“As I put the suit back on, I went back into training,” Reeves says in this Complex exclusive training featurette. To get in tip-top shape, Reeves worked with Aaron Cohen from Cherries Apparel, a counter-terrorist consulting firm that manufactures concealed carry gear. Cohen specifically focused on getting Reeves familiar with deep concealment pistol draws and AR-15 manipulation. Reeves also learned speed draws, transitions, and fast trigger pulls with Taran Butler, a competitive shooting champion. Reeves can be seen shredding targets at a shooting range in this video, which impressed fans. For 10 weeks, Reeves trained three or four times a week and fired 1,000–1,500 rounds per session. The director wanted Reeves to train with real guns so that by the time he was working with fake firearms for the camera, his body would react realistically to those weapons from the muscle memory. Watching Keanu Reeves in this mode, it’s hard not to see the same man who, in The Matrix, famously said, “We need guns. Lots of guns.”
Reeves also re-familiarized himself with car stunts, which he says came back to him pretty quickly. In the video, he mentions doing “90s, 180s,” which are terms for sliding, going forward, and reversing. He learned the breakneck reverse 180-degree turn specifically for this role. That’s not to say Reeves didn’t have a stunt double, though. Stuntmen like Jackson Spidell helped Reeves with the trickier combative moves while Jeremy Fry served as Reeves’ stunt driver in both films. Reeves requested Fry return for this film, in which the driver pulls off a challenging maneuver called the flying drift. The sequel promises much more car play than before (and even some motorcycles), including a chaotic car crash spectacle right in the middle of Times Square. Stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott nicknamed this new addition “car fu.” He also said that Keanu Reeves became an even driver better this time around.
At the heart of the John Wick movies, however, is the hand-to-hand, human-to-human combat, which was heavily developed by the director, Chad Stahelski, who was actually a stuntman himself before going behind the camera. As was David Leitch, who co-directed the first John Wick and executive produced the sequel. Leitch has done many of Brad Pitt’s stunt work (including Fight Club and Mr. and Mrs. Smith) while Stahelski’s long stunt filmography includes doubling for Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Now Stahelski gets to direct the star with the physical sensibility and choreography he’s adopted over the decades.
Reeves, having partnered with Stahelski many years ago, championed the new director from day one. “When you’re talking about first-time directors and you have your movie star saying, ‘this is someone I believe in,’ that makes everybody’s life a lot easier,” said producer Basil Iwanyk. Producer Erica Lee added that Reeves was also very involved in the process of creating John Wick: “He embodies John Wick so it was really important for us to keep him ingrained in the fabric of the movie. I spent many Sundays at Keanu’s house, six hours at a time, talking about the script. He’s very smart, he understands filmmaking, and he’s extremely hard on himself. Keanu works very hard to get it right.”
In an interview with Screen Rant in 2014, Reeves broke down his daily training for the first John Wick: “In terms of training, it was really—it was fun. I mean, the directors, they come from a stunt background, and I’ve trained with them before. So it was working with someone with the pistols and the arms, the stunt-driving, the jiu-jitsu. It was basically like 9 in the morning, train until like 1pm or 2pm, eat lunch, lift weights, train again, and do that five/six days a week.” He then likened it to fun boot camp.
This “gun fu” style fighting Keanu Reeves employs is a combination of Japanese jiu jitsu, Brazilian jiu jitsu, tactical 3-gun, and standing judo. Reeves says the tone of the John Wick films is marked by “longer takes, complexity, footwork,” and in the stylish fight sequences, you really can see the choreography that went into them. The main actors, including Common and Ruby Rose, did most of their own action work as well, and came on set excited to learn the trademark John Wick style. “It was great having time to train with Common and Ruby so we could get the fights to where they’re almost like a dance,” Reeves said.
It was no easy feat for any of the actors involved—especially in this follow-up. The stakes are even higher in John Wick: Chapter 2. Stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott said this was “the bigger, meaner, older brother of the first film.” “In the second film,” Reeves explained, “we wanted to expand the underworld, so we’ve introduced a new element. In the original we had the assassins guild known as The Continental, now we have added an association called the High Table, where all of the different organized crime groups from around the world have a seat.” The filmmakers have also introduced the idea of a “marker,” which is the debt that John Wick owes that pulls him out of civilian life again. They also wanted to up the body count, which was 84 in the last movie. Producer Iwanyk says the body count in the sequel is 141, which also meant getting even more creative with the fighting style. Avoiding faking action through camera tricks, Stahelski allowed the actors to be up close and doing their own work.
The main gun fu fight sequences go down at the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome, where John Wick takes out 35 of his enemies. This is more than three times the gun fu scene in the first John Wick, in which he kills 10 people.
To accomplish these bigger, badder sequences, they brought in a stunt team largely made up of military veterans, who worked with Reeves for four months. While Brazilian jiu jitsu is at the heart of many of John Wick’s moves, the filmmakers and stunt coordinators made sure John Wick was creative with his killings, using the props near him. That includes using a car as a weapon as well, for the aforementioned “car fu” style.
“Cars, guns, knives, just basic stuff… You gotta know how to make an omelette, right?” Reeves can be heard saying in the featurette, about their training regimen. But almost 20 years since the first Matrix how does the actor, at 52 years old, still do it? He’s had years of action hero training, but he hasn’t made a flashy career out of his body in the same way that stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Vin Diesel have. Reeves works on lower-body strength and building core muscles while maintaining a healthy diet that includes chicken, rice, pasta, and vegetables. (After all, he’s still gotta put on a suit and look good while doing all this intensive physical work.) His other trick? Reeves has also claimed to take regular ice baths to numb the pain from training.
The magic of the John Wick films comes from the director’s familiarity with choreography and action, and his stars’ willingness to put in the work to make it look good on camera. Keanu Reeves is the perfect actor for this kind of work—and his dedication has shown over the years. “Whatever it is, he embraces it full-heartedly. He just goes full throttle the whole way,” says Stahelski regarding Keanu Reeves’ dedication.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and Keanu is one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever worked with,” says stunt coordinator J.J. Perry. “He’s a workhorse and a perfectionist. When you combine Chad, who really knows how to direct and shoot action, with Keanu who knows how to do action, it creates a perfect storm.”
Watch the trailer for John Wick: Chapter 2 below. As Lance Reddick’s hotel manager Charon says, “Good to see you again so soon.” We hope to see more of John Wick in the future.