Mark Greaney is having a year like no other.
The #1 New York Times best selling author from Memphis released his 11th Gray Man novel ‘Sierra Six’ in February, squeezed in two family vacations, a research trip in the spring, celebrated a birthday, and just finished a book tour for his latest literary work, a stand alone action thriller called ‘Armored,’ which came out earlier this month.
And as if that wasn’t enough, this past weekend he and his wife were in Los Angeles to attend the premier of the big screen movie adaptation of ‘The Gray Man’ starring Ryan Gosling.
“This has been an absolutely crazy time,” Greaney said during a recent book signing at Novel in Memphis. “But it is a good problem to have.”
The $200 million summer blockbuster from Joe and Anthony Russo, the directors of “Avengers: End Game,” was released on July 15 in theaters and will be available to stream on Netflix on Friday.
The story centers around Court Gentry, a highly trained and unkillable freelance assassin known as the Gray Man, who is recruited by the CIA for a shady covert team to carry out off-the-book assassinations. Gentry is enlisted to eliminate a target, but the mission goes awry when he discovers that the person he is tasked with killing is a fellow agent who knows too much about the unsanctioned program. He’s forced to go on the run when the agency calls in a psychopathic assassin to hunt him down to make sure the incriminating information never gets out.
Greaney said he is very pleased with how the movie turned out and that it captured the essence of his story well.
“I was really thrilled with the movie,” Greaney said. “It’s a different role for Ryan Gosling in what he has been seen in before, but he does such a good job with it. When I wrote ‘The Gray Man,’ when you boil it all down it is about this disaffected, cynical assassin who has never been trained to do anything other than what he is doing. He has a relationship with this girl who is imperiled and he has to rescue her because she is the closest thing to family that he has. Court doesn’t want to be there and is annoyed by everything that happens to him. The movie captured that so perfectly well. I was really emotionally taken by what the actors did.”
Greaney said the movie is pretty faithful to the novel. The biggest difference is that the screenwriters introduced some characters who don’t show up until later on in the series. He said that was done with an eye on turning “The Gray” man into a film franchise.
“They are putting all their effort into sequels and prequels and expanding the story, which I hope they do,” Greaney said.
Green said the first 15 minutes of the film is also different from the book. He wrote “The Gray Man” in the fall of 2007 when the U.S. was fighting in Iraq, which isn’t as relevant to audiences today because world events have changed so much over the last decade from when the book first came out.
“The book opens in Iraq and Court has been assassinating someone in Syria and rescues these Americans,” Greaney said. “You really couldn’t open up a contemporary story with that. So they have him in Thailand. It is a completely different opening.”
Still, Greaney said the movie version retains about 65 percent of the storyline in the novel.
“Some things are completely different. Some things are completely omitted because it takes 16 hours to read and it is a two hour film,” Greaney said. “The way I explain it is, the directors, screenwriters, actors, cinematographers, they’re all artists and creative people themselves. I see myself as a collaborator on this project. I was the guy who did the first effort on it and handed it off to the next guy. So of course it changes down the road. If you like “The Gray Man,” there may be parts of the book where you say, oh I wish they kept it that way. But there are many scenes that are straight out of the book. There are nine big action sequences in the film and seven of them came from the book. And a lot of the dialogue is a lot better than what I thought up. I just thought they did a terrific job.”
Greaney said it took ‘The Gray Man’ a long time to get to the screen because like many Hollywood movies, the project spent a long time in development limbo and changed over the years. Hollywood bought the screen rights in 2009 before the novel even came out as a paperback.
At one point Brad Pitt was attached to the movie. Sony later acquired the movie rights and got the Russo brothers involved, but they ended up making “Avengers: End Game” instead. The script was later rewritten for Charlize Theron, but died on the vine.
Greaney said the Russos then acquired the rights back from Sony and took the project to Netflix.
“It has been 13 years from when I first optioned it to when it was actually filmed,” Greaney said. “But even if it was 26 years or 39 years, I’m still very lucky. I really like that it is a dynamic film. It’s not just one note. It’s not just an assassin trying to do one job. There is a lot of grit. There is a lot of humor. There is a lot of action. And there is a lot of geopolitical stuff involved as well.”
His latest novel, ‘Armored,’ does not feature the Gray Man. It deals instead with civilian military security contractors. The main character, Josh Duffy, is an elite close protection agent who works with military contractors to provide security in some of the most dangerous parts of the world.
He loses a leg on his last mission in Lebanon and is reduced to being a mall cop to support his family. Duffy runs into a former colleague at the mall who sets him up with a job working for Armored Saint that will guarantee him financial security.
The company pays top dollar for its personnel but has the reputation as being the worst private military security contractor.
Duffy signs on for a three week mission as team leader protecting a UN delegation which travels to a dangerous area in Mexico to broker a peace deal among warring drug cartels. The only way in is along a road called the Devil’s Spine. The mission is further complicated because some of the other drug cartels want to see the peace talks fail and the UN team dead to get what they want.
Greaney said Duffy is completely different from Court Gentry and the Gray Man.
“The Gray Man is a spy,” Greaney said. “He’s specifically trained and is very international in scope. Josh is former Army then went into civilian contracting just to make money for his family and has been all over the world, all over the Middle East, who has saved a lot of lives. He couldn’t be any more different from the Gray Man. He’s never been a team leader and is asked to be a team leader on this mission, whereas Court would be able to break into a building in North Korea and get out without anybody knowing he was there. Josh is the guy who is in the gun truck checking his sector. So they are very different characters.”
‘Armored’ started out as a screenplay in 2011, but Greaney said he set it aside and never finished it. He resurrected the story when Audible asked him to turn it into an audio play.
“It started as a screenplay,” Greaney said. “Nobody asked me to do it. It was just something that I would do in my free time. I picked at it and picked at it for months which turned into years. Audible came to me and said we would really like you to do a scripted audio drama where we have sound effects and actors. It was new to me, but they thought my fans would like it. So I said, well, I have this dusty, beat up, half written screenplay on a shelf. I said if you like the idea of the story, then I will finish that. And they liked it. I finished it and it came out last December. It is a five-and-a-half hour play. It was very well received.”
Greaney said although he enjoyed writing the audio play, he felt it would make a good novel too.
“There are a lot of positive things about writing an audio book because it gives you a lot of creative tools that you don’t have when writing a book,” Greaney said. “But ultimately, I am a novelist and I thought I could expand the story and go deeper into this. I could make this action scene more complicated if it was a novel. So I wanted to do it as a novel.”
Greaney said he got the story idea for ‘Armored’ after taking high risk civilian contracting training classes in Tennessee with a company called Tactical Response.
“At the time, they were mostly training civilian military contractors,” Greaney said. “This was in the 2000s when Blackwater was around and all these other contractors were all getting work in the Middle East. I started taking these classes and I really enjoyed it and learned a ton. I did it for a couple of years and got the idea that maybe there was a story in it about the contractors themselves.”
Green said being a high risk civilian contractor is a fascinating job.
“These are fascinating people,” Greaney said. “I would be in the team rooms and the bunk houses with them. It is a super blue collar job. They all come to it from military or law enforcement backgrounds. There is a lot of super patriotism and sheepdog mentality.”
‘Armored’ has also been optioned by Hollywood and will be turned into a major motion picture by director Michael Bay, who helmed “The Transformers’ movie series, and Erwin Stoff, the film producer of “The Matrix” and “Edge of Tomorrow” starring Tom Cruise.
Greaney is currently writing his 12th Gray Man novel called “Burner.” The story finds Court Gentry and his love interest, Zoya Zakharova, a former Russian intelligence officer, on opposite sides looking for a banker who has stolen records from a Swiss bank detailing a motherlode of corruption and is being hunted by everyone from the Russian mafia to the CIA. Zoya and Court must find out where their allegiances lie while trying to keep him alive.
“I’m excited about it,” Greaney said. “It takes place primarily in Europe, the Caribbean, and in New York City. It involves the war between Russia and Ukraine that’s going on right now, but it’s not a war book. Court is trying to get involved in a meaningful way, but in the meantime he is going around the world scuttling the boats of Russian billionaires. She takes what looks like a simple job to deliver the banker to someone who wants the files, and then she and Court find themselves on opposite sides.”
“Burner” will be released in February 2023.
“I will turn in my draft in about a month and as soon as it is done I am going to do some location research,” Greaney said. “My wife and I are going to go to Italy, Geneva, Milan and Zurich. So when I do the second draft, I can plug in a little bit more authenticity in some areas.”