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Free Guy, the Ryan Reynolds comedy out Aug. 13 about a video game character that develops sentience, has drawn comparisons to another high-concept comedy, 1998’s The Truman Show.
That film, which debuted six years after the MTV series The Real World but before the U.S. launch of Survivor and Big Brother, was credited with anticipating the reality TV revolution. It follows a sweet-natured naif named Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), who for 30 years has unwittingly starred in a hugely popular TV show about his own life. Everyone around him — his cheerful wife (Laura Linney), his mom (Holland Taylor), his best friend (Noah Emmerich) — are actors meant to sell products while keeping the illusion alive. The idea was screenwriter Andrew Niccols’, who was inspired by “Special Service,” a 1989 episode of The Twilight Zone that begins with a man finding a camera behind his bathroom mirror. Scott Rudin purchased Niccols’ spec for $1 million and set up the project at Paramount, with Dead Poets Society director Peter Weir attached.
To play Christof, the god-like series creator who says things like, “Cue the sun,” Weir chose Dennis Hopper. But when creative differences led Hopper to quit, the part fell to Ed Harris. “They were shooting a scene in Malibu, and I live in Malibu,” recalls Harris, now 70. “So I drove up the coast to meet with Peter. We talked. It was a Friday. I think I started work on Monday.”
Weir’s wife, Wendy, who worked on Truman Show as a design consultant, suggested Harris’ character sport wire-rim glasses and a backward black beret. “He was an all-powerful, obsessed individual who felt he was giving this young man a life that the world could appreciate,” Harris says. “It’s pretty twisted.” THR loved the movie, calling it “highly satisfying” and a “satire of Orwellian proportions.”
The public loved it, too. The $60 million film made $126 million in the U.S. ($210 million today) and earned three Oscar nominations — for Harris, Weir and Niccol.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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