Shane Black On ‘The Nice Guys,’ Mel Gibson, And Why A Female ‘Iron Man 3’ Villain’s Gender Changed

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Shane Black is one of those people you could talk to for hours, about anything really. He fits the definition of a “raconteur.” He’d be the perfect person to be sitting next to you at the bar, but, for Black, those days are over. (And have been pretty well documented.) But here’s a guy who, if you ask him a question, he will answer it. Which, yes, leads to some pretty revealing insights: Like, say, that Black had written the villain in Iron Man 3 as a woman, but was forced to change what became Guy Pearce’s character to a man because of a toy company. (Something he makes clear had nothing to do with current Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and was indicative of the old Marvel regime that has since changed.) Or when the subject of Mel Gibson comes up, about whom Black has strong opinions and even floats as a candidate to direct a possible Iron Man 4. As it turns out, Shane Black even has strong opinions about Paul Lynde!

Black’s new film is The Nice Guys, which premiered at Cannes over the weekend and will be in U.S. theaters this Friday. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe play two sometimes bumbling, sometimes drunk, sometimes capable private investigators who find themselves in the middle of a 1970s grand conspiracy. When I met Black at Warner Bros.’ New York offices, the first thing he told me was how he was an Uproxx reader. At first I thought maybe he was saying that kind of thing to everyone, but then he made specific remarks about some comments that were made about him, and I then believed him.

Shane Black: I read Uproxx.


I do. I don’t read your comment section. A typical Uproxx comment, “That guy Black, he fucked up Iron Man 3. He should die in a pit full of acid.” And you want to respond, but then you’ve bought in, you know?

I never read comments because they will make me feel bad.

That’s what people don’t understand, because they see filmmakers as being guys with money who hang out with movie stars and get girls, or whatever. So nothing can hurt their feelings. Just the opposite is true. These are raw nerves we’re talking about. Filmmakers are more sensitive than anybody.

For the record, I don’t think you fucked up Iron Man 3.

I wish that the fans liked it more.

I was under the impression people do like it.

I’m a people pleaser. Marvel saw so many negative things they made a whole other movie just to apologize called Hail to the King. In which they said, “No, no, the Mandarin is still alive. That wasn’t him. There’s a real Mandarin.” The only reason they made that was an apology to fans who were so angry.

But if Marvel didn’t want you to present Mandarin the way you did, they would have stopped you.

Of course, they didn’t care. But when the blowback hit, they cared.

You had to know there’d be some blowback.

No, we didn’t. We didn’t know. We all thought they’d eat it up because it never occurred to us the Mandarin is as iconic to people as, say, the Joker in Batman.

He’s not. That’s fake.

They just wanted to see the magic rings shoot lasers.

That’s probably true. But that doesn’t fit in Iron Man 3.

You’d need to take the piss out of it and explain how this can happen. In the comic books, it’s literally magic. It’s magic from outer space. I love the fans. I really want to please them.

Was that a hard shoot? I’ve seen Downey say it was a great experience, but I’ve asked Kevin Feige about “hardest Marvel movies to make” and he said Iron Man 3.

We had troubles. Memories are short. You can go through hell together, then six months later go, “That was kind of fun, wasn’t it, John?” The good news is, Downey and I seem to get on pretty well. We’ll bicker now and again, but to me just having him on board elevates the material. So, the toughness was in the logistics instead of the relationships. That’s the good news. We replaced a lot of things. The plot went this way and that way. Stéphanie Szostak’s character was bigger at one point and we reduced it. Rebecca Hall’s character was bigger at one point and we reduced it.

Why? Rebecca Hall’s character does have an abrupt ending.

All I’ll say is this, on the record: There was an early draft of Iron Man 3 where we had an inkling of a problem. Which is that we had a female character who was the villain in the draft. We had finished the script and we were given a no-holds-barred memo saying that cannot stand and we’ve changed our minds because, after consulting, we’ve decided that toy won’t sell as well if it’s a female.


So, we had to change the entire script because of toy making. Now, that’s not Feige. That’s Marvel corporate, but now you don’t have that problem anymore.

Ike Perlmutter is gone.

Yeah, Ike’s gone. But New York called and said, “That’s money out of our bank.” In the earlier draft, the woman was essentially Killian – and they didn’t want a female Killian, they wanted a male Killian. I liked the idea, like Remington Steele, you think it’s the man but at the end, the woman has been running the whole show. They just said, “no way.”

I like the Remington Steele comparison. That would have been great.

I remember Remington Steele probably better than it is. But just so you know, too, I’m a Kevin Feige fan. If you ever say anything about decisions made at Marvel, I hope you’ll qualify it by saying that Kevin Feige is the guy who gets it right. And I don’t know if it was Ike, I don’t know who it was. They never told me who made the decision, we just got that memo one day and it was about toy sales. That’s all I know.

Would you do another Iron Man? Downey seems to have changed his position and is open to another.

I think he wants Mel Gibson to direct it.

Really? Downey has been supportive of Gibson.

And for good reason. Mel was great to him. Mel’s been really nice to a lot of people, including me. I’ll go on record saying I don’t believe anyone should be held accountable in any way for something they say while they are drunk. It’s not who they are. I know this because I’ve said horrible things to people and made them feel bad. And it wasn’t who I was, I was just drunk. Mel’s a great guy and I understand his new directing project is actually quite interesting. So, whatever. If you say something sober it’s one thing. If you’re drunk, you’re going to deliberately be belligerent just to piss people off. You know the effect you’re having and you don’t care. Yeah, one of these days, maybe Downey will do another one. I’d love to work with Robert again.

He had said no to another Iron Man for a long time, but that’s changed.

He’s mellowed on that. But, once again, I just want to go on record, the guy who got me through that process and taught me the ways of the machine when I was trying desperately to control all the visual effects… Joss Whedon came to me and said, “Trust the machine. Kevin Feige is here to help you.” And I suddenly opened my ears to Kevin and I learned so much.

In The Last Action Hero, I didn’t like that Jack Slater could still punch out a car window in “the real world.” But in The Nice Guys, Gosling’s character is brutally injured while punching out a window. I’ve been waiting for this from one of your movies a long time.

It’s fun because it occurs to him to wrap his knuckles.

And takes so much care.

Subverting expectations, that’s the same thing we did in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Everybody knows the scene in a movie where the guy won’t give the information and you put one bullet in the gun, spin the revolver, and it goes “click” and the guy says, “You’re crazy, man!” But what if that “click” hit the bullet and “bang.” So, we did that. Fuck, what did you just do? That’s what I love to do, deconstruct some of the more iconic tropes from these detective and action movies. And we literally did that for two hours on Last Action Hero, but it changed and became this other thing.

I never thought I’d see Russell Crowe do a spit take.

[Laughs.] We did that on purpose! Because it was Russell Crowe. And we said, “Russell, we’re going to ask you to do something here that’s completely inorganic.” And he did a great job.

I checked that one off my list of things to see.

Yeah, it’s a bucket list thing.

He seems to enjoy doing comedy.

He was on board.

He’s not known as a “funny guy.”

No, but he’s been funny in other movies. I’ve seen him in things where he is funny, just not things you’d call a traditional comedy. There are moments of humor in Gladiator. Peter Sellers was the greatest at this. Peter Sellers was a great actor who was just effortlessly funny. In some ways, Ryan Gosling, he never said it, but I think there’s a little bit of channeling of Sellers in this. You can tell, certain ways he moves, I think he’s been watching Peter Sellers. I think that’s what he’s doing here.

As the director, why didn’t you ask him?

Why label anything? “Oh, if I’m doing that, maybe I’ll stop?”

You making a movie set in the ‘70s seems right.

I love the ‘70s. The danger is you have people who have walked those streets before you. Like, Quentin Tarantino is a huge fan of grindhouse and ‘70s filmmaking. We didn’t want to seem like we were in your face with it. Boogie Nights is very in your face with the ‘70s. So, we had to concentrate on the cool aspects of it as a detective film first that plays like Klute or Bullitt or something like that, rather than making a big deal that we are “ ‘’70s filmmakers.”

We see the Comedy Store in this movie. You have Tim Allen and Elayne Boosler on the billboard.

Because I remember a show from the ‘70s called Make Me Laugh.

I remember that show.


I was very young. A contestant sat in a chair and tried not to laugh while comedians tried to make him or her laugh.

The bad part about it was, if they succeeded, the show was bad – because you wanted to hear the routine. So the contestant would laugh and he’d stop doing the jokes and you’d go, “Fuck! I wanted him to finish the joke.” Look at all the people who were on The Match Game.

They are bringing that back.

Who remembers Brett Somers?

I do. It was Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly.

Charles Nelson Reilly!

Richard Dawson was on that show.

And Paul Lynde was a genius.

I watch Paul Lynde clips to make me laugh when I’m in a bad mood. There’s a clip of him doing the weather in Toledo. I watched a clip of him on F Troop last week.

He’s the funniest fucking guy ever to live.

You’re doing a new Predator movie. How do you sell people on that? The brand has been diluted.

You have to go in punching. You have to hit it hard and you have to hit it with the strongest characters you can find and reestablish the sense of mystery and adventure and freshness that the first one had.

You could bring back Arnold from the first one and Danny Glover from the second.

You could do that if you wanted to and it would work. I can’t talk about that. Whether we do or don’t, that’s not for discussion. But there’s humor and we are shaking it up a little bit. Ultimately, it just has to have that spirit of, from a writer’s point of view –not a filmmaker’s point of view – just coming in and writing the shit out of it as something you want to see. That people are going to get their tickets three months in advance and it’s going to be treated as a summer movie, not just another knockoff that costs $50 million and has a guaranteed return. That’s what you’re looking to do.

I’m out of time.

Sorry I bullshitted for a lot of that. We were talking about Paul Lynde! What the fuck does that have to do with The Nice Guys?

Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.