Shane Black, the cowriter and director of the new buddy-cop comedy “The Nice Guys” (out Friday), knows a little something about the genre — because he helped create it.
Black launched his career writing “Lethal Weapon” in 1987. And since then he’s gone on to pen the three sequels and movies that mix hard action and comedy like “The Last Boy Scout” and “Last Action Hero.” (And in that time, he had a small role in a little Arnold Schwarzenegger movie called “Predator.”)
After tackling a substance abuse problem in the early 2000s, Black reemerged as one of Hollywood’s most distinctive creative forces, making the funny caper “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” in 2005 (in which he cast buddy Robert Downey Jr., following the actor’s own drug problems). And thanks to Downey Jr., Black cowrote and directed “Iron Man 3.”
In “The Nice Guys,” starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as two ’70s private eyes who team for a case, Black’s brand of action and dark comedy is back at its height.
Black talked to Business Insider this week over the phone about the movie, his memories from the set of “Predator,” and why he wishes people would give Mel Gibson a break.
Business Insider: I think you guys are going to have a good opening weekend. Have you gotten the numbers for Thursday previews yet?
Shane Black: I just got off the plane.
BI: It was around $700,000 for Thursday.
Black: Well, that’s not bad. It’s not staggering, but I would imagine it’s solid.
BI: I think it’s very solid.
Black: I think it would be fantastic if we can carve a little niche. We have a lot of competition this weekend. We’re having a great deal of fun, regardless. It’s just nice to do something a little different from the last one, which was one [“Iron Man 3”] of these giant branded movies. Which was also fun. But look, they say get the next job before the last one comes about so I’m already on something else and I’m trying to stay out of the results business. The temptation is to be nervous how the movie will do, but I just have to stay out of this business.
BI: But the reaction must be nice, since it’s an original movie. Not an adaptation. That must feel good.
Black: It does because the one thing I can point to over the course of many years, 30 now I believe, of trying to do this… I’ve always managed to canoodle my way into something that someone ends up making into a film that didn’t exist. That wasn’t an assignment. So I’m pleased with that very much.
BI: But is there a temptation to think about expanding the story and the characters and do a sequel to “The Nice Guys”?
Black: Again, staying out of the results business. There’s a certain jinx factor, it’s like planning the wrap party while you’re still writing the script. We have to open this thing first. Should the demand be there, I’m certain we can do it. I know it will be fun if the two guys are onboard, and I think they would be, but it just has to generate the kind of interest that enables us to present to a studio a sequel that makes sense to them.
BI: Are you talking to Gosling and Crowe at all about what a sequel could look like?
Black: I’ve kind of put a moratorium on it. The guys and I know we’ve got something. If we have to, Anthony [Bagarozzi], my writing partner, we can always generate something. The great thing about detective stories in particular, the case can always be interesting as well as the characters. And you can always have another story and another case for a detective to solve. And they made a bunch of good “Pink Panther” movies back in the day, so we can model this after those.
BI: And I can’t help but think Crowe and Gosling have some Abbott and Costello in their characters, too.
Black: [Laughs] Yeah, there are any number of influences that we kind of channel in terms of plucking from our comedian legacy. But what surprises me and gratifies me most is when we started out, we deliberately made a choice to not use two comedians. For me, it wouldn’t be worth doing if it weren’t true to the legacy of a private-eye story. So it had to be two tough guys. Two real men in the spirit of John Cassavetes or Lee Marvin. And if it wasn’t that cool and slick and edgy then the idea of just doing a comedy, a buddy comedy, it wouldn’t be worth it.
BI: And then you and Anthony go and turn the genre on its ear. The usual detective tricks don’t work. Did you ever question if the audience would like that?
Black: I think people are so smart these days that they’re just waiting to have the trope stood on its head. And I already had experience with it in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” There’s a scene where someone spins a bullet, a single bullet in a revolver, and then you usually hear “click” when the person pulls the trigger, but instead it’s bang, it’s the bullet. He’s dead. So those are fun things to do. It makes the audience feel they are in on the joke.
BI: “The Nice Guys” script has been around for 13 years and has gone through a lot of changes. Originally it wasn’t as funny as it turned out to be. How did that evolve?
Black: Believability is essential and once we had these great actors who could play these cool parts and know they could be funny, it felt like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” That was my model. There’s a lot of funny stuff in there, but there’s a heart to that movie, it’s about the death of the West. The mythology of the gunslinger. But I just had a hunch that these two guys would be funny. Good actors like these just know how to do almost anything. Russell has said, “We just listened to each other.” That’s what chemistry is. And I watched it. It just took a few nights of them together in a hotel suite for them to know each other.
BI: Are you shocked by the likability of Russell in this role?
Black: I think in “Gladiator” he’s likable. I wanted him to succeed more than I want most heroes to in those movies. There was a selflessness that he portrayed. In this particular film, he’s got this face that has a sense of being lived in. It portrays a world of remorse but with a flick of the eyebrow this guy can convey so much that the camera loves him.
BI: You said in an interview that Robert Downey Jr. wants Mel Gibson to direct an “Iron Man” movie, if there were ever another one. Were you serious about that?
Black: I just heard him say that once, but that was years ago. As far as I know, it’s nothing serious. I was just repeating what I heard.
BI: What fascinated me about that was it seems you, Mel, and Robert have a connection to one another. You put Robert in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” when his career had flatlined. Robert helped you get the “Iron Man 3” job, and since Mel’s troubles, you — and it now sounds like Robert — have tried to help out Mel.
Black: I think that everyone knows there’s a special relationship with Robert and Mel. Robert stepped up for me. And I’ve always been a tremendous fan of Mel Gibson not just as an actor but I think he’s a good guy. I’ve said it before, but on the record I just don’t believe in holding anyone accountable for something that they say while they’re drunk, because if I’m drunk I’m going to be deliberately belligerent, first off. I’m going to say something that I know will piss you off and will delight in the fact that I’m destroying the house and burning it down. That’s what drunk people do. So the idea that that’s truly who a person is when he’s had a few, I don’t believe that at all. I just think that’s wrong. I know a lot of great people and they are not necessarily great when they’re drunk. So I don’t trust that.
BI: Do you think Mel has gotten a bad rap?
Black: I think he’s essentially been blacklisted in the industry. I think people don’t want to work with him. Now they are starting to come around, but there was certainly a period where it just seemed like no one would hire him. Don’t you think so?
BI: I would agree. But I’m asking you because you have a different vantage point than me. You’ve tried to get projects off the ground with him.
Black: Yeah. I think there’s definite sentiment and I understand the point of view. He said some nasty things. But like I said, if you’re drunk, you’re going to say nasty things. I haven’t spoken to Mel in over a year now. I hear things more secondhand about him. And I haven’t spoken to Downey really either. I’ve been so busy the last few years I haven’t had time.
BI: But I would imagine if you and Mel connected, you two would start back up to get a project going.
Black: Yeah. If there was something that he had or I had, but once again, at this point he’s directing and I’m directing so we’re both busy.
BI: You starred in the original “Predator” movie and you’re now working on directing the latest movie in the franchise. What’s your favourite memory from making the original?
Black: Oh gosh. It’s so damn long ago. What strikes me as memorable about “Predator” was a lot of the decisions that were made so quickly turned out to be so iconic. Jean-Claude Van Damme was the first Predator and he was having trouble wearing the suit, it was too clumsy for him. Here’s a guy with this incredible physicality and can’t do any of his kicks and moves. So we basically scrapped the suit all together and built something brand new. It was thrown together by Stan Winston in just a few weeks and now it’s this iconic monster. The title was originally “Hunter” and that didn’t get through copyright clearance because of the TV show “Hunter” with Fred Dryer. So we said, “F— it, let’s just call it ‘Predator,'” and it has now become a huge brand. So the things you arrive at very quickly on the spur of the moment can sometimes have this amazing longevity.