The John Wick franchise is one of the most well-regarded of the 21st century. It is a rare action series that is well-regarded among casual fans while also generating incredibly strong reviews from critics. The films repeatedly got better reviews and increased box office revenue while other franchises began to see diminishing returns. A good deal of that comes from star Keanu Reeves, but was also due to the creative visionary of director Chad Stahelski. While David Leitch co-directed the first film, every subsequent film was from Stahelski, who had a unique vision for the series.
When it came time to spin the franchise off in a new direction, it was clear that the creative ethos to keep John Wick as a franchise going was not about copying the aesthetic of Stahelski but, instead, the creative mindset to hire a filmmaker with a unique vision. If John Wick is a filmmaker’s first franchise, they needed to honor that by bringing on a talented director with their own unique voice that was also different from what had come before. Enter Albert Hughes.
Albert Hughes broke out, along with his brother Allan, in 1993 with their groundbreaking film, Menace II Society. The duo followed it up with the 1995 crime film Dead Presidents, the 1999 documentary American Pimp, and the 2001 period horror film From Hell, which was loosely adapted from an Alan Moore comic. The duo’s last film together was the 2010 action film The Book of Eli. Since then, the brothers have taken on different projects. Albert’s last film was the underrated 2018 movie, Alpha.
Hughes was one of the brightest voices to emerge in the young filmmaking scene of the 1990s, including filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, John Singleton, and Richard Linklater, just to name a few. Bringing in a filmmaker from that era is certainly an exciting prospect and shows that the creatives were serious about getting a top talent to helm The Continental. Hughes directs the first and third episodes and acts as one of the series’ executive producers.
MovieWeb and various outlets were given a chance to speak with Hughes and hear him talk about the show during a behind-the-scenes interactive junket.
Stepping Into the World of John Wick
The Continental fell into Hughes’ lap shortly after everyone was coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was just the story he was looking to tell. “I just don’t want to do social issues or generational trauma anymore or city violence.”
I said, ‘Oh my god, this is perfect. I get to have fun. I know it is stressful, too, but we made it and did have fun. It was pure escapism. I wanted that for the audience, too. If I’m having fun, the audience will have fun too.
Hughes broke down the biggest clear difference between the films and the new series, the most obvious being The Continental has a lot more story to tell, meaning the action scenes need to be spread out over the course of five hours as opposed to a two-hour film.
Yet Hughes had no interest in copying what came before and looked to do something different with the action and use the television format to its advantage. “I come from the school of loving Sergio Leone films where it is all about the tension and the build-up and a quick release of violence. I needed to have the happy medium”.
Casting Iconic Characters
Colin Woodell steps into the role of Winston Scott, who was previously played by Ian McShane. This was a big role both in terms of the character’s role in the franchise but also being the anchor for the entire series and the audience’s entry point into this new corner of the franchise. This is the actor who needed to follow in the footsteps of not just McShane but also Keanu Reeves as the main star.
“[Producer] Basil [Iwankye] was a big champion of Colin; I have to give him credit for that,” said Hughes. “He had the movie star looks, but I didn’t see what he saw until [Colin] showed up. He is a very smart actor with these old throwback movie star looks. He looks a bit like Ian McShane in his younger years, but he is deeply talented.” While he noted that getting actors who looked like their older counterparts was important, that is simply a superficial thing, and talent was always the first priority.
One of the biggest breakout stars of the series is Ayomide Adegun as Charon. The actor had some big shoes to fill as the role was previously played in the film series by the late great Lance Reddick, who sadly passed away early this year. It is a daunting task to take over for an actor as well-loved as Reddick, but Adegun shines in the role and immediately catches the audience’s attention. What will surprise many is that this is Adegun’s first big film, and he was actually still in drama school when he got the part. “We yanked him out of his last year [of school], and his first scene was with Mel Gibson,” said Hughes.
Another newcomer to the franchise is Nhung Kate as Yen, someone with an unexpected connection to Winston. Kate got the part due to an incredible rehearsal, said Hughes.
“We thought it would be difficult to find a Vietnamese actress who knows how to fight or can be trainable at least. There is this wonderful audition with Kate, where it looks like she is in the jungle of Vietnam, and she looks beautiful and starts crying, which is incredible. Then they say she has a stunt reel, and they showed this crazy stunt, and I go, ‘She’s a unicorn, we have to get her.”
“There was no way we were finding anyone else,” continued Hughes. “It was the first time she had left Vietnam, so we had to get special paperwork and visas.”
Bringing One’s Unique Vision to a Franchise
John Wick has mostly been the vision of a specific filmmaker. This has helped make it extremely unique. The risk of doing a spin-off was always going to be deciding to either try and copy that aesthetic and come off as not letting a filmmaker express themselves by just repeating the hits, or bringing on a drastically new voice that shifted the franchise in such a degree that hardcore fans are turned off. This is a constant battle at the heart of many major franchises.
“I would never want to disrespect by copying, and that’s not who I am. They didn’t hire me for that. There are plenty of no-talent directors that, if they wanted to push around, they could do that. The truth is there is not enough talent to go around. If they wanted, the copy would have done that. They told me from the start, which I really love, that it was filmmaker-driven.”
Hughes did reach out to John Wick franchise director Chad Stahelski. “Don’t compete with Chad, because he is the best that does it, but use his company [87Eleven] and use his producers,” said Hughes. Stahelski told him to bring in what inspired him but also told Hughes to embrace his own set of influences.
Hughes knew he could not emulate exactly the original style and also did not want to, but he took inspiration from certain corners of the franchise regarding set interiors, mysterious props, and wide shots. Yet it is clear within The Continental this is a new look for the franchise, and it goes to show just how malleable the series is. Underworld director Len Wiseman will direct Ballerina, a spin-off starring Ana de Armas, which is still set for June 2024, and Hughes has paved the way for the franchise to grow in fascinating ways.
The Continental premieres Sept. 22 on Peacock. You can watch the trailer below: