Recruiting Boston's Finest
It is through Boston police detective Nick Walker's eyes that the audience is drawn into this divine order of law enforcement. A hard-charging detective who knows how to work the system, Nick pays the ultimate price when he is killed in the line of duty during a routine drug bust. Facing final judgment and unsure of what fate holds in store, Nick is given an offer he can't refuse: Either take his thug-busting talents and pay a penance of 100 years of service in the R.I.P.D. or face an uncertain judgment in the afterlife. Propelled by the desire to find his murderer and reunite with his wife -- and convinced he can sidestep the department's strict rules -- Nick opts for an assignment with the R.I.P.D. and begins an eternal education.
Early in the project's genesis, Ryan Reynolds joined the film to portray the slain detective who has a big surprise awaiting him in the afterlife. Enthusiastic about the role and keen to take a more active part in the development, Reynolds also signed on as an executive producer. "The script has been through all sorts of iterations, and finally landed on this current version," he shares. "I love the comic and our script takes its essence, as well as its basic plotlines and devices, and uses that. There's a bit of tragedy and a love story wrapped up in this incredibly funny, charming movie, which is a hard thing to pull off."
With Reynolds on board for one of the two lead roles, Robert Schwentke, who most recently directed the blockbuster Red -- the eponymous action-comedy based on the comic book -- would sign on for R.I.P.D. The filmmaker's passion for the source material, as well as his vision for the action-adventure, made a real impression on Moritz, Richardson, Fottrell and Reynolds.
Moritz, who had seen Schwentke's first feature film, the 2002 thriller Tattoo, was keen to work with the German-born director. "I met with Robert on numerous occasions for other movies, but I could never convince him to do one. When R.I.P.D. came up, I had a feeling we would get him and I was glad to get his call," recounts the producer. "He is visually an amazing director. What I appreciate more than anything, though, is that he knows how to get to the heart of a movie. He gives us incredible visuals and action, as well as a terrific relationship between these two characters."
Richardson agrees with his fellow producer on their choice, noting: "I really liked Red, so when Robert's name first came up, we were excited to talk with him about the project. I have to say that his vision of the movie clicked right away for me. We listened to a lot of directors and they would be strong on one element or another, but Robert had a true vision for the film that really spoke to us."
Schwentke would soon hunker down with Hay and Manfredi and begin to fine-tune the characterization and narrative, which, for material that is supernatural and fantasy-driven, is an arduous task. Recalls Hay: "Robert, Matt and I just holed up together. The core scenes in the movie -- the true character comedy, what sets the movie apart -- remain close to what was written from the very beginning. But when Robert came in, he had such a specific vision that it helped us take the mythology to another level. He had insanely awesome ideas, and we locked it up together and were able to put everything in the script that we always wanted."
This period turned out to be most rewarding for the team as the direction of the film was solidified -- especially when the filmmakers discovered they had a fan in Oscar -winning actor Jeff Bridges, who would come aboard in the role of grizzled Sheriff Roycephus "Roy" Pulsifer. After serving several tours of duty for multiple infractions in the department, Roy has a weary "been-there, seen-that" attitude. Save his lone-gun style and persnickety ways, this R.I.P.D lawman is the best of the best and knows every trick in the cosmic universe.
The performer found a big fan in producer Moritz, who commends: "Jeff is one of my favorite actors of all time. When I learned that we were going to work together, it was one of the highlights of my filmmaking career. R.I.P.D. was almost made a number of times, and there were a number of actors who almost played this role. But when we were on the set watching him perform, I thought, 'Who else did we ever think could play Roy?' He came in and infused this character with such wit, sarcasm and lovability."
Fresh off his Oscar -nominated tour de force in True Grit, Bridges wasn't initially looking to inhabit another cowboy role on the big screen. However, Roy's subtle comedic panache -- one reminiscent of Bridges' turn as The Dude in the cult classic The Big Lebowski -- piqued his curiosity. Bridges and his representatives had been aware of the R.I.P.D. script and had been tracking its progress until he felt it was the right time to approach the team. He recounts: "I threw my name into the hat and I'm lucky I got the gig. I've had a really good time."
Bridges and Schwentke engaged in marathon conversations as they created a definitive persona for Roy. The actor was not disappointed with the director's input, noting: "I enjoyed working with Robert so much. It's funny, but when I'm preparing for a part, I find that I see everything through the filter of that role. While I'm working, I glean all kinds of inspiration from everything I'm around -- from the way a guy sits in a chair to a book I'm reading. One of the things Robert turned me onto was a great artist named Jim Woodring (a cartoonist and Dark Horse Comics contributor) who created the cult comic 'Frank.'" It's very surreal and influenced my character quite a bit."
Producer Richardson was pleased to see that the two worlds in which he worked had such an interesting crossover. He recalls the inspiration: "Jeff actually drew pictures of Jim's character while he was sitting on the set. I loved it and asked Jim to create an original 'Frank' piece of art and gave that artwork to Jeff on set. Jeff returned the favor by signing one of his 'Frank' pieces for Jim."
Even in the afterlife, Roy still has his demons; he carries several hundred years of grudges and baggage from his past, especially toward the coyotes that picked his bones clean after he was shot. Despite his musings of Zen-like detachment and trying to let go, Roy hasn't dealt well with his own history...even though he believes he's made peace.
The constant friction between the two mismatched cops drives the comedy throughout R.I.P.D. But even as Roy schools Nick in the rules of engagement or waxes poetic on life, love and the pursuit of Deados (laws-of-nature-defying souls that refuse to move on), the old coot offers up the rare insight that resonates with the rookie. "Occasionally, Roy produces a real nugget of wisdom, but usually it's pretty tried and true," laughs Reynolds. "He's got 200 years of experience working in this world, and he knows there's no way to reach out to loved ones left behind. With Roy's guidance, Nick discovers that he's haunting his wife and not connecting with her."
Once Bridges and Reynolds began rehearsals in Boston, their congenial off-screen friendship could not help but influence their on-screen rapport. Says Bridges: "Ryan is a lovely cat. He just hits all of those targets and makes it come together, and that's a special talent. We jam on so many levels. Acting is all about creating that illusion, but if you do have a cool relationship outside of shooting the movie, you can bring that into the work. Ryan and I had a good time together off the set just hanging out."
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