The Russo Brothers on Coming Back to Netflix’s The Gray Man After Years Working with Marvel Studios

The Gray Man (2022). (L to R) Chris Evans as Lloyd Hansen, Anthony Russo (Director-Producer), Joe Russo (Director-Producer-Writer). Credit: Paul Abell/Netflix.

Netflix’s The Gray Man is based on the 2009 novel by Mark Greaney and stars Ryan Gosling as the CIA’s most skilled mercenary. After discovering dark secrets from the agency, he is now a wanted man with a huge target on his back. One of his pursuers is Lloyd Hansen, played by Chris Evans, who would use any means to get the job done. Attached as the directors are Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, known for the huge hits like Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

I was invited to AGBO, the Russo brothers’ production company in Downtown Los Angeles. The two are doing big things, and even during my recent visit, the offices are still expanding with more offices being constructed. Longtime writing collaborators Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame) even have their own offices in the building, and they are cowriters on The Gray Man.

Having visited the offices, it’s clear to see the Russo brothers’ passion for films. One wall had film prints of the films they have enjoyed including The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Troy, The Godfather, Spider-Man, As Good as It Gets, and more. The Avengers films are also important for the duo, which is made apparent with the Infinity Gauntlet toys set on one of the lobby tables, and a replica gauntlet and an Avengers pinball machine in another room.

Photo by Nerd Reactor

With The Gray Man, it all started when someone gave the Russos the book, and they have been working on the project since the production of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. However, the film was pushed to the side with Marvel Studios asking the brothers to direct the Avengers films.

“So we put this aside for a number of years, then came back to it post-Avengers, and had a lot of fun making it,” Joe Russo tells Nerd Reactor. “It’s a genre that we love. We got to infuse it with some modern thematics that are really compelling to us in an action thriller. Some favorite action thrillers in the ’70s always had meaty thematic, corrupt patriarchy, and these two sorts of immovable characters. They are both killers. One leans away from humanity, one leans towards it, so it’s got a fun package with hopefully some brain food for you at the same time.”

The Russos started as hardcore independent filmmakers and have segued into television comedy, dramas, big and small movies, and commercials. However, action has always been a passion of theirs, and to help make these films interesting, the directors rely on storytelling.

“It’s really all about storytelling,” Joe said. “What are the characters? What story do we want to tell? How are we trying to tell it? We wanted to do something that was really ambitious from an action standpoint, but a lot of scale, really propulsive from start to finish, make you forget to eat your popcorn kind of film. And we read the novel. We thought it was really inventive and fun and had all those elements we’re looking for. And you know, it’s a movie that frankly almost killed us because it was very difficult to make because of so many action sequences. It was physically and emotionally and mentally demanding movie to make.”

The Gray Man. (L – R) Ryan Gosling as Six, Chris Evans as Lloyd Hansen. Courtesy of Netflix

When planning the action, the directors wanted to surprise each other in order to bring something new and fresh to the table.

“So the challenge, in general, is you have to work really hard to do that,” Anthony Russo said. “And not only in general, but also specifically this movie with nine action set pieces. You have to use every tool available to you as a filmmaker to generate ideas and figure out where you can take these sequences. So we use all of it. We had a great jumping off point with a really clever novel that had amazing set pieces in it and really intricately woven action and drama. Then we sort of layered in all of our energy in terms of where these things can go just on a purely imaginary level. Then we start to physicalize it as we start to move from the script phase into production or very early preproduction, where we start to bring in collaborators.”

“And those collaborators can include conceptual artists that we’ve been working with for years, storyboard artists that we’ve been working with for years, visual effects people who do very elaborate previz that we’ve been working with for a long time,” Anthony continued. “It starts to include our stunt coordinator, where we actually start to stage certain pieces of the scene in stunt gyms and shoot it and feel it out. It involves our production designer who can offer us both locations and sets that give us new ways to structure these things, and new ideas about how we can structure. Eventually, it even includes the actors themselves, because they bring a whole lot to the table in terms of how we structure these sequences and execute them. It’s really drawing upon every tool you have as a filmmaker to figure them out.”

The Gray Man. Chris Evans as Lloyd Hansen. Credit: Paul Abell/Netflix.

Chris Evans plays a character that’s rooted in extremist groups. As someone who’s hunting Gosling’s character, Lloyd understood the assignment and is going all out. The Russos asked the actor at the end of Avengers: Endgame what he was going to do next. The actor said that he was in a great place and is blessed to have a lot of success, and moving forward, he wants to take more risks.

“When we’re working on Lloyd, we’re thinking who can we get who has incredible physical prowess that can go toe to toe with another movie star,” Joe said. “And we’ll have a lot of fun playing this colorful villain. And of course, he’s the first guy that popped in our brains.”

The directors have worked with Evans on four films over many years with the character of Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. They’ve seen the actor’s range and understood him as a fellow filmmaker. Part of the appeal of working with him again in The Gray Man was getting as far away from Captain America as they possibly could.

“There are two opposites in this movie: there’s the Gray Man, and there’s Lloyd Hansen,” Anthony said. “And the part of what was fun and part of the essential tension in the film is figuring out versions of those characters that were as opposite as one another as possible. And Chris really helped us take Lloyd and push him even further in that direction. In terms of what he brought to the table, I think it made the movie all that much more interesting and fun.”

The Gray Man. Ryan Gosling as Six. Credit: Paul Abell/Netflix.

As for deciding between CG and practical effects, the directors don’t really have a preference. The most important thing is the story, and then they would use the tools available to them to tell that story.

“It’s really a function of what can we accomplish safely,” Joe said. “In reality, we certainly can’t rip a plane in half and have an actor, a stunt player, come flying out of a plane that’s crashing and burning and exploding. You’re going to move into CG territory to do that. There’s no commitment on our part towards practical effects versus CG. What we commit to is telling a good story, and then using the tools at our disposal to help us tell that story. And that’s really the main focus.”

“In fact, when we do this, you dream up what you’re going to do,” Anthony added. “And we don’t actually even know how we’re going to do it. That becomes like a second part of the process. Then we sit with our team, and we go, ‘okay, if this is what we’re all trying to do, what’s the best way to achieve it?’ And sometimes it’s typically some combination of practical and visual effects. But you don’t actually know what that combination is going to be until you start to really bore in on the possibilities.”

About The Gray Man

Synopsis: 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.

The Gray Man hits select theaters on Friday, July 15 and on Netflix Friday, July 22.

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