The world of John Wick is far more than just a playground through which star Keanu Reeves runs with guns: As established over four films (and soon to be expanded with additional spinoffs), the criminal underworld which the titular assassin navigates is rich with its own mythology and history, from the gold coins which serve as both currency and passport to the Continental hotels which populate major cities around the world. This means that when you ask the director of John Wick: Chapter 4 if John Wick, in his international travels, flies commercial… Stahelski has an answer.
“No, there’s actually Continental Airlines,” Chad Stahelski tells Consequence. “We actually wrote it into John Wick 2 — we actually had a cool way, with these shipping containers that are all tricked out, that are put on either on a boat or plane — they’re self-contained little condos. So we ended up cutting it out, but that’s how he travels. We’ve thought about that.”
It’s just one of thousands of details that Stahelski and his collaborators have been adding to Wick’s world since the beginning… Well, not technically since the beginning. When Stahelski began working on the first John Wick movie, how much of all this complicated world-building did he already have in his head? “Let me think… Absolutely none. Really, none,” he says.
The reason for that is simple: “The way my co-director at the time, Dave Leitch, and Keanu addressed it is like, ‘This is a one-off,'” he says. “We had a script that had an interesting idea. So we sat down with Derek Kolstad [writer of the first John Wick], and I gave him my Greek mythological overlay idea — we took this hotel idea and expanded it to be like, ‘We want a concierge, we want a manager and this is going to be like Mount Olympus and Ian’s going to be Zeus. And we’re going to have this guy named Chiron.’ We had that overlay.”
At the time, though, did he have any idea they were laying the groundwork for future installments? “Brutally honest, no,” Stahelski says. “We thought we were done. Dave and I were both like ‘Well, we’re never gonna direct again, so that was our one shot. Oops, we kind of blew it. We’re gonna go back to the second unit.’ We actually couldn’t afford to finish the edit so we went back to do some second-unit jobs. That’s where we were trying to finish the movie and then Basil Iwanyk from Thunder Road, our producer, managed to find enough money and to get us into Fantastic Fest down in Texas, where we actually screened the movie and the rest is history.”
Once the first film “did enough business that they said, ‘Hey, do you have any ideas for a second one?’ — that’s really when we went, ‘Okay.’ They told Keanu first and then he called us and went, ‘Hey, I’m really into this and I would like you guys to be into it with us,’ because again, we didn’t know we were going to do the second one.”