'John Wick: Chapter 4' star Rina Sawayama talks Keanu Reeves and making her movie debut

A few years ago, Rina Sawayama auditioned for a role in "The Matrix Resurrections" alongside Keanu Reeves. 

Although she didn't get the part, the pop star-turned-actress eventually landed another Reeves movie: the neon-drenched action thriller "John Wick: Chapter 4" (now in theaters). She plays Akira, a bow-and-arrow-wielding assassin who moonlights as a hotel concierge. 

"Clearly, it's been destiny," Sawayama says with a laugh. "It's really crazy – I feel very privileged (that) this is my first film." 

Sawayama, 32, spoke to USA TODAY about her grueling stunt work, favorite movies and how making "John Wick" helped inspire her latest album: 

Rina Sawayama plays Akira in 'John Wick: Chapter 4' 

"It was way harder than music," singer Rina Sawayama says of playing Akira in "John Wick: Chapter 4."

Akira and her father, Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada), team up with John Wick early in the sequel to help fight off hitmen who are out to kill him. Sawayama learned archery, knife-fighting and hand-to-hand combat for her kickass scenes, which were shot entirely at night over five weeks. 

"It was a mental challenge to try and trick your body into doing stunts at 2 a.m. and not feel tired," Sawayama says. "I didn't have a problem learning the choreography, but it was about making it look powerful. Trying to convince the audience that you're fighting this massive person and would even stand a chance – that was hard." 

She was cast after Keanu Reeves watched her music videos                                    "John Wick" director Chad Stahelski called Sawayama out of the blue about potentially co-starring in the film, after he and Reeves saw her music videos for                  "XS" and "Bad Friend." Reeves "knew that it was my first movie and looked after me a lot," Sawayama says. "I threw out my back during the first week and he made sure that everything was available for me to get better."  

She's a huge fan of A24 movies                                                                             Sawayama was born in Niigata, Japan, and moved to London at age 5. Her mom enrolled her in weekend drama classes to help her learn English and overcome her shyness. "It really helped me come out of my shell," Sawayama recalls.

Growing up, she loved Studio Ghibli animated movies and was "obsessed" with HBO's "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City." More recently, she's been a fan of A24 films "The Farewell," "Minari" and "Everything Everywhere All at Once," the latter of which won seven Oscars this month, including best picture. 

"I got up and cheered so hard," says Sawayama, who watched the Oscars with her friend and mentor Elton John at his annual viewing party. "For that story and Michelle (Yeoh) and Ke (Huy Quan) to be celebrated – it was just amazing." 

She has so far released two albums: 2020's "Sawayama" and last year's "Hold the Girl," both of which ranked No. 2 on USA TODAY's year-end "best albums" lists and combine elements of dance, rock and R&B. The genre-smashing artist recorded new song "Eye for an Eye" for "John Wick," and says the movie helped inspire her to be even more adventurous in her music videos. The stunt-heavy visual for "Hold the Girl," for instance, features Sawayama running, flying and dropping through the ceiling of a farmhouse. 

"It's given me a love for filmmaking and made me want to do more," Sawayama says. "'Hold the Girl' is my favorite out of all the videos I did for this record. I co-directed it and wrote the story, and loved being involved in each bit, from the color grade to the edit. Definitely for the third album, I want to be so much more involved in music videos." 

Stunt training also gave her touring stamina 

Rina Sawayama performing at last year's Coachella music festival in Indio, California.

The singer recently wrapped a headlining tour for "Hold the Girl," and will next play summer festivals including Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Governors Ball. Although she "hated fitness" before "John Wick," she says training for the movie ultimately made her a better live performer. 

"What doing 'John Wick' taught me was that I could push my physical limits," Sawayama says. "I still tap into that mental strength when I'm tired and have to get up on stage or am feeling a little under the weather. I'm like, 'No, you did that stunt at 2 a.m. wearing a tight leather suit. If you can do that, you can do this!' "

Her 'chosen family' keeps her humble 

Rina Sawayama arriving at the London premiere of "John Wick: Chapter 4."

Sawayama earned a political science degree from the University of Cambridge before shifting her focus to music. She is still close with her college friends, whom she calls her "chosen family." They joined her at the film's London premiere. 

"They were like, 'What're you doing in a movie?' They were finding it hilarious! I love them," Sawayama says. "No matter how many cool things I do, they'll still tell me I'm trash and take the piss out of me, which is what I want. It's great."

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