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James Gray (director)

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James Gray
Gray in 2019
Born (1969-04-14) April 14, 1969 (age 55)
New York City, U.S.
Alma materUSC School of Cinematic Arts
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter
Years active1994–present
Alexandra Dickson
(m. 2005)

James Gray (born April 14, 1969)[1] is an American film director and screenwriter. Since his feature debut Little Odessa in 1994, he has made seven other features including We Own the Night (2007), Two Lovers (2008), The Immigrant (2013), The Lost City of Z (2016), Ad Astra (2019), and Armageddon Time (2022). Five of his films have competed for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.[2]

Early life[edit]

Gray was born in New York City and grew up in the neighborhood of Flushing.[3][4] He is of Russian Jewish descent,[5][6][7][8] with grandparents from Ostropol, Western Ukraine, which at that time was a part of the USSR.[9] The original family name was "Grayevsky" or "Greyzerstein."[10] His father was once an electronics contractor. Gray attended the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, where his student film, Cowboys and Angels, helped him get an agent and the attention of producer Paul Webster, who encouraged him to write a script which he could produce.[11][12]



In 1994, at age 25, Gray made his first feature film Little Odessa, starring Tim Roth as a hit man confronted by his younger brother upon returning to his hometown, "Little Odessa," a section of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.[13] The film won the Silver Lion at the 51st Venice International Film Festival.[14]

In 1998, Gray began shooting his second film, The Yards, a crime drama set in the commuter rail yards in New York City. The film was released theatrically by Miramax two years later on October 12, 2000.[15]


In March 2006, Gray began production on his third film, We Own the Night, which he had been wanting to shoot since the early 2000s. Set in 1988, it stars Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg as two brothers, one a nightclub manager with ties to the mob, and the former a police detective who wages an all-out war on drugs. The film screened in competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival in May,[16] receiving widely divergent reviews from international critics, and was released theatrically in the U.S. in October.[17]

After that film's success, Gray was given creative freedom for Two Lovers which was loosely based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s "White Nights".[18] The film made its premiere at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.


From left: Anthony Katagas, Greg Shapiro, Jeremy Renner, Marion Cotillard, Gray and wife Alexandra Dickson at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival

Gray co-wrote the screenplay for Guillaume Canet's film Blood Ties, a remake of the French thriller Rivals.[19] This collaboration with Canet led Gray to meeting his partner Marion Cotillard, whom he would cast in his next film The Immigrant.[20] It tells the story of a Polish nurse who is separated from her sister at Ellis Island and forced into prostitution by a theater manager, played by Joaquin Phoenix. The film, which was previously titled Lowlife and The Nightingale, marked Gray's fourth collaboration with Phoenix. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.[21]

In 2015, Gray directed a television commercial for Chanel men's fragrance, Bleu de Chanel, starring Gaspard Ulliel.[22] It was filmed in Los Angeles and released on February 5, 2015.[23]

In October 2016, Gray's film The Lost City of Z premiered at the New York Film Festival. The film, based on the book by David Grann, depicts the life of explorer Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam.[24]

At the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, it was reported that Gray would next direct his long-gestated sci-fi space epic Ad Astra.[25] Brad Pitt signed on to star in April 2017 and the rest of the cast joined later that year. Ad Astra premiered at the Venice Film Festival on August 29, 2019 and was theatrically released in the United States on September 20, 2019 by 20th Century Fox.[26] Gray later stated that the film that was released to theaters was not his cut.[27]


On June 17, 2020, it was officially confirmed that his next film, titled Armageddon Time, would be a coming-of-age drama loosely based on Gray's childhood memories, with Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins and Jeremy Strong cast in the film.[28] The film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2022 and was released in the United States on October 28, 2022 by Focus Features.

Unrealized and upcoming projects[edit]

After Little Odessa, Gray was offered the script for The Devil's Own by Brad Pitt, a friend of his. Gray turned it down and the film was ultimately directed by Alan J. Pakula.[29] He also passed up the opportunity to direct Good Will Hunting.

In 1997, Gray was in negotiations with producer Art Linson to direct the biopic Killer Spy, about CIA agent Aldrich Ames, based on the novel Betrayal.[30] Kevin Spacey was being talked about for the starring role of Ames.

In 1999, Gray was in talks to direct Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston in Waking Up in Reno for Miramax. The film was made three years later but without the involvement of Gray, Pitt or Aniston.[31]

It was reported in 2000 that Gray would direct and co-write Edgardo Mortara, a film based on the infamous 1858 kidnapping of the 6-year-old Jewish boy by the Papal police.[32] Gray was to collaborate with writer Rob Eshman on the screenplay.

In 2003, it was rumored that Gray had written an adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novelette "Paycheck". Prior to John Woo being selected, Brett Ratner was in talks to direct.[33] A film was released later that year, but Gray had no involvement.

In 2006, Gray was planning to direct Alphabet City, based on the 1995 novel by Steven Knight, who also penned the first draft of the script.[34]

In 2010, Gray was hired to rewrite the script of the Charlie Hunnam-scripted Vlad, which would have been a period action film based on the story of Dracula. Anthony Mandler had been attached to direct the film.[35]

In January 2011, it was reported that Gray would be directing a film adaptation of Mark Greaney's novel The Gray Man written by Adam Cozad. The project was first set up at New Regency.[36][37] Brad Pitt was initially cast to star, but by October 2015, he and Gray were no longer involved with the film.

In April 2011, Jeremy Renner enlisted Gray to write the screenplay for an untitled Steve McQueen biopic with Renner in the role under his production banner The Combine.[38] "I did it more or less as a favor to Jeremy and to honor Steve McQueen," Gray said.[20] Heavily researched and based on two books by Marshall Terrill, Portrait of an American Rebel and The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon, the film was initially going to be directed by Ivan Zachariáš, although Gray later stated in 2013 that he may end up directing it himself at some point.[39]

In August 2013, it was announced that Warner Bros. tapped Gray to write and direct White Devil, a film based on the life of John Willis.[40]

It was reported in April 2015 by Variety that Gray was to executive produce and serve as creative consultant on Hard Apple, an "adult-skewing" animated series inspired by New York-born author Jerome Charyn's Isaac Sidel novels.[41]

In April 2018, MGM closed a deal for Gray to direct I Am Pilgrim, an adaptation of the espionage novel by Terry Hayes.[42] He was slated to direct the film after he finished shooting Ad Astra. However, Gray confirmed in 2022 that the project is officially dead, and that it had got lost in the "business mess" with studios changing hands.[43]

In April 2022, Gray announced plans to develop a limited series about novelist Norman Mailer based on J. Michael Lennon's biography Norman Mailer: A Double Life.[44]

In October 2022, Gray said he was interested in wrangling back the cast for a semi-sequel to Armageddon Time, to focus solely on his mother, who was portrayed by Anne Hathaway. "The story goes in a very unexpected place," said Gray, "Because my father actually did achieve some financial success but wound up getting it all confiscated by the government when he got into legal trouble. At the same time, my mother found out she was dying. And so, it's going to be, I think, something about that period."[45] That same month, Deadline reported that Gray's next film would be a biopic about a young John F. Kennedy that focused on his time in World War II where he saved his crew from a sinking patrol boat.[46][47] The film was titled Mayday 109 and had been in development for several years before Gray boarded the project.[48] Bill Skarsgård is attached to star as Kennedy.[49]

In November 2022, Gray revealed in an interview for Collider that one of his dream projects was an epic about the Russian Revolution called The Dream of a Thousand Men, but that it was unlikely to be made anytime soon, if at all, due to Russia's 2022 Ukraine invasion.[50]

In March 2023, it was announced Gray would direct Ezekiel Moss, a Depression-set ghost story written by Keith Bunin, for Focus Features.[51]

In February 2024, Gray replaced Neil Burger as the director of Summer Frost, based on Blake Crouch's source material, which had first been announced back in 2020. Zoe Saldana is attached to star in the film.[52]

Gray also turned down the role played by Noah Taylor in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.[53] He did, however, appear in a brief cameo in a deleted scene in Love Jones.[54]


In 2019, it was reported that Gray was to stage Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, his first opera, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris that November. French fashion designer Christian Lacroix did the costumes for the production.[55]

Personal life[edit]

Gray married Alexandra Dickson in 2005. The couple have three children.[56]

Favorite films[edit]

In 2022, Gray participated in the Sight and Sound film polls. Held every ten years to select the greatest films of all time, contemporary directors were asked to select ten films of their choice. Gray chose the following, in no order:[57]



Year Title Director Writer Producer Notes
1991 Cowboys and Angels Yes No No Student short film
1994 Little Odessa Yes Yes No
2000 The Yards Yes Yes No Co-written with Matt Reeves
2007 We Own the Night Yes Yes No
2008 Two Lovers Yes Yes Yes Co-written with Richard Menello
2013 Blood Ties No Yes Executive Co-written with Guillaume Canet
The Immigrant Yes Yes Yes Co-written with Richard Menello
2016 The Lost City of Z Yes Yes Yes Based on the book by David Grann
2019 Ad Astra Yes Yes Yes Co-written with Ethan Gross
2022 Armageddon Time Yes Yes Yes


Year Title Episode
2014 The Red Road "Arise My Love, Shake Off This Dream" (S1 E1)

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Title Result
2000 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or The Yards Nominated
2007 We Own the Night Nominated
2008 Two Lovers Nominated
2013 The Immigrant Nominated
2022 Armageddon Time Nominated
2008 César Awards Best Foreign Film We Own the Night Nominated
2009 Two Lovers Nominated
1996 Independent Spirit Awards Best First Feature Little Odessa Nominated
Best First Screenplay Nominated
2010 Best Director Two Lovers Nominated
1994 Venice International Film Festival Golden Lion Little Odessa Nominated
Silver Lion Won
2019 Golden Lion Ad Astra Nominated


  1. ^ Tatiana Siegel (May 20, 2007). "Dialogue: James Gray". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  2. ^ CANNES 2000: Embracing Indiewood, Cannes 2000 Lineup Selected from Nearly 1,400 Films; 15 Countries|IndieWire
  3. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (November 5, 2013). "James Gray, Nicolas Winding Refn & More Giving Masterclasses At 2013 Marrakech International Film Festival". IndieWire. Archived from the original on March 5, 2014. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
  4. ^ Hirschon, Nicholas (December 23, 2011). "James Gray's Films Explore Underdog Living in Qns." Daily News (New York, New York). p. p. 35.
  5. ^ Kilday, Gregg (May 21, 2013). "Cannes: James Gray on 'The Immigrant,' Marion Cotillard and Returning to the Fest (Q&A)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  6. ^ Zeitchik, Steven (October 17, 2016). "Director James Gray goes on his own search while creating 'The Lost City of Z'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 11, 2018. And he is. He's also a grade-A kibitzer, a gregarious character, whose chatty and self-effacing wit bespeaks his Queens upbringing and Eastern European-Jewish heritage.
  7. ^ Jeng, Jonah (April 20, 2017). "Of Immigrants and the City: A James Gray Retrospective". Paste Magazine. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  8. ^ Applebaum, Stephen (March 27, 2017). "James Gray: Exploring the dark and personal". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  9. ^ "James Gray Interview For 'The Immigrant'". Flicks and Bits. May 23, 2013. Archived from the original on June 19, 2013. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  10. ^ "James Gray's New York of underdogs and dreamers". Le Monde.fr. May 19, 2022.
  11. ^ Transcript of Online Conference with Little Odessa Writer/Director James Gray, Fine Line Features, 1995, Accessed May 11, 2008.
  12. ^ Hanson, Peter (June 28, 2010). The Cinema of Generation X: A Critical Study of Films and Directors. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-8078-4.
  13. ^ James, Caryn (May 19, 1995). "Little Odessa (1994) – Film Review; Russian Emigre Family With a Son in the Mob". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Anastasia, George; Macnow, Glen, eds. (2011). The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies. Running Press. pp. 293, 294.
  15. ^ The Yards (2000) - Filming & Production - IMDb
  16. ^ "Festival de Cannes: We Own the Night". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved December 20, 2009.
  17. ^ We Own the Night (2007) - IMDb
  18. ^ "Two Lovers: James Gray Interview". At the Movies. June 3, 2009. Archived from the original on August 23, 2009. Retrieved August 10, 2009.
  19. ^ Halligan, Fionnuala (May 20, 2013). "Blood Ties – Reviews". Screen International.
  20. ^ a b Kiang, Jessica (December 10, 2012). "Marrakech '12: James Gray Still Hoping To Visit 'Lost City of Z,' Talks 'Blood Ties' & Jeremy Renner's Steve McQueen Biopic". IndieWire. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  21. ^ "2013 Official Selection". Cannes. April 20, 2013. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  22. ^ "James Gray directs the latest Chanel Bleu campaign". Fashion Network. February 2, 2015.
  23. ^ "Gaspard Ulliel in a vertigo in the new Bleu De Chanel film". Vogue India. February 5, 2015.
  24. ^ "The Lost City of Z" Resuscitates Cinema's Classic Adventure Tale|The New Yorker
  25. ^ Lang, Brent (May 12, 2016). "Cannes: James Gray Making Sci-Fi Epic 'Ad Astra'". Variety. Variety Media, LLC. Retrieved June 24, 2017.
  26. ^ Pallotta, Frank (September 20, 2019). "'Ad Astra' could be the hit that 20th Century Fox desperately needs". CNN. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  27. ^ Ruimy, Jordan (October 18, 2022). "James Gray Finally Admits His Cut of 'Ad Astra' Was "Taken" From Him During The Edit". World of Reel. Retrieved February 3, 2023.
  28. ^ "Anthony Hopkins and Jeremy Strong Join 'Armageddon Time'". October 12, 2021. Retrieved January 15, 2022.
  29. ^ Davis, Edward (December 5, 2022). "James Gray Says He Turned Down 'Goodwill Hunting' & Explains Why He'd Be Interested In Doing A 'Batman' Film". ThePlaylist.net. Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  30. ^ Busch, Anita M. (June 2, 1997). "Gray in talks to helm Fox's Ames pic". Variety. Retrieved September 14, 2023.
  31. ^ Petrikin, Chris; Fleming, Michael (May 19, 1999). "Pitt, Aniston may be 'Waking Up in Reno'". Variety. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  32. ^ Lyons, Charles (September 18, 2000). "Gray's papal project". Variety. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  33. ^ "Ratner collecting his 'Paycheck'". Variety. Retrieved July 19, 2021.
  34. ^ Green, Willow (August 9, 2006). "James Gray Headed To Alphabet City". Empire. Retrieved September 6, 2023.
  35. ^ Dang, Simon (October 19, 2010). "James Gray Rewriting Charlie Hunnam's Dracula Actioner Script 'Vlad'". ThePlaylist.net. Retrieved September 14, 2023.
  36. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr (January 14, 2011). "James Gray To Direct 'The Gray Man'". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on April 20, 2021. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  37. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr (August 15, 2011). "Brad Pitt To Star In Regency's 'The Gray Man'". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on April 20, 2021. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  38. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (April 28, 2011). "Jeremy Renner Developing Steve McQueen Biopic As Star Vehicle, James Gray To Write The Script". ThePlaylist.net. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  39. ^ Perez, Rodrigo (October 9, 2013). "James Gray May Direct Jeremy Renner's Steve McQueen Biopic; Calls 'Lost City Of Z' Epic & Hallucinogenic". IndieWire. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  40. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (August 9, 2013). "Warner Bros Sets James Gray For Boston Crime Thriller 'White Devil'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 5, 2023.
  41. ^ "Canal Plus Bites Into 'Hard Apple' With James Gray (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. April 8, 2015. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  42. ^ "James Gray To Direct MGM's 'I Am Pilgrim' Spy Franchise From Terry Hayes Novel". Deadline Hollywood. April 16, 2018. Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  43. ^ Ford, Rebecca (November 22, 2022). "The Vulnerability of James Gray's Armageddon Time". Vanity Fair. Retrieved June 14, 2023.
  44. ^ "James Gray To Write & Direct Drama Series About Norman Mailer". Deadline Hollywood. April 4, 2022. Retrieved September 22, 2022.
  45. ^ Perez, Rodrigo (October 19, 2022). "James Gray Wants To Do An 'Armageddon Time' Sequel Focusing On Anne Hathway's Character". ThePlaylist.net. Retrieved February 3, 2023.
  46. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (October 28, 2022). "'Armageddon Time's James Gray To Direct Biopic Of Young John F Kennedy For MadRiver Pictures". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 2, 2023.
  47. ^ Chapman, Wilson (October 28, 2022). "James Gray to Direct John F. Kennedy Biopic". IndieWire. Retrieved February 2, 2023.
  48. ^ McNary, Dave (October 20, 2015). "JFK World War II Drama 'Mayday 109' in the Works". Variety. Retrieved October 29, 2023.
  49. ^ Franklin, Garth (December 21, 2023). "Bill Skarsgard To Play A Young JFK". Dark Horizons. Retrieved February 19, 2024.
  50. ^ Jones, Tamera (November 4, 2022). "'Armageddon Time' Director James Gray on Filming His Own Coming-of-Age Story and Being Honest With His Audience". Collider. Retrieved December 21, 2022.
  51. ^ Kroll, Justin (March 31, 2023). "James Gray to Direct 'Ezekiel Moss' For Focus Features". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 2, 2023.
  52. ^ Ruimy, Jordan (February 15, 2024). "James Gray to Direct Sci-Fi Movie 'Summer Frost,' With Zoe Saldana". World of Reel. Retrieved February 19, 2024.
  53. ^ Heller, Nathan (September 9, 2019). "James Gray's Journey from the Outer Boroughs to Outer Space". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  54. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (February 16, 2018). "Cinephile Trivia: James Gray Had His Role Cut From 'Love Jones'". ThePlaylist.net. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  55. ^ "'Hollywood's James Gray to direct first opera in Paris'". The Jakarta Post. March 26, 2019. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  56. ^ "Cannes: James Gray on 'The Immigrant,' Marion Cotillard and Returning to the Fest (Q&A)". The Hollywood Reporter. May 21, 2013. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  57. ^ Ruimy, Jordan (December 7, 2022). "S&S Directors' Individual Lists: Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Del Toro, Aster, Eggers, Safdie, Inarritu, Gray, Guadagnino, Bong, Mann … [Final Update]". World of Reel. Retrieved December 19, 2022.

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