The Russo Brothers Explain Why ‘The Gray Man’ Didn’t Have a Wider Theatrical Release

The filmmakers also tell TheWrap about Steven Soderbergh’s habit of sending them Mariah Carey GIFs

Getty Images

Joe and Anthony Russo’s “The Gray Man,” largely publicized as Netflix’s most expensive action extravaganza yet, is debuting on the streaming service this Friday. The tale of an operative who does the CIA’s dirty work (played by Ryan Gosling), who then becomes the target of another, more sadistic contractor (played by Chris Evans), it’s good, old-fashioned spy-versus-spy stuff. The action sequences (there are nine) are huge and elaborately put together, which is fitting given the Russos’ history with Marvel Studios (they made two “Captain America” movies and the last two “Avengers” movies).

TheWrap spoke with the Russo Brothers about the movie’s limited theatrical release, what it’s like working with Netflix, their decision to put Ryan Gosling in yet another iconic bomber jacket and, of course, their possible involvement in a Marvel Studios “Secret Wars” movie. Oh and we try to unpack the mystery of why Steven Soderbergh, who served as the Russos mentor early in their career, keeps sending Joe Russo gifs of Mariah Carey.

Was there ever an idea to push it harder for a theatrical release or to have an expanded release? Was that ever a discussion that you guys had with Netflix?

Anthony Russo: Well, the situation is this – Netflix is a streamer, they don’t live or die on their theatrical all experience, the other studios do live or die on their theatrical experience. Netflix is in a position where the theater owners and the exhibitors have a much thicker relationship with the traditional studios because of that. Because they need each other more. Netflix is in the process of working out how they expand their theatrical experience. And it’s a complicated thing. Everybody feels the same way about this movie, including Netflix. And there are more movies like this of course. That’s a part of their agenda and we’re sort of realizing it to the best degree we can at this moment in time.

You’ve talked about how freeing it is working with Netflix. And I was wondering, was that something that you guys figured out on “Extraction” and applied to the production of “The Gray Man?”

Anthony Russo: We’re very self-sufficient. I mean, our process has always been very comprehensive. We know what we want to do. We know how we want to do it. And we’ve been most successful in our careers when we found partners who like what we want to do and it just works then.

But absolutely, there was a working relationship that was discovered on “Extraction” and we understood who they were and how they worked. And it was great. They support you in all the ways they need to support you which is amazing. You can never take any of that for granted. They committed to this movie in a very big way and they like what we do.

Was there any trepidation in putting Ryan Gosling and in yet another iconic bomber jacket?

Joe Russo: No. He happens to love those iconic bomber jackets. We like to allow the actors to find the feel and look of their characters. They have to be happy in their costumes and with their hair, their makeup and you’ll get a better performance out of them if they are right. They’re also going to put a lot of thought into the character. And in fact, our thought is divided amongst all the characters, the action, the execution, the crew we’re dealing with, etc. They’re going to put the exclusive thought into their character. We’re happy to allow the actors to drive the look and feel of their characters.

I’ve got to say, doing the press tour now with him every single day, I get to see him in a jacket that’s more fabulous than the last one. It’s kind of mind blowing.

Was it tough to get him to say yes?

Anthony Russo: He’s a very thoughtful actor, as you would expect. We did have a lot of conversations, but they were amazing conversations. We really enjoyed them and it was a big step for him. Absolutely. But, even before he committed, we enjoyed our conversations with him about it and then once he committed, he was all in.

Did Soderbergh give any notes on this?

Anthony Russo: No, we didn’t get any notes. We haven’t got a note from Soderbergh in probably 20 years.

Joe Russo: l tell you what’s very funny is that I probably text with him like every two to three months and it invariably involves a Mariah Carey gif. I’ll ask him a fairly serious question and I will get a Mariah Carey gif in response to my question. Usually obtuse.

You’re left to decode it.

Joe Russo: I have to decode it. He makes me work for it. Yes.

Here’s the legally required “Secret Wars” question: are you just trying to will this project in existence by bringing it up all the time?

Joe Russo: I mean, here’s the crazy thing – everyone asks us and we just answer truthfully. But there are no conversations, there aren’t. It’s just people saying, “Hey, you want to go back to work for Marvel Studios?” Sure. We loved working with them. However, we run our own company. Now we have three or four projects lined up. The dance card’s pretty full. Their dance card’s pretty full. It would have to be a time and place thing, but we’re talking years out.

And then we’re asked, “Well, what project would you like to do?” And we always say “Secret Wars” because it was our favorite comic book growing up. We have no idea if they’re heading in that direction. We have no idea if they’re interested in working with us again. We have no idea about any of it. We just answer the questions honestly, but it’s funny that it keeps turning into a headline and people think we’re trying to manifest this. No, we’re just really answering a question that we seem to get asked over and over and over again, as truthfully as we can answer it.

“The Gray Man” is now playing in limited release and hits Netflix on July 22.