John Wick just met his biggest match.
Through three films, our favorite pencil-using unretired hitman has killed hundreds of nameless challengers (is anyone in New York not an assassin?), but in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, he faces off with a killer straight out of James Bond — and the NBA.
John Wick 3 picks up immediately after the last film, with Wick (Keanu Reeves) running through the rainy streets of New York as the criminal world is alerted to the $14 million contract out on him. Thankfully, he at least has an hour head start and makes his way to the New York Public Library to retrieve a “marker” and a crucifix necklace. But with still a few minutes before his time is up, he’s approached by a mammoth of an assassin named Ernest who doesn’t mind taking an early stab. And he just happens to be played by Philadelphia 76ers center — and NBA Twitter favorite — Boban Marjanović.
“When I found out about this, I was freaking out,” the seven-foot, three inches tall Serbian tells EW. “I was like, ‘The John Wick movies?’ I kept asking them if they were serious.”
And they were. With Wick director Chad Stahelski inspired by the metal-toothed Bond villain Jaws, who was portrayed by Richard Kiel in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker, there was only one man for the job.
“I’m a big fan of finding really interesting people and performers and to train them in the martial arts,” Stahelski told EW. “I’m a big fan of the old James Bonds, like Moonraker, where you had the character Jaws, who was like seven feet, had the metal mouth. We wanted to do a little ode to that, so we were like, Okay, who do we find? And our producer, Basil Iwanyk, was like, ‘Hey, I know this guy in the NBA, he’s got the biggest hands in the NBA. So, we’re like, ‘F— it, we’ll call him up.’ And he was interested. We were like, ‘Do you want to come in, play a part?’ He’s never acted before, but he’d been in all these commercials in Serbia. And he was kind of funny! And we’re like, ‘Alright, well he fits, let’s see what we can do with him.’ So, we brought him out to New York, and let the stunt guys work with him, and we saw what we could do.”
Comparing the fight training to the practice that he puts in for basketball, Marjanović admits that he didn’t know if he was up to the scene after first seeing how the face-off with Reeves’ Wick would look, but he eventually got comfortable, with much of that being thanks to the film’s star.
“My first impression was like, ‘Wow, I’m doing this with Keanu; it’s crazy,'” he reveals. “At first, I didn’t want to hit him or do anything to him because I respect him so much. But he’s so professional; he was so helpful and it’s easy to be more focused and careful when you have a person like that to work with.”
While accustomed to one-on-one battles, nothing could have prepared Marjanović for his epic showdown with Reeves that ends with Wick killing Ernest with a book. The 30-year-old basketball player says he wasn’t nervous shooting the scene, but that changed when it came time to see the finished product at the film’s premiere, which was only days after his team was eliminated from the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion.
“I was like, ‘Is this normal?'” he says with a laugh of the raucous reaction to his scene. “I realized it was like respect if they like something.” He even managed to impress his BFF/teammate Tobias Harris. “The guys know I’m in the movie but everybody think I’m like tiny part, like John Wick just walk to me, kill me, and keep walking,” he reveals. “No one expected a real fight. I was with Tobias at the premiere and he looked at me and was like, ‘Hey, Bo, this is the real deal!'”
Considering the fun he had making the film and the good feedback, Marjanović is hoping to get more acting opportunities, even campaigning to go from playing a Bond-like role to being in a Bond movie (“It would be nice.”). But there’s one thing he definitely won’t be doing after this experience.
“I’m scared to go to library,” he jokes. “I’m scared John Wick will show up and break my leg again.”
John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum is now in theaters.