Meet the Memphis author behind ‘The Gray Man’ film

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — One of the summer’s most anticipated action movies is based on a thriller written by a Memphis author.

It’s a star-studded action movie produced by the Russo brothers, who brought you the Avengers movies.

Ryan Gosling’s “Court Gentry” is poised to be the next big action hero.

Gosling stars in Netflix’s “The Gray Man,” based on a series by Memphian Mark Greaney.

“It’s surreal,” Greaney said.

Netflix has never spent this much on a movie: the price tag is well over $200 million dollars.

It premieres in theaters in mid-July and then streams on Netflix.

Not bad for a graduate from White Station high school and a self-described “not good” English student.

“I was a bartender ‘til I was 31,” Greaney said. “I had other jobs. I was the guy working like 3 jobs. I was the guy with the beat-up car. I wanted to be a writer for a really long time. It took me 20 years from the time I started writing until the day I got published.”

Greaney was majoring in International Relations at what was then Memphis State when he got interested in international intrigue.

But he didn’t come up with The Gray Man until he was on a trip in South America while working for Medtronic.

“I was in El Salvador and saw this guy who was really interesting to me and made up a whole backstory for him,” he said. “That he was ex-CIA, and he’s being chased by the agency so he’s hiding out in a beach town in El Salvador but he’s still an assassin.”

Two books later, Greaney got a call that would change his life.

A chance to co-write with the late Tom Clancy - the author who created Jack Ryan.

“I said ‘I’m just going to write 50 pages like I’m Tom Clancy, like I’m working with TC, I knew all the characters,” Greaney said. “I just turned that in and ...did 3 with him before he passed away. They asked me to continue the Jack Ryan series so I did 7 in all.”

Greaney and FOX13′s Valerie Calhoun surveyed his bookshelf: 7 Clancy books, 11 books in the Gray Man series with another coming out next year. Plus a couple of stand-alone books, including “Armored,” which was released on July 5.

He comes by the writing honestly.

His late father, Ed Greaney, worked 50 years at a Memphis television station, retiring as VP of news.

“My one regret in life is that I didn’t get published before he passed away. He (dad) was a great editor of my stuff, he passed away long before I got published but he read some early things that I wrote,” Greaney said.

Mark’s research has taken him to 38 countries and counting.

But he didn’t have to go far to learn the weapons and tactical skills that keep the Gray Man alive.

Greaney describes the place: “It’s Camden, Tennessee on the Tennessee River. A place called Tactical Response. I was basically a mascot there. I’ve probably taken 50 classes there over a 15-year period. When I started going there it was in the middle of Iraq and Afghanistan so there were a lot of private civilian and military contractors.”

What’s next?

Greaney is writing. A lot.

“It’s most definitely getting harder to write after 22 books I’ll start writing something and think wow that sounds like something from book four or book 11 or book 19,” he said. “But it’s my job to go out and get new information in my brain so I can come up with new creative things and it does get tougher as time goes on.”

As for the movies? It sounds like a safe bet to expect a series of “Gray Man” movies.

“The Russo brothers definitely want to do more in the franchise so I’m hoping that happens but I tell myself that you’re so lucky to have one film made. In the career of an author it’s still a million-to-one shot,” Greaney said.