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Turns Out John Wick Was Going To Look A Lot Different Before Keanu Reeves Came Along

Keanu Reeves in John Wick
(Image credit: Summit Entertainment)

Although last December saw Keanu Reeves reprising Neo for The Matrix Resurrections, nowadays the actor is chiefly keeping busy on the action front by playing John Wick. Reeves debuted in 2014 as the former hitman who’s drawn back into the criminal underworld after his dog was killed, and next year will mark his fourth outing in the action-packed film series. However, before Reeves came along, John Wick was being envisioned as looking at lot different when it comes to age.

How Keanu Reeves came aboard John Wick is explored in the new book They Shouldn't Have Killed His Dog: The Complete Uncensored Oral History of John Wick, Gun Fu, and the New Age of Action by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman. In an excerpt shared by EW, Basil Iwanyk, one of the John Wick franchise’s producers, recalled the original, much older depiction of John Wick with these words:

One of my best friends is Charlie Ferraro at UTA, who sent me this script from Derek Kolstad called Scorn. The lead was a seventy-five-year-old man, twenty-five years after being retired. It was the fun of watching Clint Eastwood kick ass. I thought, Okay, there's probably one or two names you could do this with: Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford. Other than that, I'm not sure how I put this movie together. But the tone of the script for John Wick was subversive and really fun. It has a very clear emotional through line and a great premise for an action movie.

There was a lot of buzz for Scorn at this time, resulting in a bidding war that ended with what’s now known as John Wick being acquired by Lionsgate. Keanu Reeves, who around this time had appeared in movies like Man of Tai Chi and 47 Ronin, obtained Derek Kolstad’s script through his agent, Jimmy Darmody, although Kolstad made it clear up front that Reeves was obviously nowhere near the same age as how he’d crafted John Wick. Eventually Reeves decided he wanted in on John Wick, but he would not play the character as if he’d been alive for three-quarters of a century. As Kolstad recalled:

We had talked internally about actors, but it was Keanu Reeves — a voracious script reader; anything he gets his hands on, he reads — who got his talons into it and made it his own. I spent two months at Keanu's house on the weekends working on the script. When I first went and met with him and walked into his house, and as he rounded the corner to say hello to me — it's a nice house, it's not ostentatious for a guy who's worth, I dunno, billions — and I look in his office, I see he has three hundred screenplays stacked on his desk, because he reads everything that UTA, WME, William Morris sends out. He reads them all. And so think that he read something on a Friday, in ninety minutes, and was like, 'I want to do it.' In that moment, before I met and really clicked with him, I was like, 'Yeah, I really want to do it, too.' The first thing that Keanu said to me was, 'Okay, Derek, I'm going to play him 35.' And I'm like, 'Fine.'

The prospect of having an actor like Clint Eastwood or Harrison Ford playing John Wick is a fun ‘what if’ scenario to imagine, but it’s safe to say that casting Keanu Reeves in the role and cutting down the character's retirement from 25 to five years was the right call. The movie was not only met with positive critical reception, but also made $86 million worldwide off a budget in the $20-30 million range. This performance was enough to greenlight John Wick: Chapter 2, paving the way for what’s now a popular franchise. In addition to John Wick: Chapter 4’s arrival on March 24, 2023 and John Wick: Chapter 5 being in the works, we’re also getting the Ana de Armas-led Ballerina spinoff and the prequel event series for Starz called The Continental.

While we wait for more news about what to expect from John Wick: Chapter 4, including the ideas that Keanu Reeves brought to the (High) table, check out our 2023 release schedule to learn what other movies are coming out next year.

Adam Holmes
Adam Holmes

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.