It’s not every day that one wakes up at 5am for a cross-continental virtual interaction. But it’s not every day that one gets to chat with Ryan Reynolds. The 45-year-old actor — who has also diversified into writing and film production — engaged in a chat with some select global media last week on his film Red Notice.
Premiering on Netflix on November 12, the action-comedy directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber has Reynolds — no stranger to wacky humour on screen, the most notable being Deadpool — playing a cheeky, street-smart con man, with Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot as his heavyweight co-stars. Over a period of 20 minutes, Reynolds spoke to us about his new film, the experience of sharing screen space with his pals, being star-struck and what makes him love Bollywood.
What got you interested in Red Notice?
Honestly, this is the cheapest answer! (Laughs) I was most interested in working with my friends, my pals. A lot of the movies that I do... I produce, I write, and there is a lot more responsibility. On Red Notice, I just had to jump into the sandbox with some friends I have known for a long time... and just have fun! It’s not always that you get to do that, and sometimes, you forget that this job is fun. I never forgot that for a second on the set of Red Notice. It was really special.
Did playing this role require any specific preparation?
It was mostly stretching! (Laughs) That was kind of it. There was not really a ton to do in terms of deep-seated character work. Dwayne (Johnson), Gal (Gadot) and I have a kind of off-screen friendship and camaraderie and that is the exact same thing that you will see on screen. That’s what Netflix was paying for. They wanted this friendship to transfer on to Red Notice and be a part of the fabric and DNA of the film. That’s what we were excited to give them.
If you come for dinner with Dwayne and me, we quite literally talk to each other the way we do in Red Notice (laughs). It’s pretty funny to be around him, and that’s the way it’s always been for us. And to put that up on screen was a real pleasure.
Taking off from what you said, with Deadpool, Wonder Woman and the inimitable Dwayne Johnson, Red Notice seems like a superhero crossover that a lot of fans will be happy about. What was it like when you heard that the three of you would be sharing screen space?
It’s always interesting working with larger-than-life personalities, and sometimes you don’t know which way it will go. Thankfully, we all knew each other and that was not a concern. I am also a fan of films and of movie stars, and people don’t realise that just because I work in this industry — where I have been for almost 30 years now — I still get excited and kicked when someone like Dwayne or Gal walks into a room (smiles). And my first instinct isn’t, ‘Oh, those are my pals!’ My first reaction actually is, ‘Oh my God! That’s Gal Gadot and that’s Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson!’ So I get a little star-struck like everybody else (laughs).
Gal is really athletic and really gifted when it comes to doing the fight sequences. She did a ton of the action herself, and I was really blown away by that. I have known Dwayne for a long time, and just his sheer strength... it’s just (pauses).... He’s so strong... he could just pick me up and throw me across the room like I was a toothpick! (Laughs)
Red Notice has some adrenaline-pumping moments. Which scene was the most interesting for you to film?
There is a sequence in the chapel where we meet Gal’s character, The Bishop, for the first time. That was the most interesting scene to shoot for me because that’s the first time that all three of us had shot together in one room, and that was exciting and fun. The whole scene was like a chess game... everybody was sizing up each other, and Gal was being so charming and funny and easy in that scene. In most of her parts, whether it’s Wonder Woman or some others, she’s usually authoritative. So to see her being kind of like Cary Grant in this film was really fun for me.
Which one of you is the best fighter and who is the weakest?
I would say it’s a toss-up between Dwayne and I as the weakest, only because Gal is very elegant, very flexible and clearly has some significant training in this. Dwayne will kill you if he gets his hands on you! (Laughs) But I know that I am faster than Dwayne so if I say something that goes a little bit too far with him, I can always run away! (Laughs)
So, Gal is probably the best all-round fighter... Dwayne, if he gets his hands on you then you are done.... And I am not a fighter at all, I am, in fact, quite a chicken. In this movie, I am trying to avoid the fights as much as possible and stick to the stealing.
So what was it like playing a con man?
When you work in show business, most of what you are doing and most of the people you are around is mostly a con job! (Laughs out loud) So it’s not that difficult to get yourself into that mindset. I love that he’s (Nolan Booth) a bit of a rascal and you can’t ever trust him. You always have to stay on edge with Nolan.
It was a lot of fun but also a challenge because we were shooting in the pandemic and it’s not a situation anyone wants to be in. But when we were on set, in that kind of protective sandbox together, all of us friends, that was really special.
In real life, if you were an accomplished art thief like your character Nolan Booth, which piece of art would you like to lay your hands on?
Oh boy! Of course, I wouldn’t steal it but one piece of art that I have always found beautiful is ‘The Woman in Gold’ by Gustav Klimt. I did a movie (Woman in Gold) about that exact painting years ago with Helen Mirren. That’s a beautiful piece of art, which has actually been stolen in the past and then returned to its rightful owners.
The bromance between you and Dwayne in the film is hilarious....
We built that over some gin and some tequila (smiles). Dwayne and I actually have a lot more in common than you would imagine. Probably not in terms of body mass (smiles), but we each have three daughters, we have extracurricular businesses that we care deeply about, we both very much feel that we are in service of an audience and that they are the boss.... We have pretty similar outlooks on many things. So, the camaraderie that you see on screen is a very natural by-product of two guys who have known each other for a long time, and have similar work ethics and outlooks on life.
The Ryan Reynolds brand of comedy is always a win. How similar or different is it from your off-screen persona?
My off-screen persona is actually vastly different. As a kid and even as an adult, I have always struggled with anxiety. The sort of fast-talking hyper-verbal personality that I have manufactured for screen really started as a defense mechanism.
When I was younger, to get through situations where I felt I was ill-equipped to deal with something, I would have that part of my personality take over and kind of run the show for me. That’s something I am grateful for, but it’s also something that I wish, at a young age, I didn’t need. The real me is a whole lot different from that. I am a lot more sensitive, I probably listen a lot better than the characters I play.
Is that why you naturally gravitate towards parts with humour?
I think humour and wit on screen are by-products of some sort of pathos. I don’t think you can have an understanding of the dynamics of comedy if you can’t understand its opposite. I do see comedy as an under-appreciated medium in the film business. It’s said that comedy is hard to pull off, and I do agree with that to a certain extent. Comedy is very challenging. It’s a form I have a great deal of reverence and respect for, and I always will. I am always trying to grow and learn more. I really owe a huge amount of gratitude to those who have come before me.
I grew up watching the Steve Martins and the Eddie Murphys and the Gene Wilders of the world... someone like Peter Sellers... they all had a great influence on me in various ways.
You have always been vocal about your love for Bollywood. If you had to pick one of your films to be remade in Bollywood, which one would that be?
Oh boy! You know I feel that there are certain things that Bollywood films have that Hollywood could use more of. Bollywood is really adept at infusing real joy into the work.
I mentioned that when Free Guy (co-starring Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi and Joe Keery) came out... that there were elements that Free Guy was borrowing from Bollywood, and a large part of that was joy.
The last few years have been so challenging for people in America, for so many different reasons, and I made Free Guy — I produced, wrote, starred in it and nurtured it — as an antidote to those feelings. I wanted to bring in joy, and so much of what Bollywood puts up on screen is infused with that in a very organic and natural way. That’s a tip I took from your incredible industry.
So a Bollywood version of Free Guy, then?
Free Guy would be a very good choice. But I would say Deadpool. It’s a little bit more fun, I think. It would be easier for Deadpool to embrace the Bollywood culture. The guy in Free Guy is an NPC (non-player character) who only exists in the digital world. Deadpool is real flesh-and-blood and he would be amazing in Bollywood.