John Wick Never Saw Shamier Anderson Coming — And Neither Will You
The breakout star of John Wick: Chapter 4 talks kung fu, hanging with Liam Neeson on set, and his scene-stealing dog.
Shamier Anderson knows kung fu.
Specifically, he knows Wing Chun, a Chinese martial art built on speed and deflection, its practitioners’ arms moving in a blur to parry and then, like a snake, catch the opponent with a lightning strike. You’ve seen it popularized by onscreen martial arts legends like Bruce Lee and, more recently, Donnie Yen, who also stars alongside Anderson in John Wick: Chapter 4.
Anderson plays the Tracker, a nameless character — when asked, he repeatedly says he’s “nobody” — accompanied by an equally nameless dog. The Tracker has been following John Wick (Keanu Reeves) across the globe, possibly for years, hungry for the bounty on the vengeance-seeking assassin’s head, but shrewdly waiting for the price to max out before he strikes the killing blow. In John Wick: Chapter 4, he reluctantly allies himself with the flamboyant and frightening Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), who’s been granted full control over the High Table — the crime lords and mob bosses who control the assassin underworld — to finally catch John Wick.
“You had me at John Wick 4.”
Anderson’s knowledge of Wing Chun (and his weapons training) made the 31-year-old Canadian actor a perfect addition to a franchise known for vicious fight scenes choreographed by world-class stunt coordinators. But also, as he puts it (while grinning): “I love getting beat up.”
“I always said if I wasn’t an actor, I probably would be a martial artist,” Anderson tells Inverse. “I’d probably be like an MMA fighter. I just think the stamina, the art, the physicality, the athleticism is bar none.”
Spoken like someone who would likely ace a John Wick audition, which Anderson didn’t have to go through. He got a call from director Chad Stahelski, who remembered him from producing Halle Berry’s 2020 directorial debut, Bruised, in which Anderson plays a double-dealing MMA promoter.
“I got a call from my agent: ‘Chad Stahelski the director wants to meet you for John Wick 4,’” recalls Anderson. “I’m currently at the gym working out. He said, ‘Hey, man, I got this cool script, a project called John Wick 4. Take a peek at the Tracker, let me know what you think.’ And I was like, ‘You had me at John Wick 4.’”
In person, Shamier Anderson carries himself with the measured confidence of a man who can hold his own among a bunch of dangerous assassins. He fits right in among the John Wick franchise’s growing roster of movie and martial arts legends, but his character isn’t more of the same.
While each installment of the John Wick saga reveals new depths to a bustling underworld, the Tracker is an odd man out among the community of international assassins. In a sea of old friends (and old frenemies), the Tracker gets side-eye from everyone else, all seemingly wondering, Who invited him? And the Tracker, as Anderson plays him, revels in that outsider-dom.
“I wanted to keep this guy as human as possible,” Anderson says, describing his character as a foil to Keanu Reeves’ well-dressed hitman. “In Tracker’s mind, he’s like, ‘Why the fuck is John Wick wearing a suit?’ Even with the marquis, he’s like, ‘Look at your suit, these horses, all these theatrics, like, what the fuck is all this stuff?’ [The Tracker] takes the air out of the balloon.”
Because neither the audience nor the other characters in the movie know anything about him, Anderson plays the Tracker with a quiet reserve. In a world of bulletproof three-pieces and bespoke weapons, the Tracker is as close to a “normal guy” as these movies will likely ever get. That’s intentional on the part of Anderson. He mapped out a lifetime of backstory for the character and had a strong hand in shaping everything you see of him on screen.
Anderson collaborated with the wardrobe team to create the Tracker’s cargo-pants-and-beanie outfit (“This man feels almost like a drifter”). He brought home the Tracker’s notebook, filled with portraits of targets and hastily drawn city maps, to “put my DNA in every fabric of this guy,” as Anderson puts it.
“My character was probably the only character that was closest to the audience because he’s from the outside world coming in,” he says. “My question was: ‘Why is he in this world? Why does he want this money? Why does he have this dog? Why does he love this dog?’ I’ve built a robust story for this man.”
We should talk about the dog. The Tracker’s nameless, trusty canine companion, a Belgian Malinois, carries the torch in a long line of John Wick canines meant to exemplify loving loyalty in a world of contract kills and backstabbing. To recap: The death of a puppy dragged Wick back into the assassin’s career he’d retired from; the pit bull he adopts at the end of the first film restores some of his humanity after a vengeful killing spree; two Belgian Malinois fought valiantly alongside Halle Berry in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum. The whole John Wick franchise is, essentially, an ode to good dogs.
The Tracker’s dog in John Wick: Chapter 4 was actually played by five different Belgian Malinois, all with distinct skill sets. The most impressive were the most destructive: The Tracker and his dog always fight as one, with the Tracker shouting commands like “Kill!” (sending the dog into a vicious rampage) and “Nuts!” (we’ll give you one guess). Anderson describes them as “the ultimate scene stealers.”
“There should be a John Wick dog movie,” he says, before admitting to the flaw in his spinoff pitch. “Everybody on set knew that the dogs were just there to be dogs. Which was so endearing. Everyone’s like, ‘Action!’ The dog was like, ‘Oh! I got to pee now,’ ‘Oh! I got to bark now,’ ‘Oh! I got to sit now.’”
John Wick: Chapter 4 also continues another franchise tradition: a runtime packed with fight scenes, shot wide so that the audience sees the actors’ entire bodies while they’re performing fast-paced, intricate choreography. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a magician showing that there’s nothing up a sleeve: Shooting this way eliminates smash-bang cutaways or using wobbly camera movements to disguise a pulled punch or a weak stunt.
“There was a training camp before where you had to go through different disciplines,” he says. “So you would do the basics of jujitsu, the basics of some judo, some boxing, some Muay Thai. I’m versed in those areas, so it was easier for sure. But the style of John Wick — gun fu — is definitely a new style. That took some learning, but I loved all of it. It really flowed.”
“I was that weird kid because I did both — dance during the day and then I’d do fighting at night.”
Anderson has an ace up his sleeve when it comes to mastering fight choreography: He’s also well-trained in that other choreography. At the Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts in Toronto, he studied dance and theater while moonlighting in martial arts. “I was that weird kid because I did both — dance during the day and then I’d do fighting at night.”
Still, the John Wick no-tricks cinematography style meant repeating a scene as many as 50 times. Anderson bought into the repetition, the iteration, the perfection. He also hinted that the hits weren’t always movie hits. “Things happen, people get hurt sometimes,” he says. “You’ve got to be able to understand people’s energy and size.”
While living in a “samurai wonderland,” Anderson took every opportunity to learn from fellow John Wick newcomer Donnie Yen — or, as he calls him, “the martial arts guy.”
“He’s the nicest man,” says Anderson. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for that. Donnie Yen is the sweetest, most humble, most giving. And he’s a funny guy.”
Then, perhaps hinting at some behind-the-scenes shenanigans, Anderson adds: “He definitely knows how to throw a good party.”
As if picking the brain of a legend wasn’t enough for the rising action star, Anderson recalls the day when Liam Neeson showed up to set, just to hang out: “I was at base camp, where all the trailers are. And there was this tall, hulking figure, and it was Liam, just talking to Keanu. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s Liam Neeson and Keanu Reeves in the same space. This is the safest place on Earth right now.’”
As for what’s next, Shamier Anderson is tight-lipped. He has an idea, though, about the Tracker’s future beyond John Wick: Chapter 4 — maybe just his own, or maybe a hint at a spinoff for a film franchise that’s four movies deep and already building new, Keanu-free ways to explore the assassin underworld (for example, the upcoming “Ballerina” film starring Ana de Armas).
“The one thing that I want to mention for [the Tracker] is, why would somebody want to go to great lengths to get to John Wick? To get this paycheck?” Anderson asks, rhetorically. “For what?”
Then, like a producer pitching his next big project, he sets the hook.
“Not to give away too much, but it was for his mother,” Anderson says, revealing a glimpse of backstory that he built to make the character feel real. “Which serves as an iteration of a Tracker story, whether it be a miniseries, a movie, or even a novel. Because you see him throughout the film, and then there’s a point where you could tell, ‘Oh, there’s a human side to this guy.’”
Photographs by Flaminia Fanale