Marvel directors Anthony and Joe Russo on The Gray Man: “Netflix is ​​the least intrusive place we’ve worked”

The gray mana new thriller from Marvel maestros Anthony and Joe Russo, has the perfect ingredients for a summer blockbuster: a hero with a mysterious past (Ryan Gosling), a horrifying villain (Chris Evans), and relentless edge-of-the-seat action.

What sets this film apart from the usual summer blockbusters, however, is how it came out. Netflix, which bankrolled the roughly $200 million film, is opening The gray man Friday in 23 markets for just one week before moving exclusively to the streaming service. Action fans will have to move fast if they want to catch it in a cinema.

The strategy seems particularly unusual for a film directed by two of the highest-earning filmmakers in history, and for a film that is plummeting just as the box office is rebounding sharply from its pandemic nadir on the back of Top Gun: Maverick’s More than $1 billion in transportation.

But the Russo Brothers, legendary in Hollywood for their four-movie run at Marvel that grossed a collective $7 billion, are taking a longer view. They see The gray man turn into a franchise, much like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and they expect Netflix to expand theatrical releases of big movies like this in the future.

“I can’t imagine a more physically demanding role”: Ryan Gosling during the filming of “The Gray Man” © Paul Abell/Netflix

“We made this movie like a big cinema,” Anthony Russo, 52, says on Zoom from Ireland. “I think it’s going to be a very special experience for people in the theater because we definitely built the movie that way. But we’re also excited to reach people through Netflix as well.

His younger brother, Joe, 50, speaking from Idaho, adds, “I think you’ll see that Netflix is ​​going to start incorporating much larger theatrical windows into a few of their biggest projects every year because they see the enormous value of pop. impression of culture that makes.

Welcome to the upside-down world of Hollywood in 2022. After the onset of the pandemic, locked-down viewers embraced streaming like never before, sending Netflix’s stock price into the stratosphere while traditional studios hover. are rushed to promote their own fledgling streaming services. Suddenly Disney and Warner Bros started making their big movie debuts, the most famous of which is Marvel’s. Black Widow — on their streaming services at the same time they opened in theaters, if they opened in theaters at all.

Now, following Netflix’s big correction this spring – the company’s shares plunged after it revealed it was, and no longer, losing subscribers – old-fashioned box office revenue is back on track. the fashion. “[Netflix] had an amazing run through the incredible stock market of the past four or five years before hitting a big hurdle in the road,” says Joe. “But they think like a tech company, so they can change based on what the market dictates. As evidenced by the box office this summer, there’s tremendous value in the theater experience again.

Netflix hasn’t announced plans to change its approach to theatrical releases, which are always brief and often done just to qualify for awards. The company says subscribers come first — their monthly fees pay for content, after all — and they shouldn’t have to wait to watch movies at home. But the pressure is mounting. Theater owners are eager to show more Netflix movies, while talent still yearns for the widest possible release.

Hulking box office hit ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ (2018) was directed by The Russos © Alamy

The gray man marks the Russos’ first foray into action movies in their 25-year career, which spanned original comedies (You, me and Dupree), TV (Development stopped), Marvel’s Record Run and Last Year’s Low-Budget Crime Drama Cherry, who was released on AppleTV Plus. . .

But the brothers have been fans of the action genre since they were young. When designing the film, they were inspired by the 1971 classic by William Friedkin The French connection, the works of John Frankenheimer and die hard director John McTiernan.

The gray man is based on Mark Greaney’s 2009 novel of the same name: he’s since written a dozen books in the series, so it’s a natural candidate for a film franchise. Joe Russo wrote the screenplay with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the writing duo behind the Marvel Quartet of the Russos.

“We love movies that make you forget to eat your popcorn because it’s so relentless,” Joe says. “The book had that quality. We love when the action really showcases the character or advances the story in an interesting way.

The Russos had wanted to make the film for nine years, but were too busy with Marvel projects to bring it in. Work began in July 2020, three years after forming their own production company, AGBO.

Chris Evans, left, as Lloyd Hansen and directors Anthony and Joe Russo on the set of ‘The Gray Man’ © Paul Abell/Netflix

The story revolves around a CIA agent, Court Gentry (Gosling) codenamed Sierra Six, who is recruited from federal prison by Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to work on deadly top-secret missions. Sierra Six becomes the target of rogue elements within the CIA, who hire psychopathic bounty hunter Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) to hunt him down. The cast also includes Ana de Armas as Agent Dani Miranda and Regé-Jean Page as the ruthless CIA squad leader.

Joe Russo says he and his co-writers wanted to inject current themes of American politics into the film, including the idea that extremists might infiltrate parts of the American government. At the center of this plot is Lloyd, a sadistic and darkly comic character who was ousted from the CIA for unauthorized use of torture and lack of impulse control.

“He’s a very entertaining character rooted in some modern themes – his costume and ideology reflect some of the extremist groups that have sprung up all over the country over the last few years,” says Joe. “He is certainly emblematic of toxic masculinity. And her haircut was inspired by real extremist movements around the world.

Regé-Jean Page plays a ruthless CIA boss while Ana de Armas, right, is Agent Dani Miranda in ‘The Gray Man’ © Paul Abell/Netflix

With nine major action sequences, the film was “relentless to make”, he says. It was also trying for the actors, especially Gosling. “I can’t imagine a more physically demanding role,” adds Joe. “Ryan is involved in every set of the film, he had to learn all the choreography, he puts himself in danger every day on set and fights physically.”

Now that the genre-switching Russians have finished an action thriller, they’re gearing up to direct and produce their first sci-fi movie: an adaptation of Electrical conditiona graphic novel by Simon Stålenhag that will feature stranger things‘Millie Bobby Brown. As The gray manit is for Netflix.

And while many in Hollywood are relishing the sight of Netflix coming down to earth, the Russos are praising the streaming pioneer for bringing change to the industry. “We’ve worked with everyone over our 25-year career,” says Joe. “And Netflix is ​​the least intrusive and most supportive place we’ve worked on.”

While they discuss their future plans – which also include a push into video games following an investment from Tokyo-listed Nexon – there’s no mention of future work with Marvel. When prompted, Anthony says there “might be another project in the future”, but there is no rush.

“We love everyone at Marvel and we’ve certainly had an amazing run with them,” he says. “But we were able to say a lot in that space at the time. We are now in a phase where we are focusing on creating new stories.

“The Gray Man” is in cinemas from July 15 and on Netflix from July 22