When screenwriter Shay Hatten was given the job of writing John Wick: Chapter 4, he says there was no specific plan for what the film should look like. ‘It’s cool. It’s really exciting,” he told Polygon in an interview ahead of the film’s release. “Because there’s no blueprint, you’re like, Oh, it really is a blank page for you to ask the natural questions: Where would John have gone after the last movie? And then you figure it out and put it together.
“It’s exhausting in some ways, because you’re trying 100 different versions, but it’s also really satisfying when you finally start cracking an idea that ends up in a movie.”
That also meant there were no specific guidelines for the new characters being put into orbit around Keanu Reeves’ hero. John Wick 4which includes the blind swordsman Kaine, played by Donnie Yen, and the preening villain known as the Marquis, played by Bill Skarsgård. Hatten’s co-writer Michael Finch says the two writers “had our wish list” of people they hoped would play the characters they were writing, which influenced their script. But they weren’t told to write with specific actors in mind, so the people who did land the roles often changed their characters.
Finch, who met John Wick director Chad Stahelski in the 2015 film Hitman: Agent 47says he was brought in to help with the script after ‘Shay got tired of working on it John Wick 4, and threw his hands in the air a little! Hatten previously worked in a similar role for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum“I was kind of the guy that came in when it was already rolling,” he reminded Finch during the interview. Both men were surprised by the film’s final casting, but excited about how it changed the story.
“It’s so grand and rewarding when you write a character, then you get an actor who really gets it,” said Finch. “And I think part of the system is that Keanu believes he’s John Wick while he’s doing John Wick (films). He has to, for all kinds of reasons, especially the physical beating he receives. He somehow manages to sell that to the other actors. These people show up and two days later they believe they are the character I think. That’s what makes them feel so seamless. They own those characters. And for us that is a huge victory.”
Finch says dynamics let the actors inject more of themselves into the characters, reshaping them in the process — like what Donnie Yen did with Caine, for example. “The original character, as written, was a little rough around the edges,” he says. “Donnie is an incredibly polished man, incredibly elegant. Not only that, it’s incredibly crunchy. The fighting moves he does are an extension of the way he carries himself. They are incredibly accurate, incredibly sharp. And he brought that to the character. He brought a certain level of laser-like intensity, shark-like intensity, that wasn’t necessarily written into the character.
Keanu ends up all chewed up, beaten to shit. And somehow Caine manages to stay clear, sharp, sunglasses always stay on. And that was something he brought to the character, this precision.
Hatten says the chemistry between Yen and Reeves is also “a huge contributor to the movie.” Their performances imply more familiarity and comfort with each other than was necessarily in the script. “Just the nature of the performances these two guys give, as an audience member you get a real sense of a shared history they could have together when they appear on screen together,” he says. “You can imagine the adventures these guys went on 20 years ago, in a John Wick movie we never saw. So he adds a lot to the structure of the franchise.
Hatten thinks the cast of the John Wick franchise often uses their performances to suggest that kind of rich, complicated connection, and that it’s an important part of the series’ success.
“It allows you to just create this whole mythology in your head for the thousands of adventures this guy probably went on,” he says. “It makes him much more epic. If we ever defined exactly what John Wick’s specific backstory was, it would make him less of a myth, because you’d have all the answers. You don’t want the answers. I think it’s cooler that it’s a boundless thing, where we can just bring up new, unspoken pieces of the past to explore in new movies.