Possessing the effortless ability to naturally adapt to challenging emotional dilemmas that unexpectedly arise from challenging situations is an agonizing struggle that not many people can contend with. But versatile actor Ryan Reynolds, who has enthrallingly approached such diverse genres as drama, romance, thrillers, action and sci-fi, uninhibitedly approached his new crime comedy, ‘The Voices,’ and as a result, instinctively related to his latest character’s emotional turmoil. The performer rivetingly empathized with his troubled protagonist in director Marjane Satrapi’s new film, which is now playing in theaters and On Demand, showcasing that not all people who commit heinous acts are driven by evil.
Set in the small American town of Milton, ‘The Voices’ follows Jerry (Reynolds), an employee at the local fixture and faucet manufacturing company. While he appears to be happy with his life, his co-workers don’t realize he’s an ex-convict who’s struggling with his mental illness. After refusing to take his medication that was prescribed by his therapist, Dr. Warren (Jacki Weaver), who wants to help him fully reintegrate into society, Jerry begins to see the world around him the way he wants it to be, and not the way it truly is.
After stopping his medication regimen, Jerry finally musters the courage to ask of the women in his office, Fiona (Gemma Arterton), a temp employee from England, out on a date. While she initially agrees to go out with him, his violent tendencies start to rise after she carelessly stands him up to instead go out with some of their female co-workers, including accountant Lisa (Anna Kendrick).
After seeing Fiona by chance later that night, Jerry offers to take her home, only to end up killing her during a fit of rage. While he tries to keep himself calm, he puts his co-worker’s head in his refrigerator, in an effort to remain connected to her. After returning to work the following week, he agrees to go out with Lisa, who has long been romantically interested in him, but she’s unaware of his true nature. While out with Lisa, he harrowingly remembers the traumatic childhood experience he endured that led to his emotional and legal struggles. As a result, he tries to be the man she believes he is. But another unexpected agonizing experience leads him to once again indulge in his antisocial behavior, making him wonder if he’ll ever be able to truly change who he is.
Reynolds and Satrapi generously took the time recently to sit down for a roundtable interview at New York City’s Crosby Street Hotel to talk about filming ‘The Voices.’ Among other things, the actor and director discussed how audiences are surprisingly relating to the troubled and daunting protagonist. because even though he’s committing heinous murders, they empathize with his childhood; how the director wanted to cast the actor in the role of Jerry, as they both understood the character’s actions weren’t driven out of evil impulses, but instead his inability to emotional mature from the tragic accident that defined his adolescence; and how they felt it was important to feature the versatile women in Jerry’s life, including the sensual and attractive Fiona, the take-charge Lisa and the older Dr. Warren, who has a motherly concern for him, to showcase how he’s adapting to all aspects of his current life.
Question (Q): Why do you think audiences have been embracing the movie?
Ryan Reynolds (RR): I think it evokes strange feelings. I’m only basing this on what I’ve been told by my friends who have seen the film, after it played at (the) Sundance and Toronto (Film Festivals), but I think people are shocked that they empathize with a serial killer. But for the record, he’s the nicest and kindest serial killer you’ve ever met. But it’s a strange feeling for people.
Q: While the film fits into several different genres, it really takes audiences into the mindset of what a serial killer might be like. Was that part of the attraction you had towards this character, Ryan?
RR: I think the fact that he’s a serial killer was irrelevant to me. I think when we see something in the news that involves a murder, we automatically fill in a narrative. Often times it’s sadistic, in a passionate way. But I think that might not always be the case.
I get frustrated with movies that portray villains who are acting upon an evil impulse, as that’s not always true. They’re acting upon an opposing conviction. That’s fascinating to me.
When I read the script, which was beautifully written by Michael Perry, I saw empathy in him. I didn’t see a guy who wakes up in the morning and thinks, I need to kill someone. I saw a guy who was hurt very badly when he was 11-years-old, and he never emotionally grew past that age. He’ll be 11-years-old for the rest of his life, until he learns how to heal that one thing that hurt him. But he can’t move past it, which is interesting to me. Combine that with the fact that Marjane was aiming to make the movie loopy and funny at the same time, and you a recipe to create something special.
Q: What brought the two of you together for the film?
Marjane Satrapi (MS): Well, the producers called and told me that Ryan wanted to make the film. I knew he was a great actor, but I knew we still had to meet. That was important, because you could have a really great director and actor working together. But if each of them had a different vision for the film, the result is never good-they have to have the same vision.
Ryan and I had the same vision for the film. He always talks about this boy, which was also one of my main concerns. To make this serial killer likable, you have to understand he’s not a sexual predator, just because he kills women and chops them up. If you presented him in that way, the audience wouldn’t like him at all.
Jerry’s still a little boy, and all the sexual impulses in the story come from the women. There’s a scene between Jerry and Anna Kendrick’s character, Lisa, on a staircase. Anna’s a very little girl, so I asked her to stand above Ryan, to show that she’s in control.
Jerry doesn’t have any pronounced sexuality; it’s the women around him who project sexuality on him. He still has the mindset of an 11-year-old boy, even though he’s in the body of a man in his 30s. That was the most important aspect to show. When he smiles at you, you can easily forgive him. (laughs)
RR: Some of that is true. The other part was that I was begging Marjane for the job. I liked how she phrased it-“Ryan Reynolds wants to be in your movie”-like that’s a recipe for success.
I just really wanted the job, as I was at a point in my career where I wanted to change the narratives I was choosing to some degree. I wanted to work with great filmmakers, and Marjane is a great director. She could have asked any actor on the planet to play this role. So I went to our meeting prepared and ready to do anything and everything to convince her to hire me.
MS: But he didn’t need to do that, because I immediately saw that it was him who was perfect for the role. He has something quiet within his eyes, which is deep and dark. (Reynolds laughs.) But he can also look scary, if he wants to. He also has this smile that he gives you, and it makes you let him do anything. (laughs)
But more than his look, he had a real understanding of who the character is, and the vision of the entire film. Also, the fact that we both hate to rehearse is something that also drew me to Ryan. I hate to rehearse, because you don’t need to do that with good actors. They know what they’re doing, so you can just trust them. If you tell an actor how to move, you’ll just end up making an animated movie. So you use good actors who can bring you something that you may not have thought of yourself.
Q: What also interested you in the film’s script, Marjane?
MS: I had the same reason as Ryan-I thought, why do I like this character? Why do I have empathy for him? The story didn’t look like anything I had ever read before. You can say, it has similarities as ‘Psycho,’ but it’s not totally the same film. This one had the comedy, as well as the talking animals. He also doesn’t plan anything, which leads him to be overwhelmed. That’s why he’s so likable-things just happen to him.
Q: Ryan, what was the process like of not only playing Jerry, but also doing the voice-overs for his pets?
RR: I knew they were looking for voice actors to play the dog and cat. It then occurred to me that the dog and cat are aspects of his fractured psyche. So I recorded a scene between Jerry, Mr. Whiskers and Bosco on my phone, and sent it to Marjane.
MS: It became obvious that Ryan had to also do the pet’s voices, since Jerry hears their voices. It was incredible to see Ryan do the different voices. I was standing in front of him as he was recording the voice for the Bunny Monkey, and I was like, from which part of his body does that sound come from? (laughs)
Q: Regarding the three women in Jerry’s life during the course of the film’s narrative, who are played by Gemma, Anna and Jacki, why did you cast them, Marjane? What was it like working with all three of them?
MS: In this type of movie, you always have a girl who’s going to be eaten by the serial killer who’s about 50 pounds, and is also blonde and fragile. So I wanted to represent all kinds of different women.
So I thought, what type of woman would you fall in love with at first glance? That’s Gemma Arterton, because she looks like Sophia Loren. She’s really sexy and gorgeous. She doesn’t have the body that’s really fashionable today, but she’s still gorgeous. Then you have the tiny one who really isn’t all that little in personality, because she’s the one who takes Jerry over, which is Anna.
Then with Jacki’ character, she was about 35-years-old in the script. But I like to have women of all ages in my films. When women are over 65, they don’t just bake cookies for their grandchildren; they have other aspects of life, too. So I wanted her to be older than Jerry, so that we could have a relationship of seduction.
Q: Ryan, since you acted in a variety of different genres and types of films, from this movie to ‘Green Lantern’ to ‘Van Wilder.’ So do you take a different approach to each kind of movie you star in?
RR: No, I don’t think so. I always show up prepared for every film, but I don’t like to be too rehearsed. Sometimes I’ll read a script, and this sounds obsessive, 50 times, usually at night before bed. But I don’t really do anything else, because I think things need to be invented on the day.
The problem is if I start to rehearse things on my own, and I show up to a scene and the other actor’s not doing the thing I rehearsed in my head, I start to lose the plot. I don’t want to make the other actor do something they don’t want to do.
I remember with ‘Buried,’ they scheduled two weeks of rehearsal, and the entire film took two weeks to shoot. I said,”Why would we do that? Just put me in the box. I don’t want to scream in a conference room, or fight for my life on an ottoman chair.”
Marjane has that wonderful sensibility of just showing up and wanting to see what happens-that’s unusual with directors. She wanted to go to the set and let things flow. That’s one great thing a director does, and so few of them understand that like Marjane does. She made it safe to do everything and anything on this set.
Q: How did filming in Germany differ than shooting in the U.S.?
RR: For me, it was fascinating. A German crew is so amazing. When I die in a hail of bullets, heaven for me will be a German film crew. (laughs) They would say, “We’ll be done at 8pm,” and at 7:59, we’d be finished. It’s unbelievable and top-notch, and everything was done perfectly.
Germany also offers a great deal of ’50s architecture when you step out of Berlin. A lot of it can substitute for middle America, if it were trapped in another decade.
MS: I was in Germany for a long time, because I also did the preparation and post-production there. Ryan was there for about two months.
He’s right about the German crew being so great. If the radio didn’t work, for instance, they’d repair it themselves. It wasn’t like they said, “Oh, there’s a problem, what should we do?” It was the second time I worked with a German crew, and there’s nothing in the world I would change with them.
Q: Did you change anything in the film from the time you played it at the festivals to it’s release now?
MS: No, it’s exactly the same. The major majority of people who see it (in advance of its release) are part of marketing practices. But marketing isn’t an exact science-if it was, all the big blockbusters that have to make millions of dollars back would know how to change, so that they could do that. You can’t control everyone’s minds and reactions. You don’t know what will make something work. So changes are usually made for marketing purposes. So there comes a point where you have to say, “This is how the movie’s going to be.”
Q: Marjane, this is the first film you directed that you didn’t also write the screenplay for. Did you make any changes to the script for this film?
MS: Of course. On the one hand, we only had 33 days to shoot the movie, and the script was much thicker than that. So I had to cut things before we began filming, because we couldn’t shoot everything, and then cut things out we didn’t want during editing.
I knew in advance there were scenes we weren’t going to use. Like there were multiple murder scenes in the original script, which was great to read, but would be annoying to watch over and over again. So we could show it once, and then people would know his process after that.
The great thing was that Michael Perry’s a fantastic writer. Every time you propose a change to him, he would make great adjustments.
Q: Is the saying about never working with animals and children on a film set true? Were there any problems with the cat and dog on the set?
MS: Bosco, the dog, was his best friend.
RR: I love Bosco; he’s a beautiful English Mastiff. But the cat, Mr. Whiskers, just hated me. The cat thought I worked at the pound or something.
MS: The problem was the cat was very sensitive. If there was more than five people around, he would freak out. If you told the cat to sit, he wouldn’t sit.
So we had to use three cameras to film the cat separately. Thankfully my editor, who was also the director of my second unit, was very patient, as I’m not patient. He would calm the cat for about four hours, just to have 10 seconds of coverage of him lying down. That’s the genius of the editor, to make it seem as though all the characters are interacting.
But it’s hell to work with a cat. I have a cat, and I love them, but I know what it’s like to work with them. But I didn’t want to use a CGI animal, because you can tell right away it’s not real.
RR: I picked the cat up in one of the scenes, and I couldn’t figure out why my entire body was stinging all of a sudden. Then I realized his legs were attached to different parts of my body. I walked into the bathroom, and saw I was bleeding in all different places. I was like, it doesn’t even have that many claws!
Written by: Karen Benardello