Let's all take a minute to realize that The Crow turns 25 next month, and 26 years since the loss of the film's rising star, Brandon Lee.
Someone who hasn't forgotten about the film or that fateful day is John Wick 1-3 director Chad Stahelski, who doubled for Lee following the actor's death in order to complete the film. He recently, on the press tour for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, spoke with Yahoo Movies UK about how the memories stay with him from The Crow, especially surrounding his friend Brandon, and how the experience translates into his current stunt-heavy films.
The interview is long, but as Yahoo says, it's important to present it the way Stahelski said it.
Yahoo Movies UK: You were friends with Brandon Lee, long before you made The Crow together. How did what happened to Brandon affect how you approach your films?
Chad Stahelski: It's more about how you approach life, I guess.
Look, you can talk about safety and laws [on a film set], but you might as well talk about military work, or police actions, you can talk about construction, you can talk about any kind of factory work, there's safety factors in all of those industries. Brandon's accident was a lot of little dumb things that got by, but it's groupthink. All the people involved were very, very smart. You just get tired, you make one little mistake, it compounds…
You know why car accidents happen? Car accidents happen to lawyers, they happen to f**king rocket scientists; you do one little stupid thing like spill a drink, comb your hair, check the mirror, f**king text, and you're dead. Granted, it was a safety standard that definitely changed the industry with firearms.
You know where that leads to? John Wick is 90% guns, firearms. A lot of the safety or the methodology we use, it came about because of that accident.
It's retroactive, which sucks, it's like most f***ing things in life. No one wants to change anything until something bad happens. But I know a great deal about that story, and there's no one thing that you could point a finger at, it was a lot of little dumb mistakes that shouldn't have happened.
Brandon was quite the guy, very charismatic. We met through martial arts at a place called Inosanto Martial Arts Academy, which is really famous for martial arts stunt men and all that kind of stuff. It was founded off his father, obviously, that's how we all met. Great guy.
People always associate him so much with his father, and that's a hard thing. Brandon really didn't really get into martial arts until much later in life. He wanted to be an actor. He had other interests in life, he was a musician, he did a lot of stuff. And when he decided he really loved action, he didn't just go into it as a business, he actually appreciated it, that's what he was a fan of.
He came in later in life and worked his ass off, he had an incredible work ethic, he didn't ride on his father's name at all.
Great guy, super charismatic, loved everybody, loved the process of filmmaking. So when you work with guys like that, like Keanu Reeves, Hugh Jackman, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, all these people that we've worked with, they had incredible work ethics.
From a young age, working with Brandon onwards, I've tried to associate myself with those people, it makes the day go by better.
Yahoo: How were you able to work through your grief in order to double for Brandon? Because if you hadn't have done that, that film might not exist. And it's such an amazing memoriam.
Chad: I knew Brandon for five years before the accident, we were good friends inside the gym. It was very professional. We worked out at weekends, and there was a small group of us that were always interested in that. So we were good friends. We were within a clique.
I remember at the time, The Crow was one of my favourite novels. And it's something Brandon and I had discussed a lot. I was unaware he was going for it, and then when he got the job he came in with a copy signed by James O'Barr. And I was like 'What the f**k? Where did you get that?' He's f**ing with me. He said, 'Actually, I'm going to be The Crow, I'm going to be Eric Draven.'I was like 'You're s***ting me!' You know, he was keeping it low-key, because at the time it was his biggest career bump ever. He came into the gym and he was just beaming, and I was like, 'Motherf***er!' It was so awesome, I couldn't been happier for him.
Cut to two months later, I was still competing at the time, I was on the UFC wrestling team – a predecessor of the UFC. I was going to do a bout in Japan with my teammates, and I was getting ready for a fight.
We got the call, it was a weekday morning. There had been an accident that evening, and Brandon was in the hospital. We start working out, 'Ah, this f***ing sucks, is he okay?' 'Ah, it's all right, he's gonna be okay.' We didn't know the depth of it.
And then we kept training, we do a three hour workout. About half an hour later, Brandon's in a coma, it's not good. 'F***. Okay, f*** it, we're just going to keep training, and just push through.'
We'd just finished the workout when we got a call that he had passed away. It hits you. You're like 'f***, dude, he was 28.' Two years older than me at the time. It f***ing rocks your world, it hits you.And then you deal with it. We do stunts, we had lost people before. I was a professional fighter at the time so we had all lost friends at a very early age. Death was something that was, at least in my world, had already happened. You deal with it.
Then it wasn't until three or four months later that I got the call. Jeff Imada, the stunt coordinator, called. He said 'Look we know you're really tight with Brandon, we've seen your reel, your move, your walk, you look like him, would you be interested?'
I get that there are people who would have said 'I don't want to do that.' I just knew how happy Brandon was to do it. I was never in that private family world. I just knew Brandon professionally, in the gym.
So I got out there and I met Alex Proyas who, to this day, I think is a great director. I literally sat in a basement of the studio in North Carolina, and he wanted me to watch all the footage of Brandon. To Alex's credit, he took me down there, and he was destroyed over it. He seemed noticeably destroyed.
I'd never met the man before but he was very emotional, and very open. He goes, 'Okay, look, I've struggled with this for months, I didn't know if I wanted to finish, but here's the deal. I love Brandon. We had a great working relationship. I firmly believe 100% that he would want me to finish this film, if you're on board with that, I'd like to work with you.'
For the next two days, it was just him and I in a room, teaching me how to walk and talk, showing me the footage and saying 'This is what I need from you.'
I'm not an actor, I was a performer, but not a professionally trained actor in any way. So he decided to see if I could do the physicality needed to move and act like Brandon.
At the end of the weekend he must have had the conversation with the studio. They came back and asked me 'Is this something that you're okay with emotionally? I said, 'Absolutely.'
The first day, I put the makeup on, and I walked onto the set where the accident happened and, yeah, you get hit. But you're young, you have these ideas, you talk yourself into, 'This is what he would have wanted.'
And who knows, right? But, to this day, I still believe that Brandon would have wanted the thing done, and done well, and today it's still a cult classic, it's still one of my favourite films.
To be honest, I didn't know how I'd feel about it. I was a little emotional at the premiere when I was invited to see it. But, years later, I still watch it. I have that reserve, but I have good feelings. I'm proud of the work. That situation, obviously, it's unchangeable, so at least it came out the way it did. It was a good testament to who he was.
John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum hits theaters on May 17th 2019.