Ready Player One seems like it was tailor-made specifically for director Steven Spielberg, to swoop in and create another sci-fi fantasy extravaganza to add to his long list of classics. The movie places you in a fun-filled carnival for the senses, stacked with so many wonderful pop culture references, you’ll leave with a nostalgic smile on your face.
At the recent press day, WLE was able to sit in on a great conversation with Spielberg and the cast of Ready Player One, including Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke and Lena Waithe. Here are eight things you should know about the “great escape” of Ready Player One.
On why Spielberg wanted to make Ready Player One?
Steven Spielberg: Anybody who read the book that was connected at all with the movie industry would have loved to have made this into a movie. The book had seven movies in it. Maybe 12. It was just a matter of trying to figure out how to tell this story about this competition, both of these worlds, and to make it a sort of express train racing toward the third act and, at the same time, make it a little bit of a cautionary tale about leaving us the choice of where we want to exist. Do we want to exist in reality or do we exist in an escapist universe? Those themes were so profound for me. So when I read the book that theme is consistent throughout the whole book. There are so many places we could have taken the book.
On the theme of reality vs. fantasy:
Spielberg: For me, this film was my Great Escape movie. This was a film for me that fulfilled all of my fantasies of the places I go in my imagination when I get out of town. I got to live this for three years. I got to escape into the imagination of [screenwriters] Ernest Cline and Zak Penn. It was amazing. But I came back to earth a couple of times. I made Bridge of Spies and The Post, while I was making Ready Player One. So, I got that whiplash effect of going from social reality to total escapist entertainment and I’m feeling it. It’s a great feeling but it also makes my wife and kids kind of crazy because they don’t know who dad’s going to be when he comes home, or which dad they’re going to get.
On the passion and pure fun of it all:
Spielberg: I had a passionate and amazing cast. I think with the combined ages, they were still all younger than me. So I kind of fed off that energy. I’d come to work in the morning and Olivia [Cooke] would say, “What do we do now? I can’t wait!” Lena [Waithe] would say, “Throw anything at me. I’m ready for it.” And Tye [Sheridan] was completely just… every cast member. Except for Ben Mendelsohn, who was a complete screw up the whole time. [laughter]
A story like this, Ernie gave us a playground to basically become kids again, and we did. We all became kids again. I was working with young actors in their 20s if that. Except for Ben, who’s way over. [laughter] That’s where the energy came from. We made the movie in the abstract set. The only way the cast could understand where they were… we all had virtual reality goggles. Inside the goggles was a complete replica of the set you saw in the movie, but when we took the goggles off, it was a big, 4,000-square-foot white, empty space, the volume. But when you put the goggles on it was Aech’s basement or it was Aech’s workshop or it was the Distracted Globe, so the actors had a chance to say, “Okay, if I walk over there, there’s the door or there’s the deejay.” It was really an out-of-body experience to make this movie. It’s very hard to express what that was like.
Olivia Cooke: It was wonderful. We just lived in our own imaginations for five months, where we hadn’t had a chance to do that since we were children. To be able to completely rely on our guts and our interaction with Steven and the other cast, made it so special and different to anything any of us had ever done before.
Lena Waithe: When we got to the live action, everybody was like, “Oh, okay I remember how to do this. This is the real world now.” It’s not as much fun when you are in an empty space and anything is possible.
On the great retro soundtrack:
Tye Sheridan: I was extremely nervous on the first day. I actually didn’t know it was going to be our first day. We had two weeks of rehearsal, and Steven wasn’t there. All the High Five were just feeling out the mo-cap volume and getting familiar with some of these environments we were going to be in in the movie. Steven shows up on the last day of rehearsal and says, “Let’s shoot something!” I thought, “I hope he doesn’t want to shoot anything with me,” and he’s like, “Just send everybody else home. I just want to use Tye.”
He brings me over to the side and says, “Have you been working on your Parzival walk?” I said, “What is a Parzival walk? I didn’t know I had to work on a Parzival walk.” He says, “It’s kind of like the John Travolta walk at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever. He’s got a certain swagger.” I’m like “Okay.” And he says, “I just want to capture you walking.” So, I’m standing on one side of the volume and Steven’s on the other side. No one else is on the floor and I’m just waiting for him to call “Action,” and my hearts racing. He pulls out his phone, hits the screen and starts playing “Stayin’ Alive,” by the Bee Gees, and starts walking toward me nodding his head and holding up his phone and goes, “And, action.”
On getting the rights to all references in the movie:
Spielberg: Kristie Macosko, who along with Don De Line and Dan Farah, produced the movie and Kristie can probably answer that question, because Kristie spent three years with all the Warner Brothers legal people, getting the rights to all—and we couldn’t get all of them, we couldn’t get any Star Wars rights. They wouldn’t give up the Star Wars rights.
Ben Mendelsohn: You should have called me on that one, Steve. [Mendelsohn starred in Star Wars: Rogue One]
On a moment that stood out for them:
Sheridan: It was the Iron Giant. That was a movie I played so many times in my childhood. I have a very sentimental connection to that figure. While shooting the movie, we could see our avatars in real time on a 2D screen, and I would look over at my avatar and see Iron Giant’s foot, and I’d think, “That’s Iron Giant’s foot!” That’s so cool.
Waithe: I think what I liked the most was the Chucky doll. I was genuinely afraid of those movies. So now as an adult, it’s cool I get to use Chucky as a weapon.
Cooke: I really relished getting to learn the Saturday Night Fever dance. I used to go disco-dancing when I was a kid in my hometown. So, Tye and I got really close very quickly with these dance lessons. I don’t know how much of it was digitally enhanced. That probably helped it quite a lot. That was really fun. That was the highlight of the job for me.
On getting into the ’80s vibe:
Waithe: I was born in 1984, so don’t remember a ton about that era. But because I grew up in the 90s, I remember a lot of that stuff, the music, like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston and they really began in the ‘80s, and so it was not hard for me to revisit that. Tye and I watch some ‘80s movies together and just to kind of get in the vibe.
The interesting thing about that time was everything was so big and loud and happy and colorful and it was like a prosperous time. That is why I think I was kind of happy that I was born in that decade. That is why it really translates on screen and that there is so much joy, reminding us of a happier time. That is why we are so obsessed with it, too.
Sheridan: Because the Oasis stands for the great escape. It’s anything you want it to be. Because the ‘80s were such a vibrant time full of all this crazy hope. I think it makes total sense that there is all this pop culture and ‘80s references in the movie.
On how nostalgia has changed for Spielberg over the years:
Spielberg: I have the most intimate relationship with nostalgia. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I started taking 8mm movies of my family on camping trips to Arizona. When videotape came in, I was using videotape. Then I started taking my 8mm sound movie camera on sets when I was hanging around with [Francis Ford] Coppola, [George] Lucas, [Martin] Scorsese and [Brian] De Palma, and that whole group back in the ’70s. I have got something like 60 hours of footage of all of us growing up and making movies together, which someday could be an interesting documentary if I can find the rights to any of these guys.
I do all the videos in my life and my family growing up. What we do every single year is, I have a really great editor, Andy, in my office and he cuts together the whole year in the life of my family—all my children and grandchildren—and we have little screenings. It’s called the Annual Family Video. So, I basically live in nostalgia. That might be the main reason why I reacted and responded so positively to Ernie’s book and Zak’s script because I am kind of living that way most of my life.
Ready Player One opens in theaters March 29.