John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum star Mark Dacascos has been around various forms of martial arts for his entire life, so it was only a natural fit that he appeared in one of the biggest action franchises of the generation. Dacascos joined the John Wick franchise as the threequel's primary antagonist and as the actor tells us, he only had hours to prepare for his role in the film.
As it all started to come to fruition, Dacascos was cast just days before filming -- in fact, John Wick franchise helmer Chad Stahelski offered him the gig on a Monday and he began shooting his first scenes that Thursday. Here's what Dacascos has to say about killer fight sequences and more.
ComicBook.com: You've been around the martial arts your whole life really. Has the John Wick franchise been something you've had your eyes on? I mean, you're both a martial artist and an actor, so were you looking forward to joining the franchise someday?
Mark Dacascos: Well to be 100% honest, my wife — who is not an action movie fan — had seen the first two John Wick movies before me and said, "They're great, you're going to love this!" because honestly, I love action. And I'm an actor, so I love great stories but I prefer great stories with action, in general, as opposed to action movies. For me, Braveheart, Taken, the Bourne Identity films, I like those because I like the story and then I like the action. My preference as a teenager used to be straight-on kung fu movies and I still love the athleticism that. But as I've grown older, I like stories, strong stories first. So my wife, who doesn't usually like action, saw the first two and I think that's largely due to the fact that Keanu Reeves was the lead. I have no problem with that because I'm a fan too. So I watched them and she was right. I loved them.
I think Chad Stahelski and Keanu did a great set up with the lead character being very sympathetic. He lost his wife and then the guys steal his car and you know what happens to the dog. I can't even say that. They do that, so you're already invested. By that time, like any good story, you're invested in that character and you want him to go out and get revenge and vengeance and all that. Then, of course, we see the action, Chad, Keanu and the 87eleven Action Design team raised the bar in terms of as practical and dramatic as you can be in movies and still keep it grounded. They just raised the bar and then did that again on John Wick: Chapter 2.
So yes, prior to joining the John Wick family in Chapter 3, I was a fan. And in my mind, I hadn't done action on the big screen in many, many years but if I were ever given the chance to, in my mind, work with Keanu and Chad in the John Wick world, it was hands down absolutely yes.
You mention it's been a minute since you've had a silver screen action role. What special preparation went in to get you ready to play Zero?
I don't know if you've caught that bit of news, but I didn't have much preparation at all. Specifically, because there was an original actor cast for the part of Zero. It was Hiroyuki Sanada and he's a fantastic actor. Brilliant, I love him and I'm a fan of his. Hiroyuki was set to play the lead villain and then for reasons that I'm not at liberty to say — it's a Chad and Lionsgate thing — those plans were changed. I literally got a text from Chad Stahelski on a Sunday night and he basically asked me to please call him the following morning as soon as possible, so I did. I called him on a Monday and he told me that plans had changed. He'd like to invite me to play the lead villain in John Wick: Chapter 3. I said of, "Of course. Yes, please!" and he had to calm me down and tell me to read the script first.
So I power read real quick and said, "Yes, please," and then I asked him what time or when he would like me out in New York and he said, "I need you to come tonight." So basically I got on a red-eye flight. I arrived there on Tuesday morning, Wednesday we prepped, and Thursday I was shooting. So in terms of specific training, I had a couple of hours on Wednesday with the stunt team. Actually, I had maybe an hour on Tuesday as well right when I got there, and then some on Wednesday. Then on Thursday, we started shooting. Fortunately, I'd had my parents training me since I was a kid and had continued practicing capoeira and Muay that throughout my life so in general, I was prepared for something. But specifically, I only had a day and a half once I landed, if even.
That's not that much time, huh?
Yeah, no. It's not that much time at all. I mean, just so you kind of get an idea of how it happened, I was doing some Shakespeare in New York with my Shakespeare teacher. I was in New York for about ten days in the end of February, I think it was and during that time, Chad had called my reps up and asked for a meeting and, of course, I was ecstatic. My reps called me in New York and said, "Hey, Chad Stahelski, John Wick 3, they want to meet with you." I said, "Oh wow. That's crazy." We had a two-hour long meeting. Chad did tell me that the lead role had already been cast, but perhaps I'd consider a featured role, a scene or two and some fighting. And I said, "Absolutely, I would be thrilled to work with you guys."
That was in February and then cut to May, I hadn't heard from Chad in between, so I didn't know if that was still going to be a go. There was nothing signed. I hadn't read a script. Nothing. And then three months later I get that text and phone call, so you see it was like one meeting, then nothing for three months, and then from text to phone call to shooting was about four days. When you and I say we need to take life day by day, man, that's how it was for me. It was from no John Wick to John Wick.
Not a bad deal.
Not a bad deal. Not a bad deal. Sometimes you wake up and things are really good like that.
How much time do you have with the stunt team and the fight team? Let's talk about that final fight, in particular. I mean, are you rehearsing this for a day? Are you rehearsing this thing for a couple of days?
Right, okay. Just to put it in perspective — the part with the shinobi guys — with Cecep and Yayan, who are my two students...between that and my finale fight scene, Zero's fight scene with John Wick, that took about a month of non-consecutive shooting. Meaning, we started one day and then we'd go to other scenes for a couple of days and then come back to that. That went on for about a month because of all the crazy locations we had and the night shooting and schedules with actors. The way we prepped that is way back in February, Chad had already started construction on that structure and he was using virtual reality glasses to choreograph and get familiar with the location. He was having his stunt coordinator and fight team look at it as well, so they had already kind of laid the bones out of ideas of what they wanted to do. Then, for my part, they would show me one sequence or two, always taking into consideration that things could change on the day. But at least we had a sequence that was a go to to work with and then we'd refine that and kind of like have an A, B, C, D, E all the way through the fight. When we got to actually filming, we would see how it actually worked with the space between Keanu and I and then if Chad liked it as is or if we needed to tweak a move or two for a camera. Basically, you have an outline of what you're supposed to do. You have it and you're ready to go with it, but you always have to be flexible enough to change and modify or totally scrap and learn things right on the day. Doing a fight scene with Chad and 87eleven Action Design, they prepare you as much as they can.
Keanu and Halle, you probably heard they had five and six months training specifically for this and I think they would have given that tome as well had I been cast earlier. Given the situation, they prepped me as much as they could but really, even when you learn the moves that they've laid out, in that fight a lot of it was choreographed during the course of our filming or shot on the day. There's a sequence in there where I think I throw four or five kicks, in one of the corners of the structure. I throw some high kicks and then you have in the background, the billboard flashing these crazy colors and Keanu and I go in and out of silhouette.
That whole sequence right there went kind of like this. Chad had just wrapped us for lunch break. Lunch break meaning it was something like one or two o'clock in the morning because we were actually shooting night for nights, so we'd go in at seven o'clock at night and then finish at seven in the morning.
It was like one or two o'clock in the morning, and he had just said, "Why don't we take lunch?" so everybody's moving out and then he goes, "Stop, stop, stop. Change of ideas. Come back, everybody come back." He goes, "Give me a sequence of four or five kicks," I said, "Just anything?" He says, "Yeah. I kind of want you to start with this and then finish with that kind of feeling. Give me a sequence of four or five kicks."
I say, "Can I have 30 seconds?" and he goes, "Absolutely." So I kind of got my wits together and thought about kind of a cool sequence that Zero would do against Wick in this location and I showed it to him, he goes, "Okay, yeah. Let's shoot that." I said, "Right now?" He goes, "Yeah. Just do it." I'm like, "Okay." So Keanu and I and the stunt guys, we figured out the speed and where I'd make contact on and we shot that.
So that came up off of just Chad's head and so a lot of little bits and pieces were thrown in there like that. You just have to stay on your toes and trust that whatever training, for me, whatever training I had was going to get me through and take it from there. I mean really, the whole process was kind of like that because like I said, I didn't have time to prepare and that may have been really a big advantage for me. If I would have known I was going to join the Wick world in number three, as a fan, the pressure's on. One is so great and then two is like, "Whoa!" They expand it and get it even better. There's a lot of pressure because you want to do good by the fans to make three better too. So if I would have gotten that in my head, plus working with Keanu and Halle Berry, Anjelica Huston, Asia Kate, Lance, and Ian, it would have been very daunting and very intimidating. I probably would have been just way too nervous. But this way I didn't have time for it. I had to work and figure out my character on the spot. What's his physicality? Does he have a sense of humor? How big of a fan is he of Mr. Wick? All these things just kept me occupied with the life of the story.
Chad's career is built on stunts. Does having a director so involved in the stunt process make the production either go smoother or is it more stressful on you because you know the director knows what the hell he's talking about?
I mean to me, I think it makes it much easier and I think the reason why we have such great action in the movies is that Chad knows from the inside out how the stunts are done. He knows how to do them himself. He's got huge experience working with Keanu in fights and stunts. I mean, I'll give you a little anecdote. For example, we're doing the finale fight scene and Chad wants this particular move thrown in there for Keanu's character, for John Wick. We're on break and Keanu says, "I'm not sure if I'm familiar with this move. Can somebody show me?" And instead of Chad asking a stunt guy, he just walks over himself and asks one of the stunt guys to join him. He does this move where he jumps up on the stunt man's hips, wraps his legs around, does like a sort of half twist and they both go flying through the air and they land, and both are fine.
I was amazed that, first of all, our director — I knew that he was a great martial artist because I'd seen him practice and do some things before — but it was just really surreal to see your director come over and pull out this crazy martial arts move, you know what I mean? And showing all the stunt guys and everybody. Then Keanu gets up and he's like, "Um, huh. Let me try that," He takes a couple of slow tries, and then by the third time he jumps up, wraps his legs, does a twist and they both go flying. I thought, "That's only in John Wick, man. First the director and then the lead character." Do you know what I mean? And that's because of all that experience Chad has, and then from all the experience Keanu has from way back working with Chad on The Matrix. They've got this trust for each other. They have this trust and lots of experience working with each other and so I think that permeates through the whole production. Both guys are so grounded and humble and welcoming.
I mean, going to work every day was such a joy and to me, it starts at the top. Two guys that work so hard, that love what they're doing, and they want to share it with you. Being one of the lucky ones invited to that world, oh my gosh, I'm forever grateful. But to answer the question, I think it absolutely helps to have somebody know how to do it himself. Because of that experience, he knows how to do it safely and then he knows how to shoot it so that the audience has this visceral experience. I mean, Chad had told me that he wanted the audience to walk out of John Wick 3 feeling exhausted like John Wick and minus the blood and the bruises, I think we do.
By the time we see Zero, he's well rooted in this world of assassins and the High Table. Obviously, he ends up taking a sword right through the gut unfortunately at the end. The team behind the franchise has teased maybe some television series in the future. Have you pitched Chad and the team a Zero prequel or anything like that?
Oh man, thank you for saying that. I would love that. We haven't discussed it yet, but the possibility...we'll see. This is the thing, in terms of Zero's character, I would think taking a sword through the gut, it doesn't look good for you to come out of that. However, in the world, did it by chance just bypass the major organs? Does he have this Japanese homeopathic medicine in addition to the top Western technology? Maybe there's a chance. I don't know that he actually survived that. Who knows. But anything with Chad and Keanu, Zero and the John Wick world I would be 100 percent happy to do. I mean, honored and thrilled to do. I love the character and I love the John Wick world.
I've got to ask, this is totally off topic and has nothing to do with John Wick, but when the heck are we going to get a Double Dragon sequel?
Are you kidding me? That would be funny. Oh man. Nobody's ever asked that before, so you're the first. I have no idea but that would be very interesting, like cut to all these years later, what happened to the boys?
Right, right. You know how Hollywood works. I mean, it's kind in a reboot and relaunch renaissance.
You never know. Yeah, you never know. Scottie Wolf, I haven't talked to him in a while but I see him on social media. He looks like he's taking great care of himself and he was a joy to work with. And Alyssa Milano's out there. That could be fun. You never know, right? You never know.
What's your favorite entry in the John Wick franchise so far? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or by tweeting me at @AdamBarnhardt to talk all things Wick!
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is now in theaters. John Wick: Chapter 4 is currently scheduled for release on May 21, 2021.