PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn ventured deep into the heart of America to film the gambling drama "Mississippi Grind," a gritty, 70s-style road trip movie about two near-strangers travelling from Dubuque, Iowa to New Orleans.
The production spanned the heartland as they drove all over Mississippi, Missouri, Louisiana and Alabama, going to little towns and little casinos and off the beaten path racing tracks, often filming the "road trip" scenes while they were also actually travelling elsewhere.
"I got to go to place that I'd never see otherwise," said Reynolds on Sunday. "I love the South. I go all over the South all the time. My wife (Blake Lively) and I are addicted to New Orleans. But we've never been to those steamboat casinos or anything like that."
To prepare for their roles as expert gamblers, the two went out on the town with a "poker czar" a few times before they were "thrown to the wolves with genuine, 14-hour a day sitting at a table grinding killers," said Mendelsohn.
"They see us coming and they slide over to that table," added Reynolds.
It was Reynolds, though, that had the advantage at the tables, mostly because he just isn't that good at poker.
"I would say that I am mediocre at best. I noticed that they were more afraid of me. The idiot who shows up at the table and doesn't know what he's doing is the most dangerous," he said.
Reynolds admits that he did have to get past some initial assumptions about the real life players he was interacting with.
"You get there and you cast all these aspersions, like 'Oh man, these guys are the dregs. What is this going to be like?' And then you fall in love with each and every one of them. You really do. They have stories to tell and they have lives that they've led. They may sit at poker tables for 14 hours a day...," he said.
Many of the casinos, however, would only allow the production to shoot during off hours.
"They like having all the guys that lose the money come in there at the prime hours. So we would shoot from about 2 a.m. to 1 p.m. which is a terrible time to be awake," said Reynolds.
The production was so small that most of the time people didn't notice that Reynolds and Mendelsohn were sitting two tables down from them — except when the actors were in the way of a machine a particular customer wanted to play on.
For Mendelsohn, an Australian actor, the film, which premiered at Sundance, was once in a lifetime experience. "You get to sort of pseudo live these lives for a time. You would never do it of your own volition. It's one of the great pleasures of the job," he said.
Lindsey Bahr, http://www.twitter.com/ldbahr