There’s something unmistakably cool and oddly charming about an actor People magazine once crowned the world’s sexiest man alive playing a comic book anti-hero whose face looks like someone boiled a potato and smothered it with pasta sauce. But, in a way, Ryan Reynolds was born to play Deadpool (born Wade Wilson), the glib, cancer-surviving, fourth-wall-breaking protagonist of Tim Miller’s dark and bloody and subversive superhero comedy. The part was written, quite literally, with Reynolds in mind.
“The first moment of self-referential, self-deprecating humor was not from me, it came from ‘Deadpool,’” says Reynolds, who will receive a star Dec. 15 on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “It was from a piece in the comics where someone asked Deadpool what he looked like underneath the mask, and he said, ‘I look like a cross between Ryan Reynolds and a Shar-Pei.’ And I love that. I immediately clicked with that.”
For Reynolds, who was born and raised in Vancouver and, like many fledgling young bucks angling to make it, came to Los Angeles to break into the biz, Deadpool’s proclivity to self-mock is something to which the actor — who cut his teeth appearing on the Nickelodeon series “Fifteen” and other adolescent small screen fare — can fully relate.
“Early on when I first moved to Los Angeles, that is what my bread and butter was — this ability to kind of laugh at myself,” he says. “You know, I was in those audition rooms early on and I was sitting there with 10, 12, 20 — sometimes up to 50 — other guys jockeying for the same role, and I could see guys that had far more experience than I did, and there were guys that were taller, better looking, and I just used that ability to be self-deprecating as a kind of crutch and that’s what sort of got my foot in the door.”
But when Reynolds moved south, the notion that he’d one day become a bankable star and carry a big action-adventure superhero movie like “Deadpool” was as outlandish as the plot of the film itself.
“My goal was to move down to Los Angeles to be in the Groundlings,” says Reynolds. “And, of course, when I got there I realized, and rightfully so, you have to take the course and you have to go through their classes and work your way up to the main stage, all of which I didn’t really have the time or the money to do simply because I was basically a visiting tourist.”
Groundlings dreams dashed, Reynolds landed an L.A. agent who sent him out on rounds of auditions for sitcoms, which is how he secured a plum gig on the ABC series “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place,” which ran for five seasons.
“I was able to have a pretty great job, and I had a live audience, which in many instances mirrored the same experience I was looking for in the Groundlings,” says Reynolds.
From there Reynold’s career took off, with leading roles in National Lampoon’s ribald college romp “Van Wilder,” the ’80s amusement park comedy “Adventureland,” and the big screen version of DC Comic’s “The Green Lantern.”
In the meantime, Reynolds, along with Miller and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, spent 11 years laboring to get “Deadpool” made. But nobody seemed interested in a story about a smooth-talking mercenary who subjects himself to a rogue experiment wherein he beats cancer but becomes disfigured and develops magical healing powers.
“‘Deadpool’ was always a passion project of mine — I just could not get it off the ground as hard as I tried,” says Reynolds, who’s also a producer on the film. “We came close to the starting gate at a number of different studios and iterations. Right before I signed on for ‘The Green Lantern’ I went back to Fox and asked one last time if there was any way, shape or form they would see this character of Deadpool in their future. At the time that answer was ‘No.’ Now, this is a completely different regime than what we have currently at Fox, but that particular regime didn’t see the benefits of it, and for a variety of reasons that I can understand: it’s rated-R, it’s meta, it’s intense, it’s many things they’re not used to.”
Cut to 2016 and “Deadpool” is a giant box office success for Fox, grossing more than $782 million in worldwide ticket sales, fielding critical accolades and possibly netting awards season recognition.
“In filming, the real pressure was just getting everything right, because ‘Deadpool’ is a tightrope walk of a very tricky tone,” Reynolds says. “The great hope of ‘Deadpool’ is that you can walk away thinking it’s one of the funniest movies you’ve ever seen, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s a tremendous amount of drama and agony that we put this character through and that he’s experiencing a searing psychic pain that would break most people. We grounded [‘Deadpool’] in a kind of hell that a huge number of the population can relate to, and In doing that, it really paved the way for us to earn a lot of those comedic beats later in the film. That’s the sort of cake mix that goes into the [creation] of ‘Deadpool’ and that’s that makes it work.”
“Deadpool 2” is in the works, with David Leitch attached to direct. But while that’s a joyful prospect, Reynolds is mostly just “happy that ‘Deadpool’ got made.”
“I’m so happy that’s it’s become something of cultural phenomenon,” he says. “I’ll walk out of my apartment in New York City and I can’t believe it: I’ll see something like 300 Deadpools in any square block. It’s mindblowing to me.”