The Gray Man: What does it mean and is the film based on a true story?

The interesting meaning behind 'The Gray Man' term

close up of Ryan Gosling aiming a gun in The Gray Man
(Image credit: Netflix/Future)

Everything we know about the meaning behind The Gray Man and whether its based on a true story - as the new action thriller drops on Netflix.

Excitement has been mounting for Ryan Gosling’s latest film outing - The Gray Man. Playing the CIA's most skilled mercenary, Gosling is known in the film as Court Gentry, aka Sierra Six. When Six accidentally uncovers dark secrets within the agency, he becomes a target for assassination. He is hunted around the world by former colleague Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), a psychopathic former CIA agent. Along with an international team of assassins, Hansen won’t stop until he’s taken down Six. With The Gray Man released on Netflix (opens in new tab) - we explore the profound meaning behind the term ‘gray man’, uncovering the origins of the term, and sharing whether the film is based on a true story.

Not the only hotly anticipated film release this month, the latest instalment in the Thor franchise had audiences entranced. Fans particularly wanted to know how many end credit scenes in Thor: Love and Thunder (opens in new tab), and the meaning behind them. Whilst other movie fans were seeking answers on where to watch Zombies 3 (opens in new tab) - the sci-fi come musical teen film that's got quite the social media following. 

The Gray Man: What does it mean? 

A gray man is an average person who does not stand out in a crowd or draw attention to themselves in any way. In military terms, such as for Sierra Six in the film, it means the person who never fails to get their job done before moving away quietly. 

According to survival site Imminent Threat Solutions (opens in new tab), the art of being a gray man is to be ordinary in every circumstance. Dress must be neutral and do nothing to create memories - no bright colours or memorable slogans.

Mannerisms should be small and discreet, with no sweeping gestures or overt energy. Movements should be matched to surroundings, impersonating the speed people generally move, gestures they make, and volume and speed they speak with. 

Ultimately, being a gray man is the art of blending seamlessly between different societies and cultures, where nobody would identify or remember them afterwards.

The Gray Man: Plot 

According to What to Watch (opens in new tab), The Gray Man begins with Ryan Gosling - in the titular role - imprisoned. Playing Court Gentry, his character is recruited by Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to become an “agency-sanctioned merchant of death”. Fitzroy facilitates Gentry’s release from prison, where he is given the codename Sierra Six. 

When Six unwittingly uncovers dark secrets about the agency, he’s forced to go on the run. Former colleague Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) puts a bounty on his head. Hansen had lasted 6 months as a CIA operative, before being dismissed for unauthorised torture - his personality is generally thought to be psychotic. 

Due to the price on his head, international assassins come on board in an attempt to secure the cash for his capture - this results in an international manhunt spanning the globe. The only person Six can trust is fellow agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas).

Ryan Gosling in The Gray Man

(Image credit: Netflix)

Is the Gray Man based on a true story? 

The Gray Man isn’t a true story, but instead is based on a series of books by Mark Greaney. There are 11 books in the series in total, and the first book - The Gray Man - was published in 2009. 

The Gray Man was also Mark Greaney’s debut international novel, reaching number 1 in the New York Times bestsellers list. He’s also co-authored the 7 Jack Ryan novels with Tom Clancy, the most recent being True Faith and Allegiance

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The Gray Man: Book 1 by Mark Greaney £8.27 | Amazon (opens in new tab)

Read the first novel in the series from #1 New York Times Bestselling author Mark Greaney - now a Netflix original film starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans

Speaking to Crime Spree Magazine (opens in new tab) about the differences between The Gray Man book and the film, Greaney said “I read the script when they started filming. They did change some things. With so many people involved in making the movie, there is always creative influences”.

He added “Characters who were not in the first book but did come along later in the book series are introduced in the movie. It is true to the spirit of the longer story of the first book. The dialogue was clever for the story”. 

The Gray Man: Books in order

  • The Gray Man (2009)
  • On Target (2010)
  • Ballistic (2011)
  • Dead Eye (2013)
  • Back Blast (2016)
  • Gunmetal Gray (2017)
  • Agent in Place (2018)
  • Mission Critical (2019)
  • One Minute Out (2020)
  • Relentless (2021)
  • Sierra Six (2022)

Is The Gray Man a Marvel movie?

No, The Gray Man is not a Marvel movie. It is howver directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, who directed the last two Marvel epics, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame

Confusion has arisen about The Gray Man being connected to Marvel, with Russo and Russo being connected to it, and often being asked about their Marvel connection in interviews about The Gray Man. Vanity Fair (opens in new tab) referred to the film as “just another Marvel movie, only without magic stones or aliens”, which could be misconstrued as an implication it’s a Marvel film.

Similarly, NBC News ran an interview with Russo and Russo, running it on Twitter with the caption “The Russo brothers discuss the high stakes around ‘The Gray Man’, the shaky economics of streaming and recent complaints about a ‘quality problem’ inside the Marvel assembly line”. This resulted in commenters discussing Marvel films, possibly mistakenly believing the franchises were linked.  

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The Gray Man cast 

  • Ryan Gosling (La La Land, First Man) as Sierra Six
  • Chris Evans (Captain America, Avengers) as Lloyd Hansen
  • Ana de Armas (No Time To Die, Deep Water) as Dani Miranda 
  • Jessica Henwick (Underwater, On The Rocks) as Suzanne Brewer 
  • Regé-Jean Page (Bridgerton, Waterloo Road) as Denny Carmichael 
  • Wagner Moura (Narcos, Shining Girls) as Laszlo Sosa
  •  Julia Butters (Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, American Housewife) as Claire Fitzroy
  • Dhanush (Maryan, Anegan) as Avik San 
  • Alfre Woodard (The Last Ship, See) as Margaret Cahill
  • Billy Bob Thornton (Friday Night Lights, Fargo) as Donald Fitzroy  

The Gray Man cast

(Image credit: Netflix)

Who is the villain in The Gray Man?

The villain is Lloyd Hansen, played by Chris Evans. The character has been compared with Evans’ most well known persona - Captain America - with the Joker.

Speaking to Empire (opens in new tab) about his villainous role, The Gray Man co-writer Stephen McFeely said unpredictability of the character of Lloyd Hansen spices up every scene he appears in. He told them “He’s a trainwreck of a human being. That guy can be anything in any scene, because all he wants is anarchy”.

A Twitter user praised Evans’ performance, saying “Saw The Gray Man today, it was a fun action movie with a sequel hook ending that I hope gets expanded upon. The cast is great with Chris Evans stealing the show as he usually does”.

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Is The Gray Man coming to Netflix? 

Yes, The Gray Man is coming to Netflix on Friday July 22. Though it has also enjoyed a limited theatrical release from July 15. The film is Netflix’s most expensive to date, costing a budget busting $200 million to make, and has a running time of 2 hours and 2 minutes.

There are 3 Netflix packages (opens in new tab) available for those wanting to subscribe. The cheapest package costs £6.99 per month, and this basic starting price includes unlimited access to the Netflix catalogue. With this, subscribers can only stream from one device at a time. 

At £10.99 per month, the standard package also includes the entire Netflix catalogue. However, simultaneous streaming from 2 devices is allowed. This package also has shows in HD, and allows downloads to mobile devices. 

The final premium package costs £15.99 per month, and features bonuses including allowing streaming across 4 devices, and contains most of the catalogue in Ultra HD. 

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Lucy Wigley
Lucy Wigley

Lucy is a multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ experience writing about entertainment, parenting and family life. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and telling you why you should watch them.