tv & movies

Meet Hollywood’s Mr Snark, Ryan Reynolds

Ryan Reynolds is more than his biting wit. He is open about his anxiety, his outsized screen persona often belies the low-key reality, and he is signing on bigger, funnier movies than ever before

He may be the world’s most foul-mouthed superhero on screen, but in real life, Ryan Reynolds’ superpower is empathy. The Canadian superstar believes that’s the only way to save the world. “I think everyone can make an impact, big or small. I do what I can from where I sit,” he says, smiling politely at the world premiere of his latest movie, 6 Underground, in Seoul.

Simply dressed in a dark suit, he’s seemingly at ease with the almost-oppressive assembly line of journalists vying for his attention with frantic shouts of “Ryan! Ryan, look here!” But it is a far cry from the confident, goofy persona he presented at a press conference the day before, when the 43-year-old self-deprecatingly joked that falling on cement for an action film after turning 40 wasn’t as hilarious any more. Quips at the ready, when a rogue sound byte startled the audience, he instantaneously fired, “That was me! I had a huge breakfast so…” Everyone lapped it up with uproarious laughter.

On the green carpet, however, he is low-key, his responses thoughtful but not bitingly witty. It brings to mind a revelation he’d shared last year when promoting Deadpool 2 — that beneath his wisecracks and one-liners, dread and anxiety consume him, so much so that he’s often convinced he’ll die. A self-proclaimed ‘twitchy kid’, he’d opened up to The New York Times about growing up with a tough father and using the app, Headspace, to meditate. But he also added that it helped him learn to be “watchful, listen closely and to plumb tragedy for the absurd”.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – DECEMBER 02: (LR)An EXO member and Ryan Reynolds attend the world premiere of Netflix’s ‘6 Underground’ at Dongdaemun Design Plaza on December 02, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Jean Chung/Getty Images for Netflix)

Korea calling

Reynolds has been using humour as a defence mechanism for decades — and not just while giving interviews armed with the Deadpool persona — going all the way back to the sitcom, Two Guys and a Girl (1998). In between takes, he often put on a show for the ABC show’s live audience, not just to entertain them, but also to focus his own anxious energy elsewhere. And now, back in Seoul’s sub-freezing December weather, the excited crowd gathered inside the Zaha Hadid-designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDA), is doing little to calm him, or anyone’s, frayed nerves.

In demand

  • Reynolds has quite a few projects in hand. He has signed Imaginary Friends, a fantastical comedy by Paramount, co-staring John Krasinski. According to Hollywood Reporter, it is his second high-profile package ‘to be sold in a bidding war in as many weeks’. Earlier, Apple had brought him on board for the musical interpretation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with Will Ferrell. He also has Free Guy, Shawn Levy’s adventure comedy (Fox/Disney), which is in post-production now.

Before he makes his way on to the stage, the wait is endless. A fast-paced soundtrack accompanies the cast’s walk from their individual black Bentleys. A Korean emcee hypes the audience, its effect dulled by an English translator. K-Pop band EXO are slated to perform during the event. People cheer as the celebrities — Mélanie Laurent, Adria Arjona and Reynolds, along with director Michael Bay — sign as many posters as they can. Reynolds, especially, has a star value few peers can boast of, and he’s got Seoul wrapped around his little finger after a 2018 appearance on King of Mask Singer, a Korean show that features disguised participants belting out songs. His rendition of Annie’s ‘Tomorrow’, face hidden by a unicorn mask, had charmed everyone, but it was the judges’ hilarious reactions that make the performance perennially re-watchable.

Ryan Reynolds attends the ‘Deadpool 2’ movie Photocall at Villamagna Hotel in Madrid on May 7, 2018 (Photo by Gabriel Maseda/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

That viral charm

The Korean viral video wasn’t Reynolds’ first or last attempt at content marketing and promotion. Deadpool had been languishing in development purgatory since 2004 before being self-financed in part by the actor and finally hitting screens in 2016. When Reynolds’ test footage — created to convince studio execs for capital — leaked in 2014, it received an overwhelming response online, becoming the catalyst for several other marketing efforts. He roped in his on-screen nemesis, Hugh Jackman (who plays Wolverine in the Marvel universe), in a few hilarious vignettes, too. Today, he’s considered one of the best marketers around, so much so that there are articles on tactics to learn from him!

“I love marketing. I don’t know why; everybody’s different,” he says. “They always say that actors are paid for the acting, but I like this part. Since I was a kid, I’ve always appreciated marketing.” His latest was a pitch for a Samsung television while promoting 6 Underground, which, quite incredibly, even advertised his Aviation gin. “I bought mid-roll ad placement,” he deadpans when questioned, “You bought an ad for your gin in an ad for your movie within an ad for an ad for a Samsung TV.”

Not surprisingly, the humour that’s omnipresent in his projects seeps into his personal life, too. On Twitter, he’s become one of the funniest handles to follow, with gems like: “On our 6 am walk, my daughter asked where the moon goes each morning. I let her know it’s in heaven, visiting daddy’s freedom.” His trolling battles with wife Blake Lively are legendary — birthday posts with Lively cropped out of photos parried with comments on Reynolds’ cooking skills, deflected with tweets on the Gossip Girl actor’s fashion choices. The back-and-forth is ongoing.

Lights, camera, action

It might be going great guns for Hollywood’s favourite mischief-maker, but it is a hard-won victory. In his heavily-chequered, nearly three-decade-long career, there’s been more tanks than tops, with his high-profile relationships — an engagement to singer Alanis Morissette, and a brief marriage to Scarlett Johansson — often overshadowing his work. One of the biggest blows was 2011’s Green Lantern, a film so universally panned, it destroyed his chances to get Deadpool green lit. Calling it “the hair shirt I’ll wear” (to NYT), he admitted last year that he’s never seen the final cut of the film. The only upside: he met Lively, with whom he now has three daughters, on the set.

The runaway success of Deadpool was Reynold’s turning point. Earning $782 million (against a $58 million budget), it received two Golden Globe nominations and a strong interest for a sequel. Expectedly, the built-in expectations from act two spiked Reynolds’ anxiety, but he delivered another hit — sticking to his vision, to the extent of opposing director Tim Miller’s attempt of making the sequel a megabudget project (Miller reportedly exited because of this to be replaced by David Leitch).

Changing screens

  • With 6 Underground, Netflix hopes to bring the cinema inside viewers’ homes. “I come from big scale action and big imagery, and I appreciate the movie screen, but our whole business has changed in the past three to four years,” explains Bay. “People want to consume things in different ways.” After a pause, he adds, “Go get a big TV!”
  • Producer Ian Bryce echoes the sentiment, saying that streaming platforms are where filmmaking is headed. Especially when a studio like Paramount passed on 6 Underground — which has reportedly cost upwards of a $150 million — because of budgetary issues. “Netflix gives you a lot of freedom and they have enough money to make the movie. [Michael] and I know the future is here [Netflix] and we want to be a part of that.”

“6 UNDERGROUND” (2019) – Pictured: Ryan Reynolds Photo by: Christian Black/Courtesy of Netflix

Now, in 2019, comes his Michael Bay vigilante action thriller that will be exclusively released on Netflix. The actor plays a billionaire, going by the moniker One, “who’s lost his way and becomes somewhat disenfranchised with geopolitical issues and life in general. [Then] he does something that we all have wished, at some time, we could do… he takes things into his own hands, to make the world a better place.” Or as Reynolds explained (more succinctly) on Twitter, “How Michael Bay Stopped Worrying and Love Explosions More”.

Needless to say, the body count is astounding and the film has an overwhelming number of action sequences. A large part of these, in a deliberate move by Bay, were filmed using stunt doubles, without relying too much on digital effects. “I am a huge fan of the analogue type of visual effects,” says Reynolds, talking about the lure of 6 Underground. “So much of what you see in this movie actually happened, performed by incredibly talented stunt people.”

Another highlight is an adrenaline-fuelled car chase in the narrow streets of Florence, Italy. “[The highlight] was first convincing the city of Florence to do it,” says Bay. “They’d never done anything like this for 1,200 years.” The actors spent a month shooting this single sequence, holed up in a sports car. “We met in that car and spent a month in that car, so that was a pretty good intro to meeting someone,” says co-star Laurent, about her favourite scene with Reynolds.

Now, it remains to be seen whether Reynolds’ marketing video and Netflix’s latest gamble will bring in the viewers. Since the streaming platform doesn’t release statistics, we’ll only know if a sequel is announced soon.

6 Underground will première on Netflix on December 13.

The writer was in Seoul at the invitation of Netflix.

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