Film - The Gray Man

With the film currently in cinemas, and coming to Netflix on 22nd July (Friday), read an interview with directors Joe and Anthony Russo about The Gray Man...

The Gray Man is CIA operative Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling), aka, Sierra Six. Plucked from a federal penitentiary and recruited by his handler, Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton), Gentry was once a highly-skilled, Agency-sanctioned merchant of death. But now the tables have turned and Six is the target, hunted across the globe by Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), a former cohort at the CIA, who will stop at nothing to take him out. Agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) has his back. He’ll need it.

Ryan Gosling is The Gray Man and Chris Evans is his psychopathic adversary in the Netflix/AGBO-produced thriller directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, starring Ana de Armas, with Regé-Jean Page, Billy Bob Thornton, Jessica Henwick, Dhanush, Wagner Moura and Alfre Woodard. Based on the novel The Gray Man by Mark Greaney, the screenplay is by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The producers are Joe Roth, Jeffery Kirschenbaum, Joe Russo, Anthony Russo, Mike Larocca and Chris Castaldi. Executive producers are Patrick Newall, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Jake Aust, Angela Russo-Otstot, Geoff Haley, Zack Roth, and Palak Patel.

What was it about the novel of The Gray Man that appealed to you both?

Anthony Russo: Joe and I had been big action fans and we had started off doing many different types of things in cinema in the early, independent phase of our career.

During the time in our careers where we were mostly known for comedy, with our television work, with shows like Community, Arrested Development, and Happy Endings a producer who knew our tastes recommended this book to us.

When we read it, two things struck us about it. Number one was just the level of detail in Mark Greaney’s writing. He does an immense amount of research, and you can really feel that in the granular level of detail and in the inventiveness that he has in terms of finding interesting places to take the character, interesting problems to create for the character. It’s clear that it comes from an immense amount of real-world research, which we really liked.

Secondly, Joe and I are always looking for interesting sideways into a genre. All spies are secretive people, all spies have to live with anonymity and have to be able to move without being seen, noticed, without being recognized. And the thing that the Gray Man books had that was interesting is that The Gray Man is the spy’s spy. The fact that he comes from this program called the Sierra program, which furloughs prisoners to serve in the CIA. This is an idea that we brought to the table, but the book sparked this idea, that this is a spy to the 10th degree. And we were like, “Okay, well, what is that? That sounds like a really hard thing to do. And that sounds like a good jumping off point for us to explore the way the genre’s been used in the past and to rethink some things.”

That led to casting Ryan Gosling, because we needed to build the movie around a star who could be The Gray Man. And the thing about Ryan is he’s a master of little moments. He can give you a very complex inner life by doing very little. That’s really a rare and magic gift.

How long did it take to get the story from the pages of the book onto the big screen?

Anthony Russo: It took nine years to develop mainly because we were busy with Marvel. I think every project could benefit from having a lot of time to think about it, invest in it, and evolve it. It certainly helped The Gray Man.

Apart from the book itself, what were your main inspirations while making the film?

Joe Russo: We love the ‘70s thrillers that we grew up on. Our father was a big fan of those so we had a steady diet of them and an emotional connection to them. We’re always chasing the sort of relentless excitement that we got from the first time we watched The French Connection — that energy, that compulsion, and the compressed time frame that makes you sit on the edge of your seat while you’re watching the story unfold. The Gray Man has a lot of these qualities. It’s going to push the audience to keep up. The film moves at an incredible pace and there’s a density to it, a layering. A lot happens in it very quickly.

You've assembled a stellar cast for the film, what were you looking for in the actors you chose?

Anthony Russo: Casting is critical in any project. We wanted it grounded in psychological realism. As heightened as the characters are, you want actors that are going to bring some truthfulness to it. We couldn’t be more fortunate to work with the cast that we got on this one, and it’s important because it’s a dense world filled with a lot of unique characters. We needed a cast at this level to pull off the vision for the world we were creating.

Joe Russo: It is just an incredible cast. It was our intention to create a world for the audience to immerse themselves in. Each character has a level of detail and thought and back story to them. My brother and I love complicated villains. We love villains that are heroes in their own stories. We like heroes that are morally gray and complex and everyone has competing interests, and those interests are what make the characters.

It’s really about a battle of wills. We have an amazing cast that really filled out the world in a way that feels three dimensional, thoughtful, alive, dramatic. And any of these characters could take you on a story or take you on a journey to a different part of this world.

Without giving too much away, there's a BIG action set piece in the film that is set in Prague. How difficult was that to film?

Anthony Russo: It was a lot of work and a long road. It does start with that great idea that comes from the book of the Gray Man being trapped in a city square, immobilized, held by the police while ther world’s most dangerous assassins are on their way to kill you. It’s a really vulnerable place to be. We loved that as a jumping off and just the sense of isolation that concept created because part of the identity of The Gray Man is that he’s fated to be alone. He’s solitary. Part of the journey that he has in this movie of course, is finding connection with other people and committing to that connection. It seemed like a great set piece for that reason. Because again, with action, we always try to explore some aspect of the character in whatever the concept of the piece is, and then how it unfolds. Then what Joe and I do is spend a lot of time dreaming it up. How do we take what’s in the book and supercharge it?

Once we get something in the script that we really like we start to segue into production and bring on our broader creative team because, you can’t build an action set piece without a massive amount of people contributing to what it can be and how it can be executed.

We’ll start with storyboard artists and then work with our special and visual effects teams. Then we start to work with our stunt team very closely, talking about how it can flow. We’ll stage many versions of this, whether it be through drawing or shooting mini-versions of the sequence physically.

Then you spend time on location, simply thinking about how the sequence bends into that location and what kind of new opportunities and new limitations it presents. It’s a really long process that begins before the script phase, through the script phase, through all pre-production, all the way through production and post-production.

For the portion where Ryan is on the tram specifically, in order to achieve what we did on that tram, you have an actual city tram that runs on tracks in Prague. We have a bus that runs on wheels that is made to look exactly like a tram, except for the fact that it’s on tires and doesn’t need tracks. Because sometimes we have to move the vehicle either faster, or on certain streets that don’t have tracks. And then we have on an outdoor lot elsewhere in Prague, we have a replication of the tram that is stationary, that doesn’t move, but does rock and shake and rattle, where we’re also shooting certain pieces. So there’s many different versions of the tram.

A sequence like this — and this is true of several other sequences in this movie as well— you approach it almost like it’s its own movie, because it’s so big and so specific.

Joe Russo: I’m not sure how we got to shut down the square in Prague. But it was 10 days of gunfire and explosions and car crashes and the people of Prague either love us or hate us at this point.

Anthony Russo: [Art Director] Chris Lowe completely transformed the space. Everything you see in the center of that square was built by the production. It was basically a grass square when we got there.

Anthony Russo: It was sheer mayhem.

Joe Russo: We had an army of crew there and an army of equipment. It’s a very complicated scene, it’s meant to be very tense, it’s meant to be very realistic. This is the most complex sequence of the movie, requiring hundreds of extras, vehicles, trams, all kinds of things in perfect view of Prague Castle.

It's not all high-stakes action though, is it?

Joe Russo: There is a lot of humour in the script. There’s a level of intensity to the story, a level of violence and a level of desperation but there’s also self-awareness and a sense of fun in that the Gray Man is aware of who he is and where he sits in the world and what his past is. There’s a Sisyphean kind of quality to him where he has a cynical acceptance of his role in the CIA.

Anthony Russo: We always want balance in filmmaking. We always think of ourselves as mad scientists when it comes to tone. Back when we were working more in comedy, we were known for our attention to character and emotion and so we balance action and drama in a similar way by finding moments of comedy. When we go to a movie theater, we like to be given the whole range of human emotions and we try to create that range through the use of different tools.

How do you think audiences will connect with the main themes in the film?

Joe Russo: Movies are probably their most explosive when they correlate to what’s happening in your everyday life or they touch on some universal truth that hits you at the core, when you’re watching it feels very present to you. I think this movie is very of its time, in particular the Gray Man himself coming out of a very complex political time and rebelling against the system. He believes that the system is corrupt and has his own code and is going to follow that code.

Anthony and I worked very hard through rewrites and with the cast to bring ideas to the table that feel current and organic and fresh and we love some of these thrillers because of their thematic complexity and The Gray Man fits right in. It’s got a complicated main hero; a complicated ending and it asks questions throughout about who you can trust and whether you can trust the establishment. There are themes about the modern world, how complex it is, how dangerous it is, and how hard it is to understand what anyone wants anymore. And we’ve reflected our own fears about the world in this story. I feel like any of these characters could help us, as storytellers, explore those different themes.

Watch The Gray Man on Netflix from 22nd July

Images - Netflix
Powered by Blogger.