From director Shawn Levy (Stranger Things, the Night at the Museum franchise), the adventure comedy Free Guy follows Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a bank teller who lives a simple existence of earnest positivity and optimism, until life as he knows it is turned upside down when the mysterious Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer) catches his eye. Upon learning that he is merely a background player in the ultra-violent, open-world video game Free City and that the woman of his dreams is actually a somewhat reserved video game designer named Millie, he is tested in a way that will force him to learn whether he has what it takes to become the hero of his own story.
During this roundtable interview with a handful of other entertainment outlets, co-stars Reynolds, who is also a producer on the film, and Comer talked about the films that served as inspiration for Free Guy, the privilege of making a blockbuster not related to an IP, a moment in their own lives that really changed their perspective on things, the thin line between reality and virtual reality, the numerous Easter eggs, and Comer’s admission about Grand Theft Auto.
Question: Ryan, you’ve mentioned that a lot of inspiration for this film came from Back to the Future and Elf, but is there also a little bit of The Truman Show in there too?
RYAN REYNOLDS: Yes, The Truman Show is a huge influence for me as well. The fish bowl idea is an integral part of the DNA of this movie. The Truman Show is as much a part of this movie as E.T. and Back to the Future, and all of that wish fulfillment, Amblin type of entertainment that came out in the ‘80s and ‘90s, which I was weaned on and I think is something that we don’t really have in cinema as much .Wish fulfillment is an important part of life. Wish fulfillment is such a huge of our DNA and our makeup. So, those elements were super important to me. The Truman Show really was a hallmark movie. In terms of it being next level and really taking an idea to a different place, I thought that did such a beautiful job.
Jodie, there’s clearly inspiration from Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider and The Mummy in this, when it comes to your character. How cool did you feel, playing her?
JODIE COMER: It’s probably the coolest I’m ever gonna be, to be honest. It’s definitely not how I navigate my own life. It was incredible because I learned a lot, in terms of the physicality of her. This was my first film, so to come in and also have to learn a lot of new, exciting skills, I really just wanted to throw myself into it and do everything I possibly could. It’s all in the editing. The edits made me look a lot cooler because they don’t show the scenes of me missing a mark. I’d never thrown a punch before in a movie.
REYNOLDS: Oh, really? You did it well.
COMER: Thank you.
Jodie, what was it like for you to work with Ryan Reynolds?
COMER: It was incredible. This is my first movie and the thought and prospect of it was incredibly intimidating to me. I’d wrapped on Season 2 of Killing Eve the day before I flew to New York to read with Ryan and Shawn. From the moment I got there, they just made me feel so comfortable and so relaxed. The audition, honestly, almost felt like a workshop. I immediately felt like they were rooting for me and that just continued throughout the whole process. They were incredibly nurturing. Ryan is a genius, especially in the sense of how fast his brain works and his comedic timing, so to be around that and watch it and learn from it is probably what I’ll take away from this experience the most.
REYNOLDS: When Jodie came in, one line out of her mouth and both Shawn and I were like, “That’s our girl. That’s the character. That’s everything we ever hoped for, and more.”
COMER: You made me wait two whole weeks. It was excruciating.
REYNOLDS: Trust me, that was not our decision. I’ve also done so many auditions when I was younger and know that they can be awful and actually kind of traumatic. You’re already dealing with this notion of rejection and evaluation, and proving what you’re worth. It’s a scary process. So, anytime that experience can be welcoming and calm, and you feel like you’ve won, right as you walk in the door, is important for actors of all ages.
After everything we’ve been through, there are finally blockbuster movies coming out again. How do you think audience tastes will change, after the pandemic?
COMER: Oh, I don’t know. What I think this film will provide is pure joy. I think everyone just wants to feel a sense of relief and relax and escape into something and enjoy it, and this film will do that. Ultimately, people wanna connect. We’ve been so separated. I think people, as they do now, look for authentic storytelling that makes them feel some kind of way. I just hope people enjoy it.
REYNOLDS: Me too. I just thought it was such a privilege to be able to do a blockbuster type of movie that’s an action-comedy-fantasy movie that was non IP. These days, everything is a sequel. Everything is based on a comic book. Everything is based on a character everyone already knows. So, to be a part of an experience in the cinema that is new and original was unthinkable, a few years ago. So, to be a part of that is pretty exciting.
Your characters in this movie have many revelations. Growing up, did you have a moment that impacted you and your life?
COMER: When I was 12 years old, I got left out of a talent show in school. My three friends were doing a number from Chicago, and I went on holiday and I got kicked out of the girl group. I wasn’t allowed to do the talent show. I’d recently won a local drama festival where I had performed a monologue, and I remember going to my mom in the hotel and I was sobbing, and my mom was like, “Well, do your monologue. Perform your monologue.” And I did. My drama teacher noticed from there, she sent me for an audition for a radio play, and I got an agent from that. If that moment wouldn’t have happened, I don’t know what would have happened.
REYNOLDS: You could be a longshoreman.
COMER: Exactly! So, I’m really happy that I got kicked out the girl group. I would say that moment for me is a big one.
REYNOLDS: When I was just a young pup entering Hollywood, I moved to California to join an improv comedy group called The Groundlings, and I learned a lot in that program, but I also ended up on a sitcom. I remember the Canadian part of me was really making sure everyone on the show had the spotlight. I would always step back and not really be as aggressive as I would be on an improv stage. And I remember the creator of the show, named Danny Jacobson, who was the guy that created Mad About You and a couple of other big shows. He’s a very, very smart guy, but he pulled me aside in the middle of the show with a live audience and said, “Ryan, take the fucking stage.” I said, “You’re freaking me out. What do you mean?” And he said, “Take the stage. Go out there and be aggressive and take the moment for yourself. It doesn’t mean that you’re saying anyone else is less than you or anyone else isn’t gonna get their turn. It’s okay to have a moment and take the stage.” That stuck with me. I really stopped apologizing for my work, at that moment. I started really just taking the stage and it actually helped everyone be better and stronger, and they in turn helped me be stronger. So, Danny Jacobson’s, “Take the stage,” changed my life, back when I was 19.
COMER: Now you own the stage.
REYNOLDS: Now, I’m just trying to give the stage back. I took it, but you can have it back now. I don’t want it.
Millie and Guy dream about changing the world around them and making things right. What do you find the most concerning in real life and how do you feel we could all contribute in our own way to create a better future?
COMER: For me, we can all get so concerned and wrapped up in our own problems, and the beautiful thing about the film and about Guy and what he instills in people is this sense of community and working together. So, if we all lifted our heads up off our phones once in awhile and looked at the people around us and what’s going on around us, it would be a lot better with teamwork.
REYNOLDS: I agree. I also think, having three small children, I worry about that idea of how we, as a society, are constantly looking at ourselves and I think it doesn’t breed curiosity as much. So, I worry a little bit about this idea that everything in life has become an evaluation, as opposed to an observation. It’s a little bit of a utopian thought, but I do hope that we can gently, one day, move a little bit more toward observation than just evaluating everything. I think it’s okay to just look at something and observe it, and not place a value on it.
How thin is the line today, between reality and virtual reality?
REYNOLDS: I think the line is getting blurrier and thinner, every single day. I’ve done some VR stuff and that stuff is crazy. It’s a whole different reality that’s getting closer and closer. I hope we don’t end up with goggles strapped to our face, all the live long day, and stop experiencing real human connection and nature, and all those kinds of things. I wouldn’t say we’re on a collision course to becoming the movie Wall-E yet, but I don’t know.
COMER: I would say it’s scarily thin. I’m intimidated by technology and how advanced it is. I imagine that the possibilities are endless.
In the film, Millie creates the ultra cool Molotovgirl to represent her. If you guys were playing Free City yourself, what character would each of you create to represent you?
REYNOLDS: Wow. The reason I did the movie was because I just so loved and related to Guy. I would probably create someone like my character because he’s just so curious. It was just so nice to play a character that felt a little like, if you dropped Elf into Grand Theft Auto, what would happen? I love that. I’m a curious person, so I really related to those aspects of the character, who was just so interested to learn about anyone and everyone from anywhere. I don’t know. That’s a boring answer, but I like Guy.
COMER: I preferred the NPCs and their way of life. Video games for me are quite stressful. Anything like Grand Theft Auto, I take way too seriously. I like to stop at the red lights. That’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever admitted to.
REYNOLDS: You’re the only person who plays Grand Theft Auto to be exactly the same as you are in real life.
COMER: I wanna be good.
What are you most excited about fans discovering, when they watch Free Guy?
REYNOLDS: For me, it’s the Easter eggs. There are so many Easter eggs in the movie and so many little hidden cameos. I love movies that acknowledge and play with the cultural landscape, and this does that in ways that are unexpected and expected. I just want audiences to fucking have fun. The movie is a fastball of joy, and that’s what I wish for people right now. I want people to have a couple hours of pure joy in their lives and leave a theater the same way I used to leave movie theaters, just grinning from ear to ear at the experience.
COMER: It’s an action comedy and everyone thinks, “Oh, I know what that’s gonna be,” but this film has an undertone and a message without forcing it down people’s throats. It’s not like, “This is what you should take from this movie.” You end up coming away from it actually really moved and feeling very connected. It relates to your own life, in ways that I don’t think you’ll expect. I think it will be nice to see people connect to it, in that way.
Free Guy is out in theaters on August 13th.
It’s like watching a train wreck.
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