Interview: Ryan Reynolds and director Rodrigo Cortes discuss 'Buried'
I may not have been the biggest fan of "Buried" when I saw it at Sundance in January, but there's no denying how effective the work of Ryan Reynolds is, or how inventive the work of Rodrigo Cortes is. For Reynolds to agree to this film meant knowing that there was no fallback, no parachute, no support system. It's him onscreen from beginning to end, and no one else. And for Cortes, he knew that he was really going to have to do it, shoot an entire movie inside a box, never cheating, never cutting to another location. They had to have total faith in each other.
So it makes sense when I walk into a room at the Four Seasons in Austin, TX and find the two of them sitting together, waiting to discuss their film with me. This was just a few weeks ago during Fantastic Fest, and I wanted to talk to Reynolds a little bit about his appearance in July at Comic-Con as well. I'm still learning how to record audio on my Macbook Pro, which I've only had for a month, and it took me a minute to get the thing rolling. Finally, I managed to hit record and take my seat.
Obviously, this has been the year of the closed-space movies. I just saw "127 Hours" at Toronto, and we've already seen "Devil" and "Frozen". Of them all, "Buried" is the only one that never cheats, that never leaves the claustrophobic space or the hopeless situation. The technical challenge of that is daunting, to say the least, and I asked Garcia if he ever hesitated after reading the script.
Not at all?
"I don't say that with pride. I just… if you hesitate, you're out in that very moment. You cannot think about it at all. You just have to go, totally blind."
Reynolds nodded, then jumped in. "You have to do it like that from the very first moment you read the script because if you stop one second to think, you're out because you will figure out that this isn't possible. Now we know it is possible, but that's only because it's done."
So when they come to the two of you for "Buried 2," you know enough to run next time? Cortes laughed. "Oh, yeah. It's just him getting cremated."
Reynolds laughed. "It's a short film from Rodrigo Cortes. I won't be in that one."
Cortes turned to Reynolds as he continued. "Actually, I never told you this, Ryan, but the day before you arrived, I was on the set with the coffin, and as I'm looking at it, I realized, 'I'm going to do a movie there.' And I felt this crazy vertigo for a second, so I walked away, and I totally avoided those reflections from that moment. I just decided to go on my way and not think at all."
I asked Reynolds if he viewed the film as an actor's showcase, or if he was nervous about it being two hours of him in a box. "That definitely crosses your mind when you're going into it, but it's a matter of going into it with all the right tools. Obviously, you prepare and prepare and prepare and prepare and make sure that you show up and you know that script inside out. You can recite it backwards and forwards and any which way that this guy needs. But you start off with an amazing piece of writing and that amazing piece of writing needs an amazing director and I got that in Rodrigo. And, you know… it was such an exercise in trust, this whole thing. I mean, when we first met, this whole deal was struck in such an old-fashioned way. We had lunch, we shook hands, and we said, 'Let's go get buried.' And then we called the agents and all those things."
Even as they talked to me, there was a sense that Reynolds and Cortes were paying attention to each other, taking cues from each other. Reynolds was playing to his director as much as he was answering me. "I think we established early on that this was going to be a dance between the two of us and filmmaking is a director's medium through and through. I can only be as good as this guy will let me be, and as good as he can be. He felt like he had been living with this script for a decade, and that was really impressive. So I showed up and all these technical challenges that are married so intrinsically to this narrative challenge… well, none of that shit was my problem. All I had to do was just do my work in the box. I didn't want to see his storyboards. I didn't want to know his shots. I didn't want to know what he was doing back there from his little enclave of buttons and monitors. I just wanted to go in there and do my thing. I think we may have said twelve words to each other socially throughout the shooting of the movie even though we were the best of buddies. It was just all work and it was all about that work and it was all about making something unusual."
The film was made in seventeen days, according to Reynolds and Cortes, and I asked what special demands there are up front when preparing for that fast a shoot. Cortes replied, "You have to do your homework. You have to shoot with the brain of an editor because you cannot shoot everything from every possible angle. You have to shoot exactly what you know you need to make the puzzle afterwards, which is not a party, but that's the only way you can do it. We shot about 35 shots a day, which is the only way. You have to also prepare for those times when you're trying to pull off that one impossible shot and it takes all day. And it's like, as you're doing that, you end up almost praying to it. Praying it will work. In our case, every impossible shot was one of the 30 we had to shoot that day. You don't have time to think about it."
Reynolds leaned forward, agreeing. "It's an exercise in restraint." He gushed about his director, and he seemed genuine in just how much he enthused about his skills. "I'm not the Karl Malden of veteran actors over here, but I've been around the block enough times to know it's dangerous to edit your movie in your head before you shoot the film, and this man right here? He's a magician."
The thing that Cortes does so well in "Buried" is he approaches each beat in the film as a different movie, with its own rhythm and its own shooting plan. "You have to start with the story and with the emotions you want the audience to feel," Cortes said. "I wanted the movie to reinvent itself every eight or ten minutes, so everything evolved as his situation evolves."
Reynolds continued, "I love that in a film like this, with a guy in this extraordinary situation, it affords you the luxury of being impervious to right and wrong in any given moment. There's no right. There's no wrong. There's only honest. It draws the audience in, but it's his own experience. What I liked about the script and your direction is that it left room for that, and since you're shooting 50% of the movie in a close-up, it's got to be honest."
"Buried" is about as small-scale as indie cinema can be, and I asked Reynolds if there's going to be room for him to make films like this now that he's onboard the "Green Lantern" machine. They're trying to prep part two and part three back to back, and Disney's trying to reteam him with Sandra Bullock, and Fox wants that Deadpool movies, and in general, he's a big damn deal now. "I never really saw 'Buried' as a small movie. It had a small budget, sure, but it was a very unique opportunity, and a once in a career sort of thing. I can't imagine I will ever be at a place in my career where I wouldn't want to take a chance and do something… pardon the pun… but outside of the box. Honestly, it's thinking that there will ever be a chance like this again in my career that would be silly." We talked about how he started his career known almost as a Chevy Chase-style smarts, then reinvented himself as an action hero, and then added the indie actor cred to the resume, redefining himself every few years. "I never had meteoric success when I was younger in that regard. I think because of that, I'm able to do different kinds of movies and different kinds of genres and sort of get away with it. So part of it is ability, part is dumb luck, and part of it is just lasting. The best parts you're ever going to get are in your 30s and your 40s. That's when you'll get the really meaty roles that really challenge you. I definitely work very hard at what I do."
I compared my over-ample midsection with Ryan's 24-pack and said, "I couldn't tell you work hard. I mean, technically, you are I are the same species, but…" He laughed and waved me off, and I told him that my physique took a whole different kind of time and dedication.
"Hey, I'm back to my basic Dick Van Dyke body right now," Ryan said, laughing. "I'm just thin. My goal is to use the actual keyhole to leave this room."
We talked a bit about the reactions they've gotten from audiences since Sundance, and they seemed really overwhelmed by the way people have reacted to the movie. They had just met the winners of the "Get buried for 'Buried" contest in Austin, and Ryan was impressed that the girls who won actually went through with it. "They said it was terrifying."
Speaking of fans, I told Ryan that I really appreciated what he did during the panel for "Green Lantern" at Comic-Con, and that I think he may have affected that kid for life, and in a very good way.
I love that the press tried to get the Green Lantern Oath out of him for months, and that it was the little kid who got it, and it was because of the sweet way he phrased t. Not "do it for me," but "What does it feel like?" Reynolds agreed with me. "It really was the best." I complimented him on avoiding it every time people asked him on the red carpets and at junkets. "Those f**kers kept coming at me to do the oath. It's like, 'Just scream dance monkey dance next time,' you know? But that kid? That's who it's for. When some guy's got a camera in your face, that's sort of silly and exploitive. But that kid? That was sort of a defining moment for me. It's everything you could want out of an experience like this. I've never had a film where my nieces and nephews were anticipating it a year in advance. And my friends I went to high school with? They're anticipating it a year in advance, too. So it's for big kids and young one, you know?"
I told him how often I hear people say that Comic-Con has totally been corrupted by Hollywood, and how the moment between him and that kid is what I think proves that isn't true. Certainly Hollywood comes and brings their wares, but the point is to give a real fan an opportunity like that. "I met him backstage. His name was Connor, and he's from Michigan. I was vetting him to see if he was a plant, and he wasn't. And it felt so good. He was just a normal kid. He was there with his dad at Comic-Con. That was pretty much the best feeling in the world except maybe the phone call where they told me I was the Green Lantern."
"Buried" opens wide today.
"Green Lantern" opens June 17, 2011.
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