John Wick 4 Star Natalia Tena is Ready “for a Bigger Storyline”
Natalia Tena may or may not be John Wick’s sister.
The world of John Wick is cold, ruthless, and unfriendly. But Natalia Tena felt only love as soon as she walked onto the set of John Wick: Chapter 4.
“I am kind of a small character in this massive franchise, coming in at the end. And I just felt utterly welcomed,” Tena tells Inverse. It’s not that the London-born Spanish actress thought franchise bigwigs Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski would be dismissive of her. “It’s just that the warmth with which they welcomed me, I felt like I was the lead,” she says.
After leaving footprints in other mega-sized universes like Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones (where she played fan-favorite wilding Osha), Natalia Tena occupies prime space in the premier R-rated action franchise of the decade. In John Wick: Chapter 4, Keanu Reeves’ iconic assassin returns for his final stand against the shadowy organization, the High Table. To challenge them, John must make amends with a family of Russian Romani assassins he left behind.
In Chapter 4, Natalia Tena enters the frame cloaked in snake-skin leather of Katia, the family’s deadly figurehead. This must mean John Wick and Katia are family too, right? Well, that’s actually complicated. While press materials and even the Wikipedia page list Katia as John Wick’s “adoptive sister,” Tena tells Inverse that Katia’s familial relationship to John Wick was different during filming.
“I think when we were working, we were dealing with a different storyline,” Tena says. “She’s either his cousin or his niece.”
Still, it’s hardly a fuzzy reunion when John Wick comes knocking on her door. “I don’t think she’s grown up with him,” observes Tena. “Probably the last time we saw her was, I don’t know, 20 years ago? There’s a thing [in the movie] where he’s like, ‘You grew up.’ It has been awhile.” Tena jokingly adds, “They probably had some very strange Christmases or Thanksgivings.”
While most actors who join the John Wick franchise undergo intense martial arts and weapons training, Tena’s time as Katia required no action. However, she still had the challenge of learning to speak Russian. “I was actually nervous about all the Russian I had to learn,” she says. “I was really trying to focus on pronouncing properly, because Russian is very hard to maneuver if it’s not been part of your life. I think I nailed it. I’ll have to ask someone who speaks Russian.”
In addition to working with a language coach who has worked on all four movies, there was an unusual advantage in her preparation: All the free time of COVID-19 lockdown. “I was actually very lucky,” Tena admits. “I got the job in the middle of Covid. I was in a hotel room alone for ten days, just doing Russian. I’d go for a walk, listening to Russian [lessons] over and over. I must have looked mental on the streets, just chatting to myself in Russian in Madrid.”
When Tena arrived on set, where she was welcomed by Reeves and Stahelski into the John Wick family, the final pieces of her role came together in wardrobe. In contrast to John Wick’s sleek suits, Katia’s clothing emphasizes leather, jewelry, and other rough textures. All of which “really helps find the character.”
“Whatever a character is wearing is just immediately like, ‘This is how she stands.’ As soon as you know the physicality, it helps so much. I loved all the jewelry. I was like, ‘More jewelry!’ She should be covered in weird rings. They let me keep her gold necklace.”
Before she was an actress, Natalia Tena was (and still is) a musician. Along with her indie band Molotov Jukebox, Tena spent years busking in London’s underground metro. Those years playing for indifferent commuters had a strange benefit in her later career as an actor, including on John Wick.
“You get immune to people ignoring you,” Tena reveals about the experience. “People say horrible things. You build up immunity, which I think can be helpful doing live performances.”
Like Tena herself, Katia knows how to shield herself from an uncaring world. “She’s part of the mafia. And she’s a woman. She’s got a lot of things she has to hold back. I find it interesting the one person she listens to is the priest. She’s clearly a religious person, in her own way. There’s a moment when she’s praying. I think that’s how she meditates: praying alone and then she goes kill people.”
For a defined character, Katia’s time in John Wick: Chapter 4 is short, though Tena’s performance leaves a lasting mark. Being the sister of John Wick (maybe), a killer instinct must run in the family. Perhaps there’s potential for Katia to fight on her own two feet.
“I would have loved to do more,” Tena says. “I would love to do stunts. I’ve done a lot of Krav Maga. I think she’s a vehicle for a bigger storyline.”
On possible spin-offs: “I would love that. If they did a series, I’d love to pop in. Maybe that time I can do some stunts. Maybe she’s got a dog as well.”
John Wick: Chapter 4 opens in theaters on March 24.