Brandon Lee’s Death on The Crow Set Remembered by John Wick 3 Director
John Wick 3 director Chad Stahelski has a long history with the entertainment industry. He started his career doing martial arts and received his first big break when he was asked to come in and finish The Crow after Brandon Lee’s tragic on-set death. Stahelski and Lee were good friends and they worked out a lot together, so taking on the role after his friend’s death wasn’t an easy decision, though it is believed that it’s what Lee would have wanted. Since then, the entire experience has shaped who Stahelski is as a person and a director.
Brandon Lee was killed on The Crow set due to a series of mistakes involving a blank bullet combined with a dummy bullet, which accidentally left the gun’s chamber, striking, and ultimately killing Lee. It is an incident that changed the entertainment industry forever. Chad Stahelski was good friends with Lee at the time of his death and remembers how it all went down. When asked about how the incident influences his approach to filmmaking, Stahelski reveals that it’s much more than that. He had this to say.
“It’s more about how you approach life, I guess. Look, you can talk about safety and laws (on a film set), but you might as well talk about military work, or police actions, you can talk about construction, you can talk about any kind of factory work, there’s safety factors in all of those industries. Brandon’s accident was a lot of little dumb things that got by, but it’s groupthink. All the people involved were very, very smart. You just get tired, you make one little mistake, it compounds… You know why car accidents happen? Car accidents happen to lawyers, they happen to f*cking rocket scientists; you do one little stupid thing like spill a drink, comb your hair, check the mirror, f*cking text, and you’re dead. Granted, it was a safety standard that definitely changed the industry with firearms… It’s retroactive, which sucks, it’s like most f*cking things in life. No one wants to change anything until something bad happens. But I know a great deal about that story, and there’s no one thing that you could point a finger at, it was a lot of little dumb mistakes that shouldn’t have happened.”
Brandon Lee was the son of the late martial arts legend Bruce Lee, but he didn’t get into the action world until later in life, according to Chad Stahelski. But once he got into it through the world of acting, he really took to it. “He didn’t just go into it as a business, he actually appreciated it, that’s what he was a fan of,” says Stahelski. The John Wick 3: Parabellum director went on to say, “He came in later in life and worked his ass off, he had an incredible work ethic, he didn’t ride on his father’s name at all.”
Chad Stahelski remembers the first day Brandon Lee told him about landing the main part in The Crow, which is a favorite book of the director’s. Stahelski didn’t know he was going for the part, but he was very excited for his friend and even a bit jealous of his copy of the book signed by author James O’Barr. “I was like, ‘Motherf*cker!’ It was so awesome, I couldn’t been happier for him,” says the director. At the time, Stahelski was still doing UFC and he remembers getting the initial call about Lee’s accident. He explains.
“Cut to two months later, I was still competing at the time, I was on the UFC wrestling team – a predecessor of the UFC. I was going to do a bout in Japan with my teammates, and I was getting ready for a fight. We got the call, it was a weekday morning. There had been an accident that evening, and Brandon was in the hospital. We start working out, ‘Ah, this f*cking sucks, is he okay?’ ‘Ah, it’s all right, he’s gonna be okay.’ We didn’t know the depth of it. And then we kept training, we do a three hour workout. About half an hour later, Brandon’s in a coma, it’s not good. ‘F*ck. Okay, f*ck it, we’re just going to keep training, and just push through.’ We’d just finished the workout when we got a call that he had passed away. It hits you. You’re like ‘f*ck, dude, he was 28.’ Two years older than me at the time. It f*cking rocks your world, it hits you.”
However, that wasn’t the end of it for Chad Stahelski and his relationship with Brandon Lee. Three or four months later, The Crow stunt coordinator Jeff Imada called Stahelski to feel him out about possibly stepping on board to finish the movie since he knew he was so tight with Lee. Things moved pretty quickly afterwards. Stahelski had this to say about the initial call and then coming down to the set.
“I get that there are people who would have said ‘I don’t want to do that.’ I just knew how happy Brandon was to do it. I was never in that private family world. I just knew Brandon professionally, in the gym. So I got out there and I met Alex Proyas who, to this day, I think is a great director. I literally sat in a basement of the studio in North Carolina, and he wanted me to watch all the footage of Brandon. To Alex’s credit, he took me down there, and he was destroyed over it. He seemed noticeably destroyed. I’d never met the man before but he was very emotional, and very open. He goes, ‘Okay, look, I’ve struggled with this for months, I didn’t know if I wanted to finish, but here’s the deal. I love Brandon. We had a great working relationship. I firmly believe 100% that he would want me to finish this film, if you’re on board with that, I’d like to work with you.'”
While it wasn’t easy for Chad Stahelski, he took on The Crow. He admits that he is not an actor or a real performer in that way, so it was tough, but he sat down and watched hours of Brandon Lee’s performance to try and nail how he looked and moved. Stahelski explains.
“The first day, I put the makeup on, and I walked onto the set where the accident happened and, yeah, you get hit. But you’re young, you have these ideas, you talk yourself into, ‘This is what he would have wanted.’ And who knows, right? But, to this day, I still believe that Brandon would have wanted the thing done, and done well, and today it’s still a cult classic, it’s still one of my favorite films. To be honest, I didn’t know how I’d feel about it. I was a little emotional at the premiere when I was invited to see it. But, years later, I still watch it. I have that reserve, but I have good feelings. I’m proud of the work. That situation, obviously, it’s unchangeable, so at least it came out the way it did. It was a good testament to who he was.”
Things ended up working out in the end. The Crow is considered to be one of the best movies of the 1990s and Stahelski was able to help finish the movie and pay tribute to Brandon Lee. It’s something that has never left him and it creeps into his work to this very day, including working with Keanu Reeves on the John Wick franchise. Stahelski believes that Reeves and Lee are kindred spirits. The interview with Chad Stahelski was originally conducted by Yahoo.