Walk in The gray man. Netflix’s new star spy thriller – reportedly the most expensive streamer yet with a budget of $200 million – hits our screens from Friday, July 22. Led by Avengers: Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo, Netflix’s latest release sees Ryan Gosling Six’s Sierra on the run from corrupt and calculating former CIA agent Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) after a plot threatens to leak the agency’s dirty secrets.
Ahead of The Gray Man’s release, we sat down with Joe and Anthony Russo in London to dissect the big-budget actor. From his collaboration with Ana de Armas (again as an action hero after his stunning performance in no time to die), parting ways with James Bond, and the potential for The Gray Man to be a long-term franchise, we channeled our Inner Six and covered all our bases.
More pertinently, The Gray Man is also a darker and more timely echo of another of the Russos’ works: Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As Joe Russo points out in our interview, Chris Evans’ villainous turn feels like a dark mirror of alarming real-world moves, and the directors aren’t shy about expressing their thoughts on the film’s politics – and why The Gray Man just wouldn’t be the same in a traditional film studio.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
GamesRadar+: Much has been said about this Netflix’s most expensive movie to date. With that kind of money and Netflix’s creative leeway, what have you been able to achieve that you might not have been able to?
Joe Russo: This movie is an original IP. It’s not pre-existing; these are new characters [and] a new world. It’s risky for the studios. The studios are in a more conservative mode. Many of them are in IP management mode. There is a certain prize they will give you to experience something new.
They’re interested in original IP in a way that some other studios might not be at the moment – and at a higher price, which allowed us to run a lot of action sequences in the movie. It would have been a smaller movie in a different studio.
Anthony Rousso: You should probably cut out part of the movie, maybe shorten it somewhere.
You come from a smaller budget style on things like community development and stopped. Do you miss finding creative solutions when you didn’t have the budget? Or did you carry that with you?
Anthony Rousso: We like that. We started as independent filmmakers with no budget. That’s basically how we learned to make films – having to come up with creative solutions. It’s a big part of cinema.
The funny thing is that no matter how much money you have, you end up running out of money. So there are limits, even at the highest budget level. It’s a big part of our process. Our process seems very similar no matter what budget level we are working on. You basically do the same thing as directors, you just imagine what you want to do and the best way to do it. In one format you have a certain set of tools, and in another format you have another set of tools.
I picked a line from the movie where Sierra describes the origins of her name Six and says “007 was taken.” Did you have Leap in the brain while directing?
Joe Russo: Sure. We are truly introspective filmmakers. We love intertextual storytelling. Everything seems to be referential now because I don’t know what hasn’t been done at this point. So when you go swimming in familiar waters, you either own them or pretend there aren’t any; we tend to like to play with it and refer to it.
We read [The Gray Man] book and, what was compelling, were the really inventive settings and a cool, interesting character who felt like a modern day hero. He’s a blue-collar hero who doesn’t really care about the glamor of work. He just wants out, just wants to feel the freedom for five minutes. And we thought it was a nice addition to the spy genre where traditionally the heroes are more glamorous and sexy. It was the convincing aspect that made him different from Bond in this regard.
There were also modern themes that unfortunately seemed too premonitory, such as [how] he fights against a corrupt patriarchy. It’s the other things that set it apart from us in the spy genre.
Speaking of Bond, there’s an overlap between Ana de Armas in No Time to Die and The Gray Man. People can’t wait to see her more as an action hero. She talked about how she sat down with you before filming to maybe refine her character [“My character needed work,” she told Elle (opens in new tab)]. What did these conversations look like and how did they manifest on screen?
Anthony Rousso: We love going through this process. We have fun understanding how the actor appropriates the character. It’s really important for us to have a strong female lead who wasn’t a love interest. Especially in a film where it’s structured mano a mano between the character of Chris Evans and the character of Ryan Gosling, who are in this kind of collision with each other throughout the film.
We really needed to find a way to give this character a strong voice, and she was very helpful in that process – looking for every opportunity as we progressed through the storytelling. She brought a lot of thought to the character and she also trained extremely hard. She is extremely physically capable.
Chris Evans is a bad in there. He’s played unlikable people before, but not at this kind of level. He’s almost like an anti-Captain America where he should be that all-American kind of guy. He went to Harvard, but he now has these twisted ideals about American exceptionalism.
Joe Russo: We read an article about a year or two ago – there’s a lot going on in America right now – about a cabal of supremacists coming out of Ivy League schools. They’re supposed to be our best and brightest, so it felt a bit shocking to us. We thought it would be interesting to give Lloyd that backstory as an extremist who has infiltrated the CIA and is using it for his personal agenda.
We also think there’s an epidemic of sociopathy right now in the world, and we thought it would be interesting for Evans to mirror that and be that character without any accountability.
Many of these Netflix movies have franchise potential. Looking at The Gray Man, there are bread crumbs that could be picked up elsewhere. Were you looking for a long-term franchise?
Joe Russo: It’s all made for a franchise because it’s based on a series of books. We always think that way, because we like long stories. The majority of our careers have been in long-form storytelling — all of our television work, all of our Marvel work.
We enjoy deep diving with characters. We like [Sierra Six], we love what Ryan is doing with the character. It’s impressive, a nice mix of sarcasm and action. But we always leave that to the public. They will tell us if they want to see more or not. We’ll see how it works and then we’ll make a decision. We are always [having] casual conversations, talking about where this might go.
The Gray Man is in select theaters now and will be available on Netflix from July 22, 2022.