“What about that man?”
With these 4 phrases, David Leitch’s life modified. Only a 12 months or so earlier, the current faculty graduate was starting his profession as a trainer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Now he was performing as a stuntman on David Fincher’s Battle Membership. Manufacturing was underway, and but, someway, there was nonetheless no stunt double for Brad Pitt. Having solely not too long ago gotten his Hollywood break on the straight-to-video motion thriller Good Goal, Leitch was on set coaching just a few actors in preventing methods when he seen somebody pointing at him. “They stood us subsequent to one another,” Leitch recollects, “and “Brad’s like, ‘Yeah, what about this man?’”
By the top of Battle Membership, Leitch was Pitt’s man. Over the subsequent decade, he would act as the person pretending to be the person on The Mexican (don’t ask in regards to the automobile he crashed), Ocean’s Eleven, Troy, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. However Leitch had goals of being the man—behind the digicam at the very least. He regularly labored his approach up the decision sheet, placing collectively motion sequences as a stunt coordinator after which serving as a unique kind of backup as second unit director for Oscar-nominated filmmakers James Mangold and Adam McKay, earlier than getting his personal shot as codirector of shock triumph John Wick. Eight years later, Leitch is sitting on the high of the Hollywood mountain, with stars from Keanu Reeves to Charlize Theron to Ryan Reynolds to Dwayne Johnson all lining as much as make him their man.
Having now emerged because the premier motion director for Hollywood’s A-list, Leitch will come full circle this Friday, reuniting with Pitt for the violent, trendy, hilarious, crowd-pleasing blockbuster Bullet Prepare, during which Pitt stars as Ladybug, an unfortunate murderer whose newest job places him on a nonstop collision course with a bunch of colourful, expert adversaries. “This one is particular for us,” admits Leitch, who seems to be at his fifth function movie as his first “full expression” of himself as an artist.
“It’s a loopy story—and simply too cool. The stuntman is normally serving to you fill out your function and make it look higher, and now I’m taking part in my piece in his puzzle,” says Pitt. “I’m actually impressed, and actually pleased with him, as a result of that simply doesn’t occur.”
Since he arrived in Los Angeles within the late ’90s, Leitch hasn’t slowed down—actually, he’s solely sped up. The 46-year-old filmmaker’s fundamental residence is in Henderson, Nevada, however he and his spouse/producing associate Kelly McCormick favor to stay on film units. From 2017 to 2019, they launched a big-budget hit in three consecutive years, with Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, and Quick & Livid Presents: Hobbs & Shaw combining to gross over $1.6 billion on the worldwide field workplace—and cementing Leitch’s place as one of many go-to tentpole shepherds.
Recent off a whirlwind European press tour that featured stops in London, Paris, and Berlin, Leitch is now lastly managing to take a break lengthy sufficient for a dialog from his “L.A. crash pad” within the Hollywood Hills. “We do line them up back-to-back, and if we’re not directing one, then we’re producing one,” he says of the busy schedule with McCormick, whom he credit with taking the wheel of their firm 87North Productions. “I actually simply love making motion pictures; it’s our interest, it’s our job, it’s our ardour, and that’s very uncommon for folks. Even after we’re unwinding, we’re studying scripts or taking a look at cuts of flicks we’re producing. We’re having a lot enjoyable. Don’t get me improper, it’s onerous work and it comes with its stressors and anxiousness, but it surely’s actually a pleasure. I do suppose it took so lengthy to get right here [that] I simply wish to make each alternative rely.”
Leitch’s proclivity for steady motion started at a younger age. The son of two lecturers, he grew up in a Wisconsin city that was so small that one college housed kindergarten by means of twelfth grade. With solely 40 college students in his complete class, everybody needed to take part within the extracurricular actions, or they’d be ostracized. That meant he was a multisport jock, a musician, a martial artist, and a theater child. Like now, he was hardly ever residence, however when he was, the self-proclaimed “HBO child” was glued to the community’s airings of Die Onerous and Deadly Weapon, as effectively any and all martial arts motion pictures he may discover.
Leitch’s ardour for martial arts introduced him to Los Angeles, the place he’d come throughout faculty summer time breaks to coach with famed teacher Dan Inosanto, a comrade of the legendary Bruce Lee. He quickly met a fellow trainee, Chad Stahelski, who had simply damaged into the stunt world because the double for the late Brandon Lee on The Crow. After graduating from faculty, Leitch was planning on following in his mother and father’ footsteps, however then he acquired a name from Stahelski with a suggestion to fly to Mexico to work as a stuntman on Good Goal, which starred Bloodsport 2 lead Daniel Bernhardt. (Bernhardt now seems in all of Leitch’s motion pictures with the only real objective of being rapidly killed off.) “I labored on that film for a pair weeks, it was a non-union factor,” Leitch says. “And I used to be like, ‘Wait a minute, we get to make up battle scenes and receives a commission?’ Chad’s like, ‘Yeah,’ and I’m like, ‘I’ll be proper again.’” Leitch flew again to Minneapolis, packed up his automobile, and by no means seemed again.
From the second he arrived again in L.A., Leitch and Stahelski have been companions—in coaching, in stunts, in principally the whole lot. “We have been each martial arts nuts, Jackie Chan nuts,” Leitch says. “We might prepare martial arts, prepare trampoline, prepare something we may involving stunts. We dug a gap within the yard and put a trampoline in it and purchased porta-pits to fall off the roof. We have been simply instructing ourselves to be stuntmen, making an attempt to interrupt into the enterprise, being ready for that likelihood.”
Even with that kind of drive and the temporary expertise on Good Goal, they discovered that the shortage of a mentor with their very own footing within the trade held them again. However Battle Membership proved to be the sport changer. Leitch caught on with Pitt simply as he was turning into the largest film star on the planet, whereas additionally repeatedly doubling for Jean-Claude Van Damme. “These have been my two guys,” Leitch shares with amusing. From there, work began to return in, with stunt gigs on The Bourne Ultimatum, the place he backed up Matt Damon, and The Matrix sequels, the place Stahelski served because the stuntman for Keanu Reeves. However Leitch was “actually making an attempt to go to the subsequent stage.” By the point he was on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith with Pitt, he had served because the second-unit director and stunt unit coordinator on Van Damme’s In Hell and was trying to place collectively his personal challenge. “I used to be pitching Brad on Mr. & Mrs. Smith, like, ‘Hey man, I’m capturing this quick, should you’re into it,’” Leitch recollects. “And he’s like, ‘Hmm. You wish to be a director?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah,’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, cool.’ I feel in his thoughts, he’s like, ‘Good luck, Jesus Christ.’”
Leitch by no means heard again from Pitt about that supply, however he was in a position to safe the opposite star of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Angelina Jolie, for a cameo within the action-comedy mockumentary Confessions of an Motion Star, which chronicled the rise and fall of a Chippendales dancer turned motion star Frank Sledge. Leitch wrote the script—and starred as Sledge. “I discovered rapidly that I’m not an actor,” Leitch jokes of the movie that debuted at Sundance in 2005 earlier than getting a small launch in 2009. “However I actually respect the expertise, as a result of to grasp the actor and empathize with their battle is vital.”
With a profession in entrance of the digicam indefinitely on maintain, Leitch branched away from being Pitt’s man and graduated to being an in-demand stunt coordinator and battle choreographer, in addition to a second-unit director on blockbusters like Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, The Wolverine, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In the meantime, Stahelski had risen to the identical rank on The Starvation Video games, The Expendables 2, and After Earth. However they felt like they’d hit a ceiling—Leitch knew that it had been many years since decision-makers considered second-unit administrators as potential fundamental administrators. Fortunately, there was a vocal and chronic champion of their nook. Earlier than she married Leitch in 2014, McCormick managed him and Stahelski, whereas additionally serving to bundle and produce Oscar-nominated movies like Whiplash, Hell or Excessive Water, and Manchester by the Sea. “There weren’t many individuals taking a look at us, as a result of they’re like, ‘Yeah, however can they inform a narrative?’” Leitch says. “And she or he’s like, ‘Have you ever seen the motion scenes which can be so memorable and iconic? Do you perceive why they’re memorable and iconic? It’s as a result of they inform a narrative.’”
Nonetheless, breaking down that ultimate door was a problem. With the Reeves-led John Wick in improvement, McCormick landed Leitch and Stahelski a gathering to debate directing simply the motion scenes. Leitch and Stahelski concluded that the gig was too small for them, contemplating their different grander-scale second-unit jobs, however McCormick advised they write Reeves a letter with a easy and clear message: “We’d love to do that film, but it surely’s time for us to direct.” Stahelski introduced the notice to Reeves, who gave his full assist. Lionsgate wasn’t as satisfied, nevertheless. Whereas they employed Leitch and Stahelski as a directing crew, the studio wouldn’t decide to a home theatrical launch and solely accepted a funds of roughly $15 million.
Leitch credit their established relationship and belief with Reeves for the success of the movie and the way they have been in a position to coax a career-defining efficiency out of him. “If an actor trusts you and you’ll present a secure place, they’re going to go locations they wouldn’t have gone earlier than,” he says. “Not that Keanu wouldn’t not cry, however the truth that we took him to that stage … he’s a cold-blooded murderer who’s crying within the first 10 minutes of the film. He actually trusted us. If it wasn’t going to work, we weren’t going to make use of it, however we wished to go there.”
“They didn’t really feel like first-time filmmakers,” Reeves stated in 2014. “I felt actually snug, assured, and accountable; I didn’t wish to allow them to down, as a result of they’d such a imaginative and prescient.”
However because it so usually goes, the long run isn’t obvious till it’s undoubtedly arrived. “We confirmed it to Lionsgate, they usually don’t get it,” Leitch says. “They present it to some distributors and patrons for the home market—no affords.” The corporate was readying a straight-to-video launch once they determined to attempt one final check possibility and screened it at Austin’s in style style movie pageant Implausible Fest. “The viewers goes bananas,” Leitch says with a sly smile. “We knew we made a film for style followers, and we have been simply ready for style followers to really see it, not simply the bean counters.” After the rapturous reception in September 2014, John Wick earned a sudden theatrical launch date. Armed with sturdy opinions, John Wick overperformed field workplace expectations, grossing virtually $90 million worldwide and organising a franchise that may’t be killed, with a fourth movie from Stahelski and tv collection on the best way in 2023.
Not solely did John Wick grow to be a phenomenon in itself, it modified a whole style. Like Liam Neeson did for males of a specific age with Taken, now each actor of a sure stature needs their Wick. Simply take a look at Ryan Gosling and The Grey Man, or Jessica Chastain and Ava, or Mark Wahlberg and virtually each film he’s accomplished previously decade. With the prototypical, buffed-out star from the ’80s and ’90s gone, the important thing ingredient has shifted from these doing the preventing to these crafting it. Leitch, Stahelski, and different stuntmen-turned-directors like Extraction’s Sam Hargrave, are accountable for a few of this period’s hottest and revered motion movies and have reinvigorated the style—partially by emphasizing longer takes, wider photographs, and faster cuts. “I don’t suppose he may keep away from placing his personal stamp if he tried,” Ryan Reynolds says of Leitch. “[He] is so signature in his feel and appear, you see it from the opening body to closing.”
That signature feel and appear is “guiding the viewers visually,” in line with Leitch, who thinks his years capturing strictly motion sequences has helped him good learn how to talk a nonverbal narrative. “I used to be telling tales by means of physicality,” he says, “and also you don’t actually get dialogue. Lots of instances you don’t even have the actors, so it’s important to be even sharper as a storyteller.”
However after lastly managing to transition away from his time as a stuntman, the hits on Leitch didn’t cease. A ruling from the Administrators Guild of America meant that Stahelski alone could be listed because the John Wick director, with Leitch as a substitute being billed solely as a producer. Regardless of that disappointing velocity bump, Leitch and Stahelski have been already cooking up methods to develop the John Wick universe and have been each hooked up to the sequel, in addition to Atomic Blonde, an motion spy thriller set in Germany on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Nonetheless, the schedules of Reeves and Atomic’s star Charlize Theron didn’t match up, which means a choice needed to be made. “I used to be far more enthusiastic about Atomic Blonde than Chad was,” Leitch says. “God, I’m so grateful that that second occurred … Chad acquired to handle this world that we curated collectively and develop it, and I acquired to go down this different highway of collaborating with all these those that I wish to collaborate with.”
The choice to step out on his personal instantly paid off. Atomic Blonde garnered equal reward for its boldly distinct and trendy look, movie-star performances from Theron and James McAvoy, and an formidable, 10-minute one-shot battle scene that includes Theron’s Lorraine Broughton giving—and taking—a beating in a stairwell that has been deemed a real feat of motion filmmaking by followers, stuntpeople, and actors alike. “It was Kelly’s concept to do the oner, and she or he’s like, ‘Now you bought to go pitch it to Charlize,’” Leitch remembers, laughing. “So I say, ‘Right here’s the deal: We don’t have some huge cash on our film, I wish to do one thing that’s particular and I wish to grasp it on the Academy Award winner. The digicam’s by no means going to depart you for 10 minutes. It’s all you—you’re going to do that entire battle.’ And she or he was like, ‘What?’”
Like Reeves, Theron trusted Leitch, and the outcomes spoke for themselves: Atomic Blonde surpassed the field workplace whole of John Wick, set the Oscar winner up with the primary potential franchise that she may name her personal, and compelled different film stars to rapidly take discover. “Deadpool 2 was a summer time film which wanted a bit extra scope and scale than the primary movie,” says Reynolds, who, after spending greater than a decade making an attempt to place collectively a Deadpool film, had solely two years to copy the record-breaking success of 2016’s first effort. “However that wasn’t why I wished to work with Leitch. In our first assembly, most of what him was the character’s vulnerability. That was the true brilliance of Leitch. He understood that from the bounce and introduced it out of each second.”
On his finish, Leitch says his course of for choosing initiatives is “very calculated,” however that it additionally comes right down to materials, and that’s how Deadpool 2 unexpectedly grew to become too attractive to go up. “I might’ve by no means stated, ‘I wish to exit and direct a superhero sequel,’” he says. “However when the supply got here for Deadpool 2, it was plain … I used to be excited that I might get to play in that sandbox, like ‘Ooh, irreverent comedy, that may be enjoyable.’”
It was the same response when the concept of a Quick & Livid spinoff starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham got here throughout his desk. “This bell went off in my head, like, ‘That is like Deadly Weapon,’” he says. “I knew the expectations have been excessive, however I used to be like, ‘Let’s do it.’” And the passion went each methods. “As an alternative of pondering of regardless of the largest explosions are with the largest autos and let’s drop them from the moon, that is the place discovering the proper director is available in with a really distinctive perspective and perspective, and somebody who understands not solely motion however understands stylistic motion combined in with story and character. After which enters David Leitch,” Johnson informed me in 2018 throughout filming of Hobbs & Shaw. “[As] he simply did with Deadpool and John Wick and Atomic Blonde, you may see the stylistic method that David has, and he actually simply stepped as much as the plate and took nice possession of this spinoff. Once we made the announcement that David was coming onboard, it was virtually like the ultimate magical ingredient that followers’ heads exploded, similar to, ‘Sure, that’s the man!’”
As his filmmaking profession exploded, Leitch fashioned 87North Productions with McCormick, producing mid-budget motion movies like Bob Odenkirk’s John Wick–like hit No person and the upcoming Violent Evening, which Leitch says is “Santa having his Die Onerous second.” However 87North additionally operates a stunt coaching and design studio in Hollywood that Violent Evening star David Harbour skilled at and nicknamed “The Church of Ache.” The dedication from the Stranger Issues actor is the newest instance of the buy-in Leitch has elicited from expertise, approaching the heels of Pitt reportedly doing 95 p.c of his stunts on Bullet Prepare. “You already know precisely what the 87North résumé is and also you don’t wish to are available there and half-ass it,” says Tony and Emmy nominated actor Brian Tyree Henry.
“David has his personal language in cinema and it leans into the world of that Jackie Chan, Buster Keaton form of action-comedy,” Henry’s Bullet Prepare costar Aaron Taylor-Johnson provides. “87North, you simply enroll.”
At this level, Leitch hopes that any actor signing on to make a film with him is aware of what is anticipated, however that doesn’t imply he can’t bail them out if wanted. “I’ll be sincere, when somebody can’t do one thing, I’ve a bag of methods from 20 years of capturing motion, and I’ll use them,” he admits. “And there’s one other layer of belief. Like, ‘Go for it, should you don’t get it, I acquired a backup plan, and also you’re going to look simply as nice.’”
It additionally doesn’t damage when you could have a number of the largest stars on this planet turning into repeat clients. “David has a form of ‘fighter pilot’ calm about him,” says Reynolds, who re-upped with Leitch for an prolonged Hobbs & Shaw cameo. “Spend 5 minutes with the person and also you belief him along with your life … We have been up in opposition to an not possible deadline for Deadpool 2. Our postproduction course of was brutally contracted. We just about lived collectively for over a 12 months. Having labored with him on two movies now, I really feel like we’ve got a connection that’s cast in hearth … Above all, I belief this man. Implicitly. And I’ve been round lengthy sufficient to know the worth of that.”
“I feel it comes from years of being a below-the-line journeyman within the enterprise, having to grasp all people else’s job and everybody else’s perspective on the director and what this asshole is pondering,” Leitch says when requested how he’s constructed such ride-or-die respect from actors. “There’s so many individuals supporting your imaginative and prescient, and I do know once I’m making an attempt to assist someone’s imaginative and prescient, I wish to be heard and understood so I could make changes to allow them to get what they need.”
He might not have secured Brad Pitt for that cameo in his quick, however when it was time for Bullet Prepare, Leitch lastly landed his man, in addition to a loaded forged that features Henry, Taylor-Johnson, Joey King, Hiroyuki Sanada, Zazie Beetz, Andrew Koji, Michael Shannon, Unhealthy Bunny, and Sandra Bullock.
There needs to be a little bit of destiny in the truth that Leitch and Pitt’s reunion on Bullet Prepare started solely months after the actor received an Oscar for As soon as Upon a Time in Hollywood, during which Pitt performed the ever-loyal stunt double to a Hollywood star. “We spent so a few years the place I used to be supporting him constructing characters, and after we got here round full circle, it was actually nice to see him on the high of his recreation, constructing a personality to assist my film,” Leitch shares. “We fell proper again into our banter. However there was undoubtedly a unique respect after we acquired to that stage; he noticed me as a filmmaker.”
Bullet Prepare is simply days away from launch, however Leitch is already on the transfer once more. He infrequently left the Sony lot in Culver Metropolis throughout manufacturing on Bullet Prepare, so he’s grateful to be again in his ingredient and splitting his time between participating within the movie’s huge international promotional push and touring forwards and backwards to Australia for preproduction on his remake of the favored ’80s collection The Fall Man. That’s proper: Leitch is lastly making his stuntman film. And taking on Lee Majors’s iconic function of Colt Seavers, a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a bounty hunter, is, in fact, one other A-lister in Ryan Gosling. “It’s one thing that I’ve wished to do for a very long time,” Leitch says, not wanting to offer away too many particulars. “It’s going to be good, enjoyable, summer time fare with plenty of motion and a few surprising issues.”
Talking of the surprising, Leitch is ready to direct all six episodes of Sizzling Air, a restricted collection that can star current Emmy and Oscar nominee Andrew Garfield as famend British entrepreneur Richard Branson. However even with these new initiatives on faucet, the director isn’t ruling out a return for potential Atomic Blonde and Hobbs & Shaw sequels, that are presently being slowed by “bureaucratic tape” and “insane” schedules, respectively. Wanting extra seemingly is producing No person 2, and Leitch hopes he and McCormick can preserve discovering tales with “unconventional heroes,” whether or not that’s turning Odenkirk into a troublesome man, Harbour right into a violent Santa Claus, or Taylor-Johnson and Unhealthy Bunny into superheroes, with each actors choosing up their very own Marvel movies from Sony after executives acquired their eyes on early Bullet Prepare footage.
“I’m pinching myself proper now,” Leitch says, actually pinching himself. “I’m very humbled by the actors who’ve come to the desk to work with me … They’re those which can be hanging it on the market daily, they usually’re those which can be going to make you shine. As a result of no matter they’re doing in entrance of that lens is what we stay and die for.”
It’s then that Leitch falls into an previous behavior: standing in for a Brad Pitt character. Sounding similar to Ladybug, he begins speaking about how destiny is the one clarification. “It’s like in Bullet Prepare,” he says. “The whole lot that ever occurred introduced you right here for this second.”
Derek Lawrence is a Los Angeles–based mostly author masking TV and movie. His work has additionally appeared in Leisure Weekly, Folks, and Vulture.