NYCC: The cast & director of Free Guy discuss the hilarious video game film
Coming Soon got the opportunity to chat with director Shawn Levy and stars Lil Rel Howery, Jodie Comer, and Joe Keery about their upcoming sci-fi action comedy Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds as a background video game character who learns his game is soon going offline.
Levy, who vacated the director’s chair for the long-in-development Uncharted movie, directed Free Guy from a script by Matt Lieberman written way back in 2016. The 51-year-old director was originally best known for his work on more family-friendly fare in his early years, helming the hits Big Fat Liar, The Pink Panther, Real Steel and the Night at the Museum franchise before looking to venture into different material with the smash success Netflix series, Stranger Things.
“I wanted to be more diverse in the stories I told, and I got successful at family high-concept comedies,” Levy said. “This is not a family thing, so that’s one big distinction. This is very much on the edge of PG-13, it’s what I would call an edgy PG-13…it is way, way, way, way more ambitious in scale and action than anything I’ve directed, like more than Real Steel and more than any Night at the Museums and I loved that challenge.”
In shooting for this edgy PG-13 rating, Levy definitely let the improv-happy Reynolds go off on the rails on occasion, but surprisingly he didn’t have to reign in the Deadpool actor too much as he agreed with the rating for the film.
“Ryan from the get-go wanted this to be PG-13,” Levy said. “Obviously he’s locked down the R audience with Deadpool, but he has several children, all of whom are too young to watch this movie. Ryan would often improvise and usually, he would self-censor and would self PG-13 it up. But every once in awhile, he’d give me something a little more edgy that makes me laugh in the edit room, but I couldn’t possibly use it.”
With the film exploring a virtual world through the eyes of the characters living in it, comparisons have been drawn to The Matrix, Wreck-It Ralph and Ready Player One, but those involved do believe the film will stand on its own away from the others.
“For one thing, this movie is a comedy,” Levy said. “But those are, in many ways, dystopian portraits of a near future. Our movie is this world right now with absurdist and funny-ass humor. Above all, the game world is not VR-rendered the way it is in Ready Player One and it’s not bleak or hyper, hyper, hyper-stylized the way it is in The Matrix. So it’s in many ways more accessible emotionally because as everyone saw today, Ryan plays it very real and the world is portrayed as real.”
“You know something, it’s taking that Grand Theft Auto-y crazy violent world, where most gamers play it to get away from this part of the world or do crazy stuff,” Howard said. “So to have these video game characters normalize the games and like how crazy this is is going to blow y’all minds. That’s [the] heart in this.”
In the vein of hits such as Wreck-It-Ralph, Free Guy will follow Guy, a lonely bank teller who discovers he is actually a background character in an open-world video game entitled Free City and works to prevent the makers of the game from shutting it down with the help of an avatar.
In addition to Reynolds, the cast also includes Killing Eve‘s Comer, Get Out‘s Howery, Stranger Things‘ Keery, Thor: Ragnarok‘s Taika Waititi and Blindspotting‘s Utkarsh Ambudkar. The film acts as a reunion for Reynolds and Waititi, who previously shared the screen in the superhero film we all want to forget, 2011’s Green Lantern.
Given the film’s video game setting, many of the actors had to dive into a console to do some research and prepare themselves for the world they were diving in to.
“I did a bit of homework, they gave me a PS4, I played a few games, but I take things very literally, so Grand Theft Auto is a really stressful couple of minutes for me,” Comer said. “I don’t know why I take it too seriously because I know people play these games to wind down and tune out, but yeah, I find them quite difficult.”
“When I was a kid, I was [a gamer],” Keery said. “I played a lot of Zelda and I played that game Civilization occasionally on plane rides. [For this film] I honestly just played a whole lot of games is what I ended up doing. I played so much Oblivion.”
While doing her gaming research, Comer also learned about many of the issues the industry faces with its equality for female gamers and video game developers.
“Yes, I [read about that], and that is changing, there are more females,” Comer said. “This is a whole realm of the world that I did not know existed and I think that was probably my most fascinating. I think what’s so lovely about Millie is that you also see her experience in [this inequality]. Finding her own feet and ground to walk on, which is so lovely and empowering. I think you see in the relationship of her and Antwan and how she’s kind of had the power taken away from her.”
In addition to Reynolds and Waititi, the film also marks a reunion between Levy and Keery after working together on Stranger Things, with the latter praising his time working with the director on the film.
“I think a lot of the things that I enjoy about Shawn carried over to this project,” Keery said. “He comes in so prepared and has such a plan for how he wants things to go but will throw it out the window if it doesn’t work. He has no ego on set and he’s so efficient as well. I feel like there’s this really important blend of being able to be creative and collaborative, but also being able to be efficient, and he rides that line so well. Him and Ryan just really set an amazing tone on set where everyone was encouraged to collaborate…it was just an extremely rewarding job.”
In addition to the fun the cast had working with each other and Levy, many praised their time on the film for the things they got to do for the first time in their career.
“[I got to] shoot a gun, it’s crazy,” Keery said. “There are some crazy visual effects that are in this movie. So being a part of that and, you know, the size of this project is huge. It’s bigger than anything that I’ve ever been a part of.”
“Oh god, like flip off wires and all the green screen, I’d never done before,” Comer said. “I actually completely underestimated the kind of concentration and skill that goes into trying to create truthful, authentic moments when you’re in a green box.”
Free Guy will be produced by Reynolds, Levy, Sarah Schecter, and Greg Berlanti and is written by Matt Lieberman, who is currently working on the upcoming animated reboot of The Addams Family, an in-development animated Scooby-Doo film and a remake of the 1986 hit Short Circuit.
The film is set to hit theaters on July 3, 2020, by Fox and Disney.
(Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for ReedPOP)