The role of John Wick was never intended for Keanu Reeves. The tale unfolds in a new book by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman. It’s called They Shouldn’t Have Killed His Dog: The Complete Uncensored Oral History of John Wick, Gun Fu, and the New Age of Action.
The titular character was originally going to be an older star. The franchise’s producer Basil Iwaynk recalls that the first two names he had in mind when he read the script were Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood. He thought it would be difficult to do it with anyone else.
Meanwhile, Keanu Reeves wasn’t making blockbusters. He had major success with The Matrix franchise, but at the time John Wick needed a lead, he was working on smaller projects. Keanu’s agent, Jimmy Darmody, is good friends with Iwaynk. He approached his friend about his client.
“He said, ‘Do you have any action movies for Keanu Reeves?'” Iwanyk recalls. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Keanu is one of the great action stars of the last 25 years – what happened to him? What’s he been doing?’ And he was directing his movie Man of Tai Chi and doing 47 Ronin. We give him the script, we tell him, ‘Clearly you’re not 75.'”
Reeves began to love the idea. He loved the idea of the character navigating his grief while having a dark past.
“I loved the quest that he goes on to reclaim his life,” Reeves said. “And the world he moves through to do it.”
But the character was specifically written for a 75-year-old. There had to be a solution.
Keanu Reeves Snags ‘John Wick’
Everyone was on board with the idea of Keanu Reeves portraying the character, but Reeves was in his 40s at the time. Something had to give.
“We 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,” said screenwriter Derek Kolstad. I spent two weeks at Keanu’s house on the weekends working on the script.”
When I first went and met with him and walked into his house,” he continued. “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 read everything that UTA, WME, William Morris sends out. He reads them all. And so think he read something on a Friday, in 90 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.'”