John Wick: Chapter 4 Interview: Natalia Tena on Working With Keanu Reeves

Natalia Tena John Wick
(Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with John Wick: Chapter 4 star Natalia Tena about the thrilling action movie sequel (watch and read more interviews). John Wick: Chapter 4 is out on digital now and releases on June 13 on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD.

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“With the price on his head ever increasing, legendary hit man John Wick takes his fight against the High Table global as he seeks out the most powerful players in the underworld, from New York to Paris to Japan to Berlin,” reads the movie‘s synopsis.

Tyler Treese: So Natalia, John Wick’s adoptive sister, is such a fun role.

Natalia Tena: Wait wait, someone else — literally the guy before you — said this: we never worked out what she is. So she could be an adopted sister, but we were like, “Maybe she’s niece or cousin.” We never quite worked [it] out, because I think the Ruska Roma family is such an expansive net of family-extensive lunacy that we’d never worked out quite what she was. But we definitely worked out that I’m someone that definitely looked up to him hugely when I was an adolescent and now the game’s changed. Anyway, sorry! Carry on.

I like that aspect because you can really feel that there is that history there in their interactions. How was it, portraying that offscreen history? As you said, maybe it’s something else — we don’t really know, but making sure those interactions between them had that extra depth. You can tell these two know each other and have gone through a lot.

Yes. I’ve said this before in past interviews — I feel like with this extended Roma family, which probably obviously comes from Eastern Europe, there’s a few bases around Europe and going into America. They must have met up. In my mind, they last saw each other when she was a teenager and he was just beginning to really hit his stride as a proper assassin and I imagine she really looked up to him and it was probably a very weird family gathering, like a funeral [laughs] probably, or a wedding, or Christmas — they’re deeply religious, maybe Easter.

So that’s the last time she saw him. But I think she has looked up to him. I think though, at this moment, when he comes into her life, she feels he’s kind of betrayed the clan and also she is in the full black hole vortex of grief and she’s very angry. So I think their dynamic, obviously, has changed over that time.

Yeah, she’s certainly angry. That scene where Keanu Reeves is in the noose is pretty brutal. How was filming that? What I liked about your character is that she’s fully in control. How was it having that power in that scene?

That’s an interesting question because I felt very nervous on the day. Obviously with filming, you never know where it’s going to start. You’re very lucky if it goes in sequence. And actually, they did do it in sequence because we had a short time in Berlin and they luckily got the location so it kind of went like that. So that was my first scene: me walking in that room, speaking Russian — which I don’t speak — in a room full of all these Russian-speaking extras, a lot of them, and Keanu Reeves in a noose.

So it was a bit intimidating, but I actually kind of learned to breathe through it and remember that she is this high status and I tried to bring that into my mind as I walked into the room, that she’s actually the one in power in this room. That was the helpful thing to get through it.

Yeah, it turned out great. How was actually learning Russian for that scene?

Basically, it was during the pandemic and I had to go to Spain. Luckily I have a Spanish passport. — I thought otherwise, I probably would’ve lost the role. I went to Spain for 10 days before being able to go to Berlin to do it and I had 10 days, pretty much as much as I wanted, with this lovely Russian tutor in New York.

I just went through it over and over and over again because I’m a musician anyway, so it’s like I got him to record it as well for whenever I went for walks in the park or for a run, [I] actually listened to it and listened to it and listened it. The Russian accent wasn’t too hard, because I’ve done that before. So it was just kind of re-remembering where the tongue goes, you know? But learning it as a language … yeah, it was an oral stunt, definitely.

Then there’s that great scene where Wick’s accomplished what you asked of him, and then he’s let him back to the family and you brand yourselves. How was it filming that sequence?

Oh, I really liked that sequence a lot. I always love it when you get to do a bit of prosthetics and you get any of that — it just adds more layers to it. I think it’s a really fun scene because she’s making it … I felt like a witch — that’s what I felt like. I felt like this is my cauldron and, especially because I was speaking Russian, it felt like an incantation and it felt like bringing him back. And also, it felt like that’s the first time her grief has been able to go, like, “Fine, we’ve done it. I’m burnt. I’m having a shot of vodka. Retribution is done.” And it felt like her palate cleanser for her grief. So it felt very fun doing that scene for her.

Everybody I’ve talked to that has worked with Keanu always has the highest praise. So how was he as a scene partner?

Lovely. He’s lovely. He is as lovely as everyone says. He’s calm and personable and he got his hair and makeup done in my same trailer, which, sometimes, is very rare. Some big actors I’ve worked with before, you don’t see them until you come on set. You literally don’t see them. You see them for two seconds on set and you don’t really build anything. Whereas he would find me when I’d be outside having a vape [and] we’d have a bit of a chat. So there was an element of that. He was trying to at least make me feel comfortable in the situation, which he didn’t have to do at all. So that was lovely.

This whole movie is just off the wall, stylish. I love the sets, everything looks great.

The colors, the music, the costumes, everything. Yep.

What really stood out about working with director Chad Stahelski? He just has such a sense of style. It’s amazing.

He’s amazing. He is. I would work with him again in a heartbeat. He just picked me up and made me feel everything was okay. I got there and he made me feel like I was a lead. That’s how he made me feel. Which is how I think people that really succeed apparently make people feel: very good. They can make you feel secure in a situation that maybe you wouldn’t. He must have seen this actress coming in first time from the moment he met up with me in the studio in Berlin. He was like, “Nat, I’m taking you everywhere.”

He wanted to show me everyone, introduce me to everyone. I met the dogs, I met the stunt teams — even though I wasn’t doing stunts. When I was doing the costume … a lot of the times when you do any sort of costume test and [are] trying to find what the outfit’s going to be, you just send it to the director because they’re in their office or they’re doing something — especially just while filming. No, he sat on the sofa for three hours [for] a really fun dress-up session with him and me. He gives people time and that’s, I think, why everything works, because everyone feels very, very safe in his hands and feels like he sees them. That’s the only way I could make sense of it.

That’s incredible. Another thing I’ve really liked about the John Wick franchise as it’s gone on is the world building has been so great and they create these pockets that can be expanded upon. I know Lionsgate wants to do more spin-offs within that world. What’s cool about your scene is they work perfectly for the John Wick 4 plot, but you could see those characters popping up later and doing more. How exciting is it that we have that greater world of John Wick that you can have an impact on?

Yes. And I think now there’s going to be Ballerina that comes out, that I’ve heard about. I mean, it’s just a fascinating universe — the underworld of these people, but also them all being such big characters and the characters around the action as well. They’re not just kind of mediocre, simple people. They’re always these … I think there’s probably so many people that are like, “Oh that’s my favorite character from the second one or that one from the third, and that’s what makes the interest keep going and that’s why you can have spin-offs, because people are interested in all the different characters’ universes.

Definitely. You mentioned earlier that you’re a musician and I saw that you play the accordion. How’d you settle on that instrument? That’s not really many people’s go-to.

No, it’s not. So I did piano my whole life and I did all the grades and I did blah, blah blah, blah, blah. And then it kind of killed my love for music, doing all this classical blah-blah. Then at 18, I was like, “I’m never playing an instrument again.” And then I was doing a play called Night at the Circus with this company called Kneehigh — they’re now called Wise Children. If you’re ever in England, look up Wise Children. When you go see their plays, it feels like afterwards, you want to make mischief and love and music. They’re so naughty and loud and ah, it’s like eating life, watching it.

I was in one of theirs and I had to learn trapeze and I had to learn to play the accordion. We had to all pick up an instrument and I saw the accordion. The director, Emma Rice, was like, “Everyone pick an instrument.” And she had the shonky accordion and I literally saw it and it was like love at first sight. I could transfer all I had learned from the piano onto this weird fucking instrument. I learned it on the trapeze, and then from there, I built up a band.

Are we going to see more music in the future from you?

I hope so. We’ve got a few gigs this year. We’ve had to switch around of some of the players because of life. Life moves and people move away and stuff like that, but I’d love to. I’d love to create more music. It just gets harder and harder as people get older and where life takes them. It’s harder to get together in a room, how it used to be when we were in our 20s, you know? To just play. But I really hope we can create again.

One of your early big roles was in the Harry Potter movies. Looking back on it, how do you view your time in that franchise? It has such a passionate fanbase and that had to be quite daunting to walk into that so early in your career.

I’d already done a few bits and bobs in other films, so that helped. But also as opposed to John Wick — because [with] John Wick, I was already a massive fan. I had just, during the pandemic — literally just before I had the meeting with Chad and I knew that this was on the table — I just rewatched all of them. You know how we all, in the pandemic, just binge-watched random stuff that we loved? Like, “I’m going to have a Bruce Willis day,” or whatever. So I’d just done that work. With Harry Potter, when I did the audition the second time — because the first time, I really didn’t do well — the second recall, I had read the books and then I got really into it as a world.

But I still hadn’t watched the films and I wasn’t nervous about it at all when I walked in. It’s only when I got to the studio and I saw the scope of how big it was. And actually, when I went to the first premiere, that is when I was like … when I did the sixth film when I was already in it, that’s when I was like, “Oh God.” I kind of felt it because before that, I was like, “Isn’t it some weird kids film? I don’t really get it.” And then suddenly, I could visually see the impact of the people and the paparazzi and the fans and I was like, “Okay, I’ve entered into another dimension.” [Laugh]. Yeah.

That’s really fun. Your character, Tonks, she’s really resonated with fans despite not having a ton of screen time. So how has that been, getting that positive fan response to your portrayal?

I do some conventions and that’s always really nice because you get to meet fans. But at the same time, a lot of people, they might have a favorite character, but it’s more that they’re not really thinking about you. They’re thinking about the world and I think the world is what everyone’s obsessed with, really. I think Harry Potter works so well because at the core of it, if you think about it, it’s about a kid that is suffering child abuse and finds his family not in family, but in friends. I think that’s such an amazing message and, obviously, it’s coupled with magic, which we all want to want to be real, all of us. And it’s coupled with really trying to process death as well, which is why I think it’s such a successful thing. Because it does all those things for children, but for adults as well.

You were also in such a great episode of The Mandalorian a few years back. What did it mean for you to join the Star Wars universe?

Oh, I want to be in it more! [Laugh]. I’m really hoping that I come back in The Mandalorian, fingers crossed! I loved it. I remember it was … I think it was January, 2019, so it was freezing cold and horrible here. And I got this job offer and I was like, “I’m so happy to be going to Manhattan Beach in LA and spend two weeks doing Star Wars and wearing this amazing outfit.” It was really … again, I felt very welcomed on set, [it] felt really fun. The way that she looked really helped get me into that universe.

You’ve been a part of so many massive franchises like we’ve just talked about and Game of Thrones as well. To be a part of that many huge franchises and be a part of that legacy, has that sunk in or is that still like a bit surreal?

No, it hasn’t really sunk in. I think it hasn’t because I’m always very small. I kind of dip in. It’s not like I’m … I think if I was like a much bigger part in all of them, maybe it would sink in because it would be like a proper tally on my bed. But for me, I just feel like I’m this actor that goes and dips into all these. So I almost feel like I’m … I am part of the franchises, but a lot of the time I don’t feel like I am because I do these smaller characters. In some ways it’s lucky because I rarely get recognized and I can live my life, but then at the same time, I sometimes remember and I’m like, “I did that!” So it’s very surprising.

Is there a character you get recognized the most for?

No. I get more recognized in Spain, actually, for Spanish films and stuff I’ve done. And even for stuff like Game of Thrones and Harry Potter … I think maybe it’s because I’m the Spanish actor in one of those worlds. Weirdly, I get it a lot at airport security, like maybe not the street, but they look at me. “Are you…?” I’m like, “Yeah.” So it’s usually when I’m Madrid or something. Barcelona.

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