Posted on Friday, May 6th, 2016 by Germain Lussier
“No motherfucker makes me laugh like this motherfucker,” says Russell Crowe about Ryan Gosling. Usually, these two guys are some of the best dramatic actors in the world but on a brisk February Los Angeles night, they’re hamming up a storm: acting drunk, fake vomiting and screaming profanities as they discover a dead corpse in the woods of Griffith Park.
We’re on the set of The Nice Guys, writer/director Shane Black’s first film after directing the mega-hit Iron Man 3, and latest collaboration with Joel Silver, whom Black worked with on the Lethal Weapon franchise, which made him a star. The Nice Guys is classic Black and Silver – a big, action comedy with brains and wit. Set in 1978 Los Angeles, it’s about a goofy detective named March (Gosling) who teams up with a gentle bonebreaker named Healy (Crowe) to figure out a mystery about smog and pornography. It’s kind of Chinatown meets Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with the action of Lethal Weapon. Or at least that’s whatever everyone hopes on February 6, 2015, the final night of shooting The Nice Guys.
Talking to Black, who wrote the script to The Nice Guys over a decade ago, he really wanted to make a film in the vein of detective stories of old. He cites Chinatown, the work of Ross McDonald as well as Raymond Chandler and dozens of others. The mysteries in detective films are gone, he believes, as is some social context.
Black explained that in 1978, a smog-crusted Los Angeles was under an “eternal blanket of oppression under which pornography thrive. It was the modern Sodom,” he says of his setting. “LA 1978, that was when it almost got mythic. That was the biblical downfall of literally western civilization, when people said we hope California falls in the ocean.” But on day 52 of shooting, that wasn’t the frightening tone we got.
Instead we got Ryan Gosling, in a very Seventies, dirty white suit complete with open chest exposure, bumbling around on a hillside. It’s the hillside of a party that was shot in Atlanta a few weeks earlier (most of the film was shot in Atlanta, with two weeks in LA), but this scene was specifically saved for this last night. Silver says it’s pivotal and when the characters finally come together.
Stumbling around in the grass, March finds his silver revolver. “March March, he’s our man, if he can’t do it no one can,” he mumbles. He sits down and leans against a tree, content in his work for the moment, and lights a cigarette. For the next few takes, the production will work on a wonderful effect where the strike of the lighter reveals a dead body propped up right besides March, which he doesn’t see.
Then he sees it. Spit sounds. Snort sounds. Muted muttering. Gosling does his best Abbott and Costello meets the Three Stooges impression to convey his fear at finding the body. “HEALY!!!!!” He screams, and they cut. It takes about four takes to get the lighting right and, in that time, Gosling plays around with the drunken idiocy. “I got it!” he screams when he finds the gun. Other times, he takes out the cheer.
Black explains the characters and tone is inspired by the “wacked sensibility that came so naturally to writers of detective stories in the ’50s and ’60s.” He also loved “swinging dick detectives, who are groovy and like their multi-color, garish outfits a little too much.”
Later, Black shoots the next piece of the scene. First, it’s March screaming from the bottom of the hill to the top of the hill where Healey is. “Stop yelling,” someone screams back. “I’m not yelling!” March yells. Gosling and the off screen voice go back and forth for about two minutes with various quips, some of which involve the presence of March’s daughter, Holly, played by newcomer Australian actress Angourie Rice. She’s the third part of the team, according to Silver, but wasn’t on set for this.