The new action blockbuster, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM, is filled with absurdly amazing action with stars like Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry throwing themselves into the middle of all the insanity. And yet, in a movie where Reeves kills several men with/while on a horse, the ultimate scene stealers are the two very good dogs Berry’s character has trained to kill, and who she unleashes during the movie’s best sequence. It’s surreal to think about how the crew trained the dogs to so such complex, dangerous work, and now director Chad Stahelski is opening up about the process of turning the good bois into adorable assassins.
The director was speaking with Uproxx about the idea behind using dogs for such a sequence, which he originally wanted to do for the first sequel, which didn’t pan out. Now with more money and time, he was able to bring his vision to life, and though some dog trainers were not meshing with the prospect, he eventually found his man in Andrew Simpson, who worked with the wolves on GAME OF THRONES.
I told him what I wanted to do, to train a team of dogs from scratch to be stunt dogs. Andrew came up with a method and a process to do that. He spent the next three months going around the United States, and found five Belgian malinois from different military installations where they were being boarded and started the process. Seven months it took to get the animals from, like, a year and a half old, to get the skill set, to get used to doing that. And it’s more than what you just see on camera. It’s the animals being on set, it’s being around gunfire, it’s having 20 stunt guys running, yelling, screaming.
This involved training the dogs like stunt people, getting them used to gunfire and lots of screaming. With most dogs in movies you have the trainer nearby giving commands to the pups, but given the complexity of the scene that was not possible here, so Berry had to learn to do a lot of the work while on camera.
So it takes a longer timeline to get things done. And then most of the time you see animal stuff, the trainers are right behind the camera, or just out of frame so the trainer can control the animal and give the commands. We couldn’t do that, so the only way to do it was to have an on-camera trainer. So we literally had Halle (Berry) go for two to three hours of dog training every day — where she was actually coaching them, training them, commanding them. When Halle is on screen, that’s her actually giving the commands to the dogs. And that just takes a massive amount of time.
As for the actual attacking of the human stuntmen, Stahelski wanted to make sure no one, including the dogs, was going to get hurt, so the training method involved diverting from the normal training of attack dogs. Stahelski referred to it as “aggressive playtime” which I really want to see Stallone or Schwarzenegger use as the basis for a catchphrase.
That, yes, and normally when you get an animal, when you train an animal to attack, the trainer or stunt-person is in protective gear and the animal is actually trying to hurt them. We didn’t want our animals to try and hurt anybody, so we trained them, like, you know when you play with a dog, and he gets a sock, or he gets the ball and you try and take it away the dog’s not trying to hurt you, he’s just trying to play with the ball. But what happens if your dog starts getting too rough with you? “Whoa, hey, easy, boy, no don’t do that” cause you don’t want it messing with your kids or somebody else that way, right? We took the opposite approach and encouraged aggressive playtime.
In terms of the filming process, the stuntmen would have green balls on their bodies, and that’s what the dogs would aim for when “attacking”, and while it looks like they’re trying to rip their groin off, it’s just the dog trying to get his toy. Then through the magic of movies, the fluffy balls are erased, and voila, assassin dogs.
The process of getting these dogs trains just goes to prove how much intricate thought was put into this movie, especially considering the dogs are used just during this one segment. In terms of action, each movie in the series has been raising the bar even higher, and if assassin dogs are what we got with the third outing, imagine what the fourth will bring. Assassin sharks??
JOHN WICK 3: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM is in theaters now.