March 2003
A Man Apart : An Interview with Director F. Gary Grey

A Man Apart: An Interview with Director F. Gary Grey

We havenít heard from Director F. Gary Gray in ďa minuteĒ. Hereís a director that first made his mark in the film industry with the first of the Friday films. Keep in mind that in he was already established in music industry with the videos he directed such as TLCís Waterfalls. When Friday made a ton of money off its small budget, studios took notice. He then got to direct Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey in The Negotiator. After doing the pilot episode for the TV series, he went off the radar. No films or videos. Well, heís been busy. Not only has he resurfaced, but he has 2 films due out this year, A Man Apart and The Italian Job. In an interview with blackfilm.com, Director F. Gary Gray speaks about his latest film A Man Apart and the long process it took to get to the screen.


AH: What is your take on the delays of this film?

FGG: We basically had to do what it takes to get it right. Because of our schedules, it took a while to do that. We did it, we are here, and now we are about to release the picture. It was a matter of waiting for him [Vin Diesel] to finish XXX, for me to finish Italian Job, and with our combined input, put the finishing touches on the film and then releases it.


AH: What sort of alternate endings were you all considering?

FGG: I think we all knew what the strongest ending would be. Nailing it down and finding a time to put it together was a real challenge. Vin is a big star now and I get pretty busy. When you are making a big judgment like that, you want to make sure that itís right. It was smart for the studio to hold on to it. I think basically, the ending that we have is the ending that everyone wanted. We did not shoot a bunch of endings for the movie. There is no footage that exists with multiple endings.


AH: How did you get Vin Diesel involved in the project?

FGG: Vin was on the project when I started. I was reading the trade, and I saw his face on page 3 or 4. I was really interested because I had seen Broiler Room and Saving Private Ryan. I said there is something really interesting about this guy. When you watch those pictures you never really get enough of him. You want to see more; you want to see him do more. I saw a ten-minute trade and he was attached to the script. I called the studio and asked if they had a director. They said no, read the script and we love you. I had already made a few movies with New Line [Cinemas]. I read the script and thought, there is something to this that goes beyond what you normally see. You normally see the pretty boys and the Hollywood types. I thought there was something different and edgy about him. This was all before XXX and Fast and The Furious, before the whole kind of action hero that we all know now. I wanted to capture that and this is a great story to do it with.


AH: How do you feel about Vin being considered a ďBlue CollarĒ style actor?

FGG: I donít think there is anybody out there like Vin. Thatís why I think he is experiencing so much success. Very rarely do you get to experience someone that a number of different races and ethnicities can identify with. Across the board most people can identify with him. You donít know if he is Black or Hispanic or Latin, Jewish or Italian. Itís a good thing. I think it represents where we are today. Itís not black and white anymore, and thatís how it should be. The audience and their interest in him show that they really want to get beyond whatís been established in Hollywood movies. And for him to have the charisma on top of the ďBlue CollarĒ appeal it makes it great. Thatís what we deliver. We deliver someone above and beyond the action hero thing, he is not a Hollywood pretty boy, but heís got this magnetism and he can deliver emotion.


AH: Tell us something about Vin we donít know?

FGG: His name. I donít know his name. He has two killer pit bulls. He has a big house now. He is incredibly collaborative. That one thing that was really apparent when we first started working with each other and throughout the shooting. He is a really smart guy. He digs in and he wants to make sure that everything rings true. If there is a new idea he wants to explore it. More often than not actors will show up, read the lines and move on. But Vin does put time and energy into analyzing it and making sure that if there is a moment to be had, that we explore it.


AH: Is that typical of how you like to work?

FGG: Itís different for every project. For me, I want to find the truth. If it is there on the page already, then itís great. Letís get in and make it happen. If it isnít there, then there is always room, especially with my approach, to figure it out and then find the truth.



AH: Would it be fair to call this film a modern Dirty Harry?

FGG: You know, I never thought about that. But if you want to call it a modern Dirty Harry then I wonít argue. Thatís a compliment.


AH: There were some scenes with a lot of comedy relief. How challenging was it to transition from the seriousness of the film to having it turn funny?

FGG: Itís always a fine line to balance humor and drama. In The Negotiator we had Samuel Jackson who was really irritated by the situation he was in and we introduced Paul Diamate. I feel like life is funny. No matter what situation you are in, you can find humor in it. I donít think some of the writers would expect as much humor as I delivered, but I think people are looking to be entertained. If itís motivated, I say go for it. Some of the funniest moments come out of serious moments. I think thatís my instinct.


AH: So you met with real drug dealers for research for the film. Can you tell us about this experience?

FGG: I had a meeting with a drug dealer. At first I looked at it from a filmmakersí perspective. Iím going to ask questions for answers I want to know. Halfway into interrogating this guy about his approach to smuggling drugs, I said, wait a minute. This is real information. If this guy is busted, he is going to think I told on him. He was not busted up to this point and I hope I am not killed. So halfway into it, I realized what I was doing was very intrusive and I had to be careful about the questions I asked. Itís a real subculture and a dangerous subculture. I would find out how they smuggled cocaine in coffee cans and have their own canneries so that it throws off the scent of the dogs and sending drugs through Fed Ex. I did a lot of research; from big drug dealer to street drug dealers.


AH: Can you tell us about ďItalian JobĒ?

FGG: I feel just lucky to have had such an amazing cast that any director could have. Mark Whalberg, Ed Norton, Charlese Theron, Donald Sutherland, Seth Green, and Mos Def. You canít get a better cast. I probably wonít see it again. So I am just basking in this experience. I was given a shot to shoot in Venice, Italy with a great boat chase. And that will never happen again because Venice will never let it happen again. We did not break anything but the size of the waves we created in the Grand Canal, was too much. The Alps were amazing. It was very cold, but it tested your manhood. It was just a great experience and I feel like I learned a lot. Itís a very sexy movie. The core and the soul of the movie are in the characters. You donít see that often. So for me to have that kind of opportunity that has the thrills and appeal of a commercial film, if you will, but that is rooted in its characters, is very rare. Iím so happy and cannot wait for it to come out.


AH: Did you watch the original? Or did you purposely not watch the original?

FGG: I watched it. You have to be respectful of the original. But I have to be clear, this is not a remake. This is really just and homage. The only similarity to the original is that we used Miniís Ė the New Mini Coupe and itís a gold heist. Thatís it. Itís a different story, a different plot. It was really important for us to leave the original alone. Itís a classic, especially in the UK. We really just made our movie. People who love the original will this like this one and those seeing it for the first time will love it too.


AH: Thank you

FGG: Thank you