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, actor Russell Crowe spoke at a roundtable interview about the type of comedy you can expect from The Nice Guys, how he came to be in the film with Ryan Gosling, his first meeting with Shane Black, reuniting with Kim Basinger for the first time on screen since L.A. Confidential, why he no longer does all of his own stunts, and whether he’d be game for a sequel. He also talked about why he signed on to play Dr. Henry Jekyll in Alex Kurtzman’s take on The Mummy, and just how scary the film will be.
Question: We don’t get to see you do comedy too often. Do you love doing comedy?
RUSSELL CROWE: If you look back through the movies that I’ve made, there’s always comedies in the cycle. I just really liked the density of this script and what the narrative was trying to achieve. And I thought it had really noble intentions. I wouldn’t have described it necessarily as a comedy because it’s full of social commentary and other things that you don’t necessarily find in just a comedy.
Did it read funny, or did it come across funny, as you shot it?
CROWE: The way it read is like, if you have coffee with a comedian and you say something funny, they’ll just go, “That was funny.” They won’t laugh. They’ll just go, “That was funny.” It was like that. It wasn’t a thigh-slapper on the page, but you could see that it set up their dynamic and that it would be funny. It was ripe for the picking. The ground was set.
Since you were cast first in this, was Ryan Gosling someone you had wanted to work with?
CROWE: It’s kind of an embarrassing story. I read it and I really liked it, and I thought, “Wow, that’s cool.” Please don’t ask me who was on this list because that would be extremely unkind for me to say. I said to my agent, “I liked it. I was really surprised. The narrative is really dense. There’s a lot going on.” He said, “The studio is sending you a list of people that they want to be in the movie with you.” And I read the list and called my agent and was like, “Listen, obviously this is not the project I thought it was. It’s something else. I must have really wanted it to be something because I read too much into it. Just don’t bother expressing interest.” And he said, “Shane Black got on the plane five hours ago.” I was like, “Seriously?! Okay.” I had a plan, where I would invite him over to my house, offer him a drink and cook him a steak, and then half-way through, I’d say, “You know, I really thought it was something else. I’m sorry I wasted your time.” So, he arrived and I said, “Hey, man, would you like a drink?” He said, “I don’t drink.” That was most of my plan. He had to be drinking, in order to hear what I had to say. I was like, “What do you mean, you don’t drink?” He said, “I’m allergic to alcohol.” I said, “What do you mean, you’re allergic to alcohol?” He said, “Yeah, one drink and I break out in handcuffs.” I was like, “That’s funny.” So, I said, “Look, we’ve got a bit of a problem. I’ve gotta tell you something.” He said, “Well, I’ve gotta tell you something. Can I go first?” I said, “All right, you go first.” And he said, “Ryan Gosling.” I was like, “What?!” He said, “Ryan Gosling. I had a meeting with him before I went to the airport. He knows it’s going to be you. He wants to play the other character. What do you think of that?” I was like, “How do you want your steak?” And then, the evening got back on track.
Did the dynamic between you and Ryan Gosling just happen naturally?
CROWE: We had a meeting between me and Ryan and Shane, where we went through all of the beats. The thing that becomes obvious when you start to lift the scenes of the page is that the two main characters were written in a totally similar rhythm. They were almost interchangeable. So, we discussed it and we laid that out in front of us, and that was all we did. Now that we knew that, we knew that every time we came to a scene, we had to find the harmonic to each other, to not be in the same sonic space, and off we went. There was no more mathematics than that. We discussed it and put it out in front of us, and that was that. It never even came up again, as a sentence. We knew what our job was. Every time we went into a scene, we had to have the different sonic hole that still harmonized with the other guy. People can either do that sort of shit and think in those terms, or they can’t. He could, so lucky me.
Your character is a bad-ass, but he’s also a big softie when it comes to the young actress who plays Ryan Gosling’s daughter, Angourie Rice. What was she like to work with?
CROWE: She was great. She was cool. She’s very focused. The thing that she brought to the set was maturity. She was always ready to go and she was a noter of the absurd, but was very focused on what she was doing. She was fun. She’s from Australia, so she’s got a very clear view of things. But also, Ryan is a kidder, and she could read his kidding very clearly.
The last time you worked with Kim Basinger was on L.A. Confidential. What was it like to reunite with her?
CROWE: We hadn’t actually been in each other’s company for over a decade. It’s funny how the business works that way sometimes. Sometimes you can see somebody all the time, for a number of years, and then the cycle changes and you’re just not in the same orbit. But, it was great to see her. I would have loved to have done more stuff with her. It’s so minimal, what we actually do together, compared to our previous on screen relationship. It’s hard to recreate that vibe.
Did you do much of your own stunts in this? Do you use a stunt guy?
CROWE: Yeah, you always have a stunt guy around. I’ve spent most of my career doing as many 100% shots for the director as I can. The older I get, the less that’s physically possible. When I was young, I remember doing all of my stunts, and the occasional older actor would go, “Why are you doing it? Why don’t you let the stunt guy do that?” And now that I’m an older guy, I’m like, “Oh, man, that was a piece of kindness and wisdom that missed me, at the time.” You do start stacking it up. I’ve got one scar on my body that is from something other than a film set. Every other scar is from being on a film set. I’ve got no cartilage in my toes anymore, from doing a bunch of lateral stops, I’ve got grade 4 tears in both Achilles tendons, I’ve got shin splints, I’ve got bone marrow edemas under both knees, I’ve got one disintegrating hip, I’ve got a rib in my upper thoracic that pops off my spine, which is a very pleasant morning, if that ever happens, and I’ve had two operations on my left shoulder. This stuff comes from committing to the job and giving myself over to the job. So, I did a version of everything, but what I said to Shane, right at the beginning, was, “There are two things at play here. Because I’m getting older, I want to make sure that I get through everything that I’m responsible for. The other thing is, I’m carrying a lot of extra weight. If we start grinding on stuff and do it over and over again, I’m going to hurt myself. That’s a fact. So, we have to be aware of that.” I did limit him, a little bit, but all that basically meant was that he got the choreography and everything he wanted to do with the camera down really well, so that while I was doing it, he got everything he needed. It’s good to pull the grind back from 20 takes to three. As long as you’re ready to shoot it, we can do it in three.
Did you beef up for this role?
CROWE: What I decided to do was just to live a completely sedentary life. What am I going to do, compete with Ryan? What’s the fuckin’ point of that?! So, I just decided to go the other way. In terms of great comedy duos, like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope or Abbott and Costello, there seems to be a physical difference, a lot of the time. And in the script, there was a physical difference required, so I just decided to emphasis that a little bit more.
If there’s a sequel to this movie, would you want to play this character again?
CROWE: I definitely want to work with Ryan again. He’s shitloads of fun.
Is Blood Meridian (directed by James Franco from the Cormac McCarthy book) going to happen?
CROWE: I have no idea. I’m friends with James Franco and I’ve talked to him about working with him, but I have no idea where all that shit came from.
Are you officially doing The Mummy?
CROWE: Yeah, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna play Dr. Henry Jekyll, Fellow of the Royal Society. It’s very interesting, what they’re gonna do with that stuff. I’ve had a couple of chats about it with the director (Alex Kurtzman). I’ve known Tom Cruise since 1992, or something like that. When he was married to an Australian, I was really good friends with him. But when he got divorced, I was part of the settlement package, and I went to Nicole [Kidman].
Are you confidant in what Alex Kurtzman is going to do?
CROWE: Yeah. He really understands the world and he’s been around a long time, on a lot of big projects. He knows how to get something from an idea on the page onto a soundstage and into a camera. Sure, I would imagine he’s scared shitless right about now, and having a hard time sleeping because he’s got ten million things on his mind right now. But when we started talking about this idea, there were a few things I put up in the air and he picked up on them. Those kinds of creative collaborative conversations, if they’re explosive like that from the first time you start talking, and somebody says something that goes off in your mind and that bumps up something that you say and that other person bounces off of that, you’re actually in a really good place. How they’ve pulled all of this stuff forward into a contemporary world and how they’re building it out from there, and how all of the different character interweave into each other’s stories, it’s fantastic.
And it’s drastically different from the last Mummy movie?
CROWE: Yeah. I think this one is more designed to seriously scare the shit out of you.
The Nice Guys opens in theaters on May 20th.