Ryan Reynolds has had one of the more diverse acting careers to come out of mainstream American film. He’s seemingly done it all from comedies like National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, Waiting, and Adventureland, romantic comedies like Just Friends, Definitely, Maybe, and The Proposal to horror movies like The Amityville Horror, to action films like Blade: Trinity, Smokin’ Aces, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
You’d think the 33 year-old Vancouver native has seemingly done it all already, right? Well, now try this for a role, one that involves him playing a truck driverâ€¦mysteriously buried alive in a coffin, as he does in the thriller Buried.
The film, directed by Spaniard Rodrigo CortÃ©s, premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Reynolds talked with us about what spurred him to take on the kind of role many actors would find themselves claustrophobic doing.
“Well, claustrophobia is a primal fear that I think exists within everybody,” he explains, “And this is probably most human beings’ worst nightmare come true is to be buried alive. And I couldn’t help but feel that when we were shooting and when we were using a coffin. There’s very few tricks we actually used. The greatest tricks are sort of sleight-of-hand engineered by Rodrigo CortÃ©s.”
“So for me, I was enclosed in there and I had my moments of utter panic that were soothed in different ways,” Ryan continues, “One woman was playing all the roles practically when we were shooting. So I had a microphone very close to my chest and she would hear a panic attack starting because she could hear my heart rate accelerating when we were shooting because there were times when I couldn’t get out of the coffin with any kind of ease. So I had to just stay in there and when you have a 50-60-70 pounds on your chest of wood pressing against it, you start to have a moment of panic, so she would talk about wide open spaces, meadows, trees, things like that, esoteric stuff like that which would just chill me out and allow me to keep doing the job. So, yeah, lots and lots of moments though.”
Ryan was asked how one would prepare him or herself to act in a film that involves being in a coffin for much of it.
“Prep-wise, there’s not a lot you can do,” he replies, “There’s guys experiencing something extraordinary and I couldn’t actually imagine what that was like, so for me, most of the prep happened moments before. I wanted to get inside and see if the shoe fit. I jumped in the coffin. Yep, it fits, let’s go. Let’s shoot, so that was really it. The prep I did was kind of layering in some kind of unlikable traits with the character, as opposed to him just being like this wonderful human being.”
“There needs to be something that draws you in, makes you believe he’s a real person, someone you may not want to have a beer with if you were to get to the surface, but the human condition is to empathize,” Reynolds adds, “And because of that, no matter who he is, we want this guy to get up to the surface, so we can hug him or punch him out or do whatever. However our personal feelings are about this guy, you still want him to live because we’re human beings and that’s how we operate.”
One possible preparation that had been suggested to Reynolds was practicing by locking himself up in a closet.
“No, I didn’t do any of that stuff,” Ryan says, “I’m a big guy, so I make most things look like children’s toys. But I tend to lean a little bit more towards claustrophobia than most, I think.”
Ryan shared what he wanted viewers to walk away with from a movie about a man buried alive in a coffin.
“There’s a lot of issues,” he says, “For me, the movie speaks more about communication and how we feel about so safe with that. We feel like we’re connected 100% of the time, all the time and we are. We have Blackberrys, mobile phones, all sorts of things, and there’s a hidden enemy and that hidden enemy, in this case, is not a terrorist, it’s not limited oxygen supply, it’s not a coffin, it’s bureaucracy, and that can kill a person.”
“It’s killing Paul Conroy in this film,” Reynolds continues, “That, to me, spoke volumes about the world we live in. ‘Press one for help in Spanish, press two for help in English.’ You can’t get a human being on the phone anymore, even in an emergency.”
Reynolds was asked whether he suffered any post-traumatic stress that he could channel in order to play someone buried alive.
“I didn’t really have a lot of post-traumatic stress incidences in my own life that I would draw upon that would even remotely help in a situation like this,” he says, “But I think we’ve all had moments when we felt out of control. And I certainly had my moments when I felt like I was out of control and you try to kind of tap into that to the best of your ability and put it on screen.”
“But the primary goal in this whole situation is to be as honest in every moment in the film as possible,” Ryan adds, “There’s no right or wrong way to say a line or perform a scene. I think it’s just as long as it’s truthful, the audience is going to stay with this guy and that was my only job. And the rest went to this architect, [Rodrigo], which he really is, to put it on the screen.”
Ryan also discussed how shooting the film in chronological order, which contrary to popular belief, is a rarity in the industry also enhanced his performance in the film.
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing,” he says, “We shot this film chronologically and that almost never ever happens. And because of that, we had a really great sense of where we came from and where we’re going at any given point. And I don’t know if doing a film like this would be possible if we weren’t given this gift of being able to go in order.”
Ryan says that despite not having to deal with the technical aspects of the film, he had to not only act in the film, but provide his own lighting.
“Well, thankfully, the technical aspects are not my problem,” Reynolds reveals, chuckling, “[The lighting problems] were. I was the unofficial gaffer of the film, so I had to light myself in a lot of the scenes and I had to create that sense of atmosphere, using just the lighter or just the cell phone or just the glow stick or whatever’s available at the time, so it’s difficult to think in terms of, ‘OK, in this scene, I need tooâ€¦’ Rodrigo shot an action sequence inside the coffin at one point. You have all sorts of elements. You have a mysterious visitor that shows up, you have fire in one scene, basically in the space of 35 seconds, he turns a movie about a guy in a box into Indiana Jones.”
“And in those moments, it’s very difficult because I have to light the scene, I have to create these elements at that point and I have to break down and I have to lose my mind and scream and shout or whatever is happening,” he continues, “So it’s kind of balancing all those things and trying to hit all those points. You just try not to think about it as much. I take the information that Rodrigo gave me and I just said, OK, well, I’m going to try to get as many of those things that you asked me for into this ten second window and hopefully, some of them will stick.”
We asked Ryan to elaborate on the particular scene when the “mysterious visitor” shows up to where Paul is.
“Without giving too much away, you can’t really prepare too much for that unexpected visitor,” he explains, “I think what I’ll say about that is I was deeply amazed by Rodrigo’s ability to engineer in this particular moment we’re talking about in the film an action sequence inside a coffin. I just felt like that was epic in a certain way. I never expected that, reading the script even, which was the most terrifying, riveting script I think I ever read.”
“At that point, I still didn’t see this being an action sequence,” Reynolds adds, “And it took him a while. He talked me into it. I was like, ‘What? Really? We’re going to move around inside this coffin real fast and with this much violence,’ and once you see the film, you realize that there’s a universe inside this coffin. It’s not just this small thing. We start this movie off knowing nothing about this guy, Paul Conroy. He’s made ten phone calls by the end of the movie and we know everything and including the details of our special visitor.”
Reynolds explained how he managed to go from doing a film like Buried to performing as the title character in the upcoming feature film adaptation of the superhero comic Green Lantern, which is set for release June 17 of next year.
“Well, I mean, Green Lantern, those are the movies that you really have toâ€¦a movie like Buried is so psychological and so terrifying and it’s really more of an emotional kind of preparation,” Ryan says, “But a movie like Green Lantern is you’re spending five months doing gymnastics and when you’re 6’2″, that just shouldn’t be done.”
Finally, Ryan mentions how the two roles have both lent themselves to the only ever-widening diversity that has already become his film career.
“I’ve been lucky thus far,” Reynolds believes, “I have an ability that I’ve used throughout my career. I’m fortunate to have that, but most of it is dumb luck. And I had a career that allowed me to do a number of different things early on and because of that, I never had this meteoric success early on. I wasn’t a 19 year-old kid on the cover of every magazine.”
“I was in the industry, but I wasn’t of the industry,” he adds, “So it really allowed me to have an outside perspective and I was able to kind of mature in sort of a normal way like a career should. In my early thirties, where I’m at now, I’m afforded an ability or an opportunity to do a movie like Buried and then a movie like Green Lantern in the same year. And I’m going to continue to do that as long as they let me.”