"You could ask yourself, 'Does the world need another spy movie franchise?'" the screenwriter Stephen McFeely mused on the gray carpet (yes, really) for Netflix's premiere of The Gray Man. "I would argue that it absolutely does."
Based on the first in a series of books by Mark Greaney, The Gray Man stars Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas as globe-trotting secret agents in an "an espionage film with modern thematics," as director Joe Russo puts it. The movie's cast also includes Billy Bob Thornton, Regé-Jean Page, Jessica Henwick, Dhanush and Alfre Woodard, who were all in attendance for the July 13 premiere at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
Though the character may be super spies, Joe and Anthony Russo want to make it clear that everyone in The Gray Man is very much human. Especially since the Russo Brothers are best known for their work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, culminating with 2019's Avengers: Endgame. "No one is a superhero. No one has super powers, and that creates a different kind of execution in the action sequences and a different level of discipline as a storyteller," Joe tells A.frame. "The characters are bound by the laws of physics."
Composed of nine over-the-top action sequences include a rooftop brawl in Bangkok and a street chase through Prague, Anthony explained how the balanced the massive set pieces with telling a compelling story. "We find our way through the action sequences by following the character. Joe and I, whenever we start to get lost in the action, we just reorient ourselves to the character," he said. "How do we make them their most vulnerable? How do they find their way forward?"
As The Gray Man's villain, Evans, who has worked with both the Russos and writers Christopher Markus and McFeely throughout his tenure as Captain America, delivers a scene-stealing turn as an unhinged mercenary named Lloyd Hansen, which McFeely says was "lots of fun" to script.
"He loves doing it, right?" McFeely says of Evans playing against type. "He just wants to rip it all up and start over again with this mustache. And he's clearly such a good actor! He's got range! And you believe him as this psychopath in tight shirts!"
Henwick, who plays morally gray CIA agent Suzanne Brewer, said it was actually Gosling who took her most by surprise with his interpretation of his character, Sierra Six. "On the page, he's so serious. But then Ryan has this twinkle in his eye the whole time, which I think is the secret to the film," she says. "But when we did the first take, I was like, 'Oh! That’s… that’s how you’re gonna do it?' And then of course I saw on the screen and I was like, 'Oh, it's perfect!'"
The spy genre has spawned multi-movie franchises for heroes like James Bond, Jason Bourne and Mission: Impossible's Ethan Hunt. Gosling's Six, a man plucked out of prison and trained to be a covert killer, could be next, if The Gray Man's creative team has their say. After all, Greaney's Gray Man books have been on Hollywood’s radar since the first novel was published back in 2009, but it wasn't until the Russos came on board that the project picked up steam.
"I'm glad it happened now," the author says, "but if it happened 25 years from now, I'd still be a lucky man." When asked how it feels to be the new Ian Fleming, however, Greaney laughed and replied, "I hope not — he died after the first James Bond movie came out!"
Reporting by Angelle Gullett