Funny, unpredictable and heartfelt, Gringo offers moviegoers a fresh take on the action comedy genre.
Australian filmmaker Nash Edgerton first made a name for himself in Hollywood as an actor, stunt man and stunt coordinator in over 100 films including The Matrix, American Ultra and Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones. Between on-camera gigs, he began making short films including the award-winning Spider, which led to directing the critically hailed 2008 noir thriller The Square and a desire to make more and bigger films. When his agent sent him the off-kilter spec script of Gringo by Matthew Stone, Edgerton knew he’d found a project he could sink his teeth into.
“I loved the concept but it read a lot more like a broad comedy than what I usually gravitate toward,” says the director. “The scenarios were somewhat absurd, but I knew if they were played straight, the humor would come out and the story would still be entertaining. It was just a matter of adjusting the tone somewhat.”
Nash Edgerton is a true multi-hyphenate. After getting his break as a stunt performer at 18 years old, he has gone on to establish himself as an actor, editor, producer, writer and director of indisputable talent. With well over 180 film and television credits on a range of productions including The Matrix Trilogy, Star Wars: Episode I and II, The Thin Red Line and The Great Gatsby, Edgerton has continued to challenge himself with a variety of eclectic projects on both sides of the camera.
The Square signaled Edgerton’s first foray into feature film direction. The film received seven Australian Film Institute award nominations including Best Film, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The 2008 Sydney Film Festival made it one of 12 international films to be selected for Official Competition for the inaugural Sydney Film Prize.
Edgerton is in post-production on “Mr. Inbetween,” a co-production between Blue-Tongue Films and Jungle TV for FX Australia. He directed all six episodes and is executive producing along with the show’s writer and star Scott Ryan.
With input from Edgerton, Anthony Tambakis recrafted the script into a deft mix of high-octane action and character-driven comedy.
A native of Fairfield, Connecticut, Anthony Tambakis (Writer) is the recipient of the Paul Bowles Fellowship for fiction writing. In addition to being a renowned screenwriter and short story writer, he is the author of the novel Swimming With Bridgeport Girls. Tambakis is currently adapting the 1959 novel and the 1961 Paul Newman film The Hustler for Broadway.
“Most of my films tend to revolve around karma,” Edgerton says. “You do bad things and bad things come back to you. For Gringo, I thought it would be interesting to make a movie about this guy who goes down this path, gets lost, and ends up finding who he really is.”
With its international locations and action set pieces, Gringo’s scope and scale also appealed to the director. To get the ambitious film financed he enlisted the help of veteran producer Rebecca Yeldham (The Motorcycle Diaries, The Kite Runner), whom he had met on the set of The Gift, which was directed by and co-starred his brother Joel. “We brought the project to Amazon and once they got involved it was really full steam ahead,” says Yeldham.
Funny, unpredictable and heartfelt, Gringo offers moviegoers a fresh take on the action comedy genre. “It’s so rare to find something original, but Gringo is like nothing I’ve ever seen or read before,” observes Charlize Theron. “The film is incredibly funny and poignant at the same time. It speaks about social conditions in the world right now in a very entertaining way, like you’re eating your spinach and don’t even know it. The actors who came on board are all at the top of their game, and beyond that, I think Nash is a really special filmmaker.”
For all its wicked humor, Gringo ultimately tells a life-affirming tale, says Joel Edgerton. “The real joy of the movie is that we see kindness win over greed, where you’ve got this good-hearted person fighting the corporation and succeeding. There are moments of great turmoil where you have cars turning over and gunfights flaring up at all the right moments, but I think it’s the shock value and moments of laughter that audiences will really enjoy when they sit together and experience this movie.”
Treadaway believes Gringo’s humor, plus a touch of mystery, will add up to a good time at the cinema. “I want to be in movies that make you laugh hysterically,” says the actor. “In Gringo, there’s a real element of truth in the characters but it’s like they’ve all just had a shot of tequila or two.”
As director Nash Edgerton sees it, the way Gringo’s narrative straddles both sides of the border makes it an apt film for the times. “The world we live in today is so connected, it was important for me to have an international cast,” says the director. “When I go out to watch a movie, I like to escape and be entertained. I hope Gringo shocks the audience sometimes and gives the audience something to think about and laugh at.”
Finding His Inner Comedian
Gringo benefits from comic performances delivered by actors best known for their dramatic work. Anchoring the film as the naïve Harold is classically trained British actor David Oyelowo, who savored the chance to try his hand at lighter fare. “I’ve played all these roles that are fairly quote-unquote important,” says Oyelowo, who earned a second Golden Globe nomination for his performance as a killer in the harrowing HBO film Nightingale. “Before Gringo came along, I’d never really done a dark comedy before. The goofy side of me had always been reserved for my kids and my friends, so for me, Gringo was a great opportunity to express that part of my personality.”
Meeting for lunch with Nash Edgerton to discuss the project, Oyelowo brought a number of his own ideas for the character. “I challenged Nash to make Harold a Nigerian immigrant,” says the actor. “My parents are Nigerian and I lived in Nigeria for seven years, so that element gave me something I could really relate to. I wanted to bring something fresh to the role because when you have a character who is deemed a loser, there are temptations to go for fairly low-hanging fruit by having him be nerdy and overweight and wear glasses. I felt having Harold be a Nigerian in Mexico was an interesting way to truly make him a fish out of water.”
Co-star Joel Edgerton, who got to know Oyelowo over the course of shooting the film, says he was the perfect choice to play a devoted employee and husband who crosses paths with some very unsavory characters. “Harold is completely good in all aspects, so the best way to cast him was by finding somebody who reflects those qualities in real life, and that’s David,” he says. “Besides being a good person, David is also an extraordinary actor and someone you can completely trust. The camera sees that in him.”
Oyelowo’s take on the underdog character also thrilled producer Yeldham. “David does a fantastic job playing this Everyman who believes in the American dream, but is living a repressed life in Chicago,” she says. “The irony is that when Harold comes to Mexico and these terrible things happen to him, that’s when he finally breaks free and charts his own path.”
A Corporate Femme Fatale
Oscar winner Charlize Theron forged her reputation as a shape-shifting dramatic actress in films ranging from the serial-killer biopic Monster to the futuristic action spectacular Mad Max: Fury Road. But aside from a few guest appearances on the TV series “Arrested Development,” she’s rarely had a chance to show off her pitch-perfect comic delivery. Theron discovered Nash Edgerton’s dark humor nearly a decade ago through his 2007 short, Spider. “I was so impressed when I saw it I asked to meet him, just as a fan,” she says. “We hit it off straight away and became friends. For a while now, we’ve been looking for something we could do together.”
Gringo provided that opportunity. When Nash Edgerton invited her to play unscrupulous businesswoman Elaine, Theron didn’t hesitate. She even signed on to produce the film through her Denver and Delilah Productions company.
“I like Elaine because there’s something unfiltered and unapologetic about her,” says the South African actress, whose many credits also include fantasy blockbuster Snow White and the Huntsman and Ridley Scott’s sci-fi epic Prometheus. “When I played Elaine, things came out of her mouth that I never imagined would come out of my mouth.”
Theron actually experienced some anxiety delivering Elaine’s nastiest lines. “There were a lot of moments during the making of this film where I was completely red in the face and kind of looking at my crew going, ‘Guys, I’m really sorry for saying all this stuff.’ Fortunately, they’re very warm, loving people.”
For Gringo co-star Joel Edgerton, watching Theron transform into her character was pure pleasure, however. “Charlize is so beautiful and elegant, but she’s also very sharp and streetwise,” he says. “Every now and then, she said something controversial or dirty that shocked everybody because they expect a different attitude from her. Elaine is that part of Charlize turned up to like 50.”
The character also offered Theron a chance to delve beyond the snarky banter to plumb Elaine’s well-concealed humanity. “The thing I really tapped into was that underneath all that bravado, Elaine is vulnerable and kind of damaged,” she says. “For me, that’s what made her real. I didn’t want her to feel like a caricature. Elaine’s loud and she’s big and she bleeds outside of the box, so I was really excited to explore all of that as an actor.”
A Wolf in Bespoke Clothing
For Joel Edgerton, the character of heartless businessman Richard Rusk represented a radical departure from his Golden Globe-nominated performance as the low-key Civil Rights pioneer he played in Loving. “It seems like I oscillate between playing nice people and jerks,” he says. “Richard is everything you love to hate about corporate America. I wanted him to represent a kind of entitled slickness in his posturing and gestures while he sits in this fancy office. I thought a lot about the false sense of power that gave him.”
Richard’s list of loathsome qualities includes a complete lack of loyalty to his college friend and employee Harold. “Richard’s company is about to merge with a bigger one, so he stands to make a ton of profit, but it means there’s going to be a wasteland of ex-employees, including Harold,” Joel Edgerton says. “Richard hired Harold knowing he could trust him, but it’s a one-sided friendship. When the opportunity arises to kick Harold to the curb, Richard doesn’t think twice about it.”
The actor knew that striking the right comedic tone was essential to the role. “I’m used to being in serious movies where you aim for the truth because that’s where drama lives,” he says. “With a comedy like Gringo, you’re dealing with this question of ‘How funny do you want to be?’ Is it a pie-in-the-face movie? Is it a warm-hearted comedy? Is it something in-between? If you look at the Coen brothers’ movie Fargo, I’d say that’s where this movie lives. The situations feel plausible and very dangerous at times, yet you’re allowed to laugh and enjoy the situational comedy of it all.”
While Oyelowo’s Harold provides the film’s heart and soul, it’s the reactions from Theron and Joel Edgerton as his narcissistic bosses that provide many of the film’s funniest moments. “Richard and Elaine look fabulous but are truly vile,” Yeldham observes. “They’re rude, they’re bigoted, they treat people terribly and they’re completely oblivious to the needs of anyone other than themselves. A lot of the humor comes from watching these two sexy, good-looking people behave in such an atrocious way.”
Sunny Disposition Meets Indie Punk
Amanda Seyfried (Les Misérables, “Twin Peaks”) says she jumped at the chance to play Sunny, the pure-hearted American tourist who befriends Harold in Mexico. “I really like Sunny because nothing really gets her down,” explains the actress. “I love playing people who are more optimistic than I am. Sunny has all these dreams and aspirations but just can’t get herself together.”
Seyfried fondly remembers the scene in which her character visits a Mexican butterfly sanctuary and innocently marvels at the wildlife, utterly oblivious to the criminal machinations of her boyfriend. “There are butterflies galore and my character is super into butterflies, which I also love,” she says. “That was a really great character choice.”
Sunny’s naiveté is counterbalanced by her jaded musician boyfriend Miles, portrayed by English actor Harry Treadaway (“Penny Dreadful,” The Lone Ranger), who has brought the pair to Mexico for nefarious reasons. “I was fascinated with the story and the character,” says Treadaway, who co-starred with Nash Edgerton in a 2014 short film for Vice entitled Streetcar. “Miles is kind of a boy-man from England who moved to L.A. and tried to make it in the music industry and probably spent too much time watching documentaries about the Doors as opposed to actually writing good songs.”
To prepare himself for the role of the would-be rock star, Treadaway says he didn’t have to look far for inspiration. “I looked down at myself and I’m like, ‘I’m wearing skinny jeans, I’ve got crap hanging off my neck, I’ve got rings on,’” Treadaway recalls. “In a way, Miles is just kind of an exaggerated version of a lot of people that I know.”