Free Guy is a movie that’s a lot of fun, and one of the ways it knows how to be fun is by understanding how video games function these days. [Old man voice] Back in my day, a video game was a video game. You played Mario and that was it. But today, franchises can cross over with each other, and a game like Fortnite can have huge events where they bring in other IP for players to access. Fortnite is one of the inspirations for Free Guy’s world of “Free City” and in the film’s climax where Guy (Ryan Reynolds) has to fight a bigger, dumber version of himself, he gets to break out some fun bits of geek iconography including Captain America’s shield, which leads to a great cameo from Chris Evans.
In an exclusive interview with Free Guy director Shawn Levy, Collider’s Steve Weintraub asked how they managed to get Evans along with other fun references to Marvel and Star Wars properties such as a Hulk fist and a lightsaber:
“Literally he was filming Defending Jacob in Boston. We had come up with this idea once Disney bought Fox. Ryan and I were like, ‘Well, how can we work this to our benefit?’ And we’re like, oh, what if we tried to put something from Marvel or Lucasfilm in the movie? So we wrote a letter to Bob Iger, Kevin Feige, and Kathleen Kennedy. And the letter basically was like, ‘Dear sirs and madam, would you possibly consider giving us permission to use cap’s shield or Hulk’s fist or a lightsaber? Sincerely yours, Ryan Reynolds and Shawn Levy.’ To our astonishment. They came back and said yes. And we said ‘Which one?’ and they said all of them. So once that happened, Ryan’s like, wait a second. Chris Evans is in Boston. He calls Chris and says, ‘If we have a camera set up and waiting for you, can you come by for 10 minutes just to pay off a joke?’ And Chris was like, sure. And that’s how we did that. He came by, we had a camera waiting in a restaurant and we shot that joke.”
Levy says that the experience of watching the movie with a crowd (and I can vouch for this because the same kind of reaction happened at my screening) is ecstatic as they get to see these references play out in the Free Guy world:
“I’ve made 13 movies now, I’ve released 11. I’ve never had the experience like being in a theater when that moment in Free Guy comes up where it’s the shield and then it’s Chris and then it’s Hulk Fist and then it’s a fucking lightsaber that they don’t just like, you know those reaction videos we’ve all watched a million times on Instagram, the Endgame reaction videos, right? Where ‘Avengers Assemble’ was, I’d never had that experience where people are out of their seats, cheering. Not like laughing like a regular comedy, but cheering—something more primal. And that’s where I realized, wow. The love affair with that IP, with those heroes, with those legacies, it’s profound and it’s emotional for people. And I am so grateful that we get to dip our toe into that pool.”
However, given all the people that work on a film, it’s surprising that none of this leaked out beforehand, especially when you consider how many times Free Guy had to be delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Levy explained that he too was surprised these reveals managed to stay under wraps until the film’s release:
LEVY: So much of it is honor code. Like I bet that there’s NDAs, but I mean, listen, I don’t know that I have anything real wood in this office that I can knock on, but I remain surprised and really thrilled that there are some of these surprises that remain for the audience.
So no one asked you for any specifics regarding how the scene was going to be?
LEVY: Yeah. They wanted to know context. Of course there was no footage at that point. So we wrote up kind of a sample page and we explained that this was in the context of this background character blossoming into a hero. And what better way (this was all part of the spiel) to dramatize heroism, than to use the tools of iconic movie heroes? That was the pitch.
As for whether or not dipping his toe in the worlds of Marvel and Star Wars has given Levy a taste for wanting to pursue one of these franchises, the director was circumspect on the proposition, but seemed inclined to take on the gig based on how other filmmakers have handled the challenge:
“I do enjoy making my own stuff. And I’ve been lucky to have a few instances where I’ve been involved in something new and it becomes a franchise and that’s a unique thrill. Let’s put it this way. I don’t go kind of hat-in-hand for those opportunities. I know that the folks at Star Wars and at Lucasfilm know of my interest in that franchise; with Marvel I met and hung out with Kevin socially a few times. And at the end of the day or certain chapters and certain heroes in those universes, I would absolutely take on an IP-based, not original, not brand new title, especially after people like Taika [Waititi] have shown that you can take on something legendary and iconic and also make it singular. And I’d love the challenge of that.
Click here for our full interview with Levy. Free Guy is now in theaters.
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