Ryan Reynolds is quickly becoming superhero movies' MVP, but he's also willing to get out there and do some weird indy movies. Case in point: Buried, opening wide this weekend, in which Reynolds spends the whole film in a coffin.
While Buried isn't really science fiction, it definitely counts as heightened reality — especially when Reynolds' cell phone keeps working and has signal six feet underground. Not to mention the fact that he never runs out of oxygen. And the film comments on the ways in which the world has become incredibly small and networked, with Reynolds making phone calls all over the world to people who never think that they're talking to a man in a coffin in the desert. We saw the film a while back, and got the chance to talk to Reynolds about taking on weird acting challenges... plus the strange intruder that shows up in the film.
So in Buried, Reynolds plays Paul, a civilian contractor in Iraq who's been taken hostage — and his captors have buried him in a coffin, six feet under the ground. The movie starts with Reynolds already in the coffin, and we soon discover that he's been left with a cell phone so he can communicate with his captors, as well as other people in his life. Not surprisingly, it's a claustrophobic experience, but director Rodrigo Cortes manages to find enough wild camera angles to keep the film visually interesting and create a sense of movement. It's not just one long closeup of Reynolds' face, although there are a lot of those.
We caught up with Reynolds and screenwriter Chris Sparling a while back, and Reynolds told us he was excited to do another straight-up drama. "I've done a lot of dramas, they're just usually not on people's radars," says Reynolds. Cortes saw Reynolds in another small drama, called The Nines, that was "very existential and bizarre, and not very many people saw it." Reynolds adds: "I was eager to try something else, and this is the the kind of script, and project, that comes along once in a career. A lot of times, you let this go by."
This film presented a huge acting challenge to Reynolds, who's literally on screen for the entire running time:
I have to do a movie in a closeup, and you can't lie in a closeup," says Reynolds. "Everything Paul goes through in the movie, I have to do the scene." Every one of Paul's emotions takes place on screen, and the transition from one moment to the next is all right up there. Reynolds says he had to go through "the full spectrum of emotion in a closeup," without being able to cut away to another scene or a different location. But Reynolds says he doesn't think this film is gimmicky — if anything, "most normal movies are gimmicks," because they can use editing to cheat on stuff.
We're seeing what has been cobbled together in an edit room, and it's rare that you see something on screen that I like to think is truthful. I wanted every reaction that paul was having and every moment to be happening on camera.
Reynolds adds that the film is like "North By Northwest in a coffin," and "shooting it was like a fever dream," over a 17-day period.
Reynolds actually said no to Buried at first, because his Hollywood experiences led him to worry that halfway through shooting, "some asshole in a suit" would show up and say "I paid for this," and try to insist that they include some scenes outside of the coffin. "If you cut away from the coffin, that would have made the movie very small, ironically." And Sparling said that over the period of time he was pitching this script, lots of execs made suggestions, like having flashbacks, or cutting to the people that Reynolds is talking to on the phone, or having him get out of the coffin halfway through the film only to encounter new challenges.
But Cortes wrote Reynolds a long letter, which assuaged his concerns about the project, and Reynolds soon realized that Cortes wasn't going to let anybody mess this film up.
The weirdest moment in the film — spoiler alert! — is when a snake suddenly gets into Reynolds' coffin, which has previously seemed impregnable and unshakable. Sparling said that in earlier drafts, there might have been ants or spiders that were able to crawl inside the coffin. But Cortes asked if the coffin could have a hole in the side, where Reynolds could put his lighter, so he wouldn't have to be holding it all the time. And once there was a bigger hole, Sparling decided that a snake might be able to crawl inside. And as it turns out, it's a huge honking snake. According to Reynolds and Sparling, the snake is partly CG, because the real-life snake they had on set was absolutely terrified.
Buried is in limited release now, and goes into wide release on Oct. 8.