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The Nice Guys - Shane Black interview

The Nice Guys

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SHANE Black talks about writing and directing The Nice Guys, including his inspiration for the project and why he enjoys setting a lot of his movies at Christmas.

He also discusses working with the film’s young co-star Angourie Rice and his plans for a sequel – should the opportunity allow. He was speaking at a UK press conference.

Q. Is there anything in particular that inspired this idea?
Shane Black: For me, there’s a sort of bone deep DNA of this kind of thing ever since I raided my dad’s book shelf back when I was a kid. The sort of tough guy material. I had a friend, Anthony Bagavosi, my writing partner, and together the two of us just decided that there weren’t enough private eye movies; not enough old school tough guy sorts. Back in the day, it was Lee Marvin and John Cassavettes in this sort of thing. So, we set out to write this. Initially, I’d do one character and he’d do the other. But that doesn’t work. You can’t write a movie that way. But we did come up with something that over the years, in various iterations, managed to feel like it was working. But we had to wait to get the right actors. And 13 years later it sort of just magically came together and we’re actually quite pleased with the result. We’re as happy as could be.

Q. Something that always stands out to me with your older films is how a lot of them are set at Christmas, particularly Iron Man 3. With this film, you get a really tiny hint of Christmas at the end. Was there any reason this one wasn’t all set at Christmas?
Shane Black: Well, the idea is that… I have various reasons for setting things at Christmas but the one thing that I didn’t want to do is to keep doing it once people noticed. It was supposed to be something that flew under the radar and it was my little delicious secret. I thought it was fun because it had meaning for me. But then questions like this one come along, and so now I think that if I do it, then it’s going to be a question. So, I just said: “It doesn’t really matter.” In fact, I’ve written scripts that didn’t get made that weren’t set at Christmas. It’s just a fabulous time. The first thing I ever saw that was set at Christmas that affected me was called Three Days of The Condor and it was a Sydney Pollack film. It had a wonderful sort of hushed background effect, against which the other stuff, the really deadly chased by assassins stuff seemed to play. So, I’ve basically been doing that sort of thing ever since.

Q. What was it like working with the younger cast – and Angourie Rice in particular?
Shane Black: We can’t say enough about this little girl. I just want to stress that. She is so open. I confess I’ve read a few reviews and they all mention her. So, I went to her and I asked: “Are you aware of the press you’re getting? Are you aware that they’re writing ‘steals the movie’ or ‘only thing that is without question…’” And she’d be like ‘really’? She doesn’t even know that she’s good. She’s just this wonderful, innocent, guileless little girl. And God bless us for having found her at the time we did.

Q. There are some very surreal moments in the film. So, how do you first pitch that kind of idea?
Shane Black: Well, here’s the good news where that’s concerned. The pitch consists of a man, Joel Silver, and if I can convince him, then you know… He’d look at me sometimes and seem a little confused. But he gets on board. We have a similar sensibility that goes back 30 years. So, even after I’d done Iron Man 3, which was a very successful film at that time that afforded an opportunity to do something, I just went back to Joel, and to the well… not just of private detective films but of Joel, with whom I have enjoyed my best creative successes.

Q. You’ve alluded to the fact that if this film is successful you have some quite specific ideas in mind for a sequel. Can you elaborate?
Shane Black: All I can say, because I have a bit of canoodling to do on that, is that I love this idea of a time locked franchise, which means it’ll never catch up to us. So, the sequel would be something in the ’80s that was reflective of an issue or something in that era that we could throw these guys up against that wall to see what sticks. I just think that’s a fun idea, to do a timeless private eye [franchise] that proceeds through a series of historical incidents. But no matter how many you make, you’ll never quite get up to the present day.

There was a series of books, the MASH series… they did the movie MASH but they also did MASH goes to Hawaii. It was the same lettering, with the little asterix in between. So, it was the same thing but with a little flavouring, like MASH does this or MASH does that. But I loved it. There were also three Shaft movies made from four Shaft books. There’s a lot in the ’70s, a tradition of sequels in this genre. I’m not a big fan of sequels generally but there’s always another case for these guys to solve.

Read our review of The Nice Guys

Read our interview with Russell Crowe