t that a new thing learned but certainly an appreciation to sit across from Halle, to do our scenes together where it was such a pleasure to play that past that was unspoken that was informing our [acting]. And that doesn’t always happen to that level.”
What do you think gives movie-goers the anticipation and enthusiasm as the franchise continues?
Chad Stahelski: “I think that Keanu and I did the first one and we finished, we didn’t really expect a sequel, and when we got asked to do the second one, we were very interested and we said well let us think together and we’ll talk about it and come up with something we’d like to do and do it. In any case, we were always willing to walk away if we didn’t have more of the world that we wanted to share but every time we’ve come back to the table, Keanu has just had a ton of ideas and we thought we both could spend more time with the character. I think that’s kind of the magic even now we will see how this one goes, see how you guys like. That’s why we keep choosing to come back with all the options out there, it’s fun, there’s no limits, we’re allowed to create our own mythology, it’s not anything other than original…I don’t think we have any expectation about trying to push through a franchise or anything like that. It’s just an interesting story, there’s ethos there with the characters that everybody loves and there’s mythologies that I think are attractive to most. We have our twisted sense of chivalry, our code of ethics, our world-building elements and we all like dogs, horses, and Kung Fu.”