While promoting Peacock’s John Wick spin-off series The Continental: from the world of John WickExecutive producer Basil Iwanyk acknowledges the elephant in the room: how do you explore the Johannes Wick universe without the eponymous star – played by Keanu Reeves – himself?
“It’s hard to look at: OK, why does a movie or franchise work?” Iwanyk, who worked on the whole thing Johannes Wick franchise, told The Hollywood Reporter during a recent press conference. “There’s a million different ways to look at it, and you just don’t know. Of course there is research and nonsense, but it is something in your gut feeling. This is a 70s prequel that doesn’t feature Keanu or John Wick. Will it work?”
“It was about the franchise and the health of the franchise and what draws people to the franchise, just as it was about telling a great story,” he continued. “We just go on and on and there’s not that much time for self-reflection about ‘Why does this work?’… We say, let’s just go ahead and do things that we think are cool. and hopefully people will agree. This show was the first time we went out of our comfort zone. And that was invigorating and exciting, but also terrifying.”
Directed by Albert Hughes, The Continental is a precursor of the Johannes Wick films set in New York in the 1970s. The show will consist of three parts, exploring the origins behind the iconic hotel-for-killers. Following the young hotel owner Winston Scott (played by Ian McShane in the franchise films and Colin Woodell in the series), The Continental delves into how Winston would eventually take over the hotel to take his place at the helm of the assassin sanctuary. The series also stars Mel Gibson, Mishel Prada and Ben Robson.
“The show far exceeded my expectations,” says executive producer Erica Lee, who also worked on the first Johannes Wick movie. “When you make something, I always say the ingredients can be great, but the cake can still taste like shit, right?”, adding: “We were really lucky with Albert at the helm. He has a very distinctive vision and also came in as a fan of the films and loves certain aspects of them, but also wanted to push certain themes and things in his own way.”
When Hughes first got the job, he didn’t hesitate to initiate conversations Johannes Wick director Chad Stahelski. “We did a Zoom and he was excited to talk and tell me (to) do what you need to do that inspires you,” Hughes says of his early conversations with the director, who told him to do his own thing. “I was glad he said it because I don’t think I would ever want to dive into a man or woman’s sandbox and duplicate what they do.”
And amid the double strike, bottom-line talent is at the center of Hollywood’s PR campaigns as studios are forced to get creative without actors and writers. A week before the show’s premiere, reporters and influencers were invited to the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel for a day of assassin training, with a behind-the-scenes look at The Continental‘s stunts, sound, costume and production design. Hughes calls the event “refreshing to see” from Peacock.
During the interactive junket, action director Larnell Stovall chose volunteers from the audience to learn a short stunt sequence, while performing a live set inspired by the show. “We don’t normally get interviewed,” Stovall said of the unique event. “We might get a shout out from the actors every now and then… but that’s what we signed up for.” The stunt expert hopes this kind of publicity for below-the-line work will inspire others interested in the field.
There was also a costume tour from designer Sarah Arthur, along with a panel with Iwanyk and Lee. Supervising sound editor Luke Gibleon gave a demonstration on how the sound team improves the immersive quality of an action scene. “People in my field often feel like we are not seen or heard,” says Gibleon. “This is an opportunity to hopefully paint a picture of what we do that may not have been shared before.
“It’s like a silver lining,” Hughes adds. “It’s so great to see these people getting what they deserve.”
The Continental: from the world of John Wick premieres Friday on Peacock.