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The Untold Truth Of The Gray Man

When author Mark Greaney wrote his realistic spy thriller novel titled "The Gray Man," no one could have predicted it would span multiple books and become one of the most in-demand properties in Hollywood for much of the 2010s. However, like too many ideas in showbiz, the adaptation of the novel sat in purgatory for over a decade. 

The project remained in limbo right up until the Russo brothers and their MCU writing collaborators, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, cracked the script code and set the wheels in motion. Chris Evans — another familiar face to the Russos — put on an evil mustache and hopped on board to play the villainous Lloyd Hansen, while Ryan Gosling practiced his stoic demeanor and signed up to play the protagonist Sierra Six.

"The Gray Man" is all about excitement and unexpected twists around every corner, which is also an accurate description of the film's journey to Netflix's catalog. From multiple big-name Hollywood actors being linked to the lead role to the cast and crew singing Queen songs to cope with a heatwave in Europe, this is a story that's worthy of its own movie. So let's peel off the disguises and find out more about the untold truth of "The Gray Man."

Brad Pitt was eyed to star in The Gray Man

After the release of "The Gray Man" novel in 2009, Hollywood's ears perked up. The studios realized the franchise potential of the spy thriller, viewing it in the same vein as something like Tom Clancy's "Jack Ryan" series, a series that could potentially go on forever à la James Bond. Paramount Pictures was also busy planning a "Jack Ryan" reboot with Chris Pine in the lead role around that period, so everyone else wanted to be prepared for the eventuality that the genre would be the next big thing in the business.

In 2011 an adaptation of "The Gray Man" was being written by Adam Cozad, with the aptly named James Gray chosen to direct, as per Deadline. The actor eyed for Sierra Six was none other than Brad Pitt. However, the eventual reason for Pitt's departure from the project could have a lot to do with Disney's "Maleficent." Pitt was dating Angelina Jolie then, and the two wouldn't do movies at the same time, presumably so that one of them could be around for their children. Pitt had just accepted "World War Z," so the production team would have had to wait until Jolie had done her film before Pitt could board this one.

The consideration to gender swap Sierra Six

However, after years of false starts, Brad Pitt, Adam Cozad, and James Gray were eventually out of the picture, and Sony began working on "The Gray Man" from scratch. This isn't an unusual scenario in showbiz, as studios spend millions of dollars on various versions of films that don't go into production because some execs become fixated on an adjective they don't like and demand a rewrite. The next round of "The Gray Man" brought Joe and Anthony Russo on board to write and potentially direct, and there was chatter of South African-born Charlize Theron hopping onto the project to play Sierra Six in 2015, as per a Deadline report.

Considering that Sony had gender-swapped the protagonist for 2010's "Salt" after Tom Cruise departed the production, this wouldn't have been a first for the studio. Theron had more than proven her action mettle as Furiosa in George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road," so there's no doubt she would have been an excellent candidate to step into Six's boots here. Plus, if anyone has ever seen "Atomic Blonde," there's simply no disagreement that Theron knows how to portray a butt-kicking spy with gusto and verve.

Billy Bob Thornton has a favorite brutal scene

As an actor with a respectable and celebrated action pedigree, Billy Bob Thornton has been a valuable contributor to countless legendary scenes throughout the decades. At this point in his career, there should be nothing that surprises or shocks him in a script. However, even he had to cite one particularly memorable scene from "The Gray Man" as eyebrow-raising. Chatting with Shondaland, Thornton explained how the part "when Chris [Evans] helps me with my manicure" was one that stuck out immediately from the production.

The scene in question occurs when Lloyd Hansen (Evans) interrogates Donald Fitzroy (Thornton) to find out why Six (Ryan Gosling) has gone to Prague — and, more importantly, who he might be meeting there. Lloyd sits Fitzroy down in a chair and starts off with a bit of chatter and idle threats before he pulls out the dreaded pliers. Fitzroy refuses to budge or give an inch, even as Lloyd pulls out his fingernails one by one. Eventually, Fitzroy breaks when Lloyd suggests that he should bring in Claire (Julia Butters) and try out his manicure techniques on her.

Who decided on Lloyd Hansen's glorious mustache?

What is it with mustaches and spy movies? First, Henry Cavill pumped up his muscles and flexed his infamous stache in "Mission: Impossible — Fallout." Deciding not to be undone by his fellow comic book movie compatriot, Chris Evans produced the sort of upper lip fuzz that would have made him a pin-up icon in the '70s. So whose ingenious idea was it to turn Evans' Lloyd Hansen into a Tom Selleck lookalike?

According to Anthony Russo, the stache spiraled out of Evans' box of proposals. "The mustache was his idea," Russo told Screen Rant. "He threw everything at that role on a creative level. He really relished every aspect of it. He's a partner. He's one of those actors who is making the movie with you." Well, the bushy mustache certainly added a nice touch to the fearsome (and humorous) character of Lloyd. After all, any man willing to sport that type of radical facial hair is someone not to be messed with.

The cast and crew used Bohemian Rhapsody to keep sane

Taking into account that "The Gray Man" cost around $200 million to produce (via Deadline), there was more than enough budget to take the cast and crew around the globe for their location shoots instead of filming scenes in front of a green screen. A memorable sequence takes place in the streets of Prague in the Czech Republic. The filming for this specific scene occured during the blistering heat of summer, so it would be understandable if the cast and crew shook their fists and cursed the sun as the temperatures soared to uncomfortable levels.

Joe Russo revealed to Entertainment Weekly that something unexpected happened on set that day, as everyone coped with the heat in a fun-filled, karaoke way. "We're in the middle of Prague, and the entire cast and crew is singing 'Bohemian Rhapsody' at the top of their lungs," he said. "I'm sure the residents of Prague loved us." It's another wonderful reminder of how world peace can be achieved if everyone banded together and sang Queen songs all day.

The Russo brothers think Chris Evans is more like Lloyd than Captain America

For many MCU fans, seeing Chris Evans step into a villainous role in "The Gray Man" feels jarring, especially since Evans portrayed Captain America, the virtuous bastion of justice, so well and for so long. It's difficult for them to marry these two polar opposite personalities, even if they're played by the same actor. The Russo brothers explained to CinemaBlend how they started chatting to Evans about the possibility of him appearing in "The Gray Man" after they completed work on "Avengers: Endgame" and he revealed he wanted to do something riskier as his next movie.

Joe Russo also knew that Evans was the right person to bring Lloyd Hansen to life since he got to know Evans behind the scenes of the MCU films they worked on together. As such, Russo met a man who was nothing like Steve Rogers in real life. "If you know Chris, he's not anything like Captain America," Russo said. "He is very charismatic, he's high energy, he's very funny — where Cap is very low key and, and quiet. And so we thought, 'Well, let's capture that side of Chris, that more theatrical aspect of him.' 'Cause Lloyd is a very showy character. He's intentionally showy. He is an agent of chaos."

Ryan Gosling's past as a dancer helped him for the stunts

Ryan Gosling's inclusion in "The Gray Man" caught the industry by surprise. This high-speed, action-packed blockbuster feels far removed from the kind of films that Gosling tends to seek out in general. That said, playing the anonymous, brooding type has become something of his niche — just look at his iconic performance as the Driver in Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" – so he's more than qualified to portray the quiet but violent assassin Six.

In an interview with Collider, the Russo brothers opened up about why they selected Gosling for the part. Anthony Russo brought up the actor's ability to disappear into the roles and provide the quiet, stoic approach — but with something bubbling underneath the surface — that was needed for Six. However, Joe Russo mentioned another quality that made Gosling's name jump to the top of the list instantly. "He trained as a dancer when he was younger, so he has incredible body control," he said. "And I think we never met anyone who could do stunt work, stunt fighting as well as Chris Evans, until Gosling. And it really is a different muscle that you're using." 

The Russos put Gosling through the action wringer, as he had to show off his stunt fighting chops in nine big action scenes.

Ana de Armas changed The Gray Man script

Ana de Armas is in high demand in Hollywood. From playing Paloma in "No Time to Die" to transforming into Marilyn Monroe for "Blonde," the actress has the luxury of choice with all sorts of roles and offers flying in her direction. As a result of her status in the industry, she's in the fortunate position to turn down or even question the parts presented to her. In fact, de Armas had a few concerns about "The Gray Man" before she finally signed on the dotted line to play Dani Miranda in the movie.

Speaking to Elle, de Armas admitted she's cautious about accepting so many action roles since she doesn't believe it to be her strength or niche as a performer. Consequently, the part needs to be something that captivates her. When she received the script for "The Gray Man," her interest was piqued, but she made a special request. "The script still needed work," she said. "My character needed work. But the meeting [with the Russo brothers] went so well. Those two are so much fun." 

While it's unclear what the changes or additions were, there's no doubt she received a meaty role that sees her share the limelight with the other leads and allows de Armas to play more than a love interest.

The Russos said the film nearly broke them

The Russo brothers aren't taking the road less traveled. After rocking and rolling in the MCU for several years dealing with truly massive budgets, one would have expected for them to maybe take a breather and work on a smaller, indie film after "Avengers: Endgame." 

While they did dabble with a few projects with more modest backing, such as "Extraction" and "Cherry," it wasn't long before they chose to tackle more blockbuster fodder in "The Gray Man." That said, the spy film does have a slightly smaller budget than the average MCU film, and it doesn't feature a giant purple titan snapping his fingers and turning half the world to dust, so this should have been a movie the Russos could make in their sleep, right?

According to what Joe Russo told Empire, it was anything but. In fact, it was one of their most grueling films yet and it pushed them to the limit. "This movie almost killed us," he said. "There are, like, nine action sequences, and it's so relentless in that regard. It was relentless to make." Despite the hard work and nerve-shattering efforts, the Russos loved the experience and told Empire that they'd love to return for a sequel if the opportunity presented itself.

Ryan Gosling was blown away by Dhanush

One of the standout performances in "The Gray Man" comes courtesy of Indian actor Dhanush who plays Avik San. His fight against Ryan Gosling's Sierra Six is a mouth-watering affair, as the pair puts on the kind of battle that would make even John Wick green with envy. Gosling agreed that he and Dhanush produced something special for the film and reserved the highest praise for his co-star.

"We shot this fight sequence and we reshot it multiple times," Gosling explained to The Quint. "It underwent so many different incarnations. Dhanush never made a mistake, and it seemed inhuman. He is so funny and charming. The biggest difficulty was pretending to be enemies, because I just liked him so much."

Regé-Jean Page, who plays Denny Carmichael in the film, took the acclaim one step further. As quoted by Times Now, Page claimed that Dhanush is more than twice the presence than the Dark Knight himself, making Batman look like an amateur in comparison. It's a bold statement, but there's no doubting that Dhanush's character put on a fight sequence worthy of being revisited.

The Russos started developing The Gray Man around the time of The Winter Soldier

"The Gray Man" is the film equivalent of Guns N' Roses' "Chinese Democracy." It was in the pipeline for the longest time and there was a lot of chatter around it, but no one believed it would actually happen — until it did. The Russo brothers were involved with "The Gray Man" for many years before it officially went in front of the cameras in March 2021 (via Production List). In fact, they boarded the project in 2014 when they were working on another famous picture: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

However, there was a reason for the delay in production, as explained by Joe Russo to The Hollywood Reporter. "One thing Steven Soderbergh taught us — he was our mentor very early on in our careers — was: 'One for you. One for them,'" Russo said. "You have to figure out how to make people money. Once you do, you can take some swings." So while the Russos planned "The Gray Man" for more than half a decade, they decided to establish their names with Marvel Studios first, understanding that it would help kickstart future projects.

The Gray Man cinematic universe?

Much like when the film option for "The Gray Man" gained steam in 2011, the endgame for the Netflix production was always clear from the start: to establish a franchise. Novelist Mark Greaney has produced over 10 books in "The Gray Man" series, so there's more than enough material for Hollywood to adapt for future movies. However, Netflix is already looking beyond the books, especially if "The Gray Man" proves to be an unequivocal hit on the platform — though what that measurement of success looks like to the streaming giant remains a mystery for the rest of us.

According to Empire Magazine (via MovieWeb), plans are in motion for a Lloyd Hansen prequel film that will see Chris Evans return as the mustache-twirling villain, with the script set to be written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick of "Deadpool" fame. Additionally, "The Gray Man 2" has been described as in the works, with rumors indicating that Gosling, the Russo brothers, and even the original screenwriters could return (via MovieWeb). 

In the world of showbiz, though, the production line switches lanes faster than a Formula 1 driver, so these projects could see the light of day or be buried deep in the cemetery of movie ideas that went nowhere.