Ryan Reynolds Talks Pressure of Working With Beloved Franchise at 'Pokémon Detective Pikachu' Premiere

Director Rob Letterman says he worked with the creators of the worldwide phenomenon in Japan to "make sure we got it right."
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Ryan Reynolds (left) and Justice Smith

Among the hordes of fans donning Pikachu ears in Times Square, Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith and more of the Pokémon Detective Pikachu cast hit the yellow carpet for the live-action film's premiere in New York on Thursday evening.

Though Reynolds' wife Blake Lively was greeted with the loudest of screams when she emerged and revealed her pregnancy, the fans made their presence and passion for the Pokémon franchise known throughout the premiere. This, and the fact that the conglomerate is the highest-grossing media franchise of all time, naturally put a lot of pressure on everyone involved with the film.

“I’m nervous right now. I always am nervous. It’s something that people care a lot about; that people grew up on around the world," director Rob Letterman told The Hollywood Reporter. "We put a lot of care and love into making sure it was right. And we worked very closely with the original creators in Japan to make sure we got it right."

Reynolds, who's the voice behind the titular character, Pikachu, was initially taken aback by Pokémon's popularity. But any fears faded away after he familiarized himself with the screenplay.

"You’re sort of grappling with this beast. There’s a reason that Pokémon’s been a worldwide cultural phenomenon for so long and people are so passionate about it," he told THR. "But it was a great story and it worked whether you had Pokémon in it or not."

Letterman said that even before Reynolds was cast, he knew he was "perfect" for the role — not based on instinct, though. The director explained that he took a clip of Reynolds from The Proposal and placed his voice to an animated Pikachu.

"Once I saw that clip, I was done," Letterman said, describing Reynolds as someone who's "hilarious" and who can also be "grounded."

"It’s a really hard thing to do. It really narrows down who can play that character," he added. "We wanted somebody with a big personality who could come out of this adorable, little character. But they also had to have heart."

Reynolds admitted that he "had to do a lot of research very fast," in order to familiarize himself with the various facets of the Pokémon universe, but for his onscreen sidekick Justice Smith, the role came a bit more naturally.

"I was a huge fan of Pokémon. I watched the anime. I had all the original cards. I played all the games. I had Pokémon Gold, Pokémon Crystal.... I mean, I was just a huge fan of it," Smith told THR. "It meant a lot to me as a kid and so to mix my job with my childhood, what’s better than that?"

Smith plays the son of the missing detective Harry Goodman, who, along with Goodman's Pokémon partner Pikachu, set out to find him.

Though the lead role was obviously intimidating, Smith was more excited than overwhelmed.

"The character I was playing wasn’t someone who was that well known," he said. "Yeah, he was in the Detective Pikachu game, but I felt free rein to kind of establish my own person in this universe."

Smith described his role in the filmmaking process as a lot of talking to himself "in front of a camera with like 100 members of the crew."

Since Pikachu was added in postproduction, Smith relied on an earpiece to feed the Pokémon's lines to him.

According to Letterman, the film's technology is "so seamless people might not notice."

"It’s really an incredible accomplishment from the visual perspective," Letterman said. "Pikachu, as adorable as he is, he has a skeleton. He has muscles. He has skin. He has fur. If he gets wet, the computer simulates the water droplet going down his fur. It’s stunning what they do."

Though Pokémon Detective Pikachu writers Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit didn't execute the CGI technology, it was a priority of theirs to make all of the Pokémon as real as possible.

"I wanted fans to go and see, and infer, for the duration of the film, that this is real. Pokémon are alive," Hernandez told THR. "And we treated them with respect and brought them to life the way people always dreamed they could be brought to life."

Samit added that they also wanted the film to be "different from all of the other Pokémon [entities] that came before," especially to make use of the live-action form.

"We have this whole new world of Ryme City where Pokemon and people live side by side, and we haven’t really seen that before," he said. "So It was really exciting and a good reason for live action."

Pokémon Detective Pikachu hits theaters May 10.