‘Free Guy’ director Shawn Levy hopes there’s still an ‘appetite for originality’

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Actor Ryan Reynolds and director Shawn Levy block a scene in “Free Guy.” Photo by Alan Markfield.

The new movie “Free Guy” stars Ryan Reynolds as a bank worker named Guy who’s perpetually in good spirits while doing his job — even as his bank gets robbed at the same time every day. 

Jodie Comer plays a mysterious newcomer to Guy’s world. One glimpse of her inspires him to break out of a routine he’s been stuck in because he’s actually a minor background character in a video game, going through the same motions every day. 

“Free Guy” comes from busy filmmaker Shawn Levy — the director and producer behind family-friendly hits including “The Pink Panther” and the “Night at the Museum.” 

​​Through his company 21 Laps, he earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination for producing “Arrival” in 2016. The same year, he produced the hit Netflix show “Stranger Things.” 

“Free Guy” is the first film Levy has directed since “Stranger Things” took off, and it all began smoothly. Levy and Ryan Reynolds bonded instantly and were all set up at Fox. They were just about to start shooting in the late spring of 2019 when Levy learned his home studio was getting swallowed up by Disney. 

Levy and Reynolds got the go-ahead from Disney to continue working on “Free Guy,” which was set for a July 4, 2020 release. Then the pandemic hit, pushing the release date multiple times. 

“Free Guy” is finally in theaters, and it’s one of the few films this year to get a true, exclusive theatrical release. But as the Delta variant surges, will people go see it? Heading into opening weekend, Levy wasn’t sure. 

“I have to confess, I don’t know,” Levy says. “I don’t know what the reaction will be to going to theaters, and going to theaters for a new movie. I’d like to believe there’s an audience and an appetite for originality and non-franchise sequels, but I don’t know.”

Regardless of the box office turnout for “Free Guy,” Levy remains committed to working on original film and television projects. 

“I like making new stories,” he says. “It is not only satisfying creatively, but when you can penetrate the culture and create something new where there was nothing before, that is deeply gratifying.”

However, studios have already cut back on the number of greenlights for movies that aren’t sequels or franchises, and Levy’s not sure where that leaves him. 

“Yes, there will be greenlights for lower-budget movies — for small awards fare, independents, festival fodder. But will there be greenlights for original, big budget, blockbuster-scaled filmmaking that is new? That is the world I’ve lived in for the majority of my career. And it’s the world I love, it’s the kind of filmmaking I love. That’s the uncertainty.”

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Kaitlin Parker