Chad Stahelski has spent the past few years in the world of besuited hitmen, first codirecting 2014’s John Wick with David Leitch and then going solo for John Wick: Chapter 2 (out Feb. 10). But the filmmaker plans to soon enter the realm of kilted swordsmen. Last November, it was reported that Stahelski had been recruited to reboot the Highlander franchise, a project which has been in development at Lionsgate for several years. The director confirms that he hopes to oversee a new trilogy of films based on the mythology of battling — and beheading — Immortals which was established by Russell Mulcahy’s original 1986 film.
“Right now, I’m very interested in doing the Highlander property,” says Stahelski. “It’s scarily similar to John Wick. There’s a great mythology, it’s got an action-design challenge. What would a guy really be like after 500 years of practicing sword-work? I’m still a stunt guy at heart. You want to reinvent gunfights, how do you do it? You want to reinvent swordfighting, how do you do it? And that’s where we are at now. I love the first Highlander and I think I’m in a pretty good spot. The creative team, the producers and the studio that’s behind it have kind of said, ‘It’s yours to play with.’ The trick would be coming up with an interesting way to introduce it to new audiences without stepping on what’s great about the original property. You don’t want to over complicate it. I think it speaks very simply: ‘There can be only one!’ ‘We’re immortals!’ ‘Don’t get your head chopped off!’ I think we all know what happened with the sequels.”
Indeed we do. The first Highlander film, which starred Christopher Lambert as Scottish swordsman Connor MacLeod, was not a hit at the U.S. box office but garnered a massive fan base after its release on video and remains a much-loved cult classic. Its sequel, 1991’s Highlander II: The Quickening, on the other hand, has been much-lampooned over time, thanks to its surprise revelation that MacLeod and the rest of the series’ Immortals are not human at all but actually aliens from the planet Zeist. Although the franchise would birth three more films and an array of small screen incarnations, one assumes Stahelski will not be following the second film’s extraterrestrial plot?
“Funny you say that,” grins the director. “When I came on, the property had already been developed for a couple of years and, as things happen in Hollywood, yeah, there was aliens, meteors, spaceships, uh, DNA mutations, terrorists. I mean, they’d tried to drag every plot into the Immortal world. My personal opinion, I don’t want to see any of that. I’m not interested. I have seen other movies like that. I haven’t seen the Immortal world. It’s like, John Wick could have interacted with terrorists and police — if you notice, there’s no police, other than (Thomas Sadoski’s character) Jimmy. I like to be insular. I want to see Immortals. I’m invested in the Immortal world. I think that’s very important. My pitch initially was, ‘Look, I think there’s more here than I can fit in one movie. If I can crack the code of trying to string out the Gathering to three films, would you guys be interested?’ [They were] like, ‘If you can do it.’ Between me, and some of the conceptual people involved, we believe that we can. What, you met four Immortals on the first movie? I think I can introduce you to an entire world of Immortals. Imagine the great characters you could have. I mean, it speaks for itself. So, that’s the plan: to stay as true as we can to the original mythology, and just expand the world, and have fun within the world — without bringing in interstellar travel!”
You can see the trailers for John Wick: Chapter 2 and the original Highlander above. John Wick: Chapter 2 opens in theaters Friday.