From entering what is arguably the biggest franchise in pop culture history (Marvel Cinematic Universe, for those who are wondering) to starring in a wholly original movie with no dedicated fan base already in place can be a pretty huge leap, and Ryan Reynolds is doing just that with his new big sceen movie, ‘Free Guy’.
“It’s hard to make a new movie,” said Reynolds in a virtual press conference. “It’s hard to make something that isn’t based on some pre-existing IP [intellectual property], a comic book, a sequel. It’s very challenging. So you really have to kind of go out there and prove it the old-fashioned way.”
Director Shawn Levy, who helmed the ‘Night at the Museum’ franchise and is the producer extraordinaire behind the hit Netflix series ‘Stranger Things’, agreed. “It’s so rare that a studio lets you make a big-budget new movie,” he said.
HOW IT BEGAN
It was the summer of 2018 and Levy was contemplating his next project when he received a text message from Reynolds. “It was a text message that said, ‘Hey, what are you doing next spring? I think I’ve got something for us.’ I still have the text on my phone,” Levy said. “So I read Matt Lieberman’s script for ‘Free Guy’ and met with Ryan the next day, and knew it was that perfect combination of a big idea, an actor I admired and wanted to work with and a real opportunity for singularity, originality and fun.”
Reynolds chimed in, “It is rare that you get a script or find a character who has such a clearly defined arc, and I loved that about this.”
“Shawn and I had wanted to work together for years. I have been a fan of his for a long time, not just as an artist, but as a person,” added the actor. “I think he saw the same things in the story that I did. I miss wish fulfilment storytelling, and this really got me thinking about that, and I think it got Shawn in a similar way, too.”
Guy (Reynolds) is a bank teller at Free City Bank who lives a simple existence. He exudes positivity and cheerful optimism and is always up for a good cup of coffee. Like his best friend, Buddy (‘Get Out’ actor Lil Rel Howery), he has a zest for life but all that changes when Guy discovers he is actually a background player/NPC (non-player character) in the ultra-violent, open-world video game ‘Free City’.
Distributed by Soonami Studios, run by the greedy mogul Antwan (filmmaker Taika Waititi), ‘Free City’ is a wildly popular game where chaos and devastation reign. Players level-up by committing unprovoked acts of hostility and vandalism. Guy meets and is immediately smitten with the Molotovgirl (‘Killing Eve’ star Jodie Comer), who helps him navigate the game and come to terms with the fact that the only life he has known is not real. Molotovgirl, whose name in the real world is Millie, has a bone to pick with Soonami, as she believes Antwan took the codes from a game she and her friend, Soonami programmer Keys (Joe Keery), sold the company.
THE VIDEO GAME CONCEIT
Director Levy insists that ‘Free Guy’ though based in video game culture requires no actual literacy in that world. “This movie was about threading the needle between wanting to represent the gaming world correctly and accurately. And for that I spoke with a lot of game publishers, coders, game designers, and played and watched a lot of games in pre-production. So, getting that right was really important. But it was also important to make a movie that required no gaming fluency from a viewer who wasn’t a gamer. And just wanting to make a movie that was warm and funny and romantic and enjoyable as both,” said Levy.
A NEW KIND OF HERO
For Reynolds, most famous now for his role playing the Marvel anti-hero Deadpool, playing Guy was a whole new experience. Where Deadpool is an in-your-face, prone-to-expletives, violent and self-confident character, Guy is all innocence and hope and naivete.
“It’s just slightly new for me,” said Reynolds. “I like that Guy is, you know... there’s a movie that I love called ‘Being There’ starring Peter Sellers. And that was the first kind of foothold I had into this character and this world. And there’s something really wonderful about playing a character who’s kind of naive and innocent, and really like, and I mean, it’s even said in the movie, he’s kind of like a four-year-old adult.”
For context, in ‘Being There’, Sellers plays a simple gardener named Chance who has spent all his life in the house of an old man. When the man dies, Chance is put out on the street with no knowledge except what he has learnt from television.
“I think there’s something really fun about exploring everything with new eyes, which is what this character [Guy] gets to do, and filtering that through the prism of comedy and occasionally cynicism,” said Reynolds.
A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP
A central part of the film is the wholesome friendship between Reynolds’ Guy and Lil Rel Howery’s Buddy.
“I think Rel and I and our respective characters live at this intersection of a little bit on the page and a little bit in the moment,” said Reynolds.
“But I think that’s kind of the case for every single person on the cast. Everybody is very adaptive, very good at adding and creating and building and three-dimensionalizing theircharacters and their work. And Rel and I just immediately, from the moment we met, kind of clicked. I was a huge fan of his and I think we can all say he was a huge fan of Taika. [Laughs.] So, it was great to get out there and mess around and play and sort of form that bond and put it up on the big screen.”
Howery didn’t skip a beat. “I mean, for me, it’s weird because Ryan Reynolds has been my friend in my head for a very long time [Laughs.]. And to this day, I still don’t think he believes me. Like, nah, I’m a legit fan. Like, when he started winning everything for ‘Deadpool’, I was calling people like, ‘I told y’all. I told you Ryan Reynolds was a superstar’. Nah, but I’ve been such a huge fan. I don’t get nervous about meeting everybody. But I was really nervous that first day. ‘Cause I was like, you know, it’s weird. I’ve watched ‘Definitely, Maybe’ maybe twice a month. I still do. It is what it is. One of my favourite movies. [Laughs.]”
“It’s one of those fun things I think I love about this business is when you just get the chance to work with people you look up to. And not just as an actor, but just as a fan. And it was just surreal.”
British actress Jodie Comer, most famous for her turn as the assassin/spy in TV series 'Killing Eve', takes on the dual roles of Millie and Molotovgirl. Millie is a beautiful, brilliant and somewhat reserved video game designer and programmer who comes into Guy’s life. In the video game ‘Free City’, she is a mysterious British biker chick in knee-high leather boots who goes by the name Molotovgirl, who helps Guy change the course of his destiny.
Comer says she was thrilled by the opportunity to work with Levy and Reynolds. “Ryan is one of the funniest people on earth, and knowing I would mostly be doing scenes with him, working as his partner, was terrifying,” said Comer. “Also, just the challenge that it would be for me, the size and scale of the production, and the duality of playing two characters… but it’s these kinds of challenges that push me forward.”
Did you know?
Actor Utkarsh Ambudkar, who plays Mouser in 'Free Guy', had this to say about Easter Eggs in the movie: “It turns out that Ryan Reynolds has a lot of really famous friends. And he got a lot of them to be in this movie. The whole third act for somebody who grew up with ‘Star Wars’, Marvel, video games is — it’s jump out of your seat, scream with joy. It’s so much fun. There’s so much cool stuff. It’s just like, for all of the people out there like me, I see you and we’re being seen by this film. And it is very fun.”
Director Shawn Levy: “This cast come to life in a movie that feels in some ways like an antidote to much of what we’ve been living through, in that the movie is about hopefulness and the preservation of some innocence in the midst of a very cynical world. And championing that hopefulness and that optimism. So, I’m excited to finally share it with the world.”
Don’t miss it!
‘Free Guy’ releases in UAE cinemas on August 12.