Why Ryan Reynolds is ready for a new direction with 'Free Guy': 'My default is pure trash'

The actor, who shows off an unusually wholesome side in his latest big-screen adventure, explains why the new release isn't a classic video game movie

Ryan Reynolds plays Guy, a background character in a video game, in 'Free Guy'. 20th Century Studios
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Ryan Reynolds is taking a new direction in his latest role as Guy, the unassuming, wholesome bank clerk at the centre of Free Guy.

We're most used to seeing the Canadian actor, 44, as the titular Marvel star Deadpool, but Guy couldn't be farther from the wisecracking, foul-mouthed antihero, or indeed many of Reynolds's other typically high-action, high-comedy outings.

Guy is the definition of mundane. Every day he gets up, says hello to his goldfish, grabs a coffee and heads cheerfully into work. The bank then gets held up several times a day in an armed robbery, before Guy returns home in various states of injury. And yet, he's always fine for work again the next morning when he says hello to his goldfish.

Guy, you see, is a non-player character in a massive Grand Theft Auto-style computer game world. He and his fellow bank employees are merely pieces of artificial human furniture decorating the world in which the humans playing the game try to outdo each other in shoot-outs and robbery tactics.

After a chance encounter with a human-controlled character called Molotov Girl, Guy begins to understand his own predicament and, as he becomes more sentient, his artificial life becomes evermore confusing.

Reynolds relished the chance to offer audiences something new from his acting armoury. “My default is just pure trash on the inside, so there's something really wonderful about playing a character who's kind of naive and innocent,” he tells The National.

“It's even said in the movie that he's like a four-year-old adult, and there's something really fun about exploring everything with new eyes, which is what this character gets to do. I love playing a character who is sort of stepping out of the background into this kind of new person.”

It's hard to make a new movie that isn't based on some pre-existing comic book or a sequel
Ryan Reynolds

Reynolds's co-star, New Zealander Taika Waititi, is also stepping on new ground in Free Guy.

Although Waititi's films, as a director and an actor, frequently have a darkly comic subtext, the characters he plays tend to be undeniably loveable – even his version of Adolf Hitler in the Oscar-winning JoJo Rabbit was strangely amiable.

In the shape of Free Guy's Antwan, the programmer who stole the code to create the world in which our hero exists, Waititi plays an unquestionable baddie and he, too, says he enjoyed the change of gear.

“I honestly didn't really know what to expect or what I was doing,” he says. “[Director] Shawn [Levy] described the character and that appealed to me because I feel like my characters are usually quite nice. I just play versions of my mum in all my characters. We had one phone call and he said, 'I think you can do it.' I thought he might be trying to topple his career or something.”

The refreshing new sides shown by the film's leads aren't the only breath of fresh air that Free Guy brings. It is also one of an increasingly small number of films with summer blockbuster ambitions that isn't a sequel, part of a franchise or within a “cinematic universe".

Despite his own plentiful experience in the world of sequels and universes, not least with the much-loved Marvel character that made him a household name (as well as his earlier, less-loved dalliance with the role of DC's Green Lantern), Reynolds is delighted to be taking on something completely new.

“I read the script, sent it to Shawn, and the next thing I know, Shawn was in my living room in New York and we were talking about this world and how we could build it, and make it relevant to the world that we're living in now,” he explains.

“It's hard to make a new movie that isn't based on some pre-existing comic book or a sequel in some regard. So you get the script to a place that you feel is great, and then you have to make it 30 per cent better somehow because you don't have any ability to rely on pre-existing knowledge or a fan base. You really have to go out there and prove it the old-fashioned way. That was a challenge that Shawn and every single cast member was up for, and it was nerve-racking.”

The elephant in the room would seem to be, quite simply, that video game films have a tendency to be dreadful, whether it's critically panned direct adaptations, such as Warcraft and Mario, or fictional video games including Steven Spielberg's disappointing Ready Player One.

Reynolds doesn't seek to duck the issue when it's raised, even revealing that he has never had a video game film in his house. He says he is unconcerned about his latest release going down the familiar video game movie path to critical annihilation for one simple reason – it's not a video game movie.

“Everybody's said, 'Oh, this is a video game movie', but that's like saying Titanic is a movie about boatmanship. It's not. It's a movie about so much more,” he says.

“But I love the narrow target we had to hit to create a world that felt so authentic to gamers, and then still sort of smuggle this other story into that. It was a pretty special thing.”

Free Guy is in UAE cinemas from Thursday

Updated: August 11, 2021, 3:47 AM