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How Keanu Reeves Prepared To Play John Wick

The first John Wick film was a resounding success, making nearly $90 million worldwide against just a $20 million budget. A huge part of the film's success came from star Keanu Reeves, who brought his standard stoicism and wry humor to the role — and helped turn the film into a successful franchise, with John Wick: Chapter Two more than doubling the box office take of the original. The announcement of a third film was a surprise to no one.

The third film, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, will reportedly bring viewers to the conclusion of John Wick's story, but Hollywood has never shied away from going back on a conclusion if there's enough money involved. The trailer for the third film looks suitably bonkers, and Keanu looks to be giving it his all once again. Needless to say, there's no better time to take a look at how Keanu Reeves prepares to take on the physically demanding role of retired assassin John Wick. Prepare your best "Whoa," because you might be surprised to find that Reeves basically becomes the badass Wick in order to play him.

No spring Wick-en

It's important to keep this fact in mind as you read about all the insane stunts he pulls off in the John Wick films: Keanu Reeves is in his 50s. Think about that next time your back hurts a little after doing some chores around the house, because he makes those insane stunts look effortless.

According to his IMDb page, Reeves logged his first screen credit in 1984, before many of his fans were even born. Understandably, he's starting to slow down a bit, as was mentioned in a profile with Men's Journal. "I can't do stairs as fast," he told the magazine, citing years of stress on his knees. "But if you say 'action,' I'll go."

Point Break, Reeves' first big action movie, came out in 1991, and The Matrix came out in 1999. The man has given us decades of badass characters, many of which helped prepare him for his turn as John Wick.

The role of a lifetime

Keanu trains like a madman to prepare for the John Wick films, but he has a pretty good baseline to start from. He has appeared in a wide variety of roles in his career — the dude played the lead role in Hamlet on stage, after all — but action films have long been his bread and butter, and his work in these films provided him with a good blueprint of where to start for John Wick.

Keanu's first major action role came opposite Patrick Swayze in 1991's Point Break, and he followed it with hits like Speed through the 1990s. The Matrix helped solidify him as a bona fide action star in 1999, as the amazing special effects, otherworldly story, and Hong Kong-inspired wire fu made it a massive success. After his work in The Matrix, Reeves continued to lean into action, and his directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, helped further develop his skills in the genre.

John Wick Boot Camp

It should come as no surprise that Keanu Reeves puts in quite a bit of work to prepare for playing John Wick — he goes through what he describes as a three-month "John Wick Boot Camp" to help get him ready to take on the demanding role. It focuses on the character's central concerns: guns, fighting, and driving.

He talked about the routine in an interview with Page Six, revealing how he sharpens his shooting skills before the cameras roll. "Basically just take the gun home, start walking around, practice spying rooms, practice your draws," he said. "And with John Wick, it's practice your reloads, transitions from weapon to weapon, footwork, and then kind of coming up with the John Wick style."

The interview, published before the release of the second John Wick film, found Reeves talking about just how much he loves playing, and training for, the role — and adding that he couldn't wait to return for a third installment. "I love his will, his passion. I love the depth of his feeling," he enthused. "I like his honor. I like how he fights for his life. I like his sense of humor."

All you can eat

In an interview with Men's Journal, Reeves said Point Break is the movie that made him start to think about taking better care of his body. That being said, he isn't terribly strict about his diet in his day-to-day life — he just tries to avoid overindulging in any one thing. He eats a lot of chicken, rice, pasta, and vegetables, and he prefers to take small meals several times a day rather than a few large ones. He gets a bit more strict, however, when he starts training for his movies.

When preparing for his role as John Wick, Reeves adopts a low-sodium, low-fat diet. He focuses on a balance of proteins and carbohydrates, and tries to stick to healthy fats. He also allows himself an occasional glass of wine or beer. Reeves does have one odd dietary quirk that reportedly started when he was filming The Matrix: the night before filming a major action scene, he likes to indulge his animalistic side with a nice steak. He admits that this is solely psychological, but it's a tradition that works.

Hey man, nice shot

One defining characteristic of the John Wick films is how effortlessly Keanu Reeves carries himself around firearms. He always seems totally in control, utilizing the smallest amount of energy possible in order to take out his foes. There isn't a lot of film trickery involved in his technique — it's mostly just Keanu being really, really good at handling guns.

In order to prepare for playing an expert assassin, Reeves works with shooting ace Taran Butler, a world champion in many shooting competitions who's served as a consultant for several different television and film productions and appeared on competitive shooting shows like Top Shot and Impossible Shots. In his John Wick training, Reeves spends a lot of time with Butler at Taran Tactical Innovations, a training ground for competitive shooters. It's led to amazing, meme-worthy videos like this, which was included as a feature on the John Wick 2 DVD release.

Expect the gunplay to get amped up even more in John Wick 3. Maybe he'll even fire his gun in the air and go "Ahh!"

Wick on wheels

John Wick also possesses some seriously impressive driving skills, which is something else Keanu Reeves practices quite a bit in his preparation for the role. Because of the danger and degree of difficulty involved in some of the set pieces for the John Wick films, stunt driver Jeremy Fry handles the extremely dangerous stuff, like pulling off the "flying drift" maneuver in the second film. However, a big part of Reeves' "boot camp" also includes working with stuntmen to improve his driving skills.

The fancy driving comes pretty naturally to Reeves — he's a bit of an aficionado in the realm of luxury vehicles. Hot Cars did a profile over some of the motorcycles and cars Reeves owns, which include a Porsche and several impressive motorcycles. In past films, he's sat behind the wheel of Ferraris, Mustangs, and some impressive muscle cars of the '60s and '70s.

Reeves' trainers claim that his driving significantly improved from the first John Wick to the second. It seems logical that he'd continue driving circles around everyone if the third film wasn't (supposedly) the last.

He knows kung fu

One of the biggest problems with many modern action films lies in the editing of fight sequences. Whether it's to hide the fact that the central actor isn't actually performing the complex fighting techniques that the scenes ask for, or the director is just trying to provide that extra "grittiness" that so many films seek now, many fight scenes have been edited to the point where it's impossible to tell what's happening. Reeves' impressive martial arts resume helps the editors to craft much more powerfully impressive fight scenes by allowing them to use long cuts and techniques that other movies can't.

Black Belt Mag writes that Reeves trained in multiple different disciplines to perfect the fighting style John Wick uses: jiu-jitsu, judo, and practical grappling techniques are all mixed in with his extensive gun practice to make Wick's abilities look effortless. And Forbes writes that the style helps to save on money, time, and editing decisions — director Chad Stahelski said that the style was a practical decision. "We're gonna save time because we only have 50 days — less, 47 days on the first movie," he explained. "The more you do punches and kicks, the more you gotta miss, because you gotta sell the hit, you gotta change the angle. So okay, we're gonna get rid of punches and kicks. We're gonna do judo, jiu-jitsu, and tactical gun work, so we can hold all the shots, no cuts. So we developed a style and reverse-engineered from there."

A workout worthy of an assassin

Keanu Reeves' workout routine for John Wick serves a dual purpose. For one, it's tailor-made for Wick's no-nonsense, explosive fighting style. His character needs ruthless efficiency, not bulging muscles, so his workout is grounded in that philosophy. On the other hand, Reeves is in his 50s, so his workout is tailored more to strengthen his joints and core muscle groups and have them working in harmony rather than building up massive biceps or deltoids.

Reeves' trainer, Patrick Murphy, has said that the John Wick workout mostly utilizes resistance bands in place of free weights — they're easier on the joints and help the body learn more control. He spoke about the routine with Muscle and Fitness, saying that the focus was on "unilateral exercises like ice skaters and single-leg pistol squat hops, which enhance proprioception — the body's ability to sense what all its parts are doing — and balance."

Part of John Wick's massive success is due to its amazingly choreographed and performed action sequences. They often read like dance sequences, and a big part of that is Reeves' workout focus on the concept of proprioception.

The trainee becomes the trainer

There has to be a lot of trust when working on brutal action scenes — actors need to be confident that they won't actually get their nose broken when trading blows — and Reeves has become such a skilled martial artist that he's helped other actors train for their roles. One such performer is Charlize Theron, who trained with Reeves when she was gearing up to film Atomic Blonde. The action sequences in Atomic Blonde feature a similar style — it was directed by David Leitch, who was a co-director for John Wick — and brought the two stars together to train for their intense scenes.

In an interview with Yahoo! Movies, Theron said that part of her training for Atomic Blonde involved meeting Reeves in a hangar by an airport and engaging in some serious fisticuffs. "I would have stupid moments where I would think I could actually tackle him and pin him down," she recalled. "He would just try to, in a very sweet way, entertain my complete stupidity and allow me to kind of pin him down." She also added that the two would trade a large amount of good-natured smack talk while training.

"In my head," mused Theron, "I think I totally won the fight that we had in my brain." Sounds like good material for a crossover project.

When he isn't killing bad guys, he's perfectly normal

Keanu Reeves might seem like he becomes John Wick instead of acting as the character, but he's really able to keep relatively in touch with the world around him. Once the John Wick series reaches is "conclusion" (again, we'll believe it when we see it), Reeves will turn his attention to a fan favorite franchise that's been in limbo for a long time: Bill & Ted. The Wyld Stallyns are riding again in Bill & Ted Face the Music, and it looks like a case of Reeves just wanting to have some fun with his old friends.

Despite playing badass John Wick and cruising around on his tricked-out motorcycles, he also just seems like he's just a down-to-earth guy. One such example involves a plane Reeves was on making an emergency landing, leaving passengers well short of their destination. After a bus was called and everyone loaded up for the long drive to their ultimate destination, Reeves took hold of the PA system and narrated the trip, reading facts about the area they were in, playing local music, and basically acting like a dorky dad in a vacation movie.

Essentially, Reeves seems pretty awesome, both in real life as well as the movies. And as John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum reminds us, he'd also be pretty handy to have around in a fight.