“Gringo” Director Nash Edgerton on the Madcap Action-Comedy Starring David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron

GringoFeature2Amazon Studios

If you’ve seen any action movies in the past 25 years or so, then you’re probably already familiar with the work of stuntman and filmmaker . Or maybe you know Nash’s actor brother Joel Edgerton, who managed to successfully convert his own career in Australian into an equally successful career as a Hollywood actor and filmmaker.

The Edgertons have made a number of very funny short films over the years, but Nash also directed an amazing crime-thriller called The Square, which opened in the U.S.A. in 2010, almost two years after its Australian debut, as it got caught up in some all-too-frequent indie distribution woes.

Edgerton’s second feature is Gringo, an action-comedy based around David Oyelowo’s Harold, a salesman at a corporation that’s created a breakthrough marijuana pill. Harold is generally treated badly by his superiors Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine (Charlize), who send Harold down to Mexico to deal with the head of a drug cartel, but they then want to wipe their hands clean of Harold when he is kidnapped.

The ensemble comedy also stars Sharlto Copley, Thandie Newton, Amanda Seyfried, Harry Treadaway and Melonie Diaz, as it creates a tangled tapestry of subplots with a number of people wanting to get their hands on Harold and the formula for the pill.

The Tracking Board got on the phone with Edgerton last week to talk about Gringo and also his new Australian comedy Mr. Inbetween, which is looking for someone to release it Stateside as it prepares to premiere in Australia this coming September.

Is it safe to assume that Bob Berney got you involved with this, or at least got Amazon on board as a distributor? I know he released your earlier film The Square through one of his companies.  It’s hard to believe that was eight years ago.

Yeah, time flies. It’s funny, actually. I had been developing the script, and then I was going in to meet Ted Hope at Amazon, to catch up now that he was starting at Amazon, and the day I went in to meet with him, it was Bob Berney’s first day at Amazon. Straight away, when I went to them with the film, I felt like, “Ah, I’m with good company.”

Bob was such a big fan of The Square, and it was just one of those sad things that happen when a movie gets released but doesn’t get the attention it deserves at the time. Hopefully it’s found an audience since then.

It was great that he and I got a chance to work together again with some more muscle behind getting the word out about the movie.

You said you were developing the script already, so was it something that had been around for a while? How did you actually find it? 

It was a spec script. My wife reads a lot of the stuff I get sent, and I remember I was in Sidney, and she was sort of laughing to herself, and I asked, “What are you reading?” and she’s like, “I think you should read this one. I think you’ll like it.” There was something in the script that I really responded to, and then it took a bit of work to shift it into the kind of tone that I like to do things, but there was just a great core idea that I liked.

Your short films are very funny, although The Square was quite dark, and I think if people see that and then this, they might find it quite unexpected.

Yeah, yeah, The Square is pretty dark. I think Gringo is more In line with my shorts than The Square was.

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What interested you about the script when you first read it? Was it just a funny script or were there specific things about the plot?

It just felt unpredictable and surprising, and I like reading something where I don’t know where it’s going. Those are the kinds of films I really respond to. I like to be surprised and shocked when I’m in the cinema.

Was Charlize already attached either as an actor or producer or did you get her involved as you were developing it?

When I thought the script was ready, and in the tone of which I wanted to do it, she was the first person I sent it to. Her and I had become friends. She had seen my short film Spider many years before, and we met up, and then started talking about doing something together. When I started developing the script, I made a point that this character Elaine I wanted Charlize to play, and I started tailoring it to her.

She’s great in the film, and Elaine is a great character. Awful person, obviously, but still very funny.

But she’s just a joy to watch. (laughs)

Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny to watch her be so awful. What about casting David Oyelowo? He’s not really known for doing comedy so it’s strange seeing him do a comedic role that’s kind of broad. Did it take a lot of convincing him to get him or was he just ready to do a comedy after so many dramatic roles?

I think David was looking to do something different, and he’d read the script, wanted to meet. I was obviously a fan of his work, and we had dinner. We just really clicked. Halfway through dinner, I was like, “I’m casting this guy.” I really love casting against type. Someone as talented as him and Charlize, they get known for a certain type of work, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do other things. It was exciting to me to give him that opportunity to really show how broadly ranged his skills were. It was his idea to play the character as a Nigerian, and for me, that was totally inspired and just took the material and made the film better than it was on the page.

Then you cast your brother Joel as the corporate douchebag…

My brother is playing the douchebag, ‘cause he’s so not that guy. He’s such a generous, loving man, and then to have him play such a douche was really great. (chuckles)

He’s also playing against type. Even in Red Sparrow, he’s a CIA agent that kills people, but he’s still very sympathetic.

My brother has a great ability to be so empathetic on screen. His good nature just shines through, so again, it was great to cast him against type in this as well. I think people will be surprised by all the actors in the film and what they bring to it.

I like the way the film is an ensemble comedy where you never get bored because someone new shows up every few minutes, like Sharlto Copley’s character.

Yeah, David and Sharlto are so great together.

Were you able to shoot in Mexico at all or is it too dangerous there? 

No, we shot the bulk of the film in Mexico. We shot two weeks in Chicago, one week in L.A. and then seven weeks in Mexico City. The whole cast came down there, and we had a great time in Mexico.

What’s that experience like as a filmmaker? I assume they have a pretty good infrastructure there, good crews, etc. Did you have to bring a lot of people down with you?

Yeah, the FX guys are great, and it has a great film history with so many great filmmakers down there. We had a great time with a great Mexican crew, and a lot of great Mexican cast. I loved working in Mexico City.

GringoFeature3Amazon Studios

You have a stunt background, and there’s some decent action sequences. There’s chases and car crashes. You can probably put together some of the best stunt teams, but how much of the stunts do you want your actors to do to make it seem realistic?

I try to encourage them to be a part of the action as much as possible. Usually, I pre-vis the action, and I shoot a version of what the shots I’m going to try and achieve are, and then work what ones I really want the actors to do. The great thing is that they’re all game to get involved in it. Obviously, we try to make it as safe as possible, but the more they’re involved in it, I think the better the experience for the audience.

I was thinking specifically of the scene where David is running out of the airport to get away from Sharlto, so was any of that actually David?

Yeah, yeah. (chuckles) That’s 100% David running through traffic.

I don’t think I would have ever guessed that he was such a fast runner.

I think everyone was as surprised on set as it was happening, and I made him do it quite a lot of times, too. He really gave it 150% every single time. Obviously, there are stunt drivers in the cars, but that’s him running through traffic, and there’s some pretty close calls in there.

What was it like working with Amazon? Obviously, you knew Ted and Bob already but did they give you a lot of freedom and is it easy to work with them as far as them being a studio?

Excellent. As a filmmaker, when I met with Ted and Bob, they really sold me on, “We want to support the filmmakers to make the films they want to make,” and I 100% felt that. I felt supported, I felt like I had creative freedom, I felt like we were all in this together making the movie we wanted to make, and it was great. I love that their whole model is set up to do theatrical releases. They really like movies to be in the cinema and audiences to have that experience.

You’ve been doing a TV series also, so will that be just for Australia or might it turn up here?

I just finished a TV series called Mr. Inbetween. I made it in Australia, and it’s being released in Australia in September, but we just premiered at Sundance in the new Episodic section. But then we’re in the middle of starting to show people here in terms of getting it released elsewhere. I’m definitely hoping it will play here.

A lot of those Australian shows are never released here, but so many Australian actors who become famous here were doing TV shows for years before they broke out here.

Well, I’m hoping that’s going to change.

You worked on Joel’s next movie, doing stunts, as well?

I did yeah, on Boy Erased, yeah, I worked on that. When he’s performing in front of the camera, I try and help run the set for him so he can concentrate on his character.  So I did the same thing on The Gift, as well.

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Now that I think about it, I think he mentioned that to me.  Now that you’re done with the show, do you have any idea what you want to do next? Do you write as well?

 I do. I usually like to write with someone else, like I’m good with idea, but I’m not as disciplined a writer as my brother is, but I’m developing a couple other things at the moment. Like I said, I literally just finished the TV show. We’re going to start working on a second season for it pretty soon, and yeah, right now I’m promoting Gringo and getting the word out for people to come see it.

What can you say about the TV show?

Well, it’s basically about a hitman, and you see both sides of his life – his working life where he’s taking care of business, and then he’s also looking after his 8-year-old daughter, dealing with his ex-wife, trying to date this girl he met at the dog park, looking after his brother who is unwell. You basically see both sides of his life. It’s a regular guy dealing with the same problems everyone else has, but he happens to be a hitman. It’s very dark, funny… 

Was this something you originated or were involved with making happen?

Yeah, I directed all six of them. I’ve been developing it with Scott [Ryan], the writer and star of the show for the last eight to ten years. It’s taken a while to get it up, because I was trying to find someone who would let me cast him in the show. It’s based on a film that I produced and edited for him called The Magician that came out in Australia almost 12 years ago. Scott is the right guy to play this character, and obviously, as we were trying to get it up, people loved the scripts and they liked me as the director, but they wanted me to cast someone known, and I was like, “It’s real important to me that he plays this character.” Now anyone who sees it is like, “Where did you find this guy? He’s amazing!” Yeah, he was the guy. He is the guy who is supposed to play that role. It’s very exciting to me that it’s finally being made and that it got to play [at Sundance].

It’s always interesting to me that some of the best material is by actors who have written stuff for themselves, and Joel has done that a little big as well.

Totally, I know. You’d think that person generally knows themselves pretty well and knows what their strengths are. They’re probably writing the right thing for themselves.

Gringo opens Friday, March 9 nationwide.

  | East Coast Editor
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Still quiet here.sas

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