In conversation with Buried director Rodrigo Cortés and writer Chris Sparling

Posted: September 20, 2010 in Q&As, Toronto International Film Festival
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Buried's Ryan Reynolds and director Rodrigo Cortés**SPOILER ALERT**

To say Buried was a challenging shoot sounds like an understatement. The limits placed on director Rodrigo Cortés and actor Ryan Reynolds were severe; particularly since writer Chris Sparling had confined them to a narrow coffin.

When asked what inspired the story’s restrictions, Sparling was disappointed he didn’t have a “cool” answer. During development, he’d intended to direct the film and had to construct it within the boundaries of a $5000 budget. Paring down characters and locations, he eventually ended up with a guy buried alive. But he wanted to make the story realistic, so he began researching and speaking to contract workers in Iraq. He discovered these civilians are taken hostage and held for ransom more often than people realize. Moreover, many of them are similarly denied compensation if injured during an attack by insurgents. Nonetheless, this film is not an allegory. “I don’t know if I’m intelligent enough to make a political statement,” Sparling humbly admits. Instead, he wanted to shine a light on the injustices experienced by these employees.

Cortés says he accepted the challenge of directing Buried because “it’s against common sense.” Producers told him it was about a guy in a box for 90 minutes and he said, “I’m interested.” Cortés thought the screenplay was perfect and apart from the addition of some dark humour to occasionally loosen the tension, the original script remained intact. However, he was firm in his intention to approach the production as a “big film” because movies are not measured in square inches, but by the story. “This was going to be Indiana Jones in a box,” says Cortés. Similar to Sparling, Cortés “just wants every character to be very truthful in human terms, but none of them shows his position about anything.” In this sense, he is able to make a relevant film while avoiding the shelf life of an ideological film.

Sparling refers to Cortés as his “Spanish alter ego” or “kindred spirit.” Therefore, it’s not surprising they agree Reynolds was the perfect choice to play Paul. Both also cite his performance in The Nines as evidence they knew he could carry the role. “He’s the best,” says Cortés. Other than his likeability, he refers to Reynolds’ sense of timing and realness. Reynolds was hesitant at first says Cortés, feeling that the story would be a better book than movie. However, after Reynolds watched Cortés’ other film, The Contestant, he jumped on board. Sparling says anyone that read the script knows he didn’t have Reynolds in mind when he wrote the part. “I describe Paul as 47, physically unremarkable, the embodiment of the every man,” he says. Not exactly the typical manner in which Reynolds is described. “Whoever was in this role had to be able to spin the emotional colour wheel and be able to land at each of those colours with a believability.” When Reynolds’ showed interest, Sparling knew he’d be “awesome.”

Buried was shot in 17 days, so everything was difficult says Cortés. They did 30 – 35 shots a day, working 17 hour days. For Reynolds, it was very hard physically. “We sent him back to L.A. with his back bleeding because of friction with the wood, with his skin totally destroyed, with his fingers literally fried because of the heat of the lighter, [and] a tight suit of sweat, blood and sand,” says Cortés. But it was also “very hard in emotional terms because he goes through the human catalogue of extreme emotions, from primal fear to panic to joy to anger to hope to frustration to surrender.” Moreover, he had to transition between these emotions from one moment to the next.  “It was a real nightmare,” says Cortés.

*Spoiler Alert* The film’s tragic ending was always a mainstay for both Sparling and Cortés. “That was always the ending. In my opinion, you couldn’t find this guy,” says Sparling. It was a matter of plausibility for him – and finding someone buried in the desert is virtually impossible. Cortés felt the ending was “the right one.” He feels that saving Paul would actually be disappointing for audiences because of its improbability. This it way “it lives inside them,” says Cortés.

Through their combined, analogous visions, Buried delivers a profound viewing experience.

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