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The youngest of four boys, Ryan Reynolds remembers watching Peter Sellers movies, The Exorcist and even the risque sex comedy Porky’s as a youngster — hardly a kid-friendly lineup. “I really do credit a lot of where I am today to my brothers. Those experiences shaped me,” says Reynolds, 40. He began acting at age 15, appearing in the Canadian teen soap Hillside — as well as joining an improv group at a local community theater. His Hollywood career took off with Van Wilder in 2002, and while he’s still known best for his comedies — such as 2009’s The Proposal with Sandra Bullock — he’s also made a number of dramas, including the upcoming space station epic, Life. This year, Reynolds enjoyed a story-book victory when Deadpool, the groundbreaking R-rated superhero movie he fought for seven years to make, grossed $786 million at the worldwide box office.
Is there a prejudice against comedies among some circles in Hollywood?
Always. I’m grateful the Golden Globes recognizes it as a category. I wish the Academy did. Comedy is incredibly hard to do, and it’s not something that comes easily. I would say my transition to drama began with a film called The Nines  with John August. I’ve been lucky and have been able to do both with varying degrees of success throughout my career.
Why is comedy harder?
The best comedy, in my opinion, has to be grounded in some form of truth. The character Deadpool is my alter ego. I don’t want to sound esoteric, but I can channel that guy in a way I just can’t seem to channel anything else. In terms of his sensibilities and certainly his sense of humor, I feel like we were born at the end of the same spectrum. It’s a very odd situation. I wouldn’t characterize it as an easy role to play because the great hoax of Deadpool is that there’s actually great dramatic tension that surrounds all of the comedy in the movie. I don’t think we could have gotten those comedic payoffs if audiences weren’t invested emotionally in the character. When the movie opened, we’d start to hear people say, “That was the funniest movie I’ve ever seen.”
You played Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Fanboys skewered the filmmakers for sewing Deadpool’s mouth shut. Why did you and the writers [Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick] decide to take matters into your owns hands and try a stand-alone film?
They could have offered me any superhero role under the sun and I never would have done it, because I was part of Green Lantern, which for too many reasons missed in a big way. Deadpool is wholly unique. It’s almost cliche to use that term, but he’s truly as anti-hero as a guy can get. A movie about a superhero who is morally flexible was a gap in this industry that needed to be filled. The long game doesn’t generally pay off in Hollywood, but once in a blue moon it does, and Deadpool was a case in point. Paul and Rhett and I were on this adventure together from the beginning, and then [director] Tim [Miller] jumped on as well.
How much improv is in the film?
For every joke, we’d write 10 alternates. We’d shoot a scene and then Rhett, Paul and I would huddle and say, “OK, let’s think of another and another.” I made sure they were on set the entire process because I think their voices are so undervalued when it comes to this property.
You and Miller recently parted ways, and he won’t be coming back to direct Deadpool 2.
Ultimately, everything is on track, that’s all that matters at the moment.
In addition to acting and producing, you played an unprecedented role in Fox’s marketing campaign for Deadpool, and it recently won top honors at the Clio Key Art Awards.
Admittedly, I’ve never taken ownership of anything the way I did with this. We had this almost unfair advantage because we had a character who is a total misfit, a f—ing rascal, a hedonist who breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly. I mean, that right there is a marketing dream.
How were you introduced to the Deadpool character?
Someone gave me one of the comic books in 2004. When I opened it, the story started with someone asking Deadpool what he looked like under the mask and he said he looked like a cross between Ryan Reynolds and a shar-pei. It was destiny, and I fell in love with him instantly.
Wernick and Reese wrote Life, a sci-fi thriller set on the International Space Station that you also star in. What was it like shifting to a drama about astronauts who might have discovered life on Mars?
It was great. I play one of six astronauts and got to work with someone who is probably the most interesting actor in all of show business, Jake Gyllenhaal. And then, of course, Rhett and Paul wrote this intensely provocative drama. It just shows their talents in ways that are almost inexpressible. How they can pivot from Deadpool to that film is pretty cool. It’s an intensely conversational script. I really wanted to slide into an ensemble situation after Deadpool.
What is your biggest fear as an actor?
One of the most astonishing moments I’ve ever had was the first table read for Woman in Gold. Helen Mirren leaned over and whispered, “I’m so nervous.” I remember looking at her for a long beat. I leaned in and said, “You’re Helen f—ing Mirren. Get it the f— together.” We’ve been best buddies ever since, and there was something weirdly comforting about what she said. The day I’m not nervous when showing up on a set is the day I call it quits.
Were you the designated clown in your family?
Well, yes. When you’re the youngest of four, you’re not going to get anywhere using your fists.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE AWARDS SHOW …
Reynolds joins a cadre of actors — “serious” and otherwise — whose work could be recognized in the Golden Globes musical or comedy category
Russell Crowe – The Nice Guys
He and fellow contender Ryan Gosling traded physical and verbal barbs in this 1970s caper about inept private eyes in Los Angeles.
Robert De Niro – The Comedian
The Oscar winner holds his own doing stand-up routines in this film (a passion project for him) about an aging comic trying to regain his edge.
Jesse Eisenberg – Cafe Society
The Oscar-nominated actor (The Social Network) reteamed with To Rome With Love director Woody Allen on this ode to Hollywood.
Alden Ehrenreich – Rules Don’t Apply
The future young Han Solo caught director Warren Beatty’s eye and landed a prime gig opposite Lily Collins.
Colin Farrell – The Lobster
Farrell and co-star Rachel Weisz breathed life into this oddball comedy about single people fighting against being turned into animals.
Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
The Brit stars opposite Meryl Streep’s titular character, playing dutiful mate to her truly awful opera singer.
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
He’s also in the running for The Nice Guys, but Gosling is more of a frontrunner for this musical homage to the City of Angels.
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
The Lord of the Rings star has gotten notice for his portrayal of a single dad raising six kids in the Pacific Northwest.
This story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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