The new holiday movie “Spirited” presented a unique challenge for Ryan Reynolds, even after more than two decades in the industry. The multi-hyphenate has taken part in everything from comedies to thrillers to owning his own gin brand and Welsh football club, but the movie musical was untouched territory.
“It was months of rehearsals and really kind of relying on a lot of experts and surrendering to this idea that you can’t really be even adequate at something unless you’re willing to be horrible at it,” Reynolds told the Globe during a video interview. “Right off the bat, I just sort of let myself suck as much as humanly possible.”
The hard work eventually came together in the form of “Spirited,” which hits
Apple TV+ this weekend. The film is a modern extension of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” and follows the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) on his annual haunting of a Scrooge-like archetype. When he stumbles upon the maliciously charming marketing whiz Clint Briggs (Reynolds), he realizes that Briggs is more than he bargained for and that he might be in for a reckoning of his own.
The movie — which also features Octavia Spencer, Sunita Mani, and the voice of Tracy Morgan — is a full-fledged musical with Broadway-like elements, including an elaborate tap dancing number, character-driven ballads, and an off-the-cuff introduction to every song. The triple-threat nature of the role meant that Reynolds was in for an atypical filming experience, one hinged on practice and repetition.
“I can’t really speak to whether or not I got better, but I can say that I’m glad that it wasn’t a live show,” Reynolds said with a laugh. “We had multiple takes to kind of get things the way we wanted them. I was so focused on the singing and dancing that it was almost hard to focus on anything else. It was like they were just these huge specters coming up, each one of these song and dance numbers.”
Reynolds said he wasn’t sure that he ever had a day when everything was coming together, but he could feel success in little snippets throughout the filmmaking process.
“That’s part of the power and magic of editing, thank God,” he said. “But we definitely had moments in the tap dancing sequences, where we really clicked and got it all right. I don’t know that there’s a better feeling on Earth, short of my own children being born, than that.”
Even though the film joins an onslaught of “A Christmas Carol” adaptations (Reynolds shared that he is partial to “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Scrooged”), it also has its own unique edge. “Spirited” is decidedly modern and challenges the ethics of weaponizing the current social media landscape, which initially interested Reynolds, but he also found the overall message of the story to be timeless.
“Some poor wretched [expletive] treats everybody horribly and then has a moment of self-realization that is quite profound and life-changing,” he said. “[It’s] kind of an evergreen concept.”
While “Spirited” spans multiple cities and time periods (including modern day New York and 19th-century London), the entirety of the film was shot in the Boston area in 2021. Filming took place in the Back Bay, downtown, and other Massachusetts cities and towns. Reynolds was familiar with the city (as it’s where he shot the box office hit “Free Guy” in 2019, among other films) and applauded the region’s “exceptional” film crews and its multipurpose functionality.
“It’s just a wonderful atmosphere and city to shoot in,” he said. “It offers a ton of different locations. It can sub for a bunch of different cities and it has its own kind of indelible Boston feel, which is something that you also want from a cinematic perspective.”
“I was trying to push the next ‘Deadpool’ film there as well, in full transparency, but I have not yet found success there,” he added. “So hopefully, I would love to be able to shoot almost every movie I produce in Boston. It’s also great because I live in New York, so I can go back and forth and be home as well.” (Maximum Effort, Reynolds’ company, is one of the production companies behind “Spirited” and has a hand in most of his films these days.)
In the meantime, Reynolds has taken somewhat of a hiatus from movie-making. The actor announced his sabbatical upon the conclusion of filming “Spirited” in a heartfelt Instagram post last year and has put a focus on his family and non-acting professional pursuits. While he’s slated to return to the big screen with upcoming projects (including “Deadpool 3″ and John Krasinski’s “Imaginary Friends”), he said that he doesn’t plan to try another movie musical any time soon.
“That swallowed my entire life whole for the better part of a year,” Reynolds said. “I’m so happy and so glad and I think incredibly proud that I did it. I think I can speak for [Ferrell] and that he feels the same way. But no, I was not immediately scouring my desk for the next musical. I was happy to let this one be.”