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Exciting new directions

Joe and Anthony Russo’s Netflix blockbuster The Gray Man aims to reboot the spy thriller, with Audi helping to up the action stakes. A conversation about agents, inclusive storytelling and how cars have evolved in cinema.

07/21/2022 Text: Patrick Morda – Photo: Dana Fineman/Netflix © 2022 Reading Time: 5 min

Portrait of Joe and Anthony Russo sitting in their directors’ chairs.
American filmmaker and producer Joe Russo (left) works alongside his brother Anthony (right). Thanks to their highly successful superhero movies, the Russo brothers are said to be the second most commercially successful directors of all time.

Joe, Anthony, The Gray Man is available to stream on Netflix. Can you tell us a bit about your new movie?

Anthony Russo: The story is based on a series of books written by Mark Greaney and follows an operative who works for a secret section of the CIA called the Sierra programme, which offers prisoners furlough in exchange for services to the agency.

Joe Russo: And, of course, a problem arises around these activities when our lead character, Ryan Gosling, aka the gray man, is set on a collision course with the lead villain.

 

In recent years, you have enjoyed huge successes with films about superheroes. So why the spy genre now?

Anthony Russo: Joe and I have been fans of the genre our whole lives. We’ve been looking for an opportunity to do something special with it – and that’s The Gray Man.

 

What do you think makes your movie so special?

Anthony Russo: What we find most interesting is reinterpreting or subverting a genre, in other words, doing something fresh with it as storytellers. That is a critical part of our filmmaking process. The first thing that grabbed us was the concept of the gray man – a spy’s spy so to speak. Within this world, he is the most invisible, the hardest to find and access. We liked the idea of pushing the concept of a spy to its furthest extreme.

A portrait of Joe Russo sitting in his director’s chair.

How can we spot the ways in which you subvert the genre?

Anthony Russo: To prepare for the role, Ryan Gosling trained with real CIA agents who taught him operatives’ typical behaviour. For instance, secret agents move very little because they never know when they might need all their energy. So, he came to us with the idea of developing his character in that direction – by moving very calmly and speaking very softly.

Joe Russo: I think that’s a fascinating take on a lead character in this type of a film. It’s those small details that accumulate to reinvent a genre.

 

To what extent do you have to follow the zeitgeist in order to pursue your genre reinvention agenda?

Anthony Russo: Joe and I are very interested in global filmmaking, which seeks to be inclusive. We love to think of film as something that brings people together. Through the collaborators and locations we choose, we aim to include different cultures from around the world in the storytelling process.

Joe Russo: We always keep in mind the political moment and our collective experiences around the world. And I think the movie is imbued with a very contemporary feel in that, for example, it taps into what is happening today in terms of the fear that there’s a secret state behind the state that doesn’t adhere to traditional democratic principles.

A portrait of Joe Russo sitting in his director’s chair.
Joe is the younger Russo brother. He studied acting before teaming up with Anthony to write, direct and produce their first feature.

“We liked the idea of pushing the concept of a spy to its furthest extreme.”

Joe Russo

A portrait of Anthony Russo sitting in his director’s chair.

Does embracing a progressive approach as a director mean you have to keep the audience in touch with reality?

Anthony Russo: While we don’t want to be pedantic about it, we certainly want to speak to people’s anxieties and the things that they are or aren’t thinking about. At the end of the day, we are creating a piece of entertainment, a positive experience. But the enjoyment they get requires an emotional and psychological investment. We ask them to risk their point of view while they are watching.

 

Another aspect of today’s reality is the mobility transition. In The Gray Man, the all-electric Audi e-tron models assume the “traditional” role of a spy car.

Anthony Russo: As storytellers, we have always been very interested in exploring new technologies and using them as tools to do things no one has ever done before. That’s what excites us. And while that’s always our approach, it applies doubly to the evolution in mobility that’s happening right now. As much as I love yesterday’s and today’s cars, I am definitely eager to see what vehicles tomorrow brings. That is an exciting new direction that promises a whole new world of experiences for us, not only as drivers and consumers but also as people who have to coexist with cars.

A portrait of Anthony Russo sitting in his director’s chair.
Before getting into the movie business, Anthony Russo studied law. He and his brother believe in global filmmaking – a fully inclusive production process.

“I am definitely eager to see what vehicles tomorrow brings. That is an exciting new direction that promises a whole new world of experiences.”

Anthony Russo

Audi x The Gray Man

Audi x The Gray Man

Joe and Anthony Russo are long-standing Audi collaborators. In their latest Netflix production, starring Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas and Chris Evans among others, the Audi RS e-tron GT and the Audi Q4 Sportback e-tron form a vital part of the story. It’s the perfect opportunity for the carmaker to showcase its vision of a new era in mobility. You can catch the movie as of now on Netflix from 22 July.

Audi RS e-tron GT: Power consumption, combined*: 20.2–19.3 kWh/100km (NEDC); 22.6–20.6 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Audi Q4 e-tron: Power consumption, combined*: 18.3–15.2 kWh/100km (NEDC); 21.4–17.0 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Audi RS e-tron GT: Power consumption, combined*: 20.2–19.3 kWh/100km (NEDC); 22.6–20.6 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Audi Q4 e-tron: Power consumption, combined*: 18.3–15.2 kWh/100km (NEDC); 21.4–17.0 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Do e-vehicles present any new challenges or opportunities in your work?

Anthony Russo: Not really. But that doesn’t mean we won’t discover new things further down the road.

Joe Russo: There is one challenge we encountered with electric cars on screen – sound. Audio is a big part of making a movie because it establishes a fact or a feeling. That can make it very powerful, but over time, we’ll figure out new things.

Anthony Russo: That’s not to say we’re advocating for louder electric vehicles. They’re perfect the way they are!

 

Will cars continue to play a role in thrilling movies?

Anthony Russo: When you’re making a movie, you create a lot of things especially for that project. There’s something we can’t create, and that’s a car. Well, we could, but it wouldn’t be as good. We have a long history of collaborating with Audi and being able to use their vehicles has been incredibly beneficial to our creative process.

The Audi Q4 Sportback e-tron in an industrial warehouse.

Ready for the stage

The Audi Q4 Sportback e-tron is breathtaking not only in the blockbuster The Gray Man but also in real life. Experience the all-electric SUV in your country:

Read more

Audi Q4 Sportback e-tron: Power consumption, combined*: 18.1–15 kWh/100km (NEDC); 21–16.5 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Audi Q4 Sportback e-tron: Power consumption, combined*: 18.1–15 kWh/100km (NEDC); 21–16.5 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km