An old piece on Ryan Reynolds

Ryan Reynolds is pretty awesome and Deadpool exists because he’s awesome. For some more insight into that, here’s a bio piece I wrote for People five years ago.

Last year [2010] he was named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. He was married to mega-babe Scarlett Johansson. He’s been immortalised as the king of partying thanks to his role as the king of college, Van Wilder.

Yet neither the ladies man nor party boy role seems to sit perfectly on Ryan Reynolds, and neither Hollywood nor the public seem to know exactly what to make of him. He’s made more movies in more genres than any other big star in the last ten years, leaping from pretty boy to action hero to serious dramatist quicker than the human eye.

And now he’s a superhero – smacking around aliens as the space-cop Green Lantern. But who is Reynolds really, under that mask?

Starting Young

He was born in 1976 in Vancouver. His father Jim was an ex-professional boxer and Canadian mountie; the tough old Canadian dog had four big sons (Ryan is 6’ 3”) and he raised them all to be like him: strict Irish Catholics, and fighters. Ryan was the youngest, and grew up fast, with a furious passion for life. His two oldest brothers became cops like their father, but Ryan always had to go his own way. He shunned more “Canadian” sports like hockey and basketball to play one his brothers had missed: rugby union. He was forced to stop after receiving his sixth concussion – at only age twelve.

Needing a new outlet, he turned to acting, despite suffering from great insecurity, something he’s never completely escaped. In 2008, he told reporters that he still feels “like an overweight, pimply-faced kid a lot of the time”.

Reynolds failed his high school drama class, but was still interested in acting because of his childhood rebellion (which included setting fire to his high school): “I knew I could [act]”, he claims, “based on the skill with which I lied to my parents on a regular basis.”

He was right. Aged just thirteen, he beat out over 4000 hopefuls to win a part in the Canadian teen soap opera Hillside (shown in the US as Fifteen). His rebelliousness turned into independence: a few months later, he was shooting a TV movie in Sri Lanka – alone. A year after he returned, he moved to Ottawa to get more work. His parents weren’t happy about their fifteen year old son living alone on the other side of the country, but Reynolds thrived on being alone, and wouldn’t be told no.

When work dried up in Ottawa, he dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles to find more. On his first day in LA, his jeep was rolled and stripped for parts, but Reynolds was undaunted: he drove it without doors or bonnet for years. He needed that determination, because the jobs were slow to come. He was getting only small guest roles in TV shows while working night shifts as a grocery clerk.

Working hard was not something he had a problem with. He would later credit his success to his self-discipline and drive: “I’ve always felt if I don’t just have a natural knack for it, I will just out-discipline the competition if I have to — work harder than anybody else.”

He worked hard enough to take some time off: in 1997, on a whim, he threw a few possessions in a knapsack and hitchhiked across Europe for a year. It must have helped: he came back to land his big break in the sitcom Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.

Wilder Ride

The show was a hit, running for four years despite schedule changes and cast shake-ups. More importantly, it was the vehicle Reynolds needed to launch himself into feature films. It was just a year after the show’s end that he was cast as the titular hero in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: Party Liaison.

Like Animal House, Old School and other college classics, it was only moderately successful in the mainstream, but hugely popular among the college crowd.  Van Wilder became a name synonymous with partying, and Reynolds was expected to live up to the character. Years later he remarked: “I would walk into a bar and people would start lining up the shots. You could sum up my career at that point as a free shot at a bar.”

That notoriety soon became international, preventing Reynolds from enjoying his return trip to Europe, and he knew he had to distance himself from the character, professionally and personally. “I went years without even saying the words ‘Van Wilder’” he confessed. “Even saying it now is a big thing for me.”

He chose his next roles carefully to get that distance: he put on thirty pounds of muscle to be a vampire hunter for the action-packed Blade: Trinity and kept it on to play an ass-kicking federal agent in Smoking Aces. Next he was a lovable teacher in School of Life and an earnest husband in the remake of The Amityville Horror. He kept his toe in college comedies with Just Friends  and Harold and Kumar go to White Castle but was also turning himself into a soft-edged romantic lead in Definitely Maybe, Chaos Theory and The Proposal. And all in five years.

In fact, in the ten years after Two Guys… ended, Reynolds made a total of twenty three feature films. It was no wonder his image had trouble keeping up.

Just when he seemed to be becoming the go-to guy for romantic comedies, he switched back to action, of the superhero kind. He appeared as the sword-swinging Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and is currently working on a spin-off film for that character. He’s just about to grace Australian screens as Green Lantern, a fighter pilot who joins an inter-galactic legion of super-policemen after inheriting a ring of alien power. He’s also had his name attached to playing super-speedster The Flash, and played a parody superhero called Captain Excellent in the quirky comedy Paper Man.

Underground Appeal

Headlining a major superhero film and big-budget romantic comedies definitely put Reynolds on the A-list, but he has continued to work on less mainstream projects. He appeared as three separate characters in the art-house picture The Nines, and said it changed his outlook on his whole career. “[That movie] was such a wake-up call for me. I loved the process. I loved the character I was given to play. That was the birth of my own ambition. There were particular films after that that I went after. I had a new view.”

He got the film he wanted in Buried, and gained world-wide critical attention for his role in it. An independent co-Australian production, Buried tells the story of a US trucker working in Iraq who wakes up to find himself buried underground in a coffin, with only a lighter and a mobile to help him escape. For both films, Reynolds aided funding by working for just minimum wage, plus a share of future profits.

His increasing versatility and art-house turns have led some to compare him to George Clooney. Both have been awarded Sexiest Man Alive – Clooney in 2006, Reynolds in 2010. Both are never without a gorgeous woman on their arm, but shy away from long-term relationships. Both are political animals – Clooney is a campaigner for intervention in the Sudan, Reynolds writes for the left-leaning internet news site The Huffington Post. Reynolds also ran the New York Marathon in 2008 to raise money for Parkinson’s disease research, after his father was diagnosed with the condition.

Covering so many bases requires almost super speed. His pace might explain why his marriage to Scarlett Johansson only lasted two years, the longest of any of his relationships so far. Or maybe he prefers to be the wanderer: he’s certainly kept his youthful passion for never slowing down or looking back. He still loves to travel under his own steam, and recently traversed both New Zealand and Australia on his motorbike. He also admits he rarely watches his own movies. “I don’t want to invest too much in the outcome,” he says. “For me, the crux of the experience is doing it.”

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