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Lance Reddick on making sequels magic, VR acting, and brushes with legends

Actor Lance Reddick returns to the assassination game in John Wick: Chapter 2, reprising his role as hotel manager Charon from the original. John Wick, which stars Keanu Reeves as the title character, was developed like an indie film with a budget of just $20 million, but earned over $86 million at the box office. Now Lionsgate has turned the film into a franchise with a sequel that doubled the opening weekend of the first movie, earning over $30 million domestically in its debut.

In addition to the new movie, there’s also a virtual reality video game from Starbreeze, John Wick Chronicles, which is available on the HTC Vive. A supped-up version of that game that uses a replica gun has been designed for VR arcades like the Los Angeles IMAX VR Experience Center, and Reddick brought a virtual Charon to life for the VR medium.

Reddick is no stranger to groundbreaking storytelling. He was a regular on HBO’s Oz and The Wire before exploring shows like Lost, Fringe, American Horror Story and Bosch. In this exclusive interview with Digital Trends, the Baltimore native talks about the runaway success of the John Wick films, working on the new VR game, and hobnobbing with comic book legend Ed Brubaker.

Did you have any idea working on the original that this movie would take off like it did?

No, I didn’t. I knew it would be a good movie. I wanted to do it because the script was written so well and the role was just really cool and nothing I’d quite done before in character, but I didn’t think it would do what it did. And then I didn’t anticipate that there would be a sequel, so when they were talking about it after the first movie I thought it was just cool. And now this is phenomenal.

What do you attribute to the success of that first film?

“The story was so tight and there were so many great characters that it was just cool to be part of this.”

In terms of just how well it’s received by people when they watch the film, it’s one of those things where, because it was a little under the radar artistically, the filmmakers were left alone by the studio and from what I understand the original film was kind of a rogue production. So artistically part of the experience was not only the way that it was shot and choreographed, but the way it was edited. When we were at the premiere for John Wick 2 I had the good fortune to meet the editor. He was explaining how long a lot of the shots were. There’s not a lot of fast cuts so you can actually see Keanu doing all this stuff.

And Chad (Stahelski) is just such a good director — and both he and (John Wick co-director) David Leitch did a great job on the first film – but he directed the second one by himself.  The choreography was great. And the writing in the first one, the story was so tight and there were so many great characters that it was just cool to be part of this.

One thing that I connected with in both films was the dog. What role do you think the dogs have played in the success of these films?

Wow, the impact the dog had on the franchise? I think on the surface – when I think about it I’m thinking wow he’s right. Dogs are really, really important characters in this story because even though it’s two separate dogs, in a lot of ways it’s the most intimate relationship that you’ve got. The first dog connected him with his wife and the second one replaced the first. So that’s really a cool thing that I hadn’t thought about too much because there’s so much else going on.

What do you feel Chad’s background as a stuntman and a kickboxer brings to these films?

Watching it it looks a lot more MMA. There’s so much grappling in both films. And I never thought that grappling could look so sexy.

Lance Reddick

What’s been the coolest part of being part of this film franchise?

We go to the after party of John Wick 2 and I walk past this woman and she smiles at me and I smile back and my wife and I try to make it to the bar because I’m thirsty and I want some water. So we’re trying to figure out how to get through the crowd of people and there’s this guy next to me who says that he really likes the movie and he says, “My name is Ed Brubaker.” And I say, “What’s your name?” He says, “Ed Brubaker.” I say, “The Ed Brubaker?” He says, “You know me?” I say, “Are you drunk? Do I know you?”  And then while we’re talking the same woman that smiled at me comes up next to me and the guy that she’s with says to me, “Hey I just want to say I really enjoyed you in the movie” and it was Randy Couture.” I thought I was going to faint.

That’s really cool. 

I’m sorry. I just had to tell you that.

No, that’s cool.  You said the first film was a little bit under the radar and it got out there and it became a hit. What were the challenges of keeping things fresh and not letting fans down with this sequel?

I just wasn’t sure where they were going with it because the first one was just so flawlessly done and the world was so original, but they managed to make it bigger. And they made that work.

They also have made a virtual reality video game that you’re in, John Wick Chronicles. What was it like for you to step into that world of VR?

“The first one was just so flawlessly done and the world was so original, but they managed to make it bigger.”

For me the biggest challenge was just putting on the freaking bodysuit with all the markers for performance capture. The most challenging part is having to interact with stuff that’s not really there, which was twice in that year because I had to do the same thing with [sci-fi shooter] Quantum Break.

Most of it was physical work so the biggest challenge was just acting and trying to make sure the accent was good.

Have you gotten a chance to try it out or see what the VR looks like?

Only a little part of it when they were halfway finished, but I haven’t really played it all.

The IMAX VR Experience Center opens on Valentine’s Day in LA if you want to check out the arcade version of the game.

Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to be on my Valentine’s Day list.

The cool concept in the VR game is you get to go into The Continental Hotel. What’s it like for you being able to act in the real one in the films?

It was cool. The second time I did it it was a little too real coming back like, “Wow, this is more and more interesting.” I just never played a character like this before, so the whole experience has been cool.

You mentioned Quantum Break and you’ve been in the Destiny video games as well as the upcoming Horizon: Zero Dawn so you’re familiar with what’s going on in the video game world. What do you see VR opening up for Hollywood having worked on John Wick Chronicles?

I don’t know because it’s such a Wild West with that right now. It feels like when cars were first starting and it was hard to imagine an entire country based on the automobile, entire industries based around people being able to drive to malls and motels and everywhere. I feel like we’re at the beginning of that in terms of entertainment.

And it’s opening up new opportunities for actors like yourself.

Yeah. It will be interesting to see VR not just as an interactive franchise component of an IP that’s something that’s a television series or a movie, but how VR actually changes looking at movies.

We’re already starting to see people like John Favreau explore VR as a storytelling medium with Gnomes and Goblins.

Isn’t Steven Spielberg too?

Yeah, Spielberg is working on a project with The Virtual Reality Company. What’s it like – having worked with JJ Abrams on the Fringe series – to see concepts like VR now readily in people’s homes.

Yes, that’s definitely weird. I say that just because having just done the little VR that I’ve experienced, it’s one of the most elementary versions of the Holodeck on Star Trek. It’s weird that we’re kind of here.

And John Wick Chronicles is basically like the Pong of the VR world, which is pretty exciting to think about where VR games will be in 20 or 30 years when you look at games like Quantum Break and Horizon: Zero Dawn today.

It is. Definitely.

Lionsgate has been talking up John Wick as a franchise, which means more potential films, right?

Knock on wood.