Adrian Grunberg has cut his teeth in Hollywood working as an assistant director on stacks of films – including “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”, “Apocalypto”, “Collateral Damage” and “The Legend of Zorro”. He’s now got his first film as sole director “Get the Gringo”, starring Mel Gibson. It’s an insane, shocking and hilarious look at what happens when an American citizen is thrown in jail in Mexico.
Hugh Humphreys, our Sydney correspondent, caught up with him to talk about the film.
Hi Adrian, How are you?
I’m well, thanks! I’m in Mexico City here, so it’s a long way from Australia.
So, “Get The Gringo”, is such a crazy ride into the underworld in Mexican prisons. It’s mental. Where did the idea come from for you?
The idea? Well, Mel [Gibson] had this idea of putting an American into a foreign prison, specifically a Mexican prison. So that was the first idea. And then se all got together and started talking about things, and went off for a while and did a lot of research. Which was where we found the wonderful “El Pueblito”! And then we’d get together once a month and talk about what we had, and then a couple of years later we were ready to get a script.
And what was the research like for looking into prison life in Mexico?
We started looking at jails all over the world, particularly in third world countries – which is where all the fun happens! And particularly with the story we wanted an American in a Mexican prison, and then came across El Pueblito. And then we fell in love with it right away, for obvious reasons, and decided to stick with that one. We looked at others, but the main inspiration was El Pueblito.
And you mentioned that’s where all the fun happens – what was it like transferring that into a film?
Well the thing with El Pueblito, right from when we started researching it and talking to the people who were there, it’s very cinematic in itself. I mean, when you think of all that has actually happened there and it’s all so real, and really cool stuff. So we didn’t have to push the boundary that hard, in the sense of the actual prison setting – because in the real world El Pueblito was just like that!
And what’s it like working with Mel Gibson – I know you’ve worked with him a lot before.
Mel’s great. I mean, I’ve known him since “Apocalytpo”, which came out in 2006 so I’ve know him 8 or 9 years– for a long time. So for me to have somebody like him by my side is amazing, what can I say?
And what was the directing him after having written the film with him?
The transition for me from writing to directing -the first part of that was the hardest for me. Once I got my bearings, it kind of came naturally. I mean, I’ve always wanted to direct Mel, and once we got into it, it was lots of fun after that.
How did you enjoy it as your first film as director? I mean, you’ve cut your teeth on so many great films as assistant director, but what was it like having your own baby?
I’ve been very blessed working with so many great directors. I mean, I’ve worked with people from all over. And obviously it’s exciting being my first feature; and happened here in Mexico, and all the crew was Mexican. So they’re all the people I’ve worked with for the past 15 years, it was like having a big family all around. I felt very supported by everybody.
And was it pretty crazy as well, being in the driver’s seat?
Oh, of course! Like every single film. I mean, at the end of the day, having the crew around me and allowing them to express what we had to do, giving them that freedom as well, it makes for a much better product.
How have you been finding the reaction to “Get the Gringo”?
Well mostly what I’m seeing is pleasing! People who’ve seen the film absolutely enjoy it. Which is basically what I set out to do, just a fun movie. Hopefully there’s a couple of twists in there that people will be surprised by, and the language that fits the world where everything takes place. But hopefully people have fun watching it.
I had fun watching it – and I could see that was your intention by the feel of the film. At times it was very dark and bleak, but there were son many great comedic touches.
Well thank you! The background of the prison life, however you portray it, whenever you have it is pretty bleak, and you have to have that comedy to allow it to breathe. Especially in this kind of movie, you need that breather and that reminder that we can also laugh at these kind of things.
And what have you got on your radar next? What other films are in the pipeline?
I don’t know yet! My partner and I are gathering some ideas to write something and I’m getting a lot of scripts but there’s nothing yet that I can say I’m definitely doing. I’m still further from that than I would like to be, but unfortunately that’s the way it is! You try and make your next movie better than this one, so I’m trying to find what that is.
“Get the Gringo” opens Thursday May 31.