From the propulsive start of John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum, the clock ticks relentlessly against the formerly retired super-assassin. The action picks up directly from Chapter 2 as John Wick finds himself on the brink of being declared
excommunicado—stripped of the protective services of The High Table, the secretive global association of crime organizations that enforces the assassins’ code. With a $14 million bounty on his head, even John Wick has never faced so
many simultaneous threats hellbent on ending his existence. Enemies are everywhere, but that will only drive Wick to the
ends of the earth as he continues to seek a personal reckoning.
Five years ago, the premiere chapter of John Wick set a new bar for action films. In this hardboiled world of killersfor-hire, audiences worldwide experienced the rush of dazzlingly pure battle sequences, of which moved like a frenzied ballet, pushing practical filmmaking to its limits. Now, Chapter 3 expands the Wick universe, revealing more about the hidden operations of The High Table and introducing intriguing new characters.
Returning to the addictive hit franchise is Keanu Reeves as Wick, Laurence Fishburne as the powerful Bowery King, Ian McShane as the Continental Hotel’s imperious manager Winston, Lance Reddick as Charon, The Continental’s helpful concierge, and Tobias Segal as Earl, a Bowery informant. Joining the growing character roster is Halle Berry as Sofia.
The Koalition spoke with actors Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry and director Chris Stahelski about this next explosive chapter in the series.
Stahelski sums up where things stand as the story takes off with unrelenting momentum: “In this chapter, John Wick goes to war with the world. This gives us a chance to go to new places, go deeper into his personal journey and expand the journeys of other characters. For this chapter, we really wanted each of the action sequences to bring a new and different flavor—each gives you a bit more insight and clues into the different elements of who John Wick is and the path he is on.”
The emotional stakes mount with the physical challenges as Wick is forced to call in debts and rely on the deadly gifts from which he wants to escape. “He is still looking for absolution—but meanwhile, nearly everyone is trying to kill him, so he must revert back to someone he doesn’t want to be in order to survive,” says Stahelski.
As the film’s ever-expanding canvas takes audiences deeper into John Wick’s origins, the story demands an even more technically evolved Wick. For Reeves, the film was flat out the biggest physical test of his career. “The vision for this film was so ambitious that I went into serious training four months before,” Reeves says. “There are so many different kinds of action sequences—not only more styles of martial arts and more gunplay, but also motorcycles, horses and dogs, so the training was intense. But honestly, I love it. I love this character and I love the John Wick universe we’ve created.”
For Halle Berry, who originates the new character Sofia, the experience was like no other. “I’ve done action before, but wow, there’s nothing like this,” she says. “I’ve never trained this hard. I’ve never worked in the way that Chad and Keanu work and I’ve certainly never had 12 guys coming for me all at once! It was tough, it was amazing, and I love that my character Sofia also brings some real heart and soul to the story as someone from John Wick’s past who knows the costs of doing what he does.”
In Chapter 3, the team was ready to expand that world exponentially. As John Wick is pushed to take last-ditch measures to dodge the global price on his head, he reveals more and more of just how thick and dark a web The High Table is capable of spinning. “In this film, you’ll see much more of this mythological, hyper-real world full of secret hotels, hidden underworlds and men and women possessed of crazy skills,” Stahelski describes.
When Keanu Reeves first took on the role of John Wick, it was one of those intriguing cases of an actor’s persona merging seamlessly into a fictional character. Reeves own taciturn intensity seemed to highlight the character’s compelling mix of lethal resolve and dryly humorous charm, fierce athleticism and suave grace. He also brought something that changed the approach: a rare ability to do his own fights, mostly eliminating that last buffer between audiences an convincing action—the body-double—and making things that much more immersive. That, in turn, sparked in audiences a fascination for this quietly lethal man, a man who simply wants to live in peace with his dog following the loss of his beloved wife Helen.
In Parabellum, things have changed, though John Wick’s hope to even take a breath, let alone find peace, has never seemed more improbable. The character who once doggedly pursued revenge is now the prey, surviving solely on Helen’s memory. In this chapter, Reeves sees the character as battling himself as much as the entire world. “There’s a battle he’s becoming more conscious of in Parabellum, a battle between two sides of himself that I call John and John Wick,” Reeves explains.
“John is the guy who just wants to be left alone, who seeks a quiet life in which to remember his wife. In order to do that he has to engage the side of himself that is John Wick, the side that knows how to fight to the death. John Wick is the only one who can help John survive.”
By the time Reeves took on John Wick, he had his own way of approaching an action hero—keeping open a sense of mystery and humanity in a man who is like a windup machine of precision when attacked. “For me action has always been about that connection between the audience and the character,” Reeves explains. “If that connection is there, the action has an emotional impact and you can feel the stakes.”
Of course, Reeves knows each time he dons the refined John Wick suit, it will demand an increasingly intensive, and exhausting, prep phase. He continues to drive himself, body and soul, to redefine his own limits. At his age, he admits the training is not getting any easier, but his resolve to bring out the best in Wick is as high as ever. “Sometimes I would think that maybe the training for this film was hard because of my age, but then I realized no, this one would be hard even if I wasn’t 54 because there’s so much action in Parabellum,” he laughs. “It’s demanding but I like it that way.” At this point, he says one question keeps him coming back for more every time: “How do we continue to stay true to what we created with John Wick, while constantly upping the bar?”
As John Wick begins calling in favors to try to stay alive, knowing every assassin in every city is looking for him, he journeys to Morocco. In the searing deserts of the Sahara, John knows he will find a woman from his past – a fellow assassin who owes him—and isn’t too happy to see him. This is Sofia, another indelible role played by Halle Berry, the Academy Award winner who has done everything in film from serious drama to superhero epics.
Berry started out as a fan of John Wick. “I loved how real the action felt in the first movie,” she says. “I looked forward to Chapter 2 as soon as I saw the first.” When my manager told me that Chad was looking for a female assassin on par with John Wick, I knew I had to play the part. When I first met with Chad he had not yet finished writing my role, but I didn’t care, I said sign me up…I’ll do it!”
Stahelski tried to impress upon Berry just how crazy things can get when you take on a role in John Wick. “I told her it takes months and months of really painful physical training and she said, ‘I get it. I still want to do it.’ She never backed down for a second. Then she brought so much sincerity to Sofia. You really feel Sofia’s sense of personal loss as well as her strength.”
Berry admits that Stahelski did not oversell the work involved. “For sure, I never worked harder for a film role in my entire career. I had to work through some injuries, but I kept at it because quitting was not ever an option. Now I have the bug, and I just want to keep going and going,” she laughs.
She also takes pride in shattering some stereotypes. “There’s nothing I wanted to do more than to prove that women of my age can do exactly what we want to do. Age doesn’t define us,” Berry says. Sofia, like John Wick, is a loner in this dark world of assassins, retaining an aura of mystery to all that come across her. “There is more to learn about her,” teases Berry. “What we know in this chapter is that she was trained by the same person who trained John Wick and their styles of fighting are very much the same. They clearly have some history together and we know that John saved Sofia’s daughter at some point and that Sofia gave up all contact with her daughter in order to keep her safe.” That’s part of what sets Sofia apart in this mysterious universe. She has this very real and tangible person that she loves very much and that she’s fighting for.”
Given the bond between the two characters, Berry worked closely to mirror Reeves’ physicality, while bringing her own personal touch to Sofia’s martial artistry. “I wanted to learn to fight a lot like Keanu so it’s clear they have the same kind of physical language. I also wanted to show how Sofia and John Wick are different enough that they complement each other as a team,” says Berry.
Reeves says of Berry, “She was 100 percent committed. Not only did she go through months of martial arts and weapons training, she also had the dog training [for Sofia’s pair of loyal Malinois]. She got to the point that our dog trainer said to me, “they treat Halle as their trainer now,’ which is amazing. She showed up in every way. It was great fun for me to be able to work with her dramatically and to have her be such a strong partner in the action.”
Check out our full interview below.