‘John Wick 4’s Scott Adkins on Character Acting, Action Movies & Sequels

Apr 20, 2023

Fans of martial artist and action film star Scott Adkins have waited a long time for him to score a significant role in a giant, big-budget blockbuster, but even they may have been taken aback when he shows up in John Wick: Chapter 4 as Killa Harkan, the head of the German Branch of the saga’s High Table. Killa is significantly heavier than the typically trim and fit Adkins, and playing the part required Adkins to don a specially made suit and prosthetics, making him nearly unrecognizable in the role. Eventually, though, the kicks start flying, and Adkins — even while in the fat suit — is able to show off some of the impressive moves that have made the films he stars in appointment viewing for action-movie junkies worldwide.

In this one-on-one interview with Collider, Adkins talks about his experience making Wick 4, what it’s like working with Keanu Reeves and Donnie Yen, why he relishes being able to disappear in a role, and what he learned from Wick director, Chad Stahelski. He also discusses the challenges the current market presents for low-budget action films that aren’t big enough to secure a theatrical release and drops some info on One More Shot, the upcoming sequel to his 2021 action-thriller One Shot that, like its predecessor, will take place in real time and be edited to appear as if the entire movie was shot in a single take (à la Birdman and 1917).

COLLIDER: Like everyone else, I loved John Wick: Chapter 4. I think it’s one of the defining action films of the century so far, and I think your sequence is one of several standout scenes that are going to linger in people’s memories for a long time. I figured I’d lead with a fun Wick question: Which was the bigger challenge for you — pulling off the kicks and the martial-arts stuff in the fat suit, or having to act and emote with the jowls and the teeth and all the prosthetics and make-up you had to wear above the neck?

SCOTT ADKINS: [Laughs] Well, moving around in that suit was not easy, especially when I was doing it in the rain and everything. But [the face make-up] was okay. Whatever my face was doing underneath, it kind of matched. I didn’t have to do more through “the mask,” if you like. It was that well-adjusted to my face that I think everything read the way it was supposed to. The martial arts obviously was a bit more difficult. It was important for us to sell the weight of the character because the suit didn’t make me weigh as much as somebody that big would actually weigh. So it was important for us to sell that the suit weighed more than it actually did. I tried to move in it a bit more in a laborious way.

Image via Lionsgate

When director Chad Stahelski first pitched you on what this character was going to look like, were you sold instantly? Or did it take a bit of convincing from him that this could really work?

ADKINS: There was the initial sting of, “Oh, no, I’ve waited to be in a John Wick movie this long, and now you’re not even going to know that it’s me. I’m going to look completely different.” Because he very much wanted it to be like the first time you see Sammo Hung in Enter the Dragon. He’s a bigger guy, and he starts doing all these backflips. And you’re like, “Oh, I wasn’t expecting that. How can that guy do that?” That’s what he wanted. I think you can tell it’s me, but there have been people who know who I am and have watched the movie and didn’t realize that I was in it. So it’s one of those things. But that was quickly superseded by the opportunity to create this character. And I love creating a character and disappearing into a role. I really relish the challenge, and I did enjoy playing the part. It was very well written, and it was a great scene. And, yeah, I was all for it.

That actually leads nicely into my next question. While your role in John Wick is definitely at the extreme end of the spectrum, you have never been afraid to change up your look for a role. With a lot of action stars, they look like what they look like, and that doesn’t change much from film to film. But with you — like in your film Avengement, you’ve got chrome teeth and scars and burned flesh in that role. Do you enjoy experimenting that way with your characters and changing up your look from film to film?

ADKINS: Yeah, absolutely. I’m a character actor trapped in the body of an action star. What can I say? It’s not my fault! Early on in my career, I created this character called Boyka [from the Undisputed franchise], who was completely different to me. He’s Russian. The look that we came up with… I’d walk around looking like him, and unless you knew, you wouldn’t think I was the same guy. And that was my most popular role for a long, long time. People were almost upset that Boyka wasn’t real. “Why is it this guy? This guy is rubbish! We want Boyka to be real!” But, yeah, that’s always been something that I’ve enjoyed. Whenever you get the chance to sort of disappear into the role it’s a blessing. I try to do that whenever I can. The more extreme the character, the more appealing it is sometimes.

I know you’ve worked with Donnie Yen before in Ip Man 4. He’s obviously just iconic in John Wick: Chapter 4. What’s your relationship with him like? And how was it being back with him on the set?

ADKINS: Yeah, great. I’ve got a lot of respect for Donnie, and he’s one of the best to ever do it. Like, seriously — the best. I grew up watching his movies. And the same with Keanu, actually — growing up watching Point Break and Speed and all that. When you meet those guys as an adult, how you felt about them as a kid is still there. It’s always a great experience, and Donnie Yen is, as I say, the best of the best. So to sit down and just to try and pick his brains on his approach to shooting action and to ask him about stories from films that I grew up enjoying, it’s always a pleasure.

Image via Lionsgate

Donnie is 59 years old. Keanu is 58. You’re over a decade younger than that, but does watching those guys continue to pull off this incredible fight choreography and some of their own stunt work get you thinking about how long the career of a martial-arts action star can last with 100 percent commitment?

ADKINS: They’re not slowing down, are they? I think, “Yeah! Come on, lads, let’s do this! Another 20 years — let’s go!” We’ve been having old-man action stars for ages now with The Expendables and Clint Eastwood. There’s that show — The Old Man [with Jeff Bridges]. We love an aging action star. Liam Neeson. We have plenty of time left!

We have Harrison Ford coming back this summer, too.

ADKINS: Harrison Ford! Indiana Jones, which looks great, by the way. People are saying it’s not going to be any good. Have they never seen a James Mangold film before?! Come on, it’ll be great!

There are going to be people who see John Wick 4 and see your name in the credits. Or they’re going to turn to their action-movie-loving friends and ask, “Who is that guy who played Killa?” And they’re going to be interested in watching some more of your stuff. To someone who’s just discovering Scott Adkins in John Wick 4, what are a couple of movies of yours that you would recommend they watch to get up to speed on your work?

ADKINS: All right, I won’t go movies. I’ll go characters. Go and watch the Undisputed franchise, the Boyka ones — Undisputed 2, 3, and 4. Then watch Accident Man 1 and 2, which is a different sort of tone. A bit zany, crazy, very British, but still martial arts and a passion project for me. And check out Avengement for a good sort of British, brutal gangster film with a lot of fist fights.

I wanted to ask you about the world of — and the current state of — lower-budget action films. It’s a world where Scott Adkins is a big name, but it’s also one that’s outside the mainstream. Do you think the industry right now is healthy for the types of movies you do? And how has it evolved since you started first locking down starring roles in those kinds of films?

ADKINS: I wouldn’t say it’s healthy because, when I was growing up in the ’90s, the video market was massive. Something like Kickboxer with [Jean-Claude] Van Damme was shot in seven weeks, and you could make a decent film without being too rushed. And, even though it would have a theatrical run, essentially, they knew that the life of it was going to be on VHS. But now we don’t have that — it’s all to streaming. If it doesn’t go to theaters, it’s not going to make as much money as they used to. So you better make [the film] for a certain amount of money and not go over that. Otherwise, you’re not going to make money. So it’s much harder to make those films now. And even if you think, “Well, I might get a Netflix deal,” you don’t know for sure. So, you’ve got to make it pretty cheap, and it’s hard. The schedules are crushed. I’ve somehow been able to crank out quite a few of these movies where the action is of a level that, really, it’s got no business being. It takes hard work, and it’s backbreaking. And you’ve really got to grind it out, but that’s why I’ve got a fan base. I will continue to do that. I think with the pandemic, and with people watching Netflix more, a lot more people discovered my movies. So that kind of helped in a way.

Image via Screen Media Films

You and I are roughly the same age and I definitely remember the direct-to-video era, the direct-to-DVD era. Could you make the case that streaming now stands in for that, or is that not quite a fair one-to-one comparison?

ADKINS: The cinema shut down not long ago, right? So now you’re competing with the biggest movies that Hollywood makes in the same space. We’re coming into it with our little movie having to compete with whatever big movies are coming out. I mean, [the studio] wanted to release Top Gun like that, didn’t they? That would have been insane! But people are going back to the cinema now, which is great. Look, I’ve found a space. I’d love to be doing more big-budget movies. I would love to be the lead in a movie with a healthy budget and show what I can really do. And I’m crossing my fingers that that is still yet to happen.

I will keep my fingers crossed for you as well, Scott. As far as what’s coming next, is One More Shot the next big headlining film you have coming out?

ADKINS: Yeah, One More Shot. It’s the direct sequel to One Shot.

One Shot is a siege movie that takes place in real time and is shot and edited so that it appears that there are no edits. There’s the illusion of a single take. It’s an impressive film, especially in how it looks. How difficult was that to pull off? And how are you and that filmmaking team going to attempt to top it in the sequel?

ADKINS: Look, we wanted to do it before 1917 came out. We had this idea ages ago, and they only gave us the money when 1917 was a success. [Laughs] “Oh, you know that idea you had? We think we’ll finance it now.” But it was received very well. The story lent itself to this intense experience. And me and the director, James Nunn, always felt like there was something really cool about a oner that just draws you in because there’s no edit in it. It kind of pulls you in, and, if you’ve got a tense story going on, it really works. And we were very happy with how the film was received and how it turned out. The first one was a siege movie, so the second one is a chase movie. It starts off maybe 12 or 15 hours after the last one finishes, and it’s a direct continuation. Very difficult films to make. All the action sequences are pretty much done in one continuous take. Certainly in the first one, every action sequence was one long take, and you’ve got to be in good shape to do that. It’s not easy. And you don’t see the 10 takes that we didn’t use. You get to see the one. So it’s very physically demanding.

So One Shot was a siege movie. The sequel is going to be chase movie. There are all these fun little subgenres under the umbrella genre of action film. Are there any action subgenres you haven’t tackled yet that you would like to? Maybe action-horror or…?

ADKINS: Yeah, action-horror! I’ve got an idea for an action-horror film. A couple, actually, that I’m trying to get done. That’s an itch I need to scratch.

Image via Screen Media Films

You’ve been doing this for a long time now. What is the thing that get you most excited about a new film that you’re going to star in? Is it like trying something brand new like the team did with One Shot? Or is it strictly the character you get to play? Or maybe something new and expansive with the fights and the fight choreography?

ADKINS: I do like different genres. If somebody said to me, “You’re going to do a western,” I’d be like, “Oh, that’s cool. I’m excited for that.” But, yeah, most of the time it’s the character and just trying something different. I dipped my toe into more comedy just recently, and I think I’ve had some success with that. Certainly there are comedic elements in John Wick 4. But, yeah, I like to mix and match the genres. I’m excited about this action-horror film. But I’d quite like to direct as well. That’s something that I need to get on with because I’ve been procrastinating on that. I’d love to do that.

Do you feel ready for that? Are you just waiting for the right project?

ADKINS: I’ve done over 60 movies. I’ve directed and edited some of the sequences within some films. I’ve always felt like more of a filmmaker than an actor in some respects. I always look at the film as a whole rather than just the character. So, yeah, it’s something that I would like to do. I have to find the right project because I don’t want to do it, and it be no good. But, also, if I’m going to do it, I’m probably going to have to star in it. And it’s tiring enough doing an action film anyway, and now I’m going to be directing on top of it. I need to make sure I’ve got a film that’s achievable whether because it’s in one location or I’m a supporting part, or it’s a bigger schedule and more money.

Going back to Wick, the first one was a small, contained action film. It’s not dissimilar to movies you’ve starred in during your career, but the franchise keeps getting bigger and crazier with each sequel. Even knowing that, when you saw how big Chad and his team were planning to go with Chapter 4, or when you saw the finished film, were you shocked with how big they went and how gargantuan this thing has gotten?

ADKINS: There were some action sequences that were in the movie that I had no idea about. That first action sequence in Osaka, you’re watching it, and it’s like — okay, that’s brilliant. Oh, we’re still going? Now he’s got nunchucks! It’s a nunchuck fight! Oh, shit, now there’s Donnie Yen! Donnie’s going to fight Hiroyuki Sanada! And that’s just the beginning of the film. Any other movie, that would have been more action than is in whole film. So, yeah, my jaw was on the floor. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and I’m not even talking about my sequence, which is cool in itself. There were a lot of things that I didn’t know about. Chad plays things close to his chest. I was just there for a specific time in Berlin, just concentrating on what I was doing.

Is there anything you feel like you learned from Chad and his team that you can port over to your own films?

ADKINS: Aw, yeah, I mean, you need time, actually, which I don’t have the luxury of on the films that I do. But the attention to detail with the set design and the cinematography and the costumes — every side of the filmmaking process, he’s very attentive to all of it. It’s not just the action. It’s so important that a film looks cinematic. But it’s difficult to do on a [smaller] budget sometimes. You’ve got to pick your battles. Chad is really just an impressive guy — very smart — and one of the best martial artists you’re ever going to meet on top of it. Don’t mess with him. He’s legit.

So you’ve crossed Wick off the list. I know you had the small Marvel role in Doctor Strange. If you had your choice, what would be the next big Hollywood franchise that comes calling?

ADKINS: Oh, I really don’t know. I’d just love to have my own franchise. I’d love to be given a shot in something big — you know, front and center. I think I’ve earned it!

John Wick: Chapter 4 is still playing in theaters. One Shot is currently streaming on Hulu, and its sequel, One More Shot, is expected to release later this year.

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