It's Ryan Gosling vs. Chris Evans in The Gray Man exclusive first look
The Russo brothers love a story about a man on the run. From the creeping paranoia of Captain America: The Winter Soldier to the bank heist thrills of Cherry, much of Anthony and Joe Russo's work is about characters trying to outrun an encroaching force — be it an authority figure, the law, or their own past. So, it was only a matter of time before the two directors decided to tackle a proper spy thriller, the kind of tense manhunt movie that balances undercover action and international intrigue.
The result is The Gray Man, a globe-trotting drama about a CIA operative who inadvertently triggers a manhunt. Adapted from Mark Greaney's book series, it's the first big-budget blockbuster the Russos have directed since they demolished box office records with Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. It's set to bow in theaters July 15 before heading to Netflix on July 22, and it boasts an impressively starry cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas.
It also might be Netflix's most ambitious film yet: a planned franchise starter with a reported budget of $200 million, making it one of the priciest original films in the streaming service's history.
"We're big fans of the spy genre, and we're always looking for ways of how to twist it, or supercharge it, or push it into areas that feel fresh," Anthony Russo tells EW. "There was a great idea at the center of this book, where it's not just about being a spy, but being the most extreme version of one, where you have to hide your own identity — and yourself."
Gosling headlines as the titular agent, an elite cloak-and-dagger CIA operative who's so ghostlike, even his real name is unknown. When he accidentally uncovers hidden agency secrets, he finds himself tangled in an international conspiracy, as an unhinged former colleague (played by Evans) puts a bounty on his head.
Not only is it the Russos' first time working with Gosling, but it's a major departure for Evans, who's best known for playing the clean-cut Captain America. The Russos first thought of pitting their longtime friend against Gosling after Anthony saw him play a manipulative cop in the recent Broadway production of Lobby Hero.(Evans is also rocking a very sinister mustache in The Gray Man, just as his Lobby Hero character did.)
"It's hard to find somebody at Chris Evans' level to step into a villain," Joe Russo says. "It's why you traditionally don't get a Ryan Gosling versus Chris Evans movie. But he's at a point where [playing the villain] is more entertaining to him than playing a hero, so we're able to get two giant movie stars that face off against each other. They're very complicated characters with competing agendas, and it's a fight to the death."
The Russos have wanted to adapt The Gray Man for the screen for about a decade, ever since reading the initial 2009 novel while in production on The Winter Soldier. The two brothers initially planned to make it their next project, but when Marvel Studios asked them to return and direct Captain America: Civil War, they put Greaney's books back on the shelf. But years later, when they first started to plan their post-Marvel moves, they couldn't stop thinking about The Gray Man, and they soon recruited their longtime collaborators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to help adapt the script.
The stacked cast also includes de Armas as an upfront, by-the-book CIA agent who finds herself caught up in this conspiracy, while Bridgerton breakout Regé-Jean Page is a more underhanded CIA official who prefers to lurk in the shadows.
Since leaving the Marvel universe, the two brothers have mostly turned to their production company AGBO, helping produce films like the Chadwick Boseman thriller 21 Bridges, Chris Hemsworth's Extraction, and Michelle Yeoh's bonkers arthouse hit Everything Everywhere All At Once. But The Gray Man marks a return to directing the kind of starry, stunt-heavy dramas that made them a household name, and they're hopeful that this film is just the first installment in a planned franchise. Still, they're careful not to plan too far beyond that July release.
"One thing we learned at Marvel — and one thing that Kevin Feige is very conscious of and does very well — is that you have to focus on the movie at hand and make sure that it's the best it can absolutely be," Joe Russo says. "Then you can worry about how you expand it beyond that."
And although The Gray Man may not be a superhero movie, the Russos say the cast still worked hard to get into superhero shape. Gosling in particular threw himself into his new workout regimen, and the two brothers laugh as they remember ordering takeout for lunch, while Gosling sat next to them and picked at his sad low-calorie meals.
"It goes back to the Italian thing," Anthony says, laughing. "We like to eat. We like to eat well."
"And we like pizza," Joe adds.
"We would feel very guilty because Ryan was basically eating a very restricted diet for a long time, and there's us, who are just indulging, indulging, indulging," Anthony explains. "I remember he finally got to the point where we were about a week away from the end of the shoot, and Joe and I were having some great pizza brought to set. Ryan was just like, 'You know what? Today I'm having some of that damn pizza.' And he did, and he was very happy."
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