Joe Keery is a 29-year-old actor, a native of the Boston area, who first earned the attention of most audiences from his role as Steve on the Netflix hit Stranger Things. Keery, who is also a musician, has more recently been appearing in movies, including Eugene Kotlyarenko’s satire Spree, in which he played a murderous, live-streaming Uber driver.
Keery is one of the stars of Free Guy, the long-delayed, finally released movie starring Ryan Reynolds as a non-playable character in a video game who becomes sentient and a hero. Keery plays “Keys,” a character who exists mostly in the “real world” outside the game, and a man who deals with the in-game phenomenon along with his one-time partner Maggie (Jodie Comer).
We spoke to Keery over Zoom last week, during his visit to Philadelphia, to talk about the new movie, his take on video games, and what we can expect from the next season of Stranger Things.
Congratulations on the movie. Tell me first, what was the process of your being cast in this?
Pretty standard. Obviously, I had worked with [director Shawn Levy] before, on Stranger Things, he’s the producer, and directed many of the episodes. But I just auditioned like everybody else and came through the standard channels. I went in, did an audition, went in did another audition, and ended up being cast. Not a very glamorous story, pretty standard.
Are you much of a video game guy? Throughout your life, have you spent a lot of time playing video games?
Here and there. I played Pokemon as a kid, I played some N64 as a kid. Played some GameCube, here and there. Not a lot of online gaming, so I had to do some work there. But I have a pretty good understanding, I feel like, of the video game community.
The movie is kind of set on two different planes of existence: there’s you in the real world, and then Ryan Reynolds and some of the other characters in the game. Most of the time, were you on the set with Reynolds and those other characters, or was your part shot separately?
I would say, I was mostly in the real world. For the majority of it, I was working with [Taika Waititi, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Jodie Comer], although I did have opportunities to do some in-game stuff. It was kind of all over the place. But it was really fun bouncing back and forth between those worlds because even on set there was sort of a different tone, a different vibe, just based on the production design. So it was really nice to bounce back and forth with that.
Where was the movie shot? What city was it?
In Boston, which is kind of my hometown, so it was great to be in Boston, I saw my family.
So when they’re on that riverwalk [within the game], getting ice cream, on that riverwalk ― that was an actual location in Boston?
Yea it is, it’s actually very close to where I was staying. So unbeknownst to me, when I was watching the movie, there it was.
Tell us what we can expect from the next Stranger Things season.
I can’t say much, but I can say… [mimes speaking silently.] I just finished my own work for the season, so I’m officially wrapped after a very long shooting process, which was tough for everybody, just given the circumstances of the world, obviously.
But these guys, [Stranger Things creators] the Duffer Brothers, they have poured their hearts and their souls and their entire lives- they do not take a break, they do not take a vacation, they are constantly either writing, editing, or directing this show, for the last five years since it came out, and they’ve been working tirelessly to bring this season to everybody, and I just think they are such visionary guys, and I am happy to feel like the luck factor, I still cannot fathom how I got linked with these guys and in this show.
So personally, this is the season I’m most looking forward to seeing, because of this long process and the scripts are pretty different, and it’s such a large scope. So I believe it will be worth the wait like I usually say, but there’s not much more I can say.
Free Guy is in theaters now.