Cast: Joel Edgerton, David Oyelowo, Sharlto Copley, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Thandie Newton
Director: Nash Edgerton
Genre: Action, Comedy
Running Time: 110minutes
Synopsis: Mild-mannered pharmaceutical company executive Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) takes a business trip from Chicago to Mexico with his cutthroat bosses Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine (Charlize Theron). At the company's Mexican lab, Richard orders manager Sanchez (Hernán Mendoza) to stop selling the bioengineered marijuana product Cannabax to a brutal, Beatles-loving cartel kingpin known as The Black Panther. Meanwhile, straight-arrow Harold learns he'll be out of a job as soon as Richard and Elaine sell their newly cleaned-up company to a conglomerate. And when he turns to his wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton) back home for comfort, she confesses via Skype that she's having an affair.
Targeted by the ruthless Black Panther, who hopes to gain access to the Cannabax formula, Harold disappears before his bosses return to Chicago. A few hours later they receive a call informing them he's been kidnapped, and his captors are demanding a $5 million ransom. Rather than pay, Richard dispatches his mercenary-turned-humanitarian brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley) to extract Harold. But even with some temporary assistance from warmhearted American tourist Sunny (Amanda Seyfried) and her drug-mule boyfriend Miles (Harry Treadaway), Harold's prospects for survival grow dimmer by the minute.
Pursued by an army of attackers, Harold crosses the line from mild-mannered citizen to wanted criminal. But is he out of his depth? Or two steps ahead? An action-comedy roller-coaster ride brimming with black humor, white-knuckle car chases and double-dealing, Gringo takes the concept of adventure travel to a whole new level.
Directed by Nash Edgerton, who made his feature-length directorial debut with the acclaimed Australian thriller The Square, Gringo is written by Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone and produced by Rebecca Yeldham, Nash Edgerton, Beth Kono, A.J. Dix, Theron and Tambakis.
Release Date: May 31st, 2018
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 an off-kilter spec script by Matthew Stone, Nash 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."
With input from Nash Edgerton, Anthony Tambakis recrafted the script into a deft mix of highoctane action and character-driven comedy. "Most of my films tend to revolve around karma,"
Nash 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.
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. Golden Globe®-nominated for his role as Martin Luther King in the Oscar®-nominated Selma, Oyelowo savored the chance to try his hand at lighter fare. "I've played all these roles that are fairly quote-unquote important," says David 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 Edgerton 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 David 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."
David 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. Charlize 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, Charlize 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."
Charlize 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 Charlize Theron transform into her character was pure pleasure, however. "Charlize Theron 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 Theron turned up to like 50."
The character also offered Charlize 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 Rusk 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 Rusk's list of loathsome qualities includes a complete lack of loyalty to his college friend and employee Harold. "Richard Rusk'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 Rusk 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 Charlize 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."
Amanda 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 Harry 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, Harry 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,'" Harry Treadaway recalls. "In a way, Miles is just kind of an exaggerated version of a lot of people that I know."
Chicago vs. Mexico
Gringo takes place in the starkly different worlds of sleek downtown Chicago high-rises and gritty, raucous Mexican streets. Finding the ideal shooting locations required a lengthy scouting process, according to executive producer Trish Hofmann. "We looked at Colombia. We looked at Cleveland. We looked at Puerto Rico. We looked at Canada. We looked all over the place but when we came down to Mexico, the locations were just so vibrant. There's such a sharp contrast between the architecture in Chicago and the architecture of Mexico that it really makes the movie pop. One of the great things about working with Amazon is that they supported us in our decision about where to shoot this film."
Principal production began March 2016 in Chicago and then shifted in April to Mexico City and Veracruz, Mexico. Spanish cinematographer Eduard Grau, who earlier worked with the Edgerton brothers on The Gift, emphasized the contrast between the two settings with markedly different camera moves and color palettes. "For Chicago, we played off the snow for our palette and used this subdued, gray look," he says. "We shot the scenes within the frame in a more controlled way. The array of colors you find in Mexico pump up the visuals because there are so many yellows and reds and pinks and blues. When Harold gets to Mexico, he's kind of liberated from his normal life. Everything's more hectic, so we used a lot of tracking shots, a lot of Steadicam work and a bit of handheld. The camera just had to keep flowing to keep up with Harold's journey."
Production designer Patrice Vermette, Oscar-nominated for his work on the acclaimed sci-fi feature Arrival, cites modernist architect Mies van der Rohe as an inspiration for the lead characters' Chicago workplace. "I wanted the office space to feel super controlled, with not a lot of colors," he says. "The production design plays into the winter and the coldness of Richard and Elaine's characters. We wanted to make their headquarters look like the offices of evil people so everything's black and white. It's a bit like the Death Star in Star Wars."
In Mexico, Vermette and his team took over an empty building and designed the drug lab where the company manufactures synthetic marijuana. "For the weed factory, we emptied everything out of this existing structure and designed a space that I'm very proud of," says Vermette, who also sought to reflect Harold's sense of displacement by painting the character's seedy motel hideaway green. "It's like there's some kind of sickness that influences the skin color of everybody in there. It was interesting to play with."
In Veracruz, Vermette capitalized on the vivid and busy street life. "The colors and chaos of those locations looked fantastic by themselves " like great camera food " so we just embraced that."
Unlike the casually dressed characters they encounter in Mexico, Harold, Richard and Elaine signal their corporate roots with tailored business wear, courtesy of Emmy®-winning costume designer Donna Zakowska ("John Adams," "Turn: Washington's Spies"). "Charlize Theron is very high fashion," Zakowska says. "We had fittings and really pared it down to the absolutely perfect elements: the perfect Dior shoe, the perfect Fendi bag with the Prada gloves. Everything was finely honed."
To dress Oyelowo's Harold, Zakowska ordered fabric from London and had the suits custom-made in Los Angeles. "We found a very special wool in London. David and I together built a suit that looked modern but was not over the top. There's a simplicity to his clothes."
To style the underworld characters Harold encounters after he abandons his corporate bosses, Zakowska researched the worlds of drug cartels and carnivals. "It was really important to capture the look and masks of this regional carnival in Veracruz," she says. "That element became very specific to our film, so I worked hard to make the clothes very visual."
The cast and crew were deeply impressed by the local production professionals who joined the shoot in Mexico. "I didn't know what to expect so I was thoroughly surprised by how much I loved that environment, and how easy it was to work in," says Charlize Theron. "Since most of this story takes place in Mexico, it was helpful to actually shoot it in the real place. The people are amazing, the food is ridiculous and our crew worked really hard and were so skilled."
Jokes, Social Commentary… Action!
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 goodhearted 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."
Release Date: May 10th 2018