Checking In with the Director and Executive Producers of ‘The Continental’

Earlier this year, we got to witness the final chapter of John Wick’s story. But we are far from over with his world. On September 22 only on Peacock, get ready to dive in further with The Continental.

The new series dives further into the backstory of the infamous assassin hotel, and tells the origins of franchise mainstays Winston and Charon. And we were able to attend a special event with series director Albert Hughes, and Executive Producers Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee.

Iwanyk and Lee have been producers on the entire John Wick franchise since the first film. Whereas Hughes is stepping into the director seat for this franchise for the first time. So between the three of them, they had really interesting perspectives about their unique experiences with bringing The Continental to life.

The event started with a short press conference, then moved into a roundtable discussion later in the day.

During the press conference, moderated by Kate Hahn from TV Guide Magazine, Hughes was asked what aspects of the John Wick franchise were used for inspiration for the series.

THE CONTINENTAL: FROM THE WORLD OF JOHN WICK — “The Continental’s Behind the Stream: Interactive Junket” — Pictured: (l-r) Albert Hughes, Executive Producer & Director; Erica Lee, Executive Producer; Basil Iwanyk, Executive Producer from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel — (Photo by: Todd Williamson/PEACOCK)

“It was checking out and escaping and having fun,” began Hughes. “When we made this there were only three films. And we were all getting out of COVID. And when we first talked, I told them ‘I just don’t want to do social issues, or generational trauma… and I thought, ‘Oh! This is perfect. I’m going to have fun!’… And we did it. And it was fun… pure escapism. And I wanted that for the audience. If I’m having fun. I think the audience will have fun too.”

The executive producer Lee was asked about the franchise’s rapid fanbase and what excited them about what the fans will learn about the world through the series.

“In the movies we have such limited amounts of time to deal with the characters and the world, and specifically The Continental, which itself has become a character in the movies,” started Lee. “It’s so special. Everyone wants to know more about it. Who works there? How does it work? What are the inner-lives of the assassins? So it’s been fun for us to take a deep dive into that and the show really does that.”

Hughes was asked the casting for the show, particularly Ayomide Adegun as Charon.

THE CONTINENTAL: FROM THE WORLD OF JOHN WICK — “The Continental’s Behind the Stream: Interactive Junket” — Pictured: (l-r) Albert Hughes, Executive Producer & Director; Erica Lee, Executive Producer; Basil Iwanyk, Executive Producer from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel — (Photo by: Todd Williamson/PEACOCK)

“He was interesting because we did this big search that we usually do with a film,” started Hughes. “And we had this one guy who was really close who came in three times. And our casting [director] came in and [suggested a student] from Wells Drama school. He’s never been on camera. And they show us his tape, and we went, ‘My God!’ And he’s of Nigerian descent. His parents are from Nigeria, but they live in London. So he knows that accent from his household. But he’s also talented. So we yanked him out of his last year. And his first scene was with Mel Gibson.”

Hughes then elaborated on the casting of Colin Woodell as Winston.

“Basil was a big champion of Colin. I have to give him credit for that. Because I saw him and he has the movie star look, but I didn’t see what he saw until he showed up. He’s a very smart actor. He also has these old throwback movie star looks. He looks similar to Ian McShane in his younger years. But he’s deeply deeply talented. And he’s constantly thinking even when he’s not doing dialogue.”

Iwanyk was asked why he advocated for Woodell.

“For me what strikes me about Ian McShane is his eyes,” started Iwanyk. “His eyes can vacillate between charming and fun, and at a moment’s notice, lethal and scary. And Colin was the one actor who I felt had Ian’s eyes. He’s someone who will grow into that actor who will charm someone before he shivs him. When Ian’s character kind of assures the audience he’s on John Wick’s side, you believe him because you just see it in his face. And I think that’s what Colin had. It just started with the eyes really. “

THE CONTINENTAL: FROM THE WORLD OF JOHN WICK — “The Continental’s Behind the Stream: Interactive Junket” — Pictured: (l-r) Basil Iwanyk, Executive Producer; Erica Lee, Executive Producer; Albert Hughes, Executive Producer & Director from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel — (Photo by: Todd Williamson/PEACOCK)

Following the press conference, we were able to sit with Hughes, as well as Iwanyk and Lee, in more intimate roundtable discussions.

During the roundtable discussion with Hughes, he was asked about Easter Eggs throughout the series.

“It was quite easy because there were three films that existed right when we were doing. Four [had not came out, but] I saw four during the post. So I studied them,” he started. “I already saw them in the theater and I go, what would be cool with my partner in crime, Kirk Ward, the showrunner and writer. And there’s some that are quite obvious. If you’re a John Wick fan, you know. And then some that are deeper like The Adjudicator, I guess I can kind of spoil, it’s not a big spoiler, but there’s a license plate on her car in the third episode… It says SW-FLTY, Show Fealty, which comes from The Adjudicator in the third [chapter], right? Then there’s the Marilyn Monroe poster in episode one, which a piece of dialogue gets referenced in the end of [Chapter 2], and it’s quite obvious… these are the obvious ones that I don’t think a casual fan would pick up on, but if you’re a hardcore Wick fan, you would. And then there’s more subtle ones that I don’t reveal. Just let’s see if they figure it out. And then there’s the nod to the ’70s movies like Taxi Driver and French Connection. And I love The Conformist, which is not a ‘New York movie,’ but I love The Conformist; everyone does. Midnight Cowboy is my favorite movie of all time, but it’s 1969, but it’s not dissimilar to what was going on in the mid-’70s. And then we laid in some things that Kirk and I loved from our childhood: television commercials; Yen’s taxi when she crashes into the guy is the exact replica of Travis Bickle’s taxi from Taxi Driver; the second episode has a Starsky and a Hutch car from the ’70s TV show; the third episode has the hearse from Warriors that’s spray painted right before the fumble fight. So come on, it’s better than going and working in a kitchen.”

Hughes was then asked about the difference between the action in The Continental versus the rest of the franchise.

THE CONTINENTAL: FROM THE WORLD OF JOHN WICK — “The Continental’s Behind the Stream: Interactive Junket” — Pictured: Albert Hughes, Executive Producer & Director from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel — (Photo by: Todd Williamson/PEACOCK)

“I was wary of action fatigue. And it’s not only because it’s not just a short two hour project where you can get away with probably longer set pieces. You’re going to have to introduce characters and story and it’s going over three episodes, all like around 90 minutes. And I don’t think I had the latitude, nor the talent. I did have a talented team in 8711 and the same group of guys. But me as a filmmaker, I am not on that level of where Chad is. He’s a genius at that, you know. And I think I said earlier, I’m not an action director, you know. But there’s been plenty of examples in Hollywood history where — you guys all know the secrets, you know, second directing, insert units, splinter units — like a director can become like a pacemaker of a scene, but may not even have shot that scene, basically, right? And so my wants were more about brevity, keeping the action fresh, and the audience wanting more, and then also being more playful, which John Wick is. Their humor is in their violence. The humor of the show is more dialogue and characters… but I referenced… Jackie Chan, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton. And I say… what I love about Jackie Chan films is he plays with the objects. He’ll throw chairs. Like Wick throws everything, but Jackie uses a chair. So it’s just that attitude, and then also not boring people, that’s the one thing. The Wick films do well, they never bore you, that’s the sin, that’s the bore, you know, that’s my long answer, sorry.”

Hughes was then asked about how he was able to escape from the John Wick universe but also keep it connected.

“Well, that was an interesting balance because I didn’t expect to feel so liberated, and I think it probably had to, did you see me on that stage thing we did? Yeah, it was like I didn’t expect, I expected fun, I just didn’t expect the best experience I’ve had in my career. Didn’t expect that. And it’s like I’ve had more money to do it, I’ve had more days to do things. That doesn’t mean anything, you know. I didn’t expect that. Yes, there are rules to the world of John Wick, but there are no rules to what you do with the filmmaking, really. You can set your dogmatic rules if you’re a real filmmaker on yourself, but it just eats up wild and idiosyncratic ideas at a rapid rate. And the thing I love about it is it doesn’t have to make sense. If it’s cool and the audience feels good about it, and if you look at the reviews of all four of those films — any other film that did what they did — if they have done it in the past since the ’80s and ’70s, they would just get slammed for this kind of stuff. But it’s like, no, they didn’t bore the audience, they kept it interesting. And it’s also a mysterious new world they haven’t seen before, with rules they don’t know about. It’s kind of a sub-culture, and it’s well made, you know. That was the pressure, I guess. I would like to think that all those films I’ve done in the past were well made, even if someone didn’t like it. But I would like, I think the challenge would be to make sure the quality stays, yeah.”

When asked about whether or not he was asked to or decided to put in references in The Continental that may inform future projects in the John Wick franchise, Hughes said this:

“No, shockingly, you think of corporations and IPs and sequels and franchises and prequels that are, you know… very controlling… No, it was a free-for-all. And what I loved about it was I was able to draw from John Wick and reverse engineer from my world, right? There was never any mandates coming in like, ‘oh, you know, Ana de Armas has just been hired, can you do a nod to her?’ And then when everything in the dust settled and I saw Chapter 4 finished, I’m like, ‘whoa, there’s like these happy accidents.’ The Marquis… he had this brooch pin. Carmack has a brooch pin. Then there’s something done by another character or gunmen in the hallway holding guns. We have gunmen in the hallway. That was all by like happy accidents, and there’s about four of them that are in John Wick 4. I’m like, ‘whoa, that was not intended.'”

THE CONTINENTAL: FROM THE WORLD OF JOHN WICK — “The Continental’s Behind the Stream: Interactive Junket” — Pictured: Atmospheric from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel — (Photo by: Todd Williamson/PEACOCK)

In addition to Hughes, we were able to sit with Iwanyk and Lee.

The executive producers were asked about introducing Hughes’ unique vision to the franchise.

“I’ve been trying to get in business with Albert, his brother, forever,” began Iwanyk. “They passed on everything we gave him. Everything… John Wick movies at their core, they’re gangster movies… And Albert directed some great gangster movies. And we knew he wouldn’t come into the movie as like a fanboy. He would come into a movie from a different side entrance. Side entrance would be like gangster director, you know what I mean?.. .And then when we met with him, I think you guys maybe heard this morning, he’s true. He’s like, ‘everything I read is about like race relations and so serious, because I just want to have fun.’ And we said to him, like, that the joy of the John Wick movies, they’re a lot of fun to make, because you can do whatever the f**k you want. And it literally is like you sit around with a couple drinks with some stunt guys, and Chad, and then on a TV show with Larnell and Albert and Giuseppe, you have like matchbox cars and army men, you do this. And when he realized, like, ‘oh my god, I could just go crazy and have fun, both musically and visually.’ We just saw a different side of him, like the fun side, the movie side of him. Not the guy that is that I think he wanted to get out of, just like not everything has to be homework. But at the same time, he is, you know, he’s a gangster film. And that’s what he always knew.”

“Yeah, and the setting too,” added Lee. “I mean, like, when he sparked to the ’70s in New York, it so deeply inspired him and I think he so wanted to go into that world because of his love of music and the time period that it was like a genius. It was like natural pieces.”

When asked about which other directors they’d like to see play in the John Wick universe, they had this to say:

” We produced Sicario,” began Iwanyk. “And when you look at Sicario and Roger Deakins, it’s very graphically, I don’t know if it’s similar to John Wick, but not a lot of cuts, composition… [Also] Michael Mann. I have no idea if Michael Mann is still a good director. But I don’t care. Heat is… There are touchstones… It’s just that style of like — it’s like masculine. You know what I mean? But it’s clean frames. It takes its time. And it’s beautiful. The actors look great. Even though they could be down market and stuff. That’s the kind of… In my head. But then I would answer that question for almost any project we had.”

“I was going to say Denis,” added Lee. “It’s such an amazing experience working with Denis. And so we would give him anything. I think that’s part of that as well.”

“There’s a ton of Hong Kong films,” continued Iwanyk. “We just made a movie, which I’m going to plug. You guys will love. It’s called Silent Night, that John Woo directed. I’m so excited. There’s not one line of dialogue in the entire movie. Yeah, it’s coming out in December… Yeah, very clearly a John Woo movie.”

When asked if there were ideas left on the cutting room floor or if they’d explore the idea of continuing the story of Winston and Charon in the ’80s and ’90s in future installments, Iwanyk and Lee had this to say:

“Well, I think there’s a first part no, nothing on the cutting room floor,” started Iwanyk. “Because early on, when we were having trouble trying to figure out how to structure this over like eight episodes, John Feldheimer, the chairman of Lionsgate, came up with this idea of ‘let’s do, you know, three nights of a film over three nights, because it used to happen in the ’70s and ’80s.’ It was really fun. I was growing up in the ’80s. And so that went right off the bat and it kind of unlocked stuff for us. I think Albert, Erica, and I are filmmakers more than we are intelligent, and so we understood how to tell those stories. The second part of your question is, and I’m just going to sound really cheesy, and I’m being dead serious — it is not up to us. If the audience loves it and is embracing of it and are going to want more? Of course your mind goes to like, look at who Winston is in the TV show, who Winston is in the films, and that journey of what it is. In my own head, I’m like, okay, you probably had to have a friend or two killed because they broke the rule. All that stuff that made them hardened and tough. You want to see that journey, whether it’s through the ’70s or the ’80s. There’s so much other stuff. There’s so many characters. There’s so many things that we can play in. I think we’d be elated if it was embraced enough. We had a shot of it. It’d be so cool. It’d be so cool.”

The Continental premieres this Friday, September 22, only on Peacock.

And keep your eyes posted to The Nerds of Color this week for more coverage of The Continental!

*This event was conducted during the WGA and SAG/AFTRA strike. To support the strike, please donate to the Entertainment Community Fund.*

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