‘John Wick 4’ Star Scott Adkins Says His Performance Was Inspired by ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’

“I relished the challenge and opportunity to create such an amazingly evil, yet jolly character,” the VOD action star told TheWrap

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The “John Wick” franchise has a reputation for razzle-dazzle filmmaking and serving as demo reels for some of the world’s finest – or at least most promising – action movie stars. “John Wick: Chapter 4” is no exception, with Donnie Yen taking center stage alongside franchise star Keanu Reeves, as Hiroyuki Sanada and Marko Zaror lend prestige and support. Bringing the opposite of “prestige,” at least in terms of the role he plays in the Chad Stahelski-directed actioner, is Scott Adkins.

Adkins has made a name for himself as one of the preeminent filmmakers in the world of direct-to-consumer (DVD/VOD/streaming/etc.) action movies. The likes of Adkins, Michael Jai White, Tony Jaa, Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren hold court in low-budget genre flicks helmed by directors like Isaac Florentine, Jesse V. Johnson, Christian Sesma, and the Kirby Brothers, that emphasize quality action sequences delivered with visual clarity and narrative coherency above special effects or blockbuster mythology.

Fans have been waiting for the maximum bang-for-minimum buck leading man of films like “Undisputed III,” “Ninja: Shadow of a Tear,” “Accident Man,” “The Debt Collector” and “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” to show up in one of these films. However, there’s a twist. 

Adkins pops up halfway through the 165-minute movie encased in a fat suit and playing a comically-past-his-prime German crime boss named Killa who nonetheless can still give Wick a thrashing. It’s a skewed mix of Marvel’s Kingpin and Al Pacino’s Oscar-nominated turn as Big Boy Caprice in “Dick Tracy.”

It’s a deliciously over-the-top turn both for those in on the joke — the 46-year-old is still Zoolander-level good-looking and always eager to prove he’s more than an ass-kicker — and for those who mostly know him, if they do at all, from smaller, action-centric roles in films like “Day Shift,” “Doctor Strange” and “Expendables 2.”  

Adkins sat down with TheWrap for a conversation concerning his experiences, both in the latest “John Wick” series and his 20-year-plus career — he was fighting Jackie Chan in the early 2000s — as one of the very last action heroes.  

Stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski was the second-unit director of both “Expendables 2” and “The Brothers Grimsby,” both of which featured Adkins as secondary baddies. “I’ve been begging him to put me in a “John Wick” movie for a while now. Finally, on the fourth one, Stahelski told Adkins said “‘Yes, but there’s a catch.’” 

That catch was Adkins appearing in maybe the most high-profile role of his career while also completely being unrecognizable inside a fat suit and playing a “grotesquely evil, yet jolly” character. “[Stahelski said] ‘You’re going to be in a [fat suit], playing this German head of the German Table.’ I actually relished the challenge and the opportunity to create such an amazingly evil, yet jolly character,” Adkins said.

“I figured I’m going to have to go big. There’s no good being small in this [role],” said Adkins. He began by listening to Ronald Lacey’s villain from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and adjusting the vocals to his own liking. The director added garnishes like the constant coughing, profuse sweating and the use of an inhaler.  

“This guy used to be [a big deal] back in the day, but he had since let himself go,” he said. The actor described the gig as “a leap of faith,” since it wasn’t until he put the suit on and began to perform in the role that he realized it was going to work.

When asked about the differences between working on one of his own star vehicles and showing up to work on a Hollywood set, Adkins stated it’s partially a matter of time.  

“If I’m the lead in a smaller movie, we don’t have a lot of time to make the movie,” he said. “I’m basically working every day. It’s quite intense and very difficult. I expect a lot from myself. I can create very high-quality action films on a lower budget. With a “John Wick” movie, when it’s time to turn up and get the job done action-wise, you’re expected to go for it.”  

While he consulted with fight choreographer Jeremy Marinas on the action sequel, he mostly took solace in “working with people who are at the top of their game and just giving them what they needed.” 

He also noted that the COVID pandemic provided an accidental boost to his library of feature films since they were available on sites like Netflix and Tubi during times when people were stuck in their homes with no new movies to watch. “There weren’t as many new films being made. I was on people’s radar a bit more during that period,” Adkins said.

The role of Killa gave Adkins a chance to stretch, not least because it’s a character for whom the notion that he can still throw down is something of a twist. Adkins considers himself a character actor and a performer first, arguably preferring to be known as an actor who is a top-tier martial artist as opposed to an action hero who can also act.

When asked about his favorite thespian performance in one of his many films, he was quick to note the 2019 crime melodrama “Avengement.” 

“I was quite proud of the fact that you first met this character [an escaped convict out for payback against the cohorts who turned him from a petty thief into a murderer], and he’s a complete monster. Then we see the trajectory from the naive kid to the monster or vice versa. It’s out of sequence and a very believable journey for the character. I was able to fully immerse myself and disappear into that role.”

In terms of the direction of action cinema, he argued the most promising new development was that of stuntmen like J.J. Perry, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski getting the directorial reins.  

“They have much more of an appreciation of people like me that can do the action but can also act. We’re being given more opportunities to be in movies like this whereas, in the past, we weren’t. It went through the stage of CGI artists and art directors becoming directors,” he said. 

“Now we’re seeing the stunt guys come through, and we’ve seen some amazing action sequences,” said Adkins. “If you put me in one of these roles, you don’t have to train me to do all that because I can already do it. I like to think that Chad gave me the opportunity because he knows I’m a good actor. He gave me the opportunity to show that [and] hopefully, I get to do it again.” 

“We’re in a great place with the quality of action that’s coming out now,” said Adkins when talking about the future of the genre. “We’re able to show action the way it’s supposed to be shown. It’s only been a few years that Hollywood has been able to compete with Hong Kong movies, in terms of showing martial arts action as good as it can possibly be. You could argue that it did with “The Matrix,” but that’s because it was Yuen Woo-ping directing the fights.”

Since the actual on-set experience of acting and fighting in a complicated costume amid a complicated, water-soaked set piece was more business than pleasure, Adkins argued the highlight of the experience was seeing the film in IMAX at the London premiere and realizing — since he only had a limited amount of screentime and much of the movie was new-to-him — that he “was involved in one of the best action films ever made.”  

“My jaw was on the floor. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I’ve not felt this way since I watched the first ‘Matrix’ film. I was like, ‘Jesus, this is incredible,’” he said.