While putting the finishing touches on Free Guy, Shawn Levy and Ryan Reynolds realized they weren't ready to say game over. The duo had been professionally matchmade by their mutual friend, Hugh Jackman, resulting in the video game popcorn flick. "[We] had such a fruitful and inspiring collaboration that we sent a word out that we were actively looking for other movies to make together," Levy tells A.frame. "One of them was this script called The Adam Project."
The film’s screenplay, originally written on spec by T.S. Nowlin, had been set up as a vehicle for Tom Cruise at one point. By the time Levy and Reynolds were attached, the project had spent nearly a decade in various stages of development. Jonathan Tropper, a friend and prior collaborator on This Is Where I Leave You, sent the latest draft to Levy. "As soon as I even heard the premise, I knew that it was [the] kind of movie that I love to watch and hope to make."
The Adam Project features Reynolds as a time-traveling fighter pilot from the year 2050 who crash lands in 2022, where he encounters his 12-year-old self. Young Adam has his own problems, as he grapples with the death of his scientist father (Mark Ruffalo). For Levy, it's "a time travel movie that's not about saving the world as much as it's about saving yourself."
That notion proved deeply resonant for both the filmmaker and his star, though he was also excited by the opportunity to "take the effortless and joyous brotherhood that Ryan and I had discovered, but to make a different kind of movie, to resist repeating ourselves and make something that was in a different genre and with a significantly different tone."
The Adam Project's high concept premise hinged upon finding the right young Adam, requiring a young star with comedic timing capable of holding his own against Reynolds. Levy knew just who to call: Carmen Cuba, the casting director behind Stranger Things (which Levy executive produces). "I have seen firsthand for years now what a Jedi Master she is at finding young talent." Amongst the hundreds of actors who auditioned for the role was newcomer Walker Scobell.
"He was this great combination of undiscovered everything mixed with huge talent," says Levy. "If you find a kid who's done 30 guest spots on television shows and commercials and whatnot, they may be great, but they are definitely not raw and authentic. They are polished. Walker has never done anything other than a middle school play, so there's an honesty to him that is unique."
Reynolds agreed. "Three sentences into Walker's callback reading over Zoom, Ryan -- politely hiding his hands below the Zoom camera -- is texting me, 'Oh my god, he's it. He's absolutely the one.'"
"What we didn't know when we hired Walker is that he is also a rabid Deadpool fan," Levy adds with laugh. "So, he shows up on set and he's somehow freakishly able to channel the Reynolds-esque way of saying everything, because he's been watching Deadpool movies since he was 7! Which is very age-inappropriate, but very useful for the purposes of this movie."
If you look at pretty much anything I've ever directed, all my movies are wearing their heart on their sleeve.
The end product is an adventure of epic proportions, with spaceship dogfights and time-travel wormholes and futuristic weaponry out of a galaxy far, far away. It is also a deeply sentimental movie about growing up, about coming to terms with one's self and about the joyful nostalgia of playing catch with dad. "The truth is, even though my filmography bounces around genres, if you look at pretty much anything I've ever directed, all my movies are wearing their heart on their sleeve," Levy reasons. "So, whether it's for everyone or not, I knew that my version of The Adam Project would be inherently emotional, because that's the only way I know how to tell this kind of story right."
With The Adam Project premiering on Netflix on March 11, Levy and Reynolds are already ready to reunite for the next one. "It's clearly a bromance of Hollywood proportions," proclaims Levy. "We don't know the next one we will do together, but we do know the options," he continues, choosing his words carefully. And neither has any plans to stop after three. "I think everybody's who's in the business of making movies knows that Ryan and I are very aggressively looking for the right stories to tell next -- and to tell together."