Leaked set photos often drive buzz for a film, but it was taken to another level when photographers captured a shot of Keanu Reeves riding a horse through New York while shooting John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum. That’s the stuff of instant meme fodder. In line with the previous Wick films, Parabellum has its share of memorable set-pieces. Yet the horse scene was on our minds when we sat down with director Chad Stahelski, one of the key masterminds of the snazzy John Wick universe since the beginning, to talk about the third installment of the hit assassin thriller.
The inspiration for the horse scene came from a few places. Stahelski is a big Sergio Leone fan and based the Wick franchise off characters like Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name in Leone’s Dollars Trilogy. When Stahelski started talking to Keanu Reeves about potential ideas for a third installment of John Wick, the director wrote down some potential action sequences, one of which included a horse. Reeves confirmed he could ride a horse and was game to incorporate one into a fight scene. “[Keanu’s] like, ‘I had this idea of fighting in a stable,'” Stahelski says.
Stahelski had scouted a location near Central Park a year earlier where he found a stable. It was cold out and horses were outside instead of in the stable.
“I’m like, ‘Why the fuck did they put the horses out there?’ There’s a stable right there,” Stahelski says. “So I made [the location scout] take me in there like literally like a couple blocks up Central Park, and this brick face building was five-stories. I’m like, John Wick’s going to run in this fucking place. And we’re gonna have a gun fight with horses. And then fuck it, he’s gonna get on a horse because Keanu said he can ride a horse.”
He adds: “That simple, I mistakenly saw horses in New York and asked Keanu if he could ride.”
The John Wick 3 creative team then went to stunt coordinator Tad Griffith (Mad Max: Fury Road), one of the top trick riders in Hollywood, to spitball ideas on how to make the horse scene in Stahelski’s head a reality. They shot most of the movie in Brooklyn and wanted to make it look like John Wick was riding the horse down 5th Avenue. Logistically, shooting street scenes in New York is a headache. Throw a horse into the mix and you have another set of challenges. It took horse training experts, rounds of permits, large rigs holding Reeves in place, and working with the Humane Society to follow animal rules on set to pull it off.
“It’s just a lot,” Stahelski. “No one had done that before.”
In the end, the scene comes off as advertised, living up to the glorious dream of John Wick, in his suit, literally having a gun fight on a horse in New York City.
“You just gotta trust the stunt experts,” he says. “We figured this out.”
Image credit: Getty / Bobby Bank.