From writer/director Shane Black, the 1970s-set action comedy The Nice Guys follows down-on-his-luck private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) who unexpectedly finds himself teamed up with hired enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to find a missing girl. With a handful of colorful characters also interested in her whereabouts, March and Healy begin to uncover a shocking conspiracy that just might end up getting them both killed.
At the film’s press day, highly prolific and successful producer Joel Silver spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about the challenge of marketing an undefinable movie, how the script for The Nice Guys evolved since the first time he read it, trying unsuccessfully to make it as a TV series, and where the story could go in a sequel. He also talked about the status of Sherlock Holmes 3 and when they might shoot it, how things are going with Suburbicon (directed by George Clooney from a script by the Coen brothers), possibly remaking Super Fly and Weird Science, what else he currently has in development, and why he was never able to get a Wonder Woman movie going.
Collider: For a movie that’s not an outright comedy, The Nice Guys is still really funny.
JOEL SILVER: It’s not a comedy, per se. It’s a thriller and it’s a mystery, and it’s very funny. We needed Russell [Crowe] and Ryan [Gosling]. We’ve seen plenty of these two-hander movies with two funny guys, like Ride-Along, but this is not that movie. This is Shane Black’s voice, and he has a very signature, very singular voice. The film has a beginning, middle and end, which is rare. How many movies do you hear that are shooting a new ending? What do you mean, you’re shooting a new ending? How do you write a script, and then have a new ending? With Shane, he takes a long time to write, but it is a script that is a story that works, and we just follow that blueprint. We ended up with a movie that I think is very effective.
When you have a film like this, that’s so hard to classify and describe, as a producer, do you see it as a welcome challenge to sell an undefinable movie to an audience?
SILVER: I’m very careful to say that it’s not a comedy. It’s a thriller. It’s an action movie. It’s a mystery that happens to be very funny. That’s the difference. That’s what I try to say and what I try to promote. It is very funny. When I showed the movie to Warner Bros. for the first time, the head of production at the company said, “I haven’t seen a movie with an audience enjoying it so much, in a long time.” People just enjoy the movie because they love the guys and they love the characters. The best selling point of this movie is the movie. Yes, it is hard to get people to understand what it is, but we’re trying to be as creative and effective as possible, in the marketing of the movie. Seeing them be who they are is what sells the picture.
What stage was this script in, when you first read it?
SILVER: The first draft that I read was contemporary. The girl wasn’t a porn star. There had been this South American sexy blonde performer in Brazil that had a morning kids’ television show. Misty Mountains was a Saturday morning kids’ personality, and the kid was watching her show when the car came through the wall and she died. You found out over the course of the story that she was involved in a sex scandal. It was very complicated, and it as a contemporary story. People were not being it, in that era. He wrote it in 2001 or 2002. It was awhile ago, and we talked about what to do with it. He then wrote Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which we put together and made. That script was called L.A. P.I., but we didn’t have a lot of money for it and Downey was on his ass. We made the movie because we wanted to, but it didn’t get a lot of play. People loved it, and it launched things. It put Downey in a place where he could be Iron Man. It let Shane be a guy who could direct Iron Man. It put a lot of things in perspective that hadn’t been before that movie. Even though people loved the movie, it didn’t really have a big showing.
And then, we tried to make The Nice Guys as a television series. We talked to CBS and HBO, and we got close a few times, but nobody ever hit the switch. And then, after 2013, when Iron Man 3 came out, people starting saying to Shane, “What do you want to do next?” He said to me, “Let’s do The Nice Guys.” There had been an interim draft where he set it in the ‘70s with a porn story. I said, “Do you really want to do it ‘70s?” And he said, “Yeah, I do.” I said, “You don’t like the contemporary story?” He said, “No, I think it was too hard to make it work.” And then, it came together very quickly.
Shane’s agent is WME, and there’s an agent there who represents Russell. When it became clear that we were going to do it, he called us up and said, “Would you do this with Russell? He wants to do it. He’s intrigued by it.” And I said, “Okay, well, maybe Shane should go see him.” So, Shane planned a trip to Australia. I know Ryan’s manager, and Ryan and I almost made Logan’s Run together, and she said that he was available. So, I sent over the script and, the next day, she said, “I read it and Ryan read it. He liked it, and he loves the idea of Russell Crowe.” By the time Shane went to see Russell, he said, “What about Ryan?”
Knowing how well Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling play off of each other, are you at all surprised that people are already asking about a sequel?
SILVER: I’d love to see what he does in the ‘80s with these two guys. I just saw that movie Sing Street, which takes place in Ireland in the ‘80s, and I loved the music and the feel of that. I’d love to see us go on into the ‘90s. But, I don’t like to get ahead of myself. We have to let this movie come out and see if it works. I didn’t make Lethal Weapon to be a series. I didn’t make Die Hard to be a series. With Sherlock Holmes, we planned on a series of movies because, with the books, that works. We could continue with these two guys. We end up with them being detectives. Titan Publishing put out a novelization of the movie and it reads like a pulp novel. I’d love to put out a series of books of these characters.
Where are things at with Sherlock 3?
SILVER: It looks like it could happen this fall. Downey said he wants to do it. He’s gotta launch into another Avengers movie, right after the New Year, so we’re trying to get it done. We have a script that we like. Jude [Law] is available and Downey is available, and we’re hoping we can get it done. If it works, great. If not, we’ll do it another time. But, it looks like it could happen now.
Does it feel like it could be the last one that you do?
SILVER: I hope not. I don’t think so. How many Bond films have they made? As long as there’s a character, we can work with it. It’s not an end story. We can keep going, as long as people want to do it. It’s [the actor’s] call. They have to say, “Okay, I’m ready to go.” I read about them making another Bad Boys. If they want to do it, then you try to get it done.
How is Suburbicon coming together?
SILVER: It’s pretty much together now. The Coen brothers originally wrote the script in 1986, right after Blood Simple. I met the Coen brothers at a bowling alley at the premiere party of Blood Simple. I’ve known them 30 years. When we were making The Hudsucker Proxy, they said, “We wrote a script for Warners.” They didn’t even realize they owned it ‘cause it was through an old deal. It took them awhile to find it, but they finally found a copy of the script on microfiche in Fort Lee, NJ in some Warner Bros. vault. It took them a few years to find the script, and then to find out that Warner Bros. owned it. And then, Joel and Ethan wanted to rewrite it because they wrote it in 1986. Through Dark Castle, we paid them and they wrote a new draft of the movie, taking place today, which I got about ten years ago, in 2006. They said, “Well, maybe we’ll direct it. We’re not sure.” And [George] Clooney knew about it ‘cause they had told him about it. It was a part they had written and hoped that he would play, and he was intrigued by that. I was actually in London dubbing [The Nice Guys], and Clooney’s agent called to tell me that I was going to get a call from George. As I was on the phone with him, I got a call from George and he said, “I want to do it, but I want to make a change.” I said, “We own it. We’re sitting on it, so whatever you want to do.” So, he and Grant [Heslov] set it in 1957, and he got Matt [Damon], Julianne [Moore], Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin and Woody Harrelson. It is a really early, perfect Coen brothers script, and George has added a layer to it that really makes it so current, so effective, so topical, and so great. We’re going to shoot it in the fall, and I think it’s going to be a great movie.
It has to take a very specific point of view to add on to a Coen brothers movie.
SILVER: He’s been in so many of their movies. He’s one of their go-to people, so he knows them very well. He matched their writing style. What he did was that he changed an important element of it, and I think it makes it even more exciting.
What other projects do you have, that are close to going into production?
SILVER: I think we may finally make Gypsy with Barbra [Streisand]. It looks like that may come together now. I have another script that the Coen brothers wrote for me, based on a Ross Macdonald novel called The Zebra-Striped Hearse, which is pretty great. I have the rights to Super Fly, so I may remake that. Shane and I are talking about making Doc Savage. I’m working on a lot of different things. I’m excited that people are going to movies all over the world now. It’s a great time. There are a lot of things that are percolating.
And Doc Savage is certainly in line with the superhero craze that’s going on right now, but also sounds like a very different version of that?
SILVER: It pre-dates all of that stuff. It’s a ‘30s character. It’s pretty cool. And I love working with Shane. We have a good time.
You’ve worked with Shane Black since his first script for Lethal Weapon. Obviously, you saw potential, but what was it about his work that originally struck you?
SILVER: His voice came through. It was this weird tone of hard and soft. It was light and dark. Right away, you could sense something special. He was inspired by Walter Hill. Walter had done a pilot for an ABC show, called Dog and Cat, that was with Kim Basinger and Lou Antonio. It was on for one year in 1977, and then it was canceled. Shane had found that script. There was a store on Hollywood Blvd. where you could buy scripts, so he bought and read that script. It inspired him, and he put his own twist on that. He evolved into somebody who became really great.
You’ve tried, over the years, to bring Wonder Woman to the screen, but it didn’t pan out. Why do you think it’s worked now, but didn’t work then?
SILVER: I don’t know. I hired a young guy, named Joss Whedon, who nobody really was aware of. He wrote a great script. I don’t know what the movie is going to look like or be like, but he wrote a great script. For whatever reason, the studio didn’t like it and didn’t want to do it. We were close, at one point. We were prepping a movie, at one point. I was trying to get George Miller to direct it, at one point. But Joss wrote a great script, and he was supposed to direct it, but they just didn’t see it and they didn’t want to do it. They said, “We’re not going to move forward,” and it went back into the DC Comics world. Sandra Bullock was interested in doing it, but I just couldn’t put it together. They don’t always happen the way you want them to. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you’re happy with the result, sometimes you’re not, and sometimes you can’t even get it together. That’s just the process of movie-making. You’ve gotta just roll with it and accept what happens, hope you can get it made and hope that people will go see it.
When you see so many remakes being done, what do you need to be present to decide when to go ahead with one?
SILVER: It’s absolutely alchemy. You never really know what’s going to happen. It’s the best laid plans. Nobody sets out to make something that doesn’t work, ever, but you don’t really know if it’s going to work or not. You try to do everything right, but there are a lot of chefs in the kitchen with a lot of ideas, theories and concepts. You’re on that wave and you’re just trying to not fall off. You just try to keep going. It depends on so many things. It’s climate and timing.
Are you still hoping to remake Weird Science?
SILVER: I’m trying.
The Nice Guys opens in theaters on May 20th.