When most movie stars arrive at a restaurant for a lunch interview they usually toss their Mercedes keys to a valet and ask if they can get a table that is both secluded but also clearly visible from every corner of the dining room. On a recent gray afternoon, though, Ryan Reynolds arrived at a scruffy Hollywood diner with a motorcycle helmet under his tattooed arm and sat down at the brown leather booth closest to the door. When he ordered a Cobb salad the waitress didn’t look up from her pad. “You want it with Balsamic, like the last time?” “Yeah,” he said, “Easy on the cheese. And, unlike my wife, I want the bacon.”
Reynolds clearly enjoys the aura of the average Joe, even if his bacon-eschewing wife happens to be Scarlett Johansson and he himself is ramping up to a new level of stardom as the title character in “Green Lantern,” the highly anticipated Warner Bros. superhero movie due out next summer. How anticipated? The project already has landed the Canadian actor on the cover of Entertainment Weekly in his new masked-man mode.
That’s just the start — Reynolds is also set to star in “R.I.P.D.,” which is a buddy-cop story set in the afterlife, and “Deadpool,” a scabby and subversive tale about a lab-created mercenary. He’s also doing a broad comedy called “The Change-Up” — Reynolds plays a slacker dude who switches bodies with a reliable family man (Jason Bateman) — and then “Safe House,” a thriller with Denzel Washington.
The choices show a career interest in broad-audience, special-effects films — Reynolds has appeared in or signed up for half a dozen comic-book adaptations — but the 33-year-old says he is most intrigued by skewed and damaged versions of heroes, like Deadpool, and in storytelling challenges like those presented by “Buried,” the unsettling thriller that arrives in theaters this Friday. “Buried” enjoyed a lively run on the festival circuit and enough buzz at the Sundance Film Festival to stir a bidding war that was won by Lionsgate for $4 million. The film by Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés is an unnerving 94 minutes spent inside a coffin; Reynolds, the only face seen in the film, is a civilian truck driver in Iraq who is kidnapped and, after waking from a head injury, realizes he has been buried alive in a rough-hewn casket and left with a cellphone so he can arrange a ransom that will earn his freedom before the air runs out.
“It’s one of those rare movies that you experience more than you watch it,” Reynolds said. “The selling point to me was that script had both a narrative challenge and a technical challenge. It’s rare to find a script that has both. People like Hitchcock, that’s all he looked for. Films like ‘Rope’ and ‘Lifeboat’ and ‘Rear Window,’ that was what they were all about. I had a lot of confidence in Rodrigo, though. He sent me a comprehensive, 15-page treatise on why he wanted to make the film. That hooked me. It’s not the most glamorous role. You get in the box and as an actor you have to do these things that are embarrassing, frightening and raw. It was an adventure.”
There was an intricate system of sliding panels that allowed Cortés and cinematographer Eduard Grau a startling array of vantage points and unexpected visuals. Conroy’s cellphone connects him to the world above and to the unfolding mystery of his predicament while his Zippo lighter’s flickering flame illuminates his face and his fear. The movie also has political overtones with commentary on corporate America, terrorism, war and working-man hardships. “There’s a lot,” Cortés said, “that goes in the box with him.”
Whimpering and clawing at a coffin lid took Reynolds to a very different place than “The Proposal,” last year’s romantic comedy that pulled in $317 million worldwide and stands as the his biggest Hollywood success. That role put him opposite Sandra Bullock, a good friend, and the film added to his chick-flick resume, which already included “Definitely Maybe” and “Just Friends.” Reynolds now seems to be moving into a bigger emphasis on fanboy fare. He played Deadpool, the Marvel Comics character, in the 2009 film “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and is especially eager to take that character into a solo film. He said he would be thrilled if Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City“) can direct, as Fox hopes.
Reynolds grew up in Vancouver as the youngest of four children — his father was a retired cop and food wholesaler, his mom a saleswoman — and began acting on a Canadian youth drama called “Hillside” that was retitled “Fifteen” for the U.S. marketplace. In 1995, at age 18, the restless Reynolds moved to Los Angeles but found the city less than welcoming. He checked into a cheap motel and, the next morning, found that his jeep had rolled downhill and had been stripped to the point that he drove without doors for months.
Reynolds was the title star of “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder” in 2002, which gave him a career foothold, but coarse humor and frothy roles left him feeling a bit numb. When asked what he considers a signpost moment in his acting life he pointed to “The Nines,” a little-seen 2007 film. “That was such a wake-up call for me. The movie was made on less than a million dollars. I loved the process. I loved the character I was given to play. I learned a lot about filmmaking from John August, who was directing. That was the birth of my own ambition. There were particular films after that that I went after. I had a new view.”
“The Nines” was also a revelation for Cortés, the Spanish filmmaker, who was struck by Reynolds’ three-character performance — he plays an actor, a video-game designer and a writer whose lives (and deaths) are linked in unsettling ways. “I saw an actor with an alien sense of timing and incredible skill to get very deep and immediate emotions with very small things and great nuance. He is a great talent and he makes brave choices.”
Some observers might question whether superhero roles represent artistic fearlessness but Reynolds said that with Deadpool there’s far more than cartoon heroics. “It’s a nasty piece of work. It’s just based in so much emotional filth, completely. It’s like ‘Barfly‘ if it were a superhero movie. It sort of treads into the world of an emotionally damaged person. I always say that Deadpool is a guy in a highly militarized shame spiral…. It’s so different than the superhero movies to date, it departs so far from that.”
Green Lantern, meanwhile, is a superhero that dates back to the 1940s. The film is being directed by Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale“) and chronicles the adventures of Hal Jordan, a cocky but courageous test pilot who becomes the first earthling in the Green Lantern Corps, a sort of interstellar peace-keeping force in which all the members wear green, glowing rings that have nearly unlimited power. Campbell has said that the film will reach back to the robust cosmic adventure of vintage “Flash Gordon” and the director said that Reynolds has both the physical presence and the winking charisma to pull off the role. “He is someone that you believe to be brave but can also remain accessible to the audience.”
Reynolds says one compass point for his take on Jordan is Han Solo, actor Harrison Ford’s signature scoundrel from the “Star Wars” films. “He knows how to throw a punch, tell a joke and kiss a girl,” Reynolds said. “I like that. Who doesn’t like that?”
And on the subject of romance, Reynolds married Johansson in 2008 (he previously had been engaged to singer Alanis Morissette) and now the pair are becoming something close to fanboy royalty since she portrays Black Widow in Marvel films including Joss Whedon’s upcoming ensemble blockbuster “The Avengers.” Reynolds said that “there are more comic books around our house than you’d find in the home of most married couples” and he said that while the pair has flirted with idea of appearing on screen together it’s not something they are chasing. Reynolds is fairly private and seemed far more at ease being in a coffin than on the gossip pages. When asked how he avoids a lot of tabloid attention, the average Joe shrugged and smiled, and looked around the diner. “We don’t shop on Robertson.”
— Geoff Boucher
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