How John Wick's Director First Met Keanu Reeves As His Stunt Double For The Matrix

Keanu Reeves as Neo in The Matrix and as John Wick

These days, Chad Stahelski is best known for directing the John Wick films, including this May's John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. You may also know his background is as a stunt double. He only has a few directing credits, starting with the first John Wick, but he has more than 70 stunt credits -- including as the stunt double for Keanu Reeves' Neo for the breakthrough 1999 movie The Matrix.

Not too long ago, Chad Stahelski talked to Vulture about how he first got hired for The Matrix and started his multi-film professional partnership with Keanu Reeves.

As Chad Stahelski explained, in 1996, The Matrix writers/directors the Wachowskis and fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping were doing a casting search in Australia, China, Canada, and the U.S., trying to find a martial-arts stunt double for Keanu Reeves. Stahelski was working on a TV show at the time, and on the morning of his Matrix audition he had to be hit by a car for a stunt on the show. He said he cracked his head open during the car stunt, but still made his 11 a.m. movie audition. That's commitment!

Here's more of Chad Stahelski's story of what happened from there:

I went in thinking, Okay, I’m gonna have to do a drop and a split; they’ll throw a kick and that’ll be it. They spoke some Chinese, and then they pointed to this guy Chen Hu. They said, "Just do what this guy does; copy him." I emerged an hour-and-a-half later, dripping in sweat, having gone through every martial-art combination, kick, flip, tumbling pass … It is still, to this day, the longest and most arduous audition I’d ever been to, and I’d been completely unprepared. It was the first time I’d ever met Keanu. We took a couple of photos together and I split.

Little did he know how much would come from that audition. A month went by and he heard nothing about it, and probably figured that was that. But then he did get a call -- and it didn't come at a great time, since he was still contracted for the TV show:

Almost two months go by, and I get another phone call. "Hey, would you mind coming back in?" So I go to the same shooting warehouse in Burbank, and it was literally the same audition exactly, move for move, all over again. A week or two later they offered me the gig. They said, "Hey, how would you like to go to Australia and double Keanu?" I was like, "Aw, that’s awesome. But, uh, sorry. No, can't." I was still on a TV show.

If that's how things had ended, you can imagine The Matrix films may have been different, and the John Wick films certainly would have been different. But then something happened to make the timing work out after all:

Keanu had a neck injury, so they pushed all the action until the next year. So, a couple of months go by and I get a call from Barrie Osborne, the producer, going, "Hey, we pushed all the fights. Now can you make it?" And I got on a plane in January to go out to start filming in Australia.

The rest is history. Actually the rest is a lot of history about how The Matrix changed action movies, so read his whole Q&A for more. It's hard to believe that movie came out 20 years ago.

Chad Stahelski didn't just work as Keanu Reeves' stunt double on The Matrix. He returned for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions and was credited as martial arts stunt coordinator. He also worked with Reeves in a stunt capacity in some other films, including Constantine. You can see Chad Stahelski's expertise in fighting and action choreography in the John Wick movies.

Chad Stahelski has already said John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum will have the highest death count of the John Wick films so far, saying it's 20% more movie than Chapter 2. That makes sense considering Chapter 2 ended with a global contract on Mr. Wick's head, so almost every assassin in the world is trying to kill him. Halle Berry is joining this film, seemingly on John's side, as someone from his past. Anjelica Huston is also joining the film as someone from his past, but connected to the High Table.

Ian McShane is back as Continental Hotel manager Winston, and he said the High Table will be pissed at John Wick for breaking a cardinal rule -- killing on the Continental grounds. The Continental is meant to be a neutral zone for the criminal underworld. However, McShane also teased some "shifting alliances" in this movie.

The first John Wick 3 trailer started with Winston's voice saying "Jonathan, what have you done..." He actually gave John Wick a head start before the contract went out on him. It's not clear if Winston can help John at this point, but he does at least seem to be somewhat sympathetic. An early photo for John Wick 3 also showed Winston with Laurence Fishburne's The Bowery King, bringing those powerhouses together.

John Wick 3 opens in theaters May 17, as one of the many films worth keeping an eye on in our 2019 movie schedule.

Gina Carbone

Gina grew up in Massachusetts and California in her own version of The Parent Trap. She went to three different middle schools, four high schools, and three universities -- including half a year in Perth, Western Australia. She currently lives in a small town in Maine, the kind Stephen King regularly sets terrible things in, so this may be the last you hear from her.