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'Buried' star Reynolds talks about acting ... in a coffin

Matthew Odam

His chiseled abs and jaw line cover magazines. He is married to one of the world's greatest sex symbols (Scarlett Johansson). His agent's phone probably never stops ringing. And his bank account could likely withstand a few years of zero deposits.

Why on Earth, then, would Ryan Reynolds choose to fly to Spain to be buried in a coffin for a physically and psychologically exacting role in a movie with a budget the size of the catering allowance for his upcoming "Green Lantern"?

Though the script for the taut psychological thriller "Buried" had been widely respected in Hollywood, it bounced around ceaselessly for years, with everybody seeming to think that the movie — which features one on-screen actor and takes place entirely in the confines of a wooden box — was simply unshootable.

But where other filmmakers saw red flags, Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés saw incredible opportunity. The director with one feature film to his credit had a vision for what he believed to be a large-scale drama, and, impressed with Reynolds' timing and range from his performance in the little-seen film "The Nines," immediately envisioned the rom-com heartthrob star as his leading man.

The American-Statesman recently sat down with Cortés and Reynolds during Fantastic Fest to discuss the horror movie about an American contractor who finds himself struggling to save his life in a frantic race against time.

The movie opens in Austin on Friday.

Statesman: Did it take much convincing from Rodrigo Cortés to get you to sign on for a movie that takes place inside a box?

Reynolds: Rodrigo sent me a director's statement, which you get once in a while from a director but very rarely. It was incredibly passionate. I had read the script a while ago, and it was one of the most terrifying and riveting pieces of writing I'd ever read. It felt like it was a novel — like this was just a story, it was not something that was actually technically possible. He convinced me otherwise in his letter. He flew all the way over from Spain and we had lunch, and that lunch lasted no longer than 40 minutes and we ended up shaking hands and saying, 'Let's do it.' Two months later, we were shooting.

Rodrigo, obviously you had a vision from the beginning, but did you ever question whether you'd be able to pull it off technically?

Cortés: From the very first moment, I saw that there was a big film there. And that's the way I consider it. So, in the beginning, when they told me I should shoot the surface and cut out and show the other characters \u2026 I thought, "Are you kidding? This is very big. There is something really Hitchcockian here." And I didn't even want to do (Alfred Hitchcock's) "Lifeboat" in a box, I wanted to do "North by Northwest" in a box. So I decided not to limit myself. If you think too much about the location, you're going to focus on the restrictions and the things you cannot do. If you intend to be inside a box for 94 minutes, you better have no limits. So, I planned everything as if it happened in New York City and I have everything around and I could do whatever. And then and only then I found a way to make it possible, so we designed and built seven different coffins to make everything possible.

Reynolds: It's like he'd lived with this script for a decade. That to me is the mark of somebody who's got somethin' else blowin' through them than the typical director. Because he'd had it for only a few months. And I tested him a little when I got there. I'd ask him questions and he'd just fire off an answer. And then I just shut up and said, "I'm just going to do my job; I think you're fine doing yours."

Cortés: The first day, I wanted to show him storyboards or whatever, and he told me, "No, just do your work; I trust you." He didn't want to see anything; he just said, "If you don't like anything, just tell me it sucks. Don't try to be careful with me; I will give you my last drop of blood."

Reynolds: And he said, I'll take your last drop of blood and raise you some organs.

Cortés: And it's remarkable because I'm nobody, and he's Ryan Reynolds and came to Spain.

Was there any hesitation at all for you, Ryan, to play against the rom-com and comic book types for which you're so well known and go and do a smaller film?

Reynolds: I never saw this as small. It seemed like the biggest thing I'd ever done. The movie is huge not in spite of the small space we're working in but because of it. That was the hook for me. I just wanted to see if I could pull this thing off. I thought it was such an impossible challenge. I felt like we were taking an expedition up K-2 wearing flip-flops and Jams. I thought if we don't make it the way it's supposed to be made, then we'd all just get a pat on the back and walk away. I didn't think I'd be sitting here talking to you. I didn't think we'd be opening at the Toronto Film Festival. I certainly didn't think mainstream audiences would be reacting the way they are to the movie. But two days into shooting this thing, that feeling I had about whether it would work or not all went away because I saw what this guy was doing. And it was replaced by excitement. That excitement, of course, was suspended until I was able to get out of the damn coffin and go home, because I felt horrible while I was shooting it.

Has your relationship with tight spaces or sand changed at all?

Reynolds: I'm a little more reticent to apply an exfoliant these days. I greatly underestimated the physical and emotional toll this thing would take, but when you watch the movie, I think those are the spoils of war. You walk out a little different than when you walked in, and that's part of the job. And thank God we're making movies where that kind of thing happens, that it's not just some kind of cushy experience. The visceral nature of the film is because it was a visceral shooting process, as well.

Did it re-energize your feelings about filmmaking?

Reynolds: For me it did. You look for something like these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities now a little bit more than I was before.

Cortés: That's the reason I did it. I did it because it was impossible. When you have a chance to step on the place that nobody has stepped before ... how many times in your life does that happen? When I saw the opportunity of doing something that literally had never been done, I was happy as a kid.