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Despite John Wick’s apparent demise at the end of John Wick: Chapter 4, the franchise lives on with two spinoff projects: Ballerina, a feature film due out next year, and The Continental: From the World of John Wick, a prequel TV mini-series that explores the origins of the New York safe haven for international assassins. Premiering in September as a trilogy of movie-length episodes, it’s an origin story for Winston Scott and Charon, with Colin Woodell and Ayomide Adegun taking over as the younger versions of the characters played by Ian McShane and the late Lance Reddick, respectively.
For executive producer Basil Iwanyk, getting from John Wick to The Continental has been a surprising journey. “It’s really surreal because this was a bit like the accidental franchise,” he remarks. Iwanyk has produced every John Wick film since the very first one, as well as many other noted action franchises like The Expendables and Sicario. He’ll also be on board for Ballerina. “We created this universe, and a lot of our audience wants to know more about this world and not just about John, and so it felt like The Continental and Ballerina were the next steps in this evolution.”
Considering how beloved the films are, the pressure to deliver with The Continental is extreme. “I don’t think you have any idea,” sighs Iwanyk. “We have this incredible relationship with our audience.” Director Albert Hughes didn’t feel the pressure during filming, but now that it’s in the can, the heat is on. With prequel series like Rings of Power and House of the Dragon, not to mention how Star Wars and the MCU have been expanding their mythology on TV, the director knows The Continental needs to stand out. “This kind of thing has been done; whether it’s Jon Favreau with Star Wars or Noah Hawley with Fargo,” says Hughes with trepidation, “but not in the same way because John Wick is unique.”
The Continental explains how the trappings of the Wick world came about. “[In the films], there hasn’t been any time to slow down and explain this world that we’re flying through,” adds Iwanyk, “and I think that one of the characters of the franchise that the people were most compelled by was the Continental, its rules, its denizens, and its history.” Iwanyk believes this expansiveness is the beauty of television. There’s more time to set up the characters and the setting. “That’s what I think was exciting about really addressing the Continental as the character.”
The last two John Wick films brought forth the strong female assassins Sofia Al-Azwar (Halle Berry) and Shimazu Akira (Rina Sawayama). In the absence of Keanu Reeves, the women of The Continental steal the spotlight, delivering the fiercest hand-to-hand fight scenes. KD (Mishel Prada), Yen (Nhung Kate), Lou (Jessica Allain), and Gretel (Marina Mazepa) are all on point when it comes to throwing down. Iwanyk claims that it isn’t connected to Ballerina, which focuses on the female assassin Rooney (Ana de Armas). However, Iwanyk admits the inclusivity of the cast (all the aforementioned actresses are women of color) has been a conscious decision. “We want to make this as varied of a cast as we possibly can, and I think it’s something that, across all the movies and the TV shows, we’re really, really proud of. And I think it’s part of what makes the John Wick world that’s so f***ing cool.”
It was Hughes’ daughter Adrienne (who also serves as a director’s assistant on the series) who pointed out the impact of all the minority women in The Continental. “Dominican Republic, Puerto Rican, African American, and a Vietnamese woman. And I go, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize that.’ I did realize the women were kicking asses.” It’s not as noticeable at first, but by the second episode, the women rise in prominence—and lethality. “In the third episode, it just explodes,” says Hughes, “so to me, it’s very special being a biracial man raised by a very powerful woman.”
True to form, The Continental delivers some thrilling action pieces. They deployed 87eleven Action Designs, the daredevil stunt crew behind the films. And like any good actioner, the intensity builds to a climactic finale which Hughes calls “57 minutes nonstop” of action.
The Continental finale is open-ended enough to allow for a sequel series, but both Hughes and Iwanyk say it will only happen if this first series works for the fan base. “The biggest challenge is how do you make it [stand on] its own,” says Iwanyk, “but at the same time, people go, ‘Oh, I know what this is—a John Wick TV show,’ so I hope we pulled that off.”