How Ryan Gosling Helped Shane Black's 'Nice Guys' Go From CBS Reject to Cannes Offering

Shane Black Extra - H 2016
Hussein Katz

The writer-director tells THR of Russell Crowe's weight gain, his definition of success and how he almost "slid off the map" in Hollywood.

In the late '80s and early '90s, Shane Black was the ‘It’ screenwriter, penning the scripts for Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight, among others. After making his directorial debut with 2005’s black comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang starring Robert Downey Jr., it would be eight years until he’d direct again — reuniting with Downey on Marvel’s Iron Man 3.

Black, 54, is now returning to his bread and butter with Warner Bros.’ buddy cop dark comedy The Nice Guys, starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as a pair of private investigators who team up to find a missing girl. Ahead of the film's Cannes' out-of-competition screening, Black spoke to THR about his 15-year journey with the out-of-competition film, the ups and downs of his career and why Crowe embraced a beer belly.

How did this project start?

My writing partner Anthony Bagarozzi — we go back 30 years — and I both have a profound love for detective stories, so we said, “Let’s just get a pulp detective story going that’s really kind of old-school and fun, but that has a caper quality to it and some rough edges.” We each decided to take a character. I was supposed to take the Gosling character, and he was supposed to write the Crowe character. But, of course, that doesn’t really work. We ended up getting together anyways and talking this thing out as a screenplay set in present day — this was back in 2001.

What happened in those 15 years?

Basically it didn’t go anywhere. Joel Silver, who’s a big force behind this, proposed that we make it a TV series. We went to CBS, and there was some interest. But it quickly became apparent that it was not a CBS show. Standards and practices were immediately telling us that all the things we liked best about it were just simply going to have to go.

It was too raunchy for CBS?

Yes. For instance, there’s a scene where Ryan Gosling’s character’s daughter stows away in a trunk, and he opens the trunk and she’s there. He shuts the lid and tries to give the keys back to the valet. They were horrified at that scene. So nobody wants the show.

Finally, we make one last-ditch effort, putting it in the ’70s and setting it as a period piece. It wasn’t until 2013 that in a last-ditch effort, we sent it to Ryan Gosling, and he said, “It’s the kind of thing I’m looking to do.” Within two days, Russell Crowe had it and said, “Wait a minute, if Gosling does it, I’ll do it.” And so after 13 years, everything just fell into place in three days. It was very strange.

Crowe looks quite heavy. Was that something you wrote in the script?

He had a little bit of weight on him. I suspect he was trying to make it more realistic, sort of less heroic like Gladiator and more just like a guy who pounds the pavement, because most of the tough guys I knew growing up — my dad was a tough guy on the east side of Pittsburgh — they drank beer and had big bellies, and they’d still beat the hell out of you. So I think Russell probably took his cue from that. Either that, or he was just eating a lot.

How do Gosling and Crowe approach their roles differently, and what is it like on set with them?

Ryan is extremely playful, more so than I would’ve ever thought having seen him in movies like Drive, where it just seems everything’s so measured. He’s always suggesting things, and I love that. Russell likes to get it right. He’s meticulous. If he wants to change one word, he’ll make a point of it. He’s the most precise actor I’ve ever worked with.

What keeps you up at night as a director?

There’s always a certain fraudulence I feel, because I think the dirty little secret is that it’s truly a collaborative medium. What it boils down to is, there’s a camera rolling, and I’m standing there saying stuff, and at the end of that three months, there’s a product. I’ve been in this business for 30 years, and I’ve seen a lot of people I came up with — people whom I respected, admired or thought they were much better — just fall by the wayside, and somehow I’m still making movies at a fairly decent level. I’m blessed and incredibly, unaccountably lucky to have that opportunity. I’m just the luckiest guy in the world. I’m scared to lose that.

Have you ever felt like you might not get another gig?

Oh yeah, I went through a period back in 1999 when I had the script for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I took it to many people, and people didn’t know who the hell I was anymore. They didn’t read it, and they’d say they didn’t want to do it. No one wanted that script except Joel Silver. I almost slid off the map, and then I went fallow for a period after Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Getting sober helped, but still, there was a big fallow period. I’ve been poor, I’ve been not poor — I’m just lucky to have written chapters, new chapters. We should all be so lucky.

How do you measure a film’s success?

Look, the great American writer, the pure writer would write the Great American Novel, and having finished, throw it in the fire because of the satisfaction of having written it. I’m not that person. I’d like a lot of people to see the movie, but mostly I just hope that it’s successful enough that it allows us to move on to the next one. I’ve realized I’m starting to sense mortality in the breeze, and I don’t have time to just assume I’m living forever. I’m not going to, so it’s really up to me to keep moving.