No stranger to sharing the screen with some of the biggest actors of the modern age, Audi is back in action in the spy thriller The Gray Man with both ICE and all-electric models sharing the limelight.

Paul Abell and Netflix

22 July, 2022

It’s a long and distinguished honour role – from the class Ronin, and Marvel blockbusters to the futuristic I, Robot and Ender’s Game, Audi has shared the big screen with some of the best. Whether it be supplying series production models or developing completely new concept vehicles for the project, Audi and the movies have long gone hand in hand.

Now Audi is back with some of the brand’s all-electric vehicles staring the spotlight with Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas and Billy Bob Thornton to name just a few of the stars in The Gray Man, directed by Joe & Anthony Russo.

It’s a classic spy thriller with a modern thrilled that sees the CIA’s most skilled operative (Ryan Gosling) uncover dark agency secrets, which sets a psychopathic former colleague (Chris Evans) on his tail, putting a bounty on his head and setting off a global manhunt by international assassins. 

The all-action which is a major Netflix production also has an Australian connection, with 30-year film industry veteran, Australian Steve Taylor the one responsible for looking after the vehicles which ar central to many of the action sequences. As action vehicle supervisor, he was responsible not only for seamlessly integrating the hero cars into the cinematic universe but also getting them to deliver a winning performance when the directors called ‘action’.

Alongside classic models such as the Audi RS 7 Sportback, the team behind The Gray Man chose to use the Audi RS e-tron GT and the Audi Q4 Sportback e-tron. 

“The Russo brothers had a clear vision of the characters, how they should act and, of course, what vehicles they needed for their missions,” recalls Steve Taylor. Based on that, he got together with the set designers and producers to discuss what they could achieve with the vehicles, especially the electric models. “There are a lot of people involved when it comes to shooting cars in action. The stunt coordinator gets together with the director and comes up with an initial plan for the vehicle’s movements. And that’s where I come in,” says Taylor, meaning the moment he and his team start prepping the vehicles to deliver the desired performance.

Production models used in film scenes are adapted in advance to operate and function in line with the film’s requirements. “You have to understand that there is no straightforward or systematic way to make a movie,” says Taylor of the work on set. Instead, you need flexibility, a flair for improvising and, of course, creativity to get results. That was certainly true of the custom-made ‘pod car rig', which was mounted on top of the Audi Q4 e-tron Sportback and played a key role in making The Gray Man. 

Reminiscent of a racing seat, the rig is a kind of cage mounted on the vehicle’s roof that allows a precision driver to sit on top of the car and take control of the vehicle. A pod car rig unlocks a whole new world of potential vehicle interior shots,” says Taylor. 

(L to R) Joe Russo, Anna de Armas, Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Regé-Jean Page and Anthony Russo.

There was no need to rebuild the interior of the Audi Q4 e-tron Sportback. All that was necessary was for a specialist team, in close consultation with Audi, to undertake the complex process of disabling the original steering wheel and pedals. That meant everyone behind and in front of the camera could focus fully on shooting the scene. “As an extra bonus,” Taylor adds, “this lets the camera explore a 360-degree view inside the vehicle, opening up new perspectives on the action.”

Even so, Steve Taylor doesn’t believe electric vehicles are about to push cars with high-powered combustion engines entirely off action movie screens any time soon: 

“Europe is a lot further ahead in the transition to electromobility than the U.S. or Australia.” He explains that while it was a timely and even bold move to use a model such as the Audi Q4 e-tron Sportback in such a prestigious blockbuster, it naturally wasn’t without challenges on set. Not least among them is an e-model’s soundscape compared to a combustion engine. For The Gray Man, some of the e-tron models’ real noises – which aren’t yet available from studio libraries – were meticulously added to the soundtrack in post-production. Kai Mensing, who is responsible for international product placement at Audi, believes that’s true in real life, too: “After all, society at large is undergoing a transformation.” The Audi manager regards integration where it’s warranted as a chance to promote a change in thinking among filmmakers and, ultimately, audiences. “At Audi, we want to bring the transition to new forms of mobility to the big screen, making it accessible to the millions-strong movie-going public.”