The Russo Brothers - Anthony Russo and Joe Russo - are the names behind some previous Marvel blockbusters including Avengers: End Game, and the recent Everything Everywhere All At Once. The brothers have just made an impressive comeback with their latest action thriller - The Gray Man, which hits Netflix on July 22.
Written by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely, The Gray Man revolves around a former CIA agent Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling) uncovering damning agency secrets and his sociopathic rogue former colleague Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) who’s got a bunch of international assassins hunting him.
The movie is based upon a novel called The Gray Man by Mark Greaney. The film also stars Ana de Armas, Dhanush, Regé-Jean Page, Billy Bob Thornton, Jessica Henwick, Wagner Moura, and Alfre Woodard.
In an exclusive interview with Vietcetera, the Russo brothers talked about why it took them 10 years to get Mark Greaney’s novel to a movie screen, their filmmaking process, and the journey of making a dream come true.
You’ve directed several massive Marvel movies before. What is it about The Gray Man that pulled you back to the director’s chair?
Anthony: This is the movie that we’ve been interested in making for quite a long time now. We were first introduced to the original novel about ten years ago. This is something we both wanted to do for a long time now.
We formed a company recently with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who last worked with us on writing the Marvel movies, to do a lot of our own projects. Having this in our minds for a decade, we just feel ready to bring this project to life right now.
This isn’t your first time working with Chris Evans but never done a project with Ryan Gosling in the past. Tell us about your experience of working with such brilliant actors.
Joe: It was great working with both of them.
This is a challenge for Ryan. It was a very difficult part to play, physically and mentally. To prepare for the long shoot, he went through training for many months before we shot the movie. He kept himself from peak physical condition throughout the film. It was a very tough role but he never complained, did everything we asked, and gave a tremendous performance in the movie.
And Chris, this is a new character for him. It’s more of eccentric and rogue than Captain America, but the process is always the same. Chris is tactically savvy and a gifted actor. He truly understands the storytelling and the mechanic of making a movie outstanding. The process is the same as it was on the last four projects we did with him.
For Joe, since you have worked with Chris for so long, were you weaving some comedic elements into Lloyd as well, or did you guys work together to develop that side of the character?
Joe: It's really important to us to work with the cast on the scripts. We want them to have emotional ownership over the characters. Everyone here is a great storyteller, as well as an incredible actor with an amazing wealth of experience. We encourage all of our collaborators to bring that to the table.
Anthony and I like to prepare the script so that we can throw things away. It’s an adage in filmmaking, so we're always available for what's happening at the moment.
If there's something organic or funny, or if somebody says something funny, it doesn't matter who it came from. If it works with the character and it works with the story, we'll try it. And everyone here brought dialogue, jokes, and character accents in a way that filled out the film and made it much more colorful.
The film will be streamed on Netflix and not on the big screens. What are your thoughts?
Both: Since the day we started this career, we’ve always wondered how our films could reach out to a broader audience. The fact that The Gray Man is streamed online enables us to fulfill that desire.
In addition, the process of making The Gray Man was just the same as what we did with our previous big projects, so it's fully capable of coming out on the big screen if possible.
What would you say sets The Gray Man apart from other spy thrillers?
Joey: The Gray Man is a modern story. Bond is about 60 years old at this point and Bourne’s about 20 years old. This film is connected in a lot of ways to some issues that are going on in the world right now. The character is exceedingly existential and quite funny, and we just find that it fits our sense of humor.
It’s the kind of film that we feel would work well with today’s audiences.
Tell us about the Prague Sequence. What was the most challenging part of it?
Joe: All of it.
Anthony: Every single element of it. We needed a large section of the city to pull it off. That sequence starts in a major city square, and it continues through a chase throughout the city, so it was very complex.
Just to give you an example of how hard it was, there’s a tram that The Gray Man gets on and Ana’s character is sort of chasing it in a car. There’s a lot of other mercenaries around and it careens through Prague, and to shoot that sequence, we were using actual trams in Prague.
We built a bus that was designed to look exactly like a tram but ran on wheels because sometimes we needed to run the tram faster than it could go, or we needed to take it down streets that didn’t have tracks, et cetera. And then we also had a tram that was located at a lot in Prague that was stationary that we would sort of shake, and we had a green screen around it.
So, you’re building the sequence through all those different locations, we’re shooting with our main cast, we’re shooting with stunt performers for the portions that are too dangerous, and it was a very complex process to build that.
Why did you decide to shoot it on location instead of building that set on a soundstage to look like Prague?
Joe: It would have been tough and required a lot of VFX. That is a very tactile sequence.
It’s interesting, whenever you go into a town. We did this with Winter Soldier before - shutting down a freeway. We went back to Cleveland, our hometown, to shoot the movie and everyone was very happy, and then we shut down the freeway for two weeks and…
Anthony: I was gonna say, they weren’t that happy.
Joe: I don’t think we can go back to Prague or Cleveland, but we’re very grateful that we were able to shoot on location.
The Gray Man ends with a character disappearing. Do you see there is a possibility for additional stories in The Gray Man universe?
Anthony: Part of our motivation to assemble an amazing cast like this, who can embody so many interesting characters, was the hope of creating sort of a universe that you wanted to follow all of them, either forward or backward from this moment in time that we caught in this first movie.
So yes, hopefully, there will be more stories to tell in The Gray Man universe.
*The Gray Man will be officially released on Netflix on July 22.