The most iconic scene in Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s first Matrix movie is, without question, the lobby battle where Neo and Trinity (Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne-Moss) use a truly alarming amount of guns to make their way to rescue Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). And the most iconic shot from that scene is Neo, under heavy fire from heavily armed goons, dodging gunfire and rearming himself by cartwheeling over a rifle while simultaneously picking it up. It certainly looked like a difficult stunt to do, but it turns out it wasn’t just physically challenging, but (needlessly!) mentally challenging, too.
You can thank The Matrix producer Joel Silver for making the stunt even harder than it needed to be — or rather Chad Stahelski, Keanu Reeves’ stunt double on the film, can thank him. In a great interview with Vulture, the stuntman-turned-John Wick director reminisced about the difficulties of one of the movie’s greatest shots:
“I had to do a thing where I cartwheel over to an M16 rifle, pick it up with one hand, and then Keanu shoots and goes into the fight or whatever. I remember the setup was a day turnover, so you get one take, and it takes a day to reset, and then you do the second take. I had barely met anybody on set at this point. I’m in the getup, and I’m getting ready to go, and I remember producer Joel Silver walking over to me — I had never met the man before in my life — looking me right in the eye and saying, ‘Don’t fuck this up.’ Basically, don’t miss. And he gave me that little stare.
He’s a very intense person. And I was like, OK. Don’t miss gun. They said there’d be a lot of debris, so I just practiced doing the flip with my eyes closed. And I swear to you, as soon as they yelled action, the first squib [bullethole special effect] went off, and I couldn’t see shit. I just threw myself in there and magically found the gun and grabbed it. I was only 25 and I was like, Don’t miss gun. Don’t miss gun. Don’t miss gun.”
(You can see the stunt at 1:20 in the above video.)
Editor’s Note: Unfortunately this video doesn’t appear to be available in Australia, and there are no alternate links to the content.
Luckily for Stahelski, Silver, the Wachowskis, and audiences, he didn’t miss! But man, the stress of trying to pull that stunt off while knowing you only get two takes — two very expensive takes — would have been more than enough to psych most people out, even without getting threatened by a major Hollywood movie producer. So full kudos to Stahelski for pulling it off, since his work on The Matrix helped make it a blockbuster, which led to him starting his own stunt company and eventually becoming a movie director, too.
He’s got some other great anecdotes about making the movie — including how he showed up for his first audition with a bleeding head wound — as well as some enjoyably enthusiastic thoughts about how The Matrix transformed action movies, so the full interview is absolutely worth the read.