Two time Oscar winner Russell Crowe (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind) and Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, The Big Short) team up for the action comedy The Nice Guys, directed by Shane Black (Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon).
Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, down-on-his-luck private eye Holland March (Gosling) and hired enforcer Jackson Healy (Crowe) must join forces to find a missing girl, whose case might relate to the death of a porn star.
The unlikely partners are helped throughout the case by March’s young daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) who is always on hand trying to protect him.
I spoke with Russell and Ryan at the press day for The Nice Guys, which opens this Friday, May 20th 2016.
How did The Nice Guys come to you, Ryan?
Ryan: I had a bit of a relationship with Joel Silver (the movie’s producer) over the years, and I read the script the same day I got it, and the next day I said I was in. I just loved the script.
Everybody reads a script differently, and I read it as an opportunity to do a lot of physical comedy and take it to a broad place, but I didn’t know if that’s how everyone saw it.
I grew up on Shane Black and Joel Silver movies. So for me it was a no-brainer, and to know that Russell was playing that role for me was something I had to do.
Russell, what was it about this project that enticed you to do it?
Russell: I just really like the density of this script and what the narrative was trying to achieve, and I thought it had noble intentions.
The way I define it, Shane has tried to reach back into history and find a point in time where America simply corrupted its own future by certain decisions that were made, and that’s very heavy.
Now take that and put it into an extremely absurd world with gigantic characters that have a thorough and deep belief in themselves, and see what happens. I wouldn’t describe it as a comedy, because it’s full of social commentary and other things that you don’t necessarily find in a comedy.
You were cast first – did you cast Ryan? Was he someone you wanted to work with?
Russell: It’s kind of an embarrassing story. I read it and I really liked it. My agent said, ‘The studio is sending you a list of people that they want to be in the movie with you.’ I read the list and I called my agent back and I said, ‘Obviously this is not the project that I thought it was, it’s something else, I’ve read too much into it, so don’t bother expressing interest in it.’ (he looks at me) Please don’t ask me who was on this list, because that would be extremely embarrassing!
(My agent) said, ‘But Shane Black got on a plane five hours ago.’ So I got a plan, I’d invite him over to my house, give him a drink, cook him a steak and then say, ‘Look man, I thought it was something else, I’m sorry I’ve wasted your time.’
He arrives and I say, ‘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 this. So I said, ‘I really have to tell you something,’ and he goes, ‘I have to tell you something, can I go first? Ryan Gosling, he knows it’s going to be you and he wants to play the other character.’ I’m like, ‘How do you like your steak?’ The evening got back on track!
You’re both great actors, but you don’t know if you’re going to have a rapport onscreen, which is so important with this movie. Did that worry you?
Ryan: Russell is whatever he says he is in any role. If Russell says he’s Noah, he’s Noah, you never doubt it. If he says he’s Gladiator, he’s Gladiator, he’s every character he says he is. I have never doubted anything he’s done. So I knew he would be Jackson Healy, and it’s a bonus that we had fun together.
Part of what is so great about Shane is that he knows what he’s doing and he cast us not because he thought we were funny, but because he thought it would be funny to have two guys who are so serious be in something so silly. Even if Russell and I didn’t have the rapport that we have, I think it still would have worked on that level.
Russell: We had a meeting between me, Ryan and Shane and we went through all the beats. The thing that becomes obvious when you start to lift these things off the page is that the two main characters were written in a totally similar rhythm. They are almost interchangeable. So we discussed it, we laid that out, and that was all we did.
Does being a dad help you play a dad?
Ryan: He’s the worst father of all time, so wait a second; it did help me a lot actually (he laughs). It helps to have done something before you do it onscreen, sure.
What was it like having Angourie such a big part of The Nice Guys?
Ryan: Angourie is such a pro and she’s so talented. It was one of those great moments where in the audition they had seen a lot of kids, I read with five or ten of them, Angourie was the last one. You don’t know how you’re going to play certain aspects of your character, and just by the nature of who (the other actor is), and how they’re playing their character, suddenly you know exactly how to play yours. We got along great right off the bat.
Russell: Someone asked me last night what did Angourie Rice bring to the set? I said, ‘I think the thing she brought to the set was maturity.’ She’s from Australia so she has a very clear view of things (he laughs). Also, Ryan is a kidder and she could read his kidding very clearly.
And you got to work with Kim Basinger again, it’s been a long time since LA Confidential.
Russell: We were talking and we worked out that we hadn’t been in each other’s company for over a decade.
The business works that way sometimes. 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 onscreen relationship.