Ian McShane on John Wick Chapter 4: 'Winston's world has been turned upside down'
The actor speaks to RadioTimes.com about the continued appeal of the franchise, the latest chapter, and the various upcoming spin-offs.
Before the first John Wick premiered in October 2014, no one had any idea it would be spawning a mega-action franchise. Just two months prior to its eventual release, expectations for the film were so low that it hadn't even found a distributor – with Keanu Reeves's reputation as a box office draw having been severely dampened by a number of consecutive duds.
Eventually, the film was picked up by Lionsgate and the rest is history: a wave of rave reviews and impressive box office takings followed, leading to multiple sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and video games.
Since that first film, the cast list has grown at an exponential rate, but one star who has been there from the very beginning is Ian McShane. The 80-year-old actor stars as Winston, the enigmatic owner of The Continental Hotel whose precise relation to John Wick has always been left slightly mysterious – and who appeared to double-cross him at the end of the third outing.
Ahead of the release of John Wick: Chapter 4, McShane spoke exclusively to RadioTimes.com about the continued appeal of the series, and what we can expect from this latest instalment.
"I don't think you ever have any idea," he says when asked if he expected the franchise to take off in the way it has. But he does recall being instantly impressed by both the script and the finished film.
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"I remember when they offered me the first script, it was a very good tight independent movie made in New York and was stuffed full of very good actors – Willem Dafoe, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen," he explains.
"And then I saw it a year later – I was in Atlanta doing another movie, and it opened and I sort of snuck into the film at like 11:25am, the early showing. I thought I'd have a look.
"And within a minute, I went, 'Yeah, this is the film I thought we were making.' And I mean filming practically, all night filming in New York – that's gonna look great anyway. And that's half the charm of the movies: that they all look so f**king gorgeous!"
That neo-noir aesthetic is certainly part of the appeal – but it's not the only thing that keeps audiences coming back. The ever-expanding lore of the franchise and incredible high-octane action sequences have consistently come in for praise, with McShane pointing out that as the sequels have progressed, an increasing number of martial arts from around the world have been incorporated. And he also reckons there's another factor behind the success.
"The film I think also benefits from social media," he says. "Which I am not part of and neither is Keanu. But there's obviously social media buzz about everything that happens about John Wick, and I think it's Keanu's personality.
"These sort of memes about lonely Keanu, the good guy and whatever, aligns perfectly with the John Wick kind of movie – as this sort of enigmatic figure that is charming, and a decent guy and whatever. So that's happened without Keanu having to do anything about it!"
In Chapter 4, Winston finds himself in a rather less comfortable position than we've seen him before, due to events at the end of the last film and the beginning of this one. McShane explains that the character's world has been "turned upside down" by these events, and says he enjoyed having the opportunity to explore a different side to the enigmatic figure.
"The previous three, he's been looking after John, treading a fine line between trying to keep his business and trying to keep John satisfied," he says. "And then finally he runs afoul of the High Table and something happens in the first 20 minutes of the movie that sort of upends his life. So suddenly it's like, 'I'm with you, John until we work something out.' And that's the theme of the movie.
"The world got a little bigger this time. But I think it's great that it never gets too big – it concentrates on what it needs to, and that's because Chad [Stahelski] has done all four and has a vision of how it should be. So you expand it but you never get away from the main thrust of the story and you expand it in a way that doesn't get too daft and retains the integrity of the characters.
"If you had another director that would be a different thing, and I don't think [Keanu] would have done four without Chad – I wouldn't have wanted to."
The chance to step outside the four walls of The Continental also gave McShane the opportunity to shoot in some new locations, with significant portions of the movie unfolding in Paris, where Winston plays a vital role. And although McShane says that location shooting is "always great" he's quick to point out that it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows.
"Chad loves to film at night, so sometimes you sort of go, 'Oh god...'," he says with a wry smile. "On your sixth night outside Sacre Coeur, when it's like five degrees below freezing and it's p**sing down with rain. And as much as you look at Paris and think, 'Oh my god, I love to be here,' you also go, 'I wish I was back in my bed.'
"When they wrap at the end of a movie and you think [there were] 104 days, 101 of which were nights, you go, 'Thank God we survived. I survived 101 nights!'"
He adds: "But it was nice filming in the Louvre, that was quite special, and to get to film at the Trocadero in Paris, the real deal! It's just sometimes a disappointment when your last shot is in a garage 30 miles outside Paris, doing green screens. And you go, couldn't we have finished in the Trocadero?"
There's been much talk about the various directions in which the franchise is growing, and one of the confirmed spin-off projects is a prequel series focusing on Winston's origins, with a younger iteration of the character set to be played by Colin Woodell.
McShane says that he has "no idea about that TV show" and adds that he's "not a clue what that's about in any way, shape, or form". But he did say that he and co-star Lance Reddick – who tragically passed away aged 60 last week – had worked out their own version of their characters' backstories over the four films they'd starred in together.
"I think Winston was working in Africa in the late '50s or early '60s as some kind of MI6/CIA operative and then brought [Reddick's character] Charon with him," he says. "So we have that as our sort of [backstory] and we both like John – he's our favourite assassin."
Whether that version of events will play into The Continental series is anybody's guess, but one future John Wick project that McShane is rather more clued up on is Ballerina, a spin-off film starring Ana de Armas in the lead role.
So far, exact plot details about the film have been fairly sparse, but it's been teased that it will follow a ballerina-assassin named Rooney as she hunts the murderers of her family. And McShane has no doubts that it will be another hit.
"Ballerina was written, I think, as a one-off script," he explains. "And then they wanted to incorporate it into this world – because [screenwriter] Shay Hatten has written before, he wrote special stuff for Chapter Three. So Shay knows the world, and they wanted to incorporate it within the John Wick franchise.
"So they obviously then said we want Winston to be in there and Charon, and the Anjelica Huston character. And then they wanted John – so Keanu is in it, too. So it's kind of nice. And I mean, I know it's set in the retro world between Three and Four, but people will still think it's the latest when it comes out. And maybe by then Keanu will think maybe there will be another episode!"
Previously it had been reported that production on the fifth entry in the main saga would be taking place back to back with Chapter 4, but those plans were put on hold amidst the pandemic and subsequently appeared to have been scrapped entirely.
More recently both Reeves and Stahelski have cooled talk of another imminent direct sequel, with the director explaining in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that "Keanu and I are done for the moment. We’re going to give John Wick a rest."
But McShane is still hopeful that there will be further chapters in store – and although he's careful not to give away the ending of the new film he reckons that it still leaves the door open for more movies.
"I think it's sufficiently enigmatic, you can go whichever way you want," he says. "I think they wrote it specifically to leave it open to whatever is happening. And maybe there will be another one. John Wick hasn't retired, I don't think!"
John Wick 4 will be released in cinemas on 24th March 2023. Check out more of our Film coverage, or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.
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