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Spirited director Sean Anders on creating a Christmas extravaganza

We spoke to filmmaker Sean Anders about his new Christmas movie Spirited, his comedy movie past, and working with Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in Spirited

Sean Anders has forged a career as a writer and director of comedy movies such as Horrible Bosses 2, Daddy’s Home, and Instant Family. His new effort, the Christmas movie Spirited, is a charming twist on A Christmas Carol starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds.

The musical movie is now available on the streaming platform Apple TV Plus and we highly recommend you make it a part of your festivities this year. Our Spirited review calls it a “Christmas miracle” and commends the fact that Anders is able to draw such sincere performances out of actors who often ply their trade in the superhero movie and family movie sphere.

The Digital Fix spent some time with Sean Anders ahead of the release of Spirited to discuss the legacy of Charles Dickens’ story, working with Reynolds and Ferrell, and crafting a Christmas musical.

The Digital Fix: The concept of A Christmas Carol that you’ve tackled with Spirited has been done many, many times before, so did you ever have any doubts that you could bring something fresh to that story?

Sean Anders: Not really, because from the beginning, we didn’t start off saying, ‘how can we rethink A Christmas Carol?’ The idea really was born out of a conversation about the ghosts of A Christmas Carol, and how much work they must have to undertake to prepare and plan and put this together. And that led to a conversation about ‘oh, wouldn’t it be interesting to do A Christmas Carol from the perspective of the ghosts?’ So from the very beginning, from the first idea, we were already doing something different with it. So I think that helped.

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TDF: Absolutely. And then the two guys you’ve got involved, Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, they’re probably better known for comedy work. And while there are comedy elements to Spirited as well, I think there was a really sincere side to both of them in the film. How did the three of you work together to find that balance between comedy and the more heartfelt moments?

SA: Well, we were always making a Christmas movie. And when we were digging into Will’s character, we didn’t want this to just be a romp, we wanted it to be about the Ghost of Christmas Present going on his own journey of self discovery. And we treated it like a road movie. And in our case, the road is Clint Briggs’ (Ryan Reynolds) life, but it’s really about these two characters going down that road together and discovering things about themselves and about each other.

I think for both Will and Ryan, they were both very brave. I mean, the easy thing is for the guys to just be quippy and tongue-in-cheek all the way through. But for the guys to really embrace the more earnest, more sincere moments, particularly in song, I think was very brave for both of them.

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in Spirited

TDF: Yeah, definitely. And that brings me on to the next question, actually. So this is very much a musical, which is not something you guys do in general. What kind of challenges did that bring, and also opportunities as well?

SA: Gosh, so many challenges. It was like directing two movies. We had no idea going in and also, we didn’t always have the time we really needed to do the musical numbers as big as we wanted. Because from the beginning, we really wanted to approach it as a big-over-the-top Christmas extravaganza type of musical.

But we didn’t have weeks to shoot these numbers, we had days. So in order to get it right, I think the real hero was our choreographer, Chloe Arnold, who was able to create these numbers that we could shoot in a few days and still give it this massive, Christmas extravaganza quality.

Will Ferrell as the Ghost of Christmas Past in Spirited

TDF: Excellent. And without spoiling anything, do you feel like there’s any scope to continue the story at all? Or was this always a one and out kind of project?

SA: It’s too soon to say on that. We definitely didn’t write it with that in mind, of continuing it. But right now we just need to get the movie out and see how it does.

TDF: That makes sense. I just wanted to ask about a film you’ve been involved in previously, We’re The Millers. There’s the scene where Will Poulter talks about getting paid, which has become a part of meme culture, still to this day. Was that a scene you figured would take off in the way it did, or was that quite a surprise to see people latch on to that moment?

SA: It’s always a surprise. I don’t think you can ever see that kind of thing coming, especially when, you know, that movie is nearly ten years old now. So at the time, I don’t think there was any way of knowing, but I’m always thrilled to see those things and those moments live on.

Will Ferrell as the Ghost of Christmas Past in Spirited

TDF: Yeah, definitely. And final question for me, you’ve worked with Will Ferrell before, so why did you choose to work with him again?

SA: Well, I mean, apart from the obvious that he’s one of the funniest people to ever live and an excellent actor on top of that, he just is one of the best human beings that you can work with. And you can ask around on that one, Will is the real deal and he will also bring something to a set.

His reputation of just being a good, decent human being not only served the message of the movie, but it also just makes our life easier because I think everyone around him, including myself, we all want to be on our best behaviour when Will’s around because we know he really is a genuinely conscientious human being. So he’s great to have. He’s great to work with.

TDF: That’s really nice to know, he’s probably my favourite comedy actor ever. So I’m very glad to know that he’s a nice guy as well. That’s good.

Spirited is out now on the streaming service Apple TV Plus. If you don’t have a subscription you can sign up here. For more Ryan Reynolds, check out our guides to the Deadpool 3 release date and the Welcome to Wrexham season 2 release date.