Free Guy is pop culture in a blender. A smoothie of Twitch, YouTube, Reddit threads, and Mariah Carey. Largely set in a video game that feels like a cross between Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto, the movie feels both incredibly familiar and brand new. According to Ryan Reynolds, who stars as a non-playable character named Guy, that’s by design.
“A wholesale, original non-IP, non-comic-book, non-sequel movie is an increasingly rare unicorn these days,” Reynolds tells WIRED. “I remember as a kid getting to see Back to the Future for the first time, and I’m not comparing our movie to Back to the Future, but I kind of wanted it to have a bit of that magic. I love being immersed in a world I’m unfamiliar with, and experiencing real wish-fulfillment is something that harkens back to, like, the Amblin days.”
To do that, though, he and director Shawn Levy also had to give audiences a bit of the familiar, just to reel them in. The solution? Cameos and Easter eggs—little details that require multiple viewings to catch. “When we got a scene that we felt might have been perfect,” Reynolds says, “we always thought, ‘OK, now it has to be 30 percent better than perfect.'” He did that by calling in favors, pulling off some stunts, and borrowing a lot of Disney toys. These are just a few secrets behind how Free Guy was made.
(Spoiler alert: Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen Free Guy.)
Captain America Is the Movie’s Biggest Hero
Of all the surprises in Free Guy, the Chris Evans cameo is easily the biggest. During the film’s finale, as Guy is fighting to save his video game world, he takes on a beefed-up version of himself using one of Marvel’s most iconic weapons: Captain America’s shield. When he does, the in-game fight smash cuts to Evans watching a livestream in a coffee shop. The man who’s been playing Steve Rogers for a decade does a spit-take and exclaims, “What the shit?!” Getting Evans was one of the biggest favors Reynolds called in. “He was in Boston and I texted him,” Reynolds says, “and being the complete gentleman and stud that he is, he just got in his car, came down, and we had him in and out in under seven minutes.”
Disney Donated a Lot of the Easter Eggs
Free Guy was already in the works when Disney completed its acquisition of 21st Century Fox—a move that turned out to be quite fortuitous for the film. In addition to Cap’s shield, the merger allowed Levy and Reynolds to use, among other things: a lightsaber, a Hulk fist, and some iconic music. “Disney was so fiercely protective of our movie, which was odd,” Reynolds says. “So we asked if we could maybe, you know, sort of borrow some of the IP. That question quickly accelerated between Shawn and me to ‘How could we go through $44 billion in IP in 16 seconds?’ It was bit of a tight-rope walk between permission and forgiveness. They said, ‘You could use this or this,’ and we just heard ‘You can use all of those things plus their respective scores.’”
The Small Stunts Were the Scariest
For all of its slapstick and button-mashing, Free Guy is also an action movie—albeit one set in a video game. That meant Reynolds and his costar Jodie Comer had to do lots of jumping, shooting, flying, and other shenanigans. Both had experience—Reynolds with the Deadpool movies, Comer on Killing Eve—but for Reynolds it’s the small tricks that he worried about. “Big stunts scare me less than little stunts—the ones where you end up like breaking a pinky finger or hurting something that nags you the rest of the movie,” he says. There was one larger feat that scared him, though: The one where he flies through a window on a motorcycle, slides to the ground, stands up, rips off his helmet, and keeps walking. “That was a little bit of a gnarly ride,” Reynolds says. “I think we did it only three times. I was thrilled that I could still do stuff like that.”
Free Guy Got Rewritten. A Lot
Because Free Guy is about the ever-changing world of gaming and artificial intelligence, and because Reynolds and Levy love to punch up their material, they were constantly updating the script even as they were shooting. Both men live in New York and would take the train to Boston each week for filming, so “we would just sit there with our laptops and be rewriting scenes.” That’s where a lot of Guy’s personality as a sentient AI came from. “Both Shawn Levy and I really subscribe to this idea that you should listen to your movie, because it will speak to you,” Reynolds says. “One of the things that really evolved in interesting ways was that AI function, that idea in the movie that Guy is really taking us toward a sort of utopian idea [of the future].”
About That Deadpool Poster … and Deadpool 3
One last thing. Of all the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Easter eggs in the movie, one that’s not easy to miss is the Deadpool poster that adorns a young gamer’s wall. Reynolds, who has played Wade Wilson in two films now and is slated to do a third, swears he had nothing to do with it. He also swears he can’t give many details about what’s going on with Deadpool 3 beyond “We’re working; we’re working very, very hard.” He did have something to say, though, about that rumor that he wanted to borrow Owen Wilson’s Mobius from Loki for the film. “That has not come up,” he says. “That one I can debunk.”
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