Free Guy director confirms how Disney-Fox merger changed film's ending and that marvelous cameo
Warning: Spoilers from Free Guy, especially the ending, are discussed in this article.
Perhaps it was the lightsaber or Captain America's shield or Hulk's hands or a certain A-list cameo that tipped you off, but, yes, Free Guy director Shawn Levy confirms a lot of the fun surprises in his film's climactic finale boss battle were only possible because of Disney's big-money acquisition of 20th Century Fox.
In the before times, Levy was attached to develop a script from the 2016 Black List called Free Guy, about a bank teller stuck in a menial routine who learns he's actually a non-playable background character (an NPC) in a popular open-world video game. The project was set up at Fox, which previously released Levy's Night at the Museum movies, and the filmmaker had been constantly honing the specifics of this story with his star and producer Ryan Reynolds. Free Guy evolved into a Ted Lasso-meets-Wreck-It-Ralph affair. Reynolds would play Guy, the NPC and one of the nicest, well, guys you could meet, and Free City, inspired by Grand Theft Auto, would be the fictional game in which Guy resides.
They assembled a cast that included Killing Eve's Jodie Comer, Stranger Things' Joe Keery (Levy produces Stranger Things for Netflix), Reynolds' former Green Lantern cast mate Taika Waititi, and Brittany Runs a Marathon's Utkarsh Ambudkar. As Levy remembers it, they were mere days out from starting production in Boston in May 2019 when Disney's long-courted purchase of 21st Century Fox properties became official. That turned on a lightbulb.
"There was always this [idea] for the third act of the movie to show Guy fighting an upgraded version of himself named Dude," Levy tells EW in an interview. "We always wanted this idea that, at that point, Guy had mastery of the game world in which he lives and can therefore access all the various devices and weaponry that advanced players can utilize in Free City." In light of the Disney-Fox merger, they realized, "If the whole idea of this movie is wish fulfillment, wouldn't the ultimate wish fulfillment for Guy to be to use the most iconic weaponry, essentially, in cultural history? And now we're owned by the same studio that conveniently owns Lucas[film] and Marvel."
In order to save his video game from being canceled and preventing all the digital people within it from being erased, Guy sets off to help expose the shady dealings of the head of the game's studio to the world. Antoine (Waititi) attempts to stop him by sending in Dude, a beefed-up version of Guy who's quite dim-witted because he's not fully programmed yet. As the entire world watches their battle play out in the game, Guy shocks everyone when he whips out a lightsaber, Hulk fists, and Captain America's shield as weapons against Dude. That last one comes with a cameo by Captain America actor himself Chris Evans.
A scrapped Deadpool 2 Easter egg
Originally, before the Disney-Fox of it all became a thing, the plan for that scene was for Guy to bring out a more generic portal gun and gravity gun. Levy got the blessing from the gatekeepers of Fortnite to bring in a version of the rainbow unicorn mace. They were also going to use Josh Brolin's Cable gun from Deadpool 2.
"We got Cable's gun out of the prop warehouse of 20th Century Fox, shipped it to Boston, shot the scene with the gun, but then, with all due respect to Cable, once you got a lightsaber and a Captain America shield, it's really, really hard for anything to compete on this scale," Levy says. The changes also jived better with Guy's nice-guy persona. "I liked the idea that Guy never uses a gun in the entire movie. In fact, he's literally taking guns off the street as part of his leveling up," Levy adds. "It felt somehow right to the character and also to the spirit of the movie."
Once they knew Cap's shield would be part of the movie, Evan's bit role came quickly after. It was as simple as Reynolds texting his fellow actor. Evans happened to be in Boston anyway filming Apple TV+'s Defending Jacob. "I recall Chris being like, 'Well, I'm really busy, but if you can get me in and out in like 10 minutes, sure. Why not?,'" Levy says. The production smuggled Evans into a restaurant with black fabric covering the windows from prying eyes to film the moment where he watches Guy whip out the shield and exclaim, "What the s---?!'" Per Levy, "Chris rolled up, we walked him right into his seat in front of the camera, shot him, hugged it out, and he was on his way in less than 10."
There were many more cameos featured in Free Guy. Some were clear, like the appearance of Evans and the late Alex Trebek. Others you might have missed because they were voice cameos. Tina Fey, John Krasinski, Dwayne Johnson, and Hugh Jackman all have these covert type of roles that may take repeat viewings to pinpoint.
"While we were editing the movie, we realized that there were several characters who were either in masks or [had] concealed faces or [were] behind a doorway or in a silhouette," Levy recalls. "We started with Hugh Jackman, who's a mutual friend of both of ours." He and Reynolds called up Jackman, who starred in Levy's Real Steel and shared the screen with Reynolds in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. They asked if he could record lines on voice memo and text it back to them to be inserted in Free Guy. He said yes, and then Levy and Reynolds "were bitten by the bug," says the director. Fey, Krasinski, and Johnson followed suit.
"As Ryan has said, there's no harm in asking," Levy mentions. "In all walks of life, by the way. Just ask. The other person can always say no, but you're going to regret never having asked. In each and every case, a phone call or a text to someone who was either a friend of mine or a friend of Ryan's. 'Hey, would you do us this favor? It'll be fun and goofy.' And in every case they said yes."
Free Guy is currently playing in theaters for anyone with an ear for celebrity voices.