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Why They Literally Built a ‘New’ Continental Hotel Separate From John Wick Films For Peacock Series
Production designer Drew Boughton talks how he turned a "huge problem" into an "opportunity" when recreating the iconic hotel.
Trash-filled streets and grimy tenement hallways. Karate fights and car chases. Plainclothes cops and menacing assassins sipping brandy in an opulent hotel lobby. Building the illicit underworld of The Continental was a monumental task for production designer Drew Boughton and director Albert Hughes. The challenges were legion, from the Budapest filming location to recreating the “all-is-lost” vibe of the 1970s sanitation strike in New York City.
But literally soaring above all the rest was the hotel itself.
When Boughton learned that the exterior of the iconic Continental building at 1 Wall Street Court in Manhattan (the Beaver Building) was unavailable for filming, he saw the challenge as an opportunity. “That was the only thing that happened in my sandbox that was a huge problem, but I said, let’s do this.”
Boughton and his team built an enormous 40-foot-tall set from the ground up to recreate the John Wick hotel’s exterior, including buildings on both sides that were 20 and 30 feet tall. “There were set extensions, but a lot was physically built and constructed, so you’re looking at a real set behind the performers,” the three-time Emmy Award nominee told NBC Insider.
The building used in the John Wick films was not just unavailable; the owners of the real-life building didn't grant legal rights to its image, so there also needed to be a visual distinction between the Continental's facade and the actual building in New York. But what was initially a obstacle turned into a boon for Boughton. He added his own dramatic flair to the building with sculptural touches that made sense for the era. "The Wick films are so sophisticated, visually slick with beautiful contemporary aspects. Our opportunity was to literally move all of that and do this in the '70s in that beautiful genre of those times."
Boughton treats the audience to many rich transporting details in both the hotel’s interior and exterior: the cigarette vending machine, banks of phone booths, and gargoyle sculptures on a Beaux Arts-inspired facade. “A common misconception is that this is all being done by AI robot computers, but the truth is that’s not how it really is. There are a lot of real artists, painters, sculptors…sometimes people assume everything is digital except for the actors,” he explains.
This three-part prequel is technically about the intriguing origin story of ruthless hotel proprietor Scott Winston (Colin Woodell), but perhaps it’s really about the Continental hotel itself. “In the movies, we have such limited amounts of time to delve into the characters and the world, and specifically the Continental, which itself has become a character… and so special, and everyone wants to know more about it,” said executive producer Erica Lee.
In Boughton’s hands, The Continental captured that essential element of living in the John Wick world and in New York City: the real estate.
Episode 1 of The Continental: From the World of John Wick premiered on Peacock today and is streaming now. The second and third installments will debut on September 29 and October 6, respectively.