‘Free Guy’ Writer Matt Lieberman Says Ryan Reynolds Movie Asks ‘What If You Had the Cheat Codes to Life?’

Free Guy asks what happens when a nonplayable character starts playing the game himself. It’s a fun romp as Guy (Ryan Reynolds) learns the rules of the game Free City and becomes a sensation in the gaming world. If you choose to look deeper, however, Free Guy has a philosophical message about life. Screenwriter Matt Lieberman intended that. 

Jodie Comer shoots machine guns while Ryan Reynolds drives
Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer | 20th Century Studios

Lieberman spoke with Showbiz Cheat Sheet by phone on Aug. 10. He shared the message Free Guy has about living our lives to the fullest. Free Guy is in theaters now. 

‘Free Guy’ tells us all to stop being NPCs

Guy is an NPC who gets to become a player. That’s funny, but it’s also relevant. In a way, we’re all NPCs in life and need to take charge. 

“I came into the idea more in terms of what if you had the cheat codes to life?” Lieberman said. “What if you could walk down the block and see power-ups and money floating around, health bars? Which is sort of similar to something like Grand Theft Auto. I sort of backed into it that was. Like ‘oh yeah, then you would be living in one of the cities.’” 

Matt Lieberman believes the ‘Matrix’ theory of life 

Free Guy is the latest sci-fi movie to explore a common theme of what is reality? The Matrix literally had us all living in a computer simulation so convincing we couldn’t tell the difference. The Thirteenth Floor and Dark City dealt with similar themes, and Total Recall dealt with manipulating our memories. 

“That’s what I think about all the time,” Lieberman said. “I’m not unconvinced. I think we live in a simulation. You’d have to talk me out of it.”

Ryan Reynolds sees violence all around Free City
Ryan Reynolds | 20th Century Studios

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Free City represents the simulation Guy finds himself in. It is literally a video game that players in our world manipulate. But once Guy becomes sentient, is he any less real than a human being?

“I thought a lot about how much of our lives are programming, and I thought a lot about free will,” Lieberman said. “This movie’s always been about free will. Are we stuck in social constructs that we put upon ourselves? How much is the world, and how much is us? I find that stuff fascinating.”

‘Free Guy’ also represents a more inclusive gaming world 

In Free City, Guy meets Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), who is actually Millie. Millie designed the original game on which Free City is based. While it’s not at the forefront of Free Guy, Lieberman intentionally paid tribute to the perseverance female gamers have needed amid some of their industry’s toxic elements.

Jodie Comer and Joe Keery watch a computer screen in a scene from 'Free Guy.'
Jodie Comer and Joe Keery | Alan Markfield/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

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“I definitely, with her storyline, was thinking about how historically how women have been treated in the gaming community,” Lieberman said. “Kind of related to her feeling like an outsider.”

‘Free Guy’ preaches peaceful gaming 

Free City is an open-world game where players choose to use their freedom to rob banks and kill NPCs. The movie acknowledges that that can be fun but also asks why games don’t encourage more positive exploration.

“I legit have always felt weird about beating up NPCs in games like Grand Theft Auto,” Lieberman said. “It feels karmically wrong to me. There are those great videos on YouTube of seniors trying out Grand Theft Auto for the first time, and it’s interesting to see what it brings out of people and how people feel when they do it. Look, it’s a great release. A video game is not real life. I’m definitely not at all judging anybody, but it definitely is an interesting side of human nature for sure.”

Ryan Reynolds holds his hand up in 'Free Guy'
Ryan Reynolds | 20th Century Studios

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However, thinking about those NPC victims gave Lieberman the idea for Free Guy. Guy works at the bank and decides to break free of the routine of getting killed by bank robbers.

“I’ve always thought about the background people in those games and felt bad hurting them,” Lieberman said. “I was like, what are their lives like? It was sort of an ah-ha lightbulb moment.”