Author Mark Greaney talks turning a book series into a Netflix movie

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – A Memphis native is behind one of the most anticipated action films of the year, ‘The Gray Man,’ which hits Netflix in July.

Mark Greaney wrote the 12-book series that inspired the feature film.

On the brink of the film’s release, Greaney gave Action News 5’s Kontji Anthony an exclusive TV interview about his thrilling run to the top and how his Action News 5 family roots helped shape his prolific career.

The New York Times #1 bestselling author allowed Action News 5 to bring a camera to his hallowed writing space, the pool house behind his Memphis home.

“When I’m in Memphis, I’m always back here,” Greaney said. “I always work there on my sofa by the fire or here at my desk.”

The $200 million movie adaptation broke the record for the most expensive production in streaming service history. The international action-thriller series stars A-list actors Ryan Gosling as ex-CIA turned assassin “Gray Man” Court Gentry.

“I’ve always been a fan of heroes who have a lot of vulnerabilities,” Greaney said. Gentry’s former cohort and nemesis in the CIA, Lloyd Hansen, is played by actor Chris Evans.

“I can’t tell you how surreal it is,” Greaney said of her books getting the Hollywood greenlight.

Greaney’s rise to the top took as many twists and turns as a Gray Man novel. He studied political science and international studies at the University of Memphis. He became obsessed with spy thrillers after reading his first Tom Clancy novel, “‘Patriot Games’ and I was 19,” Greaney recalls.

He played drums in a band, sold computer equipment, and worked as a bartender at Paulette’s restaurant for a decade, while reading every Clancy book that hit the shelves. Greaney asked his father, none other than Action News 5 journalism legend Ed Greaney, to start reading Clancy as well.

“Every year we gave each other Tom Clancy’s book for Christmas and that was kind of our thing in the 90s and 2000s,” Greaney recalled.

Greaney said his father had a profound impact on his life and thought process as an author. Perhaps his main character’s personality can be traced back to his grandfather, a law school graduate from the University of Memphis.

Greaney gestured to framed medals on his shelf. “My grandfather was in the army infantry in World War I, and it was my dad, who was in the army infantry in World War II. These are his medals and dog tags,” he beamed.

Greaney said his father returned from the war and started running a bowling alley in Memphis.

“Then he got a job at Channel 5 in 1949,” Greaney added. “I think as low on the totem pole as possible, he became deputy general manager for news and public affairs. So he was there during the king’s assassination and all these other major events.

He said going to Action News 5 was like visiting family, as Greaney’s family got to know many of the employees. Greaney took a picture in the Channel 5 studio aged 6 to witness a special moment.

“His 25th birthday. I remember they called him into the studio like there was some kind of emergency. So he arrives in the studio and everyone is waiting for him with a cake to surprise him,” smiles Greaney.

Author Mark Greaney talks turning a book series into a Netflix movie(Source: Mark Greaney)

Ed Greaney’s legacy runs so deep that the Action News 5 newsroom is dedicated to his name. To this day, he’s the first face you see when you walk through the door in a collage featuring highlights from his time at the station.

Greaney remembers asking his father to read his stories early in life.

“I would give him something I wrote, some school news and he would edit it, like tear it down, but ultimately it really, really helped me with everything,” Greaney said.

At 22, Greaney decided to write his first book. It took 15 years to complete, but was turned down by publishers along with his next two books.

Her father died in 2005. A year later, Greaney sought inspiration while working her day job.

“I worked for Medtronic here in Memphis and I was in the international department, and I wanted to improve my Spanish. So, I went to Guatemala,” Greaney explained.

During a weekend trip to El Salvador, he soaked up his surroundings in a bar.

“I met this American who I never really spoke to, but I heard him talking to the bartender in Spanish, but I could tell he was American and he was just different from everyone else” , did he declare. “Drinking a beer, I just made up a whole backstory, not necessarily thinking of a book or anything. That’s just how my mind works, and I made up this whole backstory that “He’s a former CIA, but now the CIA is out to get him and he has to live off the grid in the developing world. And in the meantime, he’s trying to right the wrongs and so on.”

“The Gray Man”, the fourth book written by Greaney, became the first book his agent helped him publish.

“He sent it to 10 publishers. Nine editors said no,” Greaney explained.

Berkley Books wanted Greaney to write more novels in the series, so he had a dilemma: Job or dream job?

“It was this really intimidating thing I thought about for months. You know, I have to give up my health insurance. It’s all a roll of the dice,” he recalled.

Greaney took the plunge and it paid off a few months later in 2009 when the book came out and Hollywood started talking about it.

The New Regency Productions studio opted for his book.

“Whoever you sell the option to has the rights to develop it as a movie, and then the rights go to you,” Greaney explained.

The option bounced from studio to studio in three-year increments with countless A-list actors, including Brad Pitt showing interest. With no movie contract in sight, in 2011 Greaney’s agent asked if he was “sitting” because Greaney’s inspiration, Tom Clancy, wanted to meet about co-writing.

“I just remember being terrified. My first thought was, ‘How can I get out of this?’ But at the same time, I was like, my agent will never talk to me,” Greaney laughed.

Once that deal was sealed, Greaney was hired annually to write a Clancy book and a Gray Man book.

He always does immersive research for each book to ensure authenticity.

“While doing Tom Clancy novels, I went to Moscow, Beijing, Sweden and Algeria. All over Latin America. All over Western Europe,” he said.

Greaney remembers going scuba diving to tell the story well.

“I always had a kind of phobia about this stuff, but I went to class and enjoyed it,” Here recalls.

Greaney also does paramilitary training.

“I did a lot of training with weapons, practical training, close combat training. There’s a gun school in Middle Tennessee that I go to, and they train law enforcement and I train alongside the military and special forces,” Greaney explained.

He recalled Clancy’s passing.

“We had just filmed our third novel, ‘Command Authority,’ when he passed away in 2013. And then quickly the family asked me to continue the Jack Ryan series,” Greaney added.

For years, Greaney continued to write two books a year: a Gray Man novel and a standalone one. In 2019, Greaney loved his job, but said life was unfulfilling until his wife, three children and two dogs joined his two-dog clan.

“Personal life was never the best until I met Allison who is now my wife. Three years ago we hit it off immediately and when COVID hit I had already done my proposed in New York. I was like, bring the kids, we’re all going to sleep together before the wedding,” Greaney laughed. “So we got married during this COVID thing, and it’s just amazing. “

Now, with his wife, family and 38 countries under his belt, Greaney said his surroundings and family heritage keep him rooted in Memphis.

“I live in the neighborhood where I was when I came back from the hospital. As the crow flies, I lived a quarter of a mile from where I was born,” he pointed.

He just wished his dad could see what he’s done with his life. Greaney released his 12th Gray Man novel on Tuesday and has at least two more Gray Man books on the horizon.

Author Mark Greaney talks turning a book series into a Netflix movie
Author Mark Greaney talks turning a book series into a Netflix movie(Source: Mark Greaney)

He’s hosting an in-person book signing at Novel Memphis in the Laurelwood Mall on Perkins Extension this Saturday from 2-3:30 p.m.

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Angela C. Hale