”At the end of ‘The Nice Guys,’ people will feel like they’ve shared a unique experience with these characters. And though the journey has ended, they’ll be sad to leave them.”
The Nice Guys is not the first time writer-director Shane Black has created an unlikely pairing and pitted them against a powerful adversary for which they would, on paper, seem outmatched.
Exactly 30 years ago, he sold his first script to producer Joel Silver—an actioner about a by-the-book detective reluctantly partnered with an unhinged cop named Riggs. That movie was Lethal Weapon…and the rest, as they say, is history.
Following three Lethal Weapon sequels, Silver also produced The Last Boy Scout and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, the latter of which marked Black’s directorial debut.
After 10 years, they reunited again on The Nice Guys.
In this case, the tough guys—a.k.a. “The Nice Guys”—are Healy and March, played by award-winning actors Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling respectively.
Joel Silver remarks, “I think Shane has a unique cinematic voice. His movies are not traditional comedies; they are action pictures with humor, which is a different aesthetic. They’re serious stories about hardboiled, tough guys. There are comedic moments throughout the film, but the hard-edged action helps to make the humor work.”
“Shane creates these worlds that have their own tone, slightly surreal but rooted in reality,” Gosling observes. “And his characters are heightened, but somehow you feel like you know them. On a fundamental level, ‘The Nice Guys’ is a detective story, but Shane is able to subvert it. You think you’re going to go right, and he takes you left.”
Crowe agrees, “A good detective movie is always going to be complex. As it’s unfolding, you don’t really know what’s going on, and then, when you find out, all the parts of the journey have added up. Ultimately, you earn the right to get to the end of the story.”
Los Angeles, 1977. The famed Hollywood sign is crumbling. People are lining up for gas instead of movies. The glitter of Tinseltown is clouded by a thick blanket of smog. Shrouded in the burnt orange haze are the seemingly separate but intertwined mysteries surrounding a missing girl, the death of a porn star, and a high-level corporate conspiracy.
Unfortunately, the case has fallen into the hands of a hapless private detective named Holland March and his new client/de facto partner, Jackson Healy, a hired enforcer who introduces himself to March by breaking his arm…while simultaneously providing the diagnosis. And even more unfortunately—especially for this mismatched duo—everyone who gets involved in the case somehow winds up dead.
Writer/director Shane Black relates, “L.A. in the ‘70s was this moldering town where smog covered the city like a crust and Hollywood Boulevard had turned into this cesspool of pornography. And in this scenario, you get these two numbnuts who kind of stumble into shoes they can never fill when they uncover this huge conspiracy. So you’ve got your corruption, you’ve got your decadence, and then the question became how unsettlingly inappropriate could we make these two guys for the task for which they set themselves up.”
Black co-wrote the screenplay for “The Nice Guys” with Anthony Bagarozzi, starting out with each focused on one of the central roles.
Black reveals, “We had a mutual love of pulp detective novels and wanted to do a private eye project, so I said, ‘I’ll tell you what: you do one character and I’ll do the other.’”
Bagarozzi, who also served as an executive producer, details, “I began with Jackson Healy while Shane wrote Holland March, and then we traded and went back and forth. After a while we got to know them both so well, it was pretty easy for either of us to say, ‘That’s not something Healy would say or that March would do.’
“We call them ‘The Nice Guys,’ but they’re both kind of jerks when we meet them,” Bagarozzi continues. “Healy basically beats people up for a living and March is a private investigator but barely one step up from a con man. The idea that these two are our heroes was fun for us because they’re almost the opposite of heroic at every turn. But I think that’s the thing we liked most—that you could have such anti-hero heroes.”
Crowe attests, “You’ve got one character who’s on a moral slippery slope and then you have the other guy who wants to be useful, but, currently, thinks he can only be useful by breaking people’s arms. So, in a way, it’s that classic thing where these two guys together make one whole man.
But it’s also completely unconventional and that appealed to my sense of humor.”
“The script doesn’t take itself too seriously…I mean the characters do, but that’s what’s ridiculous about them,” Gosling laughs. “I think that’s also what makes you root for March and Healy—because they want to be, or are pretending to be, more than they are.”
When he read the screenplay, Silver recalls, “It was a page turner; it had a tremendous pace to it. It was one of those scripts where you start reading it and, before you know it, you’re done. I knew it would give us an opportunity to take the audience on a wild ride, and that’s something Shane is really great at doing.”
“It felt good to be on a film with Joel again,” says Black. “He’s a high-energy force of nature in this business. He’s also a virtual encyclopedia of movie history and all things cinematic, so listening to him is always fascinating and working with him is a privilege. Plus he has a knack for finding the same things intriguing in a movie as I do, and he respects the kinds of stories I like to tell. So I think Joel and I will continue to make movies together…I certainly hope so.”
Both Crowe and Gosling share Black’s admiration for the veteran producer. “Joel has been in this business for a long time and had some great successes and you can see why,” Crowe says. “He’s passionate about what he does and has a definite creative perspective. It was very enjoyable getting to know him through this project.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a producer who’s more involved in every detail,” Gosling adds. “He was very enthusiastic about the movie and very supportive of Shane’s vision, and Shane really respects Joel, so they have a strong collaboration.”
“The Nice Guys” is set in 1970s Los Angeles, where a core issue of the times is at the crux of the mystery March and Healy are trying to solve.
Bagarozzi offers, “L.A. was at the center of a lot of stuff that was happening and it just had such a cool vibe to it, a kind of sun-drenched, burnt out noir landscape—sunny noir, if you will. And the events that act as a catalyst in the film affected Los Angeles more than pretty much any other city in the country.”
Black asserts, “What was interesting to me is it’s not far off base from some things we’re dealing with now. There was corruption, panic over oil prices, fears about pollution… It’s the `70s, but I felt it was a wonderful mirror for societal problems that still persist today.”
The film also returns Black and Silver to a framework for which they share an obvious appreciation. The producer explains, “The dynamic of a two-hander movie is one I’ve come to love and cherish. Shane and I employed it with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, and with Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, and it’s been a key part of other films I’ve produced.
Watching Russell and Ryan together…they have an explosive connection and played off each other perfectly. It feels like Shane had them in his head when he was working on the script because they are both fantastic and informed the personalities of Healy and March with their own ideas of the characters and their own brand of humor.”
Black says, “They are both powerhouse actors who brought an organic life to their characters and the story that makes it not just a comedy and not just an action film, but a fully realized combination of both.”
“Healy is interesting because he’s a pragmatic man for whom violence is simply part of doing business,” Black says. “He has a personal creed by which he lives and it doesn’t tolerate people barging into his place waving guns. They act like fools and do damage they didn’t need to do, so Healy gets offended.
“March, on the other hand, is less concerned about moral niceties because he’s pretty much been in a state of oblivion,” Black continues. “He’s subsisting on the notion that things will get better; however you’ve got to do something differently in order for things to change. He’s on a downward spiral, but he keeps pushing forward, trying desperately to get through one more day, make one more buck, and stave off the wolves that much longer. But eventually this kind of existence is not going to sustain him, and he’s going to learn a lesson from an unexpected source: this other screw-up who comes into his life.”
To that point, Gosling notes, “I think Healy comes around just in the nick of time because March is already kind of a loser and would likely dedicate himself to being an even bigger loser if it wasn’t for his daughter, Holly, holding his feet to the fire. But she can’t do it all on her own. He’s constantly looking for the angle, for the shortcut, but now he’s come into contact with someone whose approach to life is very different. And however much it’s possible for March to change, Healy does have a positive effect on him.”
Crowe says it was the script’s interplay between his character and March, as well as the actor playing him, that attracted him to the project. “I really liked the balance between the two characters and the way they interact. And Ryan has a magnificent, innate sense of timing, so the two of us operated really well together. We made each other laugh every day.”
While both stars loved the screenplay, they appreciated Shane Black’s willingness to let them “try other ways to get to the point of a scene,” Crowe says. “Being able to jump off the proverbial cliff and know that Ryan would jump off at the same time was the most fun.”
“Shane and Anthony wrote a terrific script, but Shane wasn’t married to what was on the page and wanted us to bring our own ideas,” Gosling confirms. “We were always looking for opportunities to take things further.”
Black comments, “I prefer to work with actors whose take on a scene isn’t always predictable, but you can’t wait to find out what they’re going to do because they elevate the material. They’ll give it some extra gravitas or weigh it with the kind of introspection that a less seasoned actor might not have found. There are certain things you have to hit to cross the finish line, but there is some leeway and if you have good enough actors, you’d be foolish to ignore their input.”
Shane Black concludes, “Hopefully, at the end of ‘The Nice Guys,’ people will feel like they’ve shared a unique experience with these characters. And though the journey has ended, they’ll be sad to leave them.”