Shawn Levy’s Adam Project stars Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner. The sci-fi drama will begin streaming on Netflix from March 11. Director Shawn sat down for an exclusive interview with filmmaker Karan Johar for IndiaToday.in and talked about the Adam project, his collaboration with Ryan Reynolds, his creative process, and more.
Shawn Levy also promised that Season 4 of Stranger Things was worth it.
Excerpts from the conversation:
Karan: Bollywood movies are all about family and emotions. My father meant the world to me, now he is gone. So I’m moved by every father-son movie. I was swept away by the emotional energy of Project Adam. Did you intend it to be emotional at heart?
Shaw: That was the point actually. I want people to feel. I don’t make movies just for entertainment or to convey ideas and concepts. I want to make a connection, an inherently emotional connection. That’s why I love cinema.
I am aware that Indian cinema is unabashedly dedicated to the pleasure and delight of audiences. These are the films that I love from any culture. There are so many dark, dark, and alienating movies out there, or they’re just spectacle, but definitely not emotional. I think cinema can be both, and we tried to do that with The Adam Project.
Watch the full interview here:
Karan: The high concept of Adam Project is compelling. You built this shamelessly. I felt that your film was like a ray of sunshine. What do you think of that?
Shaw: Ryan Reynolds and I met on Free Guy and we had this shared feeling that we’re both at the stage in our respective careers and lives where we want to tell stories that connect in a joyful way. Free Guy was a comedy, The Adam Project is an adventure drama. The goal is to please the public. It’s a cynical world. So to tell great stories that cut through all that is deeply disappointing, I feel like my work finds meaning there. An important goal.
Karan: Was it easy having Ryan Reynolds, Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo on board?
Shaw: It was an abnormally easy sale. Part of it is the trust that people have that Ryan and I are going to do something right, that we know how to do our job. But the idea of this film – to go back and reconnect with your history, with your mother, your father and yourself, gaining a new level of understanding, forgiveness and empathy – is a universal desire. Every actor I called had a quick connection to this fundamental premise. It was ambitious for us, but I feel very lucky for the cast.
Karan: My favorite scene in the movie is the bar scene. It was beautifully crafted and performed. How did you educate Jennifer Garner for this?
Shaw: It’s my favorite too. Ryan himself rewrote the scene as a love letter to his mother, who was the only constant of his childhood with an unpredictable and flawed father. During rehearsal, there are times when you realize you should start filming. I wanted to be visually more intimate with the actors in this scene. I wanted to trust. Jennifer was amazing but so emotional. The only note I gave it was that when an actor cries a lot, it’s beautiful, but it’s not as poignant as someone trying not to cry.
Karan: I think in the silences a real actor shines. Do you agree?
Shaw: Yes. Jennifer and Ryan have been very famous superstars for a very long time. Sometimes when someone’s been so famous for so long, you forget about the actor because you’re so aware of the celebrity. So I asked them to be actors.
Karan: Did time travel appeal to you for a long time because of cinema, or does it fascinate you as a concept?
Shaw: It’s basically human to find the concept of time travel fascinating. Time is the only constant in our existence before which we are totally powerless. I’ve never been into science fiction as a genre. I like the emotional genre. How deeply warm Stranger Things is. With The Adam Project, I wanted to make a science fiction movie that didn’t look, feel, sound, or calculate science fiction. I wanted it to be an adventure drama. Every decision regarding wardrobe, aesthetic, and music was to connect with viewers in a humanistic way. That was the whole goal.
At first, when I made the films Night at the Museum, I thought I wanted to be a theater director. The producer, Chris Columbus, asked me, “Why do you run away from what comes so naturally to you?” You reject it because it comes easily to you. But it’s not common, it’s rare. I remembered that. Then, several years later, Steven Spielberg said to me, “You conduct as if you were sitting in the audience. Since then, I realized that I had to use the emotional storytelling that comes naturally to me. Now I enjoy my creative life.
Karan: Do you feel liberated as a filmmaker after all these years?
Shaw: I had commercial success, then I had critical appreciations and awards. But in my 50s, I realized that all those things that I was chasing happened. And now? Now I will only direct things I can’t resist. Ryan and I have a lot on our minds. I’m looking for less results, it’s more a matter of instinct.
Karan: I feel like Steven Spielberg has combined technology and emotion in the most beautiful way. With your film, I rediscovered that old Hollywood feeling. It is serious and overwhelming.
Shaw: He still uses technology to create wonder, but it’s still in the service of something human. You just concisely articulated this. I’ve seen so many VFX based movies that have cool visuals, but no emotions. So thanks.
Karan: How was the writing process? I’m one of those Christopher Nolan audience members who love everything he’s done, but just can’t seem to crack his films. You simplified The Adam Project to be easily accessible. Was it a conscious effort?
Shaw: Yeah, that’s a common value that me and Ryan have. We go to writers and ask them to explain the story in “dumb, basic words” and then I use those words. Why would I want a movie to feel like homework? It should be a ride. It was a very conscious rewrite of the time travel rules so that we could give enough information to make the movie interesting, but I didn’t want the audience to process a movie here (signaled to the brain), when he should live here (pointing to the heart).
Karan: You have worked a lot with children. But Walker Scobell in The Adam Project was amazing. What did you think of his performance?
Shaw: Walker Scobell is just special. It has a rare authenticity. He has never been in any other commercial or series. I got it pure. He is also a mad Deadpool fan. So he knew how to channel Ryan.
Karan: Ryan Reynolds seems like a gentleman actor. How is he in real life?
Shaw: Honestly, there are a lot of actors who are disappointing. But the two actors who are exactly as you would hope are Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds. Ryan has a nice affability, moral rectitude and ethical grounding. I watched him as a father, watched him interact with fans and employees. He is always a gentleman, very nice and respectful. The world isn’t always safe for a celebrity, but the way they live openly is remarkable.
When it comes to working with him, I think as directors we have to access and direct each person, each actor, differently. It’s my job to release their best version. My actors are my creative fuel. The last time I watched The Adam Project, I said to Ryan, “It’s my most ‘me’ movie. This is the movie I wanted to make.
Karan: You had a close association with the streaming giant, Netflix? How was this experience?
Shaw: Some of my relatives say, “You must have been a genius to imagine Netflix taking over the world. I would like to be a smart investor. I actually started my association with Netflix with Stranger Things. No one else wanted it. They took a big swing, placed a big bet. I found them very stimulating for the creative process. They gave me grades.
I make films for the maximum possible audience. Netflix has such a pervasive and global audience engagement scale that makes it a perfect platform for a movie like The Adam Project.
Karan: Theatrical release has its own energy, but millions of people can watch in different countries at the same time when a movie is released on OTT. What is your point of view on this?
Shaw: The reaction to Project Adam has been incredibly encouraging. The best part is the ratings we received. Someone watched him sitting on the couch with his son and wrote that he had never seen his son cry in front of a movie. Someone else watched the movie and realized he treated his mother like crap. So, after the movie, this person called his mother. The fact that this film connects with people and makes them consider their own life and family so personally, is a dream result. It is very rewarding.
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