FREE GUY FILM: ‘We wanted to make a movie that was for everyone’
Image: PA Media / Alan Markfield
Free Guy sees bank teller Guy (Reynolds) discover he is actually a background player in the ultra-violent, open-world video game Free City. It is an original story based on new ideas. “It’s so rare that a studio lets you make a big-budget new movie,” notes director Shawn Levy, 53.
When he and leading man Reynolds described Free Guy, a studio executive was confused by how it wasn’t based on a pre-existing story, or wasn’t a sequel. The Canadian filmmaker reveals the conversation inspired a scene in the film where Taika Waititi’s character Antwan – the head honcho of the gaming studio – “gives a speech where he essentially makes fun of the idea of originality, and he champions the idea of sequels”.
Making an entirely new film is “very challenging” though, as Vancouver-born Reynolds, 44, explains. “You get the script to a place that you feel like it’s perfect, or it’s great, and then you have to make it 30% better somehow because you don’t have any ability to rely on a pre-existing knowledge or fan base. So you really have to go out there and prove it the old-fashioned way.”
It still feels nerve-racking, even when the film is done and entering the world, he adds. But what they’ve come up with is a fun and vivid feature that’s action-packed.
We learn the incredibly popular game Free City is distributed by Soonami Studios, which is run by the greedy mogul Antwan. Coming to terms with the idea that the life he has been living is a lie, cheerful optimist Guy must navigate players committing unprovoked acts of hostility and vandalism. But luckily, he has Molotovgirl – Millie in the real world – by his side.
Idealist Guy starts to write his own story and becomes more and more popular with players and the other NPC’s (non-playable characters). But Antwan fears this threatens the success of Free City and its sequel, Free City: Carnage. Soon enough, Guy is at risk of being permanently removed from the game…
Reynolds is keen to point out that he doesn’t see Free Guy as “a video game movie”.
“It’s like saying Titanic is a movie about boatmanship,” quips the witty star, who’s known for films like Deadpool, The Proposal, and Van Wilder. “It’s not; it’s a movie about so much more. But I loved the narrow target we had to hit, to create a world that felt so authentic to gamers and then still smuggle this other story into it.”
Levy, whose films include the Night At The Museum trilogy, echoes this, revealing that neither he nor Reynolds are “hardcore gamers”. “We wanted to make a movie that was for everyone, a movie about romance and optimism. And so what I tried to do is to use gaming verbiage and accuracy, but to do it at the bare minimum.”
With cinemas shut thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, the film’s release was delayed a couple of times.
Asked why it was so important for the film to be watched on the big screen, Levy – who also directs Netflix series Stranger Things – says: “Every filmmaker wants the stories they tell to be seen as loud and as big as possible. We live in a brave new streaming world, and I very much have some feet in that world as well, but Free Guy was made with one goal in mind, which is collective delight. That is an experience that you can feel on your couch at home, but it feels really different among other humans in the dark.
“We live in wildly unpredictable and unknown times, and it shifts every day, and how we spend our time and live our lives is a very individual decision, as it should be. But we tried to make a big new original movie with spectacle and scope and big heart, and those things are really experienced most on that big canvas and big screen.”
One poignant element of the film is that it follows a female gamer who has had to fight and become resilient in a heavily male-dominated industry – similar to her own industry, suggests Comer.
We learn Millie has a personal agenda against Soonami; she and her friend, Soonami programmer Keys (Stranger Things star Joe Keery) sold a game to the company, and she has a theory that Antwan stole the codes from it for himself.
What Comer loved about Millie was that “she was the hero of her own story”. “She’s the one who ultimately gets herself out of it and fights for what she believes and gets the results that she sets out to do.”
It’s also a physical role, and the number of stunts in the film was difficult. “It’s very much a dance,” she says of working with the stunt team. “It’s all based on choreography, and they were so incredibly patient and just going over it and over and over it, to a point where I felt confident enough to do it.
“There’s one particular sequence within the film which took like four or five days to film, and I was so determined to do as much as I possibly could. And I did – but I also had an incredible stunt double called Hayley Wright, who did all the really cool stuff.”
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