The other night, my partner and I settled in to watch a movie. We scrolled until our eyes glazed over, but couldn’t find anything to watch. You know, THAT modern-day nightmare. Then, my friend Ryan saved the day with a text:
“I rented “Free Guy”! Y’all wanna watch it?”
We couldn’t say “Yes, and…” fast enough.
Ten minutes into the movie, I’m completely sold. Ryan Reynolds is doing his thing and Jodie Comer eclipses him every single time she’s on-screen (we should expect no less from Villanelle).
Then, about ten minutes in, during a bank robbery scene, my partner pauses the movie with a fella on-screen with his hands up, and asks me, “Look at ‘Hands Up Guy’. Is that the Amish dood from Sak?”
I squinted. Then rewound. Then squinted some more. It totally was my friend Mark Lainer!
So, I exclaimed, again, “Yes, and…” then spent about 30 minutes babbling about what a weird experience that must have been and wishing aloud that someone would do interviews with these kinds of folks and coming up with a bunch of questions that I wish I could read the answers to.
Then my partner said, “Well, why don’t you do it?”
To this I said… Yes, and… here’s the interview with ‘Hands Up Guy’ from “Free Guy”!
(of course this has been edited for clarity and length, because I can be a wordy bitch.)
Jacki: What was it like to film with your hands up the whole time? Like that had to be so weird and surreal. (yes, I jumped right outta the gate with a REAL dumb question)
Mark: Um, it wasn’t really bad. Because when you’re filming, you’re only shooting for a short amount of time. So like, when you saw the scenes in the movie of, like, however long it was that I was in the background. That’s all it was. Not all the time.
J: *laughs in embarrassment* (I knew that, but built up this fantastical world where he was a method actor that was living the hardscrabble life of Hands Up Guy)
M: The thing that was hard was the first four days I shot. We’re in a bank in Framingham… and it’s a very classic, old bank, vaulted ceilings… It’s gorgeous. And the floors are marble. And I had to kneel on the floors… for four days.
So I could put my arms down, but I really couldn’t change my position because the cameras are all set so that if they shoot it from a slightly different angle, it matches up properly. We couldn’t, like, get up between tapes. So [I was] on my knees for like 20 minutes. I got knee pads after the first day!
But there’s one scene you can see where I stand up with my arms up in the air. I don’t use anything. After the first day? I could not have done that.
J: I was really drawn to your part immediately because I feel like you play a pretty pivotal role in the movie, in that you’re a visual representation of upholding someone else’s standards. And without spoiling anything that happens, like, does that something that you even thought about?
M: So, the director really liked that character… wanted to be able to add me and so I ended up on the movie for eight and a half weeks, which is amazing, because it’s, you know, Screen Actors Guild. Like, YES! The director was, like, I want to throw him in some more scenes. I want to be able to put him in the background. Because he just, you know, I’m kind of an Easter egg. Really? Yeah.
J: Was it your first feature film?
M: I’ve done feature films, but they’re all like independent films. I did one other film that year, actually one of the lowest-rated movies of 2020. It’s called “Love, Weddings and Other Disasters.” It is not a great movie. (ed note: I watched it and he is 100% correct. Despite a stellar cast including JEREMY FREAKING IRONS, it’s just a mess. It deserves it’s 3% on the Tomatometer.)
J: Did you get to go to the premiere?
M: [Director] Sean [Levy] said, “You know, I don’t think that you’ll be able to go to the LA premiere because he said there are so many celebrities, and they want those pictures and things. But he said you definitely should be able to come to the New York premiere.
When they did the New York premiere, none of us got invited, because the numbers were lower, because of COVID. So they didn’t have as many people there. And they did have Camille Kostek, because she’s a celebrity, Rob Gronkowski’s girlfriend, Sports Illustrated cover model. She is super nice, super nice. But she’s already a celebrity. And then all of the gamers, you know, the famous gamers like Yeah, that’s cool. Yeah, poke domain and Ninja. They have all of them. But I didn’t.
J: I didn’t even realize that those were real gamers in the movie. That’s super cool! Speaking of COVID, How did the Coronavirus change the audition process?
M: Well, it’s all self-tapes and all Zoom callbacks. And I hate it.
J: Yeah, I bet it’s not the same; you wouldn’t get the same energy or feel or read off of a person.
M: No. In fact, I don’t usually even have a live person to read, I usually use my brother. And it’s over zoom. So he’s on Zoom, and I so I have a ring light with a tripod, I put my phone in it, I have a little remote, that works over Bluetooth to turn it on and off. And I film it all myself, and I have to edit it and send it in. And I hate it. Because I’m an actor. I am not a lighting guy. I’m not a camera guy.
J: Yeah, you’re an actor! Well, the first time I met you was when you were on stage at SAK [Comedy Lab]. In fact, I think it was my favorite event ever in Orlando of all time: The Brawl. So what was your experience like at SAK?
M: So okay, so I, I had done improv In college with a group, we were pretty good. I was supposed to go to medical school because I was a neuroscience major. I went to Kenya for six months after college, and then I came back to apply to medical schools.
J: Okay, wow. (I love learning about people’s secret lives before I met them!)
M: I had friends who lived in New York City. And one of my friends said he wanted to come out for a couple of weeks. And I was like, yeah, why not?
I decided, hey, I’ll audition for something. See what happens. And I got, I think was a children’s show, like a play and I moved to New York City. I was there for three and a half years. I was doing improv, a lot of improv, a lot of theater.
One of the guys who was the show director said, hey, they’re going to be having Disney auditions. You should go. I was like, okay, so I went to the Disney auditions. A couple of days later, my friend calls me and he says, they’re going to offer you a contract to come down. And you’ll have 24 hours to decide.
Yeah, it’s like holy crap. So they hired me! Comedy Warehouse was where I started.
J: Ahh, I have heard stories but never got to go!
M: Initially we were supposed to have a month to put together to become a cohesive improv ensemble because that theater had had a spoof of Disney called Forbidden Disney and they decided they wanted to switch to an improv show.
Instead of having four weeks to put together an improv group […], they said, okay, it’s going to be two weeks. They made us learn that old song and dance show and gradually, we started replacing the sketches with improv and eventually became a full improv show that we would occasionally do sketches. But SAK, I would go down every so often and play, but I didn’t really have a lot of time, because I was working a lot for Disney.
J: I bet it was really the heyday back then.
M: It was funny because Claire Sarah, who’s a screenwriter now out in LA, was part of the original SAK group, and she used to do the scheduling. And I would often go in, I think I was off on Friday nights. And I would often go in because Wayne Brady would get a last-minute gig and not be able to do the show. Like, Mark, can you come in? So, yeah, I love playing SAK.
Comedy Warehouse was really cool. We were really all at the top of our game. And we had lighting, and a stage and props, and sound. It was like the slickest thing you’ve ever seen. And every famous person that went through Disney came to see us: Mary Tyler Moore came, Raul Julia came. Who else? Pink came, Meatloaf came!
M: When Pink came, they told us not to like not to pay any attention to her because she didn’t want to draw attention to herself. And then she gave, like, every suggestion for the show. And just like she came out and said, Oh my god, you guys are great.
J: I bet that is hard with a celebrity in the audience because I feel like their energy would, like, pull a lot of focus, especially when you’re asking for suggestions and stuff.
M: Yeah, no, no, I mean, the audiences would get into the show. The weird one was early on. Robin Williams was there with Bobcat Goldthwait. They were talking about something and they were there with Eisner… I think they were there with Eisner. Anyway, they came to see our show. And then Robin Williams came up to the stage.
J: *noise of jubilation*
M: And what really sucked was we used to have something… Do you have enough time for this for me to go ahead?
J: I have all the time in the world.
M: So during our show, one of the things we did was called cliche. One person would be sent out of the room with someone from the audience. The cast onstage would get some kind of a cliche, and we tried to make it hard. I mean, there were things like, “Shoot low, boys, they’re riding Shetlands.”
So when we came back, we would get our job, the person who went out was to guess it so that there’d be one person with you on stage. And then other people would come in and give clues to get you to the point where you could do it. (Act out the cliche action)
J: It’s one of my favorite improv games
M: So what we would do is the last person out would be the person who did the cliche, who just say, and then they would use that in the punch line. So they would build toward that. And it was so satisfying for the audience. Because it was a callback to one scene, and they would go nuts. And the stage manager we had at that point, who has since passed away, was not a good stage manager. He did not know what he was doing.
And he went backstage, and he took this guy, Larry, who had been the one that was out, and he said, Okay, you’re not going to go out and do the ending of it. You’re going to announce that Robin Williams is coming.
J: Way to ruin the punchline!
M: It was so anticlimactic. And we hadn’t done that good of a job in the song. And Robin Williams came up and did like 45 minutes and did all the material that we couldn’t do. He swore, he did talk about Walt being frozen because there was a thing up on the wall that was like a box with what looked like icicles on it. So he did like all the taboo stuff.
J: And got all the laughs, I’m sure.
Did you get to work with Paula Pell at all? I have loved watching her career grow.
M: Paula worked at the Adventurers Club. And Paula, she was so funny. She was so good. And Paul was stocky you know … And the story is that Jane Eisner was there with Michael and saw them and said, “Too heavy. They shouldn’t be here.” So they replaced them. And that, you know, so that was awful.
And [later a videotape of an improvised celebrity talk show was sent] to everybody: agents, everybody, including Saturday Night Live. The only person that [SNL] had an interest in was Paula. And Paula goes out and has lunch with Lorne Michaels. And Lorne Michaels said, we’d like to bring you on as a writer. And Paula was like, I’ve never done any writing. He was like, that’s okay. We can teach you how to write. But you’re funny. And we can teach you.
On that show, I remember she wrote, like, the cheerleader sketches and she would occasionally appear as someone in the audience or something. But when the celebrities were on, they needed somebody to kind of be their liaison with the writers, and so that was Paula. And I’m just so happy that she is kicking ass. Because she is just awesome.
J: I’ve been thinking ever since you said about, like, it’s all digital auditions right now… I think about what a detriment that must be for the older generations of people who only know how to act and know nothing about technology.
M: Yeah, so when I did auditions, I would go to somebody to tape me and I would pay like 30 bucks for somebody to read opposite me to put me on camera to edit it and to upload it. And that’s expensive.
And think about this too. When you’re doing auditions. Like when I was in, in Orlando, the stuff I booked like when I booked Burn Notice and I booked Bones because they shot one day of Bones in Florida. I would take the day off work. I would drive three hours to Miami. I would get out of my car, I would go into the room with the other actors. I would wait, you know, 10 minutes to 35 minutes. Go in, do my thing. Get back in the car and drive back. And the whole way back I go like, oh, I should have done it like this. Oh, I should have done it this way.
M: Yeah. You can’t fix what you did. It’s over. But it’s hard to let that go. That’s why my callback yesterday was so good. Because I was like, I don’t think I could have done it any better. I have no regrets about it.
J: All right. I got three more questions for you. Okay. And only one of them has to do with the movie. Okay. The first one is about Orlando. Yeah. Oh, wait, no, I have four questions. Sorry. Okay. It’s not about Orlando. But what are you consuming right now? Like what? TV movies, books, music, food? What are you loving?
M: Oh, there’s an actor who used to be in Florida named Colin Douglas, who is out in LA. And he’s just fantastic. And I’m doing a weekly Zoom workshop with him and with like, six other actors who are like, you would know them. No, one of them used to be a regular on Homicide. I mean, you would know these actors.
And so he sent copies [of a book] to all of us. And so I read it and that was wonderful. So it’s called “The People We Keep” by Alison Larkin.
And then what am I watching? I watched Ted Lasso, I love Ted Lasso.
I haven’t watched this season of The Morning Show yet. But I love it. I love the first season. I thought it was great. I love when Steve Carell does dramatic acting. And I love Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. And I think they added Julianna Margulies this season!
J: Okay, this is a very personal question to me. But I am, like, a giant fan of Killing Eve. And I was so excited to see Jodie Comer in Free Guy. Is she legitimately a chameleon? Because I’m pretty sure that she is.
M: Yes, yes. She’s frickin’ amazing. The only scene I had with her was the big scene where all of the NPCs were there. And I’m trying to remember, I don’t even think I got a picture with her. I got a picture with Ryan and with, like, everybody, but no, not with her.
You know, this was her first feature film that I know of. And she was wonderful. She’s like, going to be in everything. And she’s brilliant as Villanelle, but I have to say that after the first season Killing Eve got a little bit silly.
J: I have one more dumb question for you. And then we’re done. Okay, if you could write a sequel to Free Guy what would it look like to you? Cuz I have thoughts about this. I’m like, I’m thinking it’d be like, a, like a new character, maybe a woman or something? Or honestly, I would really like to see “Free Dude”.
M: Free dude. That guy’s huge. That actor.
J: I honestly thought it was Ryan Reynolds and makeup until I looked up the cast.
M: No, no, no, no, they just digitize the face. This guy’s like a bodybuilder. He’s massive.
J: Really?! You can’t tell!
M: [A sequel] is hard though. Because you know, the whole point of “Free Guy” is it’s him going from wide-eyed innocent to somebody in control… even though he’s still a good person. So that the secret would have to be from a completely different angle. You can’t tell that story again.
J: I kind of feel like that. Their stories have been told already and they need another focus.
So if people want to keep track of your career, like how do they follow you?
M: Oh, I’m MarkLainer.com. That’s my website. A lot of my commercials are on there and stuff like that, so people can see!
Then I’m on IMDb. Like, so they have something called a star meter. And I shouldn’t even pay attention to this. But producers sometimes pay attention to it. So, every time someone navigates to your [IMBD page] from a unique code, like a unique, as in a different computer, you know, whatever they call it… it registers and then there’s a ranking, the highest is number one, and then it goes down. And then it goes up and down. So like I was up into the 20,000s before. And now I’m back down to like 40,000.
And I have a Facebook fan page where I usually post upcoming stuff.
J: Well, thank you for your time. This was a lot of fun and way less scary than I was anticipating.
M: Oh, I feel bad that I just babbled about myself.