Sofia Boutella's 'Hotel Artemis' Hallway Fight Has a 'John Wick' Connection
'Hotel Artemis' star Sofia Boutella reveals the humanity in her gritty, show-stopping fight scene.
It’s been awhile since Sofia Boutella played a character without superpowers. Following a string of high-profile movie roles including an alien warrior (“Jaylah” in Star Trek Beyond) and undead Egyptian royalty (Ahmanet in The Mummy), Boutella, an ex-dancer and Nike model turned actress, now takes center stage as the human Nice in the new thriller Hotel Artemis. While Nice — pronounced “niece,” like the French city — is a serial contract killer, she still bleeds red in a show-stopping hallway fight that feels like John Wick but was inspired by Akira Kurosawa and Doctor Strange comic books.
“I think she carries herself with a lot of elegance,” Boutella tells Inverse about Nice, contrasting her to previous roles like the teenaged Gazelle in 2015’s Kingsman. “She’s very feminine, very much a woman. She’s more of a grown-up compared to the other action characters I’ve done. Or other characters, period.”
Hitting theaters on June 8, Hotel Artemis is a gritty sci-fi set against a dystopian Los Angeles. The titular hotel, run by “The Nurse” (Jodie Foster), is a neutral zone for criminals to lick their wounds and hide until the heat cools off. But trouble starts when L.A.’s “Wolf King” (Jeff Goldblum) needs emergency surgery, while two brothers who stole from him are hiding out down the hall.
The rest of the movie features a packed ensemble of miscreants and misfits, including Boutella’s Nice, an assassin who shares a romantic history with Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown). More than halfway through the film, things get dicey, forcing Nice to fight Wolf King’s men in a hidden corridor near the hotel exit. Reminiscent of other fight scenes like in The Raid or Marvel’s Daredevil, Boutella steals the show by kicking ass in close quarters.
It’s even more impressive given the fact it was shot and rehearsed in just two days, an anomaly in action filmmaking.
“We had little time,” Boutella says. “We shot the movie in 33 days, which is quick. We had two days for the stunt team to see what I was capable of, movement-wise.” Though not a trained martial artist, Boutella is a former member of the French rhythmic gymnastics team and hip-hop outfit Vagabond Crew. Dance, it turns out, is as great a teacher as kung fu. “I learned it in two days and then we shot it.”
If the scene feels like it belongs in John Wick, it’s because there’s a spiritual connection to that franchise. Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, the leaders of the stunt outfit 87eleven behind movies like John Wick, Atomic Blonde, and Deadpool 2, allowed the filmmakers of Hotel Artemis to use their facilities for free.
“We used 87eleven facilities for free to train for the Sofia fight, because Chad dug the script,” director Drew Pearce tells Inverse. But while they were allowed in the hallowed halls that made Wick, Pearce admits to “ripping off” Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel and Brian K. Vaughn’s Marvel miniseries, Doctor Strange: The Oath. There was also a direct line to Oldboy; Chung-hoon Chung, the Hotel Artemis cinematographer, also shot the iconic one-take fight in Chan-wook Park’s cult Korean thriller.
“It’s really the culmination of a love story between Nice and Waikiki,” Pearce adds about Nice’s dramatic sequence. “Nice, protecting the man she loves by drawing a line she finally in her life will not let people cross.” This weight separates Nice from other hallway fights, the director argues.
“There’s a tendency in movies to stop the narrative, fight, and start up again,” he says. “Action should move the story and emotions of the characters as much as dialogue. That’s why I have the motif that she draws a line. I wanted a physical narrative that gives you geography to work across. A fight in a corridor can’t just be people fighting in a corridor. It should be a story.”
Looking back on her previous roles, Boutella says Nice is “more human.” “Human in the sense that these characters have superpowers or insane abilities and don’t drop a sweat,” she says. “In this one, I wanted to — as the fight went on — I wanted blood, to take hits, to be out of breath.”
Hotel Artemis hits theaters on June 8.
Additional reporting by Corey Plante.