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John Wick was supposed to be 75 years old… until Keanu Reeves signed on as the puppy avenger

Originally titled Scorn, the first John Wick film started life as an elderly assassin’s revenge binge.

By Benjamin Bullard
John Wick - Keanu Reeves and dog

From the very first cruel twist that sets John Wick on his blood-soaked path to revenge, the reluctant action hero who just wanted a life of peace has pretty much been joined at the pistol-toting hip with the actor who plays him. Fans of the John Wick movie trilogy (streaming now at Peacock) can’t imagine anyone but Keanu Reeves in our principled assassin’s stealthy shoes, which is why it’s almost impossible to think that the role could have been created with anyone else in mind.

Almost… but not quite. In a new book that goes behind the scenes of the film series’ secret-society origins, screenwriter Derek Kolstad and franchise producer Basil Iwanyk revealed that Reeves’ revenge story (originally titled Scorn) was initially meant for a very different kind of actor…as in, the fed-up senior citizen kind.

In an excerpt-heavy preview of the book They Shouldn't Have Killed His Dog: The Complete Uncensored Oral History of John Wick, Gun Fu, and the New Age of Action, Entertainment Weekly shares details of how Reeves snagged a coveted part originally aimed at an older A-list star (think Clint Eastwood) and made it his own.

“The lead was a seventy-five-year-old man, twenty-five years after being retired. It was the fun of watching Clint Eastwood kick ass,” Iwanyk explained in the book, via EW. “I thought, Okay, there's probably one or two names you could do this with: Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford. Other than that, I'm not sure how I put this movie together.”

Brainstorming casting moves with an open mind, Iwanyk reached out to an agent just to gauge Reeves’ interest. “I remember thinking to myself, Keanu is one of the great action stars of the last 25 years — what happened to him? What's he been doing? And he was directing his movie, Man of Tai Chi, and doing 47 Ronin. We give him the script, we tell him, ‘Clearly, you're not 75.’”

Reeves read the Scorn script and was drawn to its elaborate shadow realm of honor-bound thieves and assassins. “We all agreed on the potential of the project,” Reeves explained in the book, via the report. “It has this character of John Wick, but then you also have the real world, and at the same time this kind of underworld. This den of thieves that have this honor and a code. It has this emotional connection with John Wick, who's grieving, who's lost the love of his life and has this mythical dark past. And I loved the quest that he goes on to reclaim his life.”

So far, so good — but how could a guy like Reeves play the part of a 75 year-old man? Well, the short answer is, he didn’t have to. Instead, Reeves told screenwriter Kolstad he was totally on board for the role…so long as he could reimagine John Wick as a hero who’d already collected a lifetime’s worth of revenge baggage at less than half the original Scorn character’s age. “The first thing that Keanu said to me was, ‘Okay, Derek, I'm going to play him 35,’” Kolstad recalled. “And I'm like, ‘Fine.’”

As every fan knows by now, the decision to go with Reeves’ instincts and frame the franchise around a much younger hero proved fatefully fortuitous (Reeves “got his talons into it and made it his own,” Kolstad readily admitted.) The series has been so successful, in fact, that the saga’s still unfolding: Following on the wild events of 2019’s John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, a fourth John Wick film is set to land in theaters on March 24 of next year.

In the meantime, you can relive the series’ brutal beginnings — even if it means wincing through the too-soon demise of a certain very good dog — over at Peacock, where all three John Wick films are dialed in now and ready to stream.