'Nice Guys' Director Shane Black on Trailer, 'Doc Savage,' 'Predator' Reboot
Iron Man III director Shane Black is a buddy action comedy connoisseur. At 25, fresh out of UCLA, he sold his script for Lethal Weapon, a cop movie we still can't shut up about. He made record-breaking sales on scripts for The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and wowed anyone in the know with his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The man became a style -- no one does percussive dialogue, character-driven chase scenes, and pitch black punchlines quite like Black.
So while the studio stamps his name on the trailer for this April's The Nice Guys, fans should recognize it as a Shane Black picture. The movie pairs Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as a private eye and a professional bruiser, respectively, who team up to unravel the apparent suicide of an aging porn star. We hit up Black for details, and surprisingly, no guns were drawn and nothing exploded:
You made an original movie in Hollywood. Many would consider that a miracle.
I think it's interesting because it just sort of came up with [producer] Joel Silver talking. Joel had always been a believer in the script. It was just sort of sitting around, and he picked it up and [said], "You know what? Some people have been talking about making a crime movie like this. Let's put this out on one more push." Oddly, we put it out there at the agencies. Within a few days Ryan Gosling's people called and said, "Ryan just read it. He's really interested."The agency also told me and said, "Russell Crowe, what do you think of him?" I spoke to Russell and he said, "Ryan Gosling -- I'd love to work with him. I'd love to talk about it." As soon as he said that, I dropped the phone and basically [got] on a plane. I went to Australia and had a very charming dinner with the guy. Basically within three or four days the thing came together after 13 years.
When did you write this script? Was it before Iron Man III?
My partner Anthony Bagarozzi and myself decided to sit down and write the script called The Nice Guys with these two characters back in 2001. Basically, we had a draft set in present-day, and we didn't make the film back then. We ended up trying to make it a TV show, which didn't pan out. It was not going to be a network show, that became obvious. Tried it briefly at HBO, that didn't work. In roughly 2010, we wrote a version that took place in the '70s. That's when people ended up liking it, but it didn't happen until three years later, so it's been a long genesis.
I didn't realize that Ryan was such a good squealer until I saw the trailer.
He's basically playing a coward in the film who is unapologetically cowardly. He will eventually find some steel within [the character], but I think he just committed whole hog and said, "If I'm going to play a coward, I'm just going to squeal like a little baby."
Does Russell squeal in the movie? Can he outsqueal Ryan?
I think it was decided that Ryan would do most of that. Russell's character in the movie is a bit more practical, a bit more simple, even sort of benign. I think his character is not particularly mean, he's just sort of accepting of his lot, somewhat. If anything, he just wants to improve himself, his character.
How far could you go with the violence? There are R-rated trailers for the movie, and they're well-earned.
I've been around, sadly, a long time. I've been working in the business for 30 years, so the movies I started out with, Lethal Weapon, Predator, Die Hard, those kinds of films, they're all R-rated. They're rough films about rough people, and that's what I prefer. I don't deliberately try to be abrasive or shock, but I think the R rating when you're dealing with a crime film can be helpful. I owe an allegiance to the history of crime films that I grew up with, which is Dirty Harry, Bullitt types of '70s movies, which you don't see so much of anymore.
On Charlie's Angels, the old show on television, they would take these three beautiful models, kidnap two of them, and put them in a warehouse. The bad guys would tie them up in a corner, cloaked in parkas, and then they would sit and play cards and clean their guns. "Don't touch those girls over there. Just leave them." You get the sense that if they escaped, great, but you didn't really feel they were in any danger. If someone's kidnapped and they beat the shit out of him and cut off one of his fingers and then he escapes, you think, "I believe that because he went through it and he kept his head and somehow managed to get out of the most harrowing circumstances that I can think of." Now I feel catharsis.
In one scene of the trailer, there's a giant bee riding in the backseat with Russell and Ryan. Unexpected! What exactly are we witnessing?
The idea there is that he's on his way to a crime scene and he just falls asleep at the wheel. It's a dream.
Does the time period give you room to play with the surreal?
I think so. I think there's a lot of fun to be had with being playful in the style of a caper film and just trying to say, "Maybe we're not so bound up by the traditional roles of the thriller any more than we are by the traditional roles of the comedy." We can just sort of have a little fun. As long as the audience stays with you while you lead them on that path, knowing you're going to snap back to something solid that you can keep your feet on. My hope is that there's a sort of moral core to this thing. In the trailer, there's a little girl who plays a big role in the movie. She was, in a way, the conscience of these two guys.
A kid spouted wisdom in Iron Man III, too.
Yeah, that kid was a science genius. Sort of its own thing. This is more of a Bad News Bears/Paper Moon type of kid.
What attracted you to the 1970s as a time period?
In the '70s, they had sirens in LA, and they'd go off. You were supposed to go indoors. They'd have announcements like, "Please don't exercise until after 6pm, and oh, you might not want to let your kids play ball today. There's too much pollution." I remember those days. They cleaned it up. At the same time, if you ever walked down Hollywood Boulevard in 1974, it was nothing but porn everywhere you looked. The two problems that epitomized LA in the '70s, I think, were smog and porn. [We wanted] a plot that embraced them both. In the same way as Chinatown, which shined a light on the '30s, we [wanted to] tell the story the way we want to tell it, but as a plot device, these things work pretty well. They speak to the time period.
So it wasn't out of a love for '70s disco.
Joel Silver has a love affair with Earth, Wind & Fire. Since he was a teenager, he's loved the band. When I asked him why he loved them, he said, "If you see them live, they put on these costumes, they look like wings, and they would dance and they would have trombones and backup singers, and people would spin and dance, and it was the greatest live show. Amazing." Then he said, "You know what? I can get Earth, Wind & Fire, and we'll just re-create the band with actors." At the first screening, Earth, Wind, and Fire starts singing, and the audience claps, which surprised me, but it's great.
You were mostly dormant between 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and 2013's Iron Man III. Were you trying to get Nice Guys made?
I was trying to do this, and it didn't work. I was trying to put together something called The Cold Warrior, with Mel Gibson. That fell through for various reasons, which are probably not best to go into. I was really looking forward to seeing Mel play this spy in The Cold Warrior. Just never happened. There were a couple of things that just sort of fell through. I also got sober. For a year or so, that was more important than anything, was just getting on to some kind of spiritual path.
Was Iron Man a one-and-done project for you? Will you make another Marvel movie?
[After Iron Man III,] Marvel already had their movies lined up. They've got directors for the next three, and one's already prepping. So it was clear that after Iron Man III, I don't think there was going to be an Iron Man 4. Certainly it wasn't planned until, like, 2020, so there wasn't any point in addressing it. The Avengers was all Joss Whedon, and Thor was Alan Taylor. If they ever call me, I'll be happy to take that call.
Do you have anything to do with the Lethal Weapon TV show that's currently being cast?
No. Lethal Weapon, in 1985, that's 30 years ago, so that's pretty much something at this point [that's] not even on my radar.
Did you ever pitch Lethal Weapon as a show?
What I did at one point, we flirted with Lethal Weapon 5, and I think we had a pretty good movie, potentially. That would have been a slightly older, gunslinger version of the two of those characters. Now one's 50 and one's 60. That was another project I think that whatever chance it might have had went away with Mr. Gibson. Whether you think it's fair or unfair, his chances of making $100 million movies kind of evaporated at that point.
You're going to write and direct a new Predator movie, 30 years after Fox asked you to punch up the script for the original movie and you declined. Then the studio cast you in a role, hoping you'd rewrite the script, and you still refused. How does the guy who kept saying no wind up taking over the franchise?
They called me and I was reluctant. I said, "Look. You guys at Fox, I mean, I enjoy these movies, but we've been churning out these AVP whatever, they each cost a certain amount of money, they're okay, but there's no effort to elevate them or make them any kind of an event." They're just sort of another Predator. "Oh, there's another one that came out." They said, "What if we said to you we want to reinvent this, and really treat it with as much of an event status, or as much hoopla as we would the Alien prequel, which is coming out also? We really want to make this something. The kind of movie that people line up for." I said, "Really, you'll spend a bunch of money?" They go, "Yep." I go, "Make it really scale, spectacle?" "Yep." "Shit, that sounds interesting."
Fans of the original may not imagine Predator as a giant blockbuster.
I think the first one was great, and it was contained, and it was a perfect little gem for what it was. I think there's an expansion that needs to take place, and also just a love for that era, that movie, and the mythology of the Predator. I think that they came to me knowing pretty much that... they said, basically, if I wanted to make Predator but treat it like it was Iron Man III instead of just another little movie. I said, "Let's really do it right this time."
And is Arnold Schwarzenegger back?
Still in talks, script still a secret.
You also have an adaptation of the Doc Savage pulp novels waiting in the wings...
Doc Savage is sort of in the ether now. We're hoping to make it sometime next year. I would very much like to do Doc with a fellow named Dwayne Johnson if we can make that work. I made a decision that Dwayne is the guy. It's on the back burner while he's busy.
You've imagined The Nice Guys as a television series, and you've played the franchise game in Hollywood. Do you see this movie as the first of a series, or do you hope it stands alone?
I have no problem with a detective franchise. You can always have another case. Especially I love this notion, if should it do well, I don't want to jinx anything. It's a landlocked franchise. This one takes place in the '70s. The next one, we'd have to look at what's down in the '80s, what was going on in '84, let's say. What can we do? Then, if we did another one, it'd be the '90s. I love that notion of creeping through the years, but they're all landlocked. They're all in a past era.
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Matt Patches is Thrillist’s Entertainment Editor. He previously wrote for Grantland, Esquire.com, Vulture, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Guardian. He insists you see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Find him on Twitter @misterpatches.