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NEW YORK (Reuters) - In the midst of a burgeoning Hollywood career, Ryan Reynolds took on a frantic, 17-day shoot on a low-budget movie called "Buried" with a little-known Spanish director. Trapped in a coffin. The entire film.
If that seemed un-Hollywood for a rising star coming off the $317 million box office hit "The Proposal" opposite Sandra Bullock and about to take on big-budget comic book movie "Green Lantern," it was. Yet, the Canadian actor said variety has been key to his long-term success.
"I don't think I am such a big star for this film, I got the script and was looking for something a little unorthodox," Reynolds told Reuters. "For me it can be as risky to do a broad comedy as it is to do a movie about a guy in a box."
In the thriller that hits theaters on Friday, Reynolds plays a U.S. civilian truck driver working in Iraq. After falling unconscious he wakes up in the dark, buried alive in a coffin with only a cell phone and a lighter to aid his escape.
The independent film received early praise and was acquired at January's Sundance Film Festival for its portrayal of one man's tense race against time to save his life.
While the 33-year-old actor, who is married to Scarlett Johannson, relished the opportunity to take the role of a man buried in a box, he admitted to some discomfort working long hours in tightly closed quarters.
"It quickly became a phobia of mine, because you can't help but feel the walls closing in like that, in this particular shooting, under the circumstances," he said.
Reynolds' youthful looks and polite manner belie the 20 years he spent climbing the acting ladder, "which makes me feel old," he laughed.
Early in his career, he was reputed as underrated actor from a humble background. He famously worked in a grocery store for two years at age 16 before heading to L.A.
A litany of small roles on TV and in film led to a star turn in "The Amityville Horror," and from there his roles began to grow bigger in films such as "Definitely, Maybe" and action flick "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."
"The Proposal," in which he portrays an office assistant whose boss orders him to marry her so she can maintain her immigration status, put him on the map of mainstream movie audiences in 2009.
"My career has been an aggregate slow march," he said. "I have never had this meteoric success in just one particular style of movie."
Now, with offers to star in flicks like "Green Hornet" coming his way, Reynolds finds himself balancing his desire to work in big-budget studio movies with his ambition for taking challenging roles in adult dramas such as "Buried."
"Those are the moments where you think, 'this is a part of it, it's show and biz', the two are inextricably linked and you have to do both," he said.
He took on "Buried," which had long been on Hollywood's blacklist of scripts deemed too difficult to make, after being wooed by Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes.
The film is critical of corporations leaving civilians to fend for themselves in Iraq, and Reynolds said "it is not a polemic on the war." Rather, he likened "Buried" to a metaphor for the frustrations of many people working in dehumanizing corporate environments.
editing by Bob Tourtellotte