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We had an interview with ‘Free Guy’ cast, and being the ‘Guy’ is apparently therapeutic to Ryan Reynolds

By Dan
Aug. 20, 2021 updated 02:42

Last weekend, Disney/ 20th Century Studios’ Free Guy topped the box office. This Shawn Levy-directed action comedy stars Ryan Reynolds, who played a guy named “Guy” and realizes that he has been a background character in a Grand Theft Auto-inspired online video game his whole life.


The original scriptwriter, Matt Lieberman, is a big gamer who plays a lot of GTA but would feel bad beating up NPCs. He came up with the first draft during this time when he felt stuck in his own life and felt like an NPC trapped in a pre-programmed loop.


There is this long-existing skepticism on video-game movie adaptations among the gamer community (though Free Guy is not an adaptation of any game in specific). When the trailer for Free Guy first came out, Zack Zwiezen shared on the gaming website Kotaku that he “like Ryan Reynolds a lot, but boy does this not look like a good film”. He also described the film as a “GTA-In-Real-Life videos with a bigger budget”. In fact, Shawn Levy himself did not fell in love with the screenplay when he first read it in 2016, or at least not until he found the exploration of self-awareness as the spine of the story.


As we can see now that Free Guy is released, it’s not a good video game movie, but a good movie that takes place in a video game. There are numerous Easter eggs that gamers can relate to and be excited about, but most importantly, it tells a good story.


We recently had a roundtable interview with the minds behind the movie. Shawn Levy, Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, and Joe Keery shared their memorable moments during the shooting process, the chemistry amongst the crew, the video game elements of the movie, and many other things. 


(The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)





What would you say is the key message of the film?


RR: The key message I think it's the movies is a little bit about agency and stepping out of the background, and groups of people who as we've seen over the last several years, if when groups of people unite for a common purpose, they can become agents of change. And, you know, I think everybody on earth is at one point or another, I don't care who you are, I felt like a background character in some sort of out of control, open-world and violent and brutal video game. So I think there's a lot of relatable scenes here. There are obviously Trojan horsing and smuggling these kinds of themes and morals into the story. But at the end of the day, we just wanted to make a big, fun, charismatic, action, comedy, romance film, that left people leaving the theater, walking on sunshine. People leaving the theater with a big smile on their faces. It was just the thing that was kind of missing over the last many years, with film going so that for us, that was the goal. I know, that's a lofty goal, but that was the goal.


Ryan, you were “the Guy” in The Croods and now you're “the Guy” in Free Guy. How does it feel to always be “the Guy”?


RR: Yeah, I guess I've had a couple of run-ins with guys. Weirdly, when I was younger, I remember I used to work at a fancy Yacht Club as I was a busboy. Basically, I was just the guy that was picking up dirty dishes and cleaning dishes and I did that job for a couple years. And I remember people would call me “guy” sometimes and it wasn't meant as a nice thing. It was like a generic sort of “Hey, guy, grab this for me and clean it up for me”, and it always stuck with me so now that I've played a couple of guys, it kind of healed that thing about the name “guy” and just have seen it as just a name. You know, that's all but it is a mildly generic name. And there's no accident that that's my name in the movie. It's also no accident that my main nemesis in the movie is named “Dude”, and my best friend is named “Buddy” - you know, that's sort of the design of the movie.


So Free Guy and Deadpool, essentially very different movies, but they do have humor in common (or be very different humor). Could you talk about what aspect of Free Guy you think Deadpool fans can enjoy? And the reason why?


RR: Well, I sort of feel like the two characters are not as disparate as people might imagine. Obviously Deadpool sort of filters everything through the mind of his a-12-year-old-boy filthy humor, sort of a mild cynicism, sort of looking for the easy way. But at the end of the day, Deadpool is actually quite innocent and childish, you know, he's like a child. And Guy and Free Guy is also a bit like a child and you can kind of walk into any situation and create a tremendously inappropriate moment. When you're coming in with that perspective. I mean, being naive and innocent, you can kind of... anything can happen. So I sort of see these two as a little bit closer, and having more in common than not. Even though Guy is very much a pacifist and kind of a hilarious victim throughout a big chunk of the movie until he finally takes the power back and decides to sort of fight back against all of these forces that have been torturing them for so long.


How fun was it to perform as Dude because I assume it was like, improvisation genius.


RR: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. And it was a lot of improvisation. And the idea that the most difficult scary person I have to fight in this movie is just a sort of an upgraded version of myself. I found that to be very funny. I love that dude is just nothing but teeth, tanning oil, you know, frosted tips in his hair and shirtlessness was pretty remarkable as well. The guy that plays the body of dude, he really is six foot seven and about 350 pounds of muscle. So he was just amazing to stare at all day, I just couldn't believe a human being comes in that size. I thought we only came in, you know, medium to large, not this other thing. And it was then most of the performance was captured afterwards where they mapped my face onto Dude's body. And that's where I got to improvise and play. But on the day, I would have Aaron Reed who was the Dude body, I would have him say and do all kinds of weird things that we later ended up using in the movie. It's one of my favorite parts of the film. I don't want to give away the spoilers around and how I defeat him. But the moment, seeing that moment with an audience in the theater was probably my top five moments I've ever had in a cinema where the audience jumps to their feet and gasps and can't believe it. Not just what we're doing in the scene, but also the incredible cameos that show up in that moment were pretty fun for me. It's a pretty special moment.


I love the film, especially in how honest it was in depicting the reality of first-person shooter games. The players are deep, depicted as people who are releasing their darker just a destructive perhaps their more immature urges. Where did this need for honesty come from? And are you concerned about people going “hey, you know, this is disrespectful?”


RR: No, I mean, I think any movement, like the gaming movement, has a certain degree of introspection, you know, that we went all-in with gamers when we were developing the movie, I mean, everything we did was in tandem with the gaming community and making sure that they signed off on how kind of authentic the experience was, how authentic what it was that we were putting on film was, you know, so those things were important to us, but also acknowledging the imperfection of the gaming community too - you know, I mean, there's so many aspects of the gaming community that I find inspiring. One is accessibility. You know, there are people who are unable to leave their homes in this world, and the gaming community is their source of connection to the community. There're so many beautiful aspects of it. And then there are other aspects of it that we talked about in the movie, there's misogyny, there are all kinds of things that, you know, go on in the gaming community that is a little, a little trickier to deal with, and we just felt like acknowledging that was part of the process. And so far, so many people in the gaming community have watched the film and, and they've really loved how honest the depiction was. Also at the end of the day, this isn't a movie about video games. It's not even a video game movie. You know, it's sort of like saying, the Titanic is a movie on how to drive a boat. It’s not - it's a movie about stepping out of the shadows. It's a movie about taking back the power and it's a movie about really coming into your own as a human being.





We have yet to see a very good movie adaptation of a video game. You worked on Minecraft and Uncharted and those projects did not come around. Can you share some thoughts on why it's so difficult and maybe just what you can achieve in Free Guy that is not possible otherwise?


SL: I flirted briefly with Minecraft and I got seriously involved in Uncharted for quite a while and then ultimately Free Guy became real first. And I think that the reason we were able to make something special with Free Guy is I was not handcuffed to any literal adaptation. When I was working on Uncharted for instance, I was able to develop the movie, but I was always very conscious that I must be faithful to the game, and to the expectations of the game. And with Free Guy, I had the added liberty of creating not only a movie, but I got to create a whole video game. So it gave me maximum freedom and less limitation.


You’ve made such a wide range of movies over the years. But what was it do you think that was made possible only through the collaboration with Ryan Reynolds?


SL: I do kind of feel Ryan and I have often said we feel like in a romantic comedy when two characters are destined to meet. And then they eventually meet and the music swells and they walk happily off into the sunset. I do feel like Ryan and I were waiting to meet. And I feel like what was possible with Ryan was a great actor and a great movie star but a true partner, but true producing partner where I could suggest ideas. And I wasn't worried if they were bad. If they were bad. It was okay. He could suggest things to me. And I could say “You know what? I don't love that idea. But what about this?” And I think that Ryan and I had this chemistry, where we would encourage each other to build on each other's ideas. And it was very successful, because with Free Guy, we wanted a movie that was cool. We wanted a movie with big cinematic spectacle. But we also really wanted a movie with humanity. And we had a shared vision of the tone of the movie.


You have directed Real Steel and Night at the Museum. Have you ever thought about making a sequel for this movie? Or Free Guy 2?


SL: Is your question Have I thought about making a sequel to Free Guy or Real Steel or both? (Both. All of them.) Well, I find it's very fun to create a new original story. And it's really fun when something new penetrates the culture. It happened to me with Night at the Museum. It happened to me with the Duffer brothers on Stranger Things. And with Real Steel, we didn't make a sequel. But it's something that continues to be tempting to me. So possibly in the future, even though it's been 10 years. People still love Real Steel like it came out yesterday. And that is very meaningful to Hugh Jackman and me. With Free Guy, I love this movie, I love this collaboration, it's very rare to make an original big-budget blockbuster, not a sequel, not a franchise. And if enough audiences around the world go to Free Guy, and we have success, it's definitely a sequel I would consider making, because I have a lot of ideas of other adventures for this unlikely hero.


As you have said, the movie Free Guy is not based on any pre-existing IP, or franchises, but are there any particular video games or video game characters that you really like? And somehow influenced you and put those elements into this movie? Or not just video games, but any kind of movie/work that (inspired you)?


SL: Well, the original screenplay was already very inspired by Grand Theft Auto. So you can see that the world of free city is very inspired by GTA. And that was always in the original screenplay by Matt Lieberman. When I started developing the movie, some Fortnite influences came into the movie. And as you see many different vehicles and weapons from other famous video games end up in Free Guy. But the other big influence was the tradition of an innocent hero, an optimistic childlike hero in a cynical world. So we talked about Tom Hanks in Big, we talked about Will Ferrell in Elf, we talked about Peter Sellers in Being There. And this tradition of the manchild, whose greatest power is his optimism.


There are some massive easter eggs throughout the movie. So how fun was it for you? Because as an audience itself, it was so much fun trying to decipher the Easter eggs. So how fun was it for you as a filmmaker to add all of these small Easter eggs here and there?


SL: I would say there are two categories of Easter eggs in Free Guy. There are many small subtle Easter eggs that you might notice, you might not notice, but you'll definitely find more and more if you watch the movie a second time or third time. Those Easter eggs were very fun to place in the background. And Ryan with Deadpool, he really has come to believe that Easter eggs are important. Easter eggs that are subtle, and that social media tells other audience members "Oh, did you notice that?" "Oh, you should look for that." Ryan really believes in Easter eggs and it was very fun to imagine and place them. Then there is another category, which are mega Easter eggs that are not hidden that are very loud, big, famous. And we won't ruin any on this interview. But as you all know, there are several huge iconic surprises in the final battle of the movie, and to get to use those iconic weapons in a movie, and then to experience the surprise when that scene plays for an audience. That was one of my biggest thrills of making Free Guy.


Now you're working with a cast of really funny people. Lil Rel Howery, Taika Waititi, and Ryan Reynolds. How do you control that chaotic energy and what are some of the best moments? You remember from working with such comic geniuses.


SL: Well I had many experiences early in my career with very brilliant comedic geniuses, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Ben Stiller, Steve Coogan, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, etc. And so early in my career, I developed a philosophy that I don't want my actors to be props. I want my actors to be partners. I want my actors to be collaborators. So I invite collaboration, and I invite improvisation. As far as a favorite moment. I think maybe there's a scene where I wrote some dialogue for Taika Waititi, to talk about sequels and IP. And he's very disrespectful about the value of original storytelling. And yet Free Guy is an original movie. It's a big and rare original movie. And Taika started improvising about the value of sequels. And he came up with this very bizarre monologue about Kentucky Fried Chicken and Albuquerque Boiled Turkey. And it was so unexpected. It was so weird. But that is the genius of a mind like Taika - it's weird, but it's inspired. And I'm thrilled to have it be a part of our movie.


During the making of this movie, was there anything you tried for the first time or the kind of feature that is so specific to this movie that you haven't tried before?


SL: That is a great question. Thank you. And yes, in this movie I wanted the first time the guy puts on the glasses, and he sees the video game world. I wanted the camera to move the way it moves uniquely in a video game. So we brought a robotic arm to the set. And we pre-programmed the robot arm to move in fast robotic fluid ways like a video game. And we programmed the camera on the robot to move all around Ryan Reynolds. And we literally had to draw a square on the sidewalk. And we told Ryan you must stay in the square because the robot will not adjust. And if it hits you, you will get knocked out. So Ryan had to perform that scene looking around inside the box that we had made on the sidewalk. And I've never used a robotic arm to operate a camera move.


If you can bring one superhero to free city, who will you pick?


SL: I am a big fan of Spidey. And I hate to say it, but I know this will sound like I'm sucking up to Ryan Reynolds. But I really loved Deadpool. And I think that the innocence of Guy and the cynicism of Deadpool would make a very funny contrast. So maybe someday I could do a mash-up of Guy versus Deadpool. That would be really fun. Okay, this sounds so interesting. Thank you.


As you've mentioned before in this interview, is that creating the world of Free Guy, you enjoy more freedom in the process, other than working on other franchises, but I would like to know is there any obstacles or difficulties while making a completely original movie, given that the environments of the industry of Hollywood right now - seems like everything is based on something, so it gives you more chances to sell the story.


SL: Well, I think as you say, because it's more and more rare for studios to make big-budget original movies, you need to convince them that it will be an opportunity, you need to convince them that audiences still want something new, something surprising. So I think the obstacle is, you need not only a big, high concept, but you need the people involved to be people that the studio will trust with their money. So that includes me, because I've made movies and make the studio money. Me plus, Ryan, there was a combination that gave the studio confidence that we would be trustworthy. And we wanted to make a movie that wasn't just original to be cool, but that we wanted to make a movie that would be built for audience delight, that we wanted to make a movie that had spectacle and action, but also just joy, audience joy to be experienced on a big screen. And so we worked very hard to give the studio trust and confidence that we could deliver that. And I'm very pleased that the reactions to Free Guy have shown that we achieved what we promised we would. Thank you.





I feel like Ryan Reynolds’ whole personality has this kind of really cheeky, kind of constantly joking personality. Is that the real Ryan when you're on set? And is that really hard to then keep a straight face?


JC: Yeah, for sure. What I love about Ryan is what you see is definitely what you got. I also had the kind of same question before meeting him of going, is he really that nice? He just seems pretty perfect. And, and he's honestly lovely. And I was fortunate enough to have a lot of scenes with him. And so just kind of getting to watch how he works and kind of witnessed the speed in which his brain works. And was really, really incredible. So yeah, I was spending the majority of the film, trying not to laugh. I think me and Joe Keery actually we're in the same boat in that sense. We were kind of just look around at everyone, you know, even Taika and just, just try not to laugh, basically.


So all major characters in this movie have very generic names like Guy or Buddy, but you have a very cool-name character called Molotov Girl. How do you feel like having the cool character to get?


JC: Of course, I mean, I'm not very cool. In my own life, I'm not very agile - my coordination is not the best. And so there is also a kind of pressure that comes with playing the cool character, which I probably put on myself more than anyone else. I remember when we were coming to the scenes where I had to, like, when Guy spots Molotov for the first time. And he's like, “that's my dream girl”. And I had to do this slow motion. Well, I wasn't doing slow motion, I had to walk across the road, which I knew was going to be put in slow motion. And just this idea of there being a camera behind me, watching me do this walk was making me cringe so hard. But Shawn would always bless Beyonce, whenever I had those moments, he would get a speaker on set and he would put Beyonce on for me, which actually really helped. And so yeah, it was nice to lean into that, to really especially with the physicality and work very closely with the stunt department It was a challenge but it was it definitely made it more kind of fulfilling really


So little bit more about this very mysterious and cool character, Molotov Girl. You said, the music of Beyonce might have helped. Just wondering, in order to portray this persona, did you use any sort of actress or character as a reference at all?


JC: You know what - I didn't. And it's funny because I don't feel like I ever really do. And I know some actors and actresses do, you know, they'll have a point of reference, but it's just not how I kind of approach my characters and purely because I think then I will be kind of setting a bar for myself and I feel like I'd be having to kind of imitate something or... No, I didn't. I didn't actually.


If you can bring one person to free city, who will you pick?


JC: My mom. I've got to bring my mom. My mom goes everywhere. I couldn't go anywhere without my mom. Although I don't think she would like it to be fair. I think she would probably say, you know, I'll sit this one out. You can take someone else. It's probably what she'll say.


I would like to ask you that you sang a song in the movie. You said it's Ryan's idea. How do you feel about this?


JC: So a couple of months after we'd finished filming, I got a text from Ryan. And he was like, "Hi Judy, would you be up for singing a version of fantasy for the film?" And I was like, um, so I obviously went into my bathroom, got my voice recorder out on my mobile phone, and tested my skills out. And I was like “maybe I could!” And I sent him the recording, just to make sure that everyone was on the same page of that they knew where my level was at. And then a couple of months later, I think I was in LA for something. And we went to Capitol Records, which is like, you know, that like the Beatles have recorded there, the Rolling Stones recorded there. And then there was me! And so it was great to see it in the film, because it's such a beautiful moment that the song is featured in, you know, it's quite an emotional part of the film. And I think the way they've composed that, it is fun to see, but it sounds like such a totally different song. And plus the so many Easter eggs in the film, I was kind of happy to be one of them.


There are lots of action and romances scenes in Free Guy. In your opinion what were the hardest scenes to film or to act in Free Guy? Thank you


JC: Oh definitely the action. I think with romance, it's something we all experience in our day to day - whether you have a love for someone or we all have those feelings kind of stored in us as our own experiences, so they're easy to draw from. Whereas action is not something that I do in my day to day. I'll do an hour's exercise at a Porsche. When I first went to Boston, I spent like up to three hours a day with the stunt department, and for a good few weeks, and it was a lot, just realizing that you have to learn your dialogue, and you have to nail all that kind of stuff. But then you also have this other huge responsibility, and it's quite tiresome, but I really wanted to do it, I really wanted to do as much as I could. I had an incredible stunt double called Haley Wright, who did you know, the kind of the flips, I would do the jump in the air, she would do the actual flip. And then I would do the landing - that was how that relationship worked. So I would definitely say the action was trickier.





Joe, are you a gamer yourself? And what kind of game do you enjoy? Have you ever tried to sneak in some of your own gamer jokes or experiences into the movie during the shooting?


JK: Of course. Thank you. The onset gaming expert was Ambudkar, you know, he plays Mouser - amazing guy, a great actor. He's great in this movie. He definitely games more than I do. He plays Fortnite a lot. And I think he plays also Call of Duty a little bit. I mean, I've played video games - I've played Halo and Call of Duty. I don't spend a lot of time doing that. I grew up playing Pokemon and 64 and stuff like that. But it's not necessarily my forte. So I would defer all gaming jokes to Utkarsh because he had better gaming jokes.


What do you like the most about this movie? And what picture is that in this project?


JK: Well, I first got this audition, I didn't really know what the whole movie was about. I just got the sides for the character and was pretty intrigued by it. But then after I went through the auditions and booked the part, I got a chance to read the script. And what I really responded to is that it's this popcorn action thriller. Or sorry, not an action thriller, action... comedy. But it's just at its core. It's this existential crisis movie with this character discovering that he's not real. And I just thought that was such a really deep core to such a fun movie. And obviously, working with the cast and Shawn, I was very much looking forward to doing that. So yeah, I feel very lucky to have been cast in this movie.


You have been working with Shawn Levy for a very long time on Stranger Things - how does it feel different? The workflow, the methodology, and the dynamic between you guys?


JK: Sure. Great question. Um, so on Stranger Things, I was first introduced to him and he's being one of the producers in the project. And he directs two episodes each season so to be honest, his workflow as a director is actually quite similar. But it's a workflow that I really enjoy. He's a great blend of efficiency and creativity. And I just think that comes from working in the business for such a long time and kind of just understanding everything that's going on. But he is an actor's director. His primary concern, obviously, besides the entire story is just his attention to details with the characters. You know, he really wants to make sure that what these characters are doing feels justified. So, yeah, he's an advocate for the actor. I have nothing but positivity for Shawn. He's such a role model. And he is just an amazing person. So it's been a pleasure to work with him again.


I'm actually curious to know, since you've got so much time to play with your character, would you like there to be like a prequel spinoff where we come to know of how free city came about?


JK: Yeah, that's a really funny idea. No one's asked me that question. But I think there's a great story there. I mean, when I got the script, there was this whole built in backstory of Keys, Mille, developing this game together selling it to Soonami and Antwan buys it. But then he shelves the game, you know what I mean? And he does all this. And then their relationship falls apart? I mean, I think it was so helpful when I was working with Sean in developing what we're going to do for the character, so helpful to have all that stuff sort of ironed out so that I could just kind of go from there. Yeah, I think that's a really cool idea.


The next question is about your co-star, Ryan Reynolds - the movie feels like a Canadian version of Deadpool - is that actually his personality?


JK: I mean, he's that funny in real life, that's for sure. I don't think I've ever met a sharper, more witty guy. He's really good. He's really fun to do press with because he's always cracking jokes. And it's hard to keep it together. So that's really fun. I mean, he's definitely different than Guy – he’s not as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and unaware of the world. But I do think that there's something about his charisma and he brought this really beautiful innocence to the role. I just can't imagine anyone else doing that part. And grounding the whole movie, he is really the center. And the heart of the movie. So yeah, it was really amazing watching him work, just being a fan of his and then meeting him, and then going to set. There were definitely moments where we were working and we were in a scene and I just would have to remind myself, I'm not watching him right now. We're working together. So yeah. couple moments like that.


Can you share with us what was the most memorable moment during the shooting process?


JK: There's a lot of really fun days on set. I definitely will always remember that cop outfit - wearing that really tight cop outfit. And shooting that Uzi at Ryan. That was like, how am I? How did I get here? That was really fun. The list goes on. Really, the list goes on.


We know the movie has been delayed for a while. And how has the pandemic affected your life?


JK: It’s been a crazy year for everybody. I think everybody's been pretty rocked by everything that's been going on, which is pretty sad. Really. It's nice that we've made some progress. And we've made some strides towards keeping more people safe. But yeah, it's always hard to really fathom the damage that it's really done. So it's, it's been... Yeah, I can't really complain. I mean, I've been able to be safe, and I haven't gone sick. I just hope people see this movie, but I really also hope that people stay safe. And you know, your health is what's most important.


What's your favorite character in this movie? And why is it?


JK: That's a hard question. Yeah, can't pick - too tough. I pretty much got to work with everyone, the only person I didn't really get to work with who I really wish I had, was, Rel, who is so good in this movie, and he's just like something when I read the script, I didn't realize how the Buddy and Guy relationship is really this like emotional core to the movie. And this kind of beautiful, innocent love for each other. So yeah, I mean, I'd love to work with him at some point on something else, because I just think he's so great, and a great person.