Veteran Hollywood action film producer Joel Silver hasn’t won any Oscars yet, nor has he been nominated for any. He’s got a couple of Worst Picture Razzies under his belt for “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” and “Hudson Hawk,” but with those (and other) misses, there have also been plenty of hits. Silver, whose newest film is the action-comedy “The Nice Guys,” had his first major success with “48 Hrs.” in 1982. The prolific producer’s follow-up box office bombs included “Action Jackson,” “Fair Game,” and “Speed Racer,” but among his smashes are “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon,” and “The Matrix” and “Sherlock Holmes” series.
“The Nice Guys” was directed by Shane Black, who wrote “Lethal Weapon” and “The Last Boy Scout,” and wrote and directed “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” for Silver. Set in the 1970s, it stars Russell Crowe as an enforcer and Ryan Gosling as a private detective, two people who do not get along, but must work together on a shady mystery. Silver spoke about the film and the business by phone from Los Angeles.
Q: The script for “The Nice Guys” has been kicking around for a long time. How did it finally get made?
A: I hadn’t seen Shane Black in a while, and he said he wanted to direct a movie, then gave me his script for “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” He had actually written “The Nice Guys” before that, but “Kiss Kiss” worked better at the time. Years later, after Shane directed “Iron Man 3,” Warners asked what he wanted to do next, and he said “The Nice Guys.” So he came back to me, and it came together very quickly.
Q: Is there any one thing that makes you decide to say yes to a project?
A: It’s the old story: Do I want to see the movie? If I want to see it then that gives me the impetus to get in there and try to get it made.
Q: Ryan Gosling said in a recent interview that he’s never worked with a producer who’s more involved in every detail.
A: Well, I’m a hands-on guy. I care about what the movie’s going to be and how it’s done. For this movie, Shane is the director, and it’s his vision and his voice. But Russell and Ryan also had ideas of what they wanted it to be. And sometimes it’s important to have us all together there to do it. So the four of us made this movie. I believe in the process of making movies. It’s a collective kind of hive mind. We all work together, we all have ideas, we all make the stew. My job as a producer is I start the project, I get to the office in the morning, I put on the coffee, I turn the lights on — this is all metaphor — and I stay through the whole process. I help the director and help the actors, I solve problems, and get everything done that’s got to get done. And when the movie is finished and the DVD comes out, and it’s digitally available, I turn the lights out and go home.
Q: Do you remember a film you saw as a kid that made you say I want to do this?
A: “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Guns of Navarone,” “The Longest Day” — those are all films that affected me. They felt different to me than all the other movies I was seeing. I loved those big action spectacle pictures. And that’s what inspired me.
Q: Was it tough to get that inspiration off the ground?
A: When I came to Hollywood in May of 1977 and I went to work for (producer) Larry Gordon (on “The Warriors” and “Xanadu”), the summers were not full of action movies like they are today. Except for the Bond films or the occasional “Dirty Harry” movie, there weren’t a lot of action movies around, so I was like alone in that world. I’m not taking credit for the genre, but I like to think that I helped. I think that “Lethal Weapon” and “Die Hard” and “Predator” kind of helped bring it to the surface. When we were making those action films, it was like we were alone in the desert, but now it’s the way it is. It’s the key to our business right now.
Q: You’ve had huge hits and big failures in the mix. When solid films like “RocknRolla” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” just vanish, what goes through your head?
A: It’s depressing, but you deal with it. Actually, between “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “RocknRolla,” the child of those two movies is “Sherlock Holmes.” Guy Ritchie was really not very popular or well thought of at that moment, but Warners liked “RocknRolla” enough to let us put him on “Sherlock Holmes” as director. Robert Downey was on his ass at the time, but “Kiss Kiss” got him “Iron Man.” So things come from these things.
“The Nice Guys” opens on May 20.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.