Well, no one ever told Ryan Reynolds that spending a couple of weeks in a coffin would be a cakewalk.
The British Columbia native is the star - in fact, he’s the lone actor on screen - of “Buried”, in which he is an innocent American truck driver taken for ransom in Iraq. His character, Paul Conroy, is stuck with very little wiggle room and the company of a lighter and a cell phone, both of which he constantly employs to find a way back out to safety.
“We sent him back to L.A. with his back bleeding,” director Rodrigo Cortés tells a handful of reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival, where “Buried” is getting its big push, “with his fingers literally fried because of the heat of the lighter.”
“Wood and sand are tremendous exfoliants,” Reynolds, seated to the left of Cortés, explains. “And without hair,” the director adds. “You lost some hair.”
“Yeah,” Reynolds recalls. “I wore away a hole in the back of my hair because of the sand. Rubbing against the sand constantly just sort of wore it away eventually. I looked pretty hideous when I got home. I had lost a lot of weight. It’s a great diet, by the way - coffins."
“Buried” is also an abrupt left turn for Reynolds, who has gained fame most recently for charming roles typical of his spar with Sandra Bullock last year in the romantic comedy “The Proposal.” “There was no room there for Sandra Bullock,” Cortés jokes of Reynolds’ latest confines. “We tried. We tried. But it was a one-person-sized coffin.”
With the only other actors in “Buried” being entirely off-screen - the disembodied voice of a hostage taker, of U.S. government officials, of snotty emergency operators, of two-timing officials from Conroy’s own employer - the burden of sight and action is left entirely to Reynolds.
“He never acts,” Cortés says. “He always sees. You cannot catch him lying. And with a perfect sense of timing. That’s supernatural. When you are doing a movie with just three elements, you have to be very aware of pace, of rhythm, of music. And here you have them all there.”
In conversation with MSN, screenwriter Chris Sparling - who intended to helm “Buried” himself, as a very inexpensive independent effort - remarks that the combination of Cortés and Reynolds gave him exactly what he was hoping for in getting a deceptively difficult story across.
“I think any and all fear I had was probably assuaged by the fact that Rodrigo turned out to be the person he is, and the way he understood the script,” Sparling says. “And the way Peter Safran, one of the producers, understood the script. If they had been people that said ‘I get it, I like it - but this should be like this, and this should be like that… It’s not to say that I would have cut and run, but that wouldn’t have been the script I wrote.”
Reynolds is obviously glad he stuck through the shoot – but it doesn’t sound like something he wants to do again. “I enjoyed it,” offers Cortés, smiling next to his star.
“Yeah,” Reynolds concurs. “He loved it. He was legally allowed to abuse me for 17 straight days. Legally,” Cortés happily underscores.
“Exactly,” Reynolds says. “Then I was allowed to go home. But I think it was the emotional stress that I found most disturbing. I just couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I was having a tough time. I was a little out of control when we were there, and it was nice to be done.”
- By Sean Francis Condon