Life of Ryan
Green Lantern Ryan Reynolds tells Donald Clarke about being the official face of a summer blockbuster
RYAN REYNOLDS is Canadian. For too long, artistes from above the 49th parallel have been expected to repress their national traits and conform to a Californian norm. But Reynolds is quietly (that’s the operative word here) determined that nobody forget his origins. Fast becoming one of Hollywood’s most vital leading men, Reynolds is in London to discuss his role in a bizarre superhero film entitled Green Lantern. All day young people have been telling him how good looking he is. For hour after hour he has had to politely avoid talking about his recently dissolved marriage to Scarlett Johansson. I suppose these things come naturally to folk raised in the shadow of the Hollywood sign.
“Yeah,” he says with a jittery smile. “That’s a bit more difficult if you’re Canadian. It doesn’t come naturally. I wouldn’t want to make comparisons with our friends south of the border. But we are maybe a little less prone to talk about ourselves.” So he still sees himself as a Canadian? “Sure. I still have a home in Vancouver. It’s only a two-hour flight from LA, remember. That’s a one-industry town. So, it’s good to get home.” And there’s Irish blood in there, I assume, “Yes. I’ve been to Dublin and Galway. My brother and I just toured around there for a while. We have relatives there, whom we completely avoided,” he says, laughing.
Reynolds had better get used to chatting about himself. Now 34, blessed with the sort of old-school looks that never go out of fashion, he has battered his way through poor sit- coms and questionable romantic comedies to become one of this era’s hottest actors. Laid back, but still capable of simmering intensity, Reynolds won over sceptics with last year’s high-concept thriller Buried. He was creepy in Adventureland. He did good work opposite Sandra Bullock in the popular comedy The Proposal. Now, he’s the official face of a summer blockbuster.
“I’ll say this,” he says, “when I was starting in LA, I never wanted to be the leading man. I wanted to be the character actor. That is part of why I hit relatively late. I am 6ft 2in. I will never get to play the weird next-door neighbour. I fought that for a long time. Then I saw the gift you get by playing a leading man. Around 26 or 27 I began to fall in love with film, which was late considering I had already been working for half a decade.”
Three years ago, when he was still married to Johansson, People magazine named him the sexiest man alive. He retained his title in 2009 and 2010. Nobody would object to receiving such an honour. But the prize could hamper his ambitions to become a character actor. After all, you never see Paul Giamatti or Philip Seymour Hoffman cropping up on those polls.
“I was a little embarrassed by that,” he says. “But I realise that’s a valid part of the promotional machine. It’s not something you campaign for. But what else can you do other than say thanks?”
There’s that Canadian understatement again. Ryan Rodney Reynolds was born and raised in the sedate suburbs of Vancouver. His father was a police officer and his mother worked in sales. He was not one of those kids who always dreamt of making it into the movies. As he tells it, the business found him. In his pre-teen years, he dabbled in comedy improvisation. But acting came up as a career option only when Nickelodeon arrived in town to cast a new teen soap named Hillside.
“I thought that sounded like a good way to get out of the house,” he says. “They slowly whittled us down and suddenly they shipped me off to Florida. It was one of the first times I’d been in the States. It was actually ideal. We’d film for three months there and then I’d come back to go to school. I managed a very normal life.”
Hillside ran for three years. When the show ended, Reynolds made his way to Los Angeles and become a comedian. He had his sights set on the Groundlings troupe, the LAbased company that spawned such talents as Kathy Griffin, Conan O’Brien, Jon Lovitz and Kristen Wiig.
“Yeah, I tried college for 45 minutes. I turned around and went to LA the day after that. I mean I was there literally for 45 minutes. Something didn’t feel right for me. Mind you, if I had a son who did that I’d kick his ass into oblivion.”
I wonder how his hard-working, IrishAmerican cop father warmed to the notion of Reynolds running away to join the circus. “He wasn’t okay about it at all,” he says, laughing. “It wasn’t even when I had success that they were okay about it. I had to have immense success. My mother was quite supportive, but my father really wasn’t convinced for quite a while.”
The first few years were difficult. He quickly realised you couldn’t just walk into the Groundlings and begin doing funny voices. There was a lengthy audition and training process. This was particularly tricky: being Canadian, Reynolds didn’t have a visa for casual work. If he succeeded at an audition, the production company would arrange the paperwork, but the usual fail-safe for actors of waiting tables or serving drinks wasn’t an option.
“Sorry, I’d love to tell you a story about moonlighting as a Chippendale, but, not being a citizen, I had to live off money I’d saved. It ended up being like reverse engineering. If I can get a job on a sitcom or something then I can do the Groundlings thing. Then I got this job on a sitcom and thought: ‘Hey, they’re paying me money. There’s a live audience. This is better than just hanging out.’ ”
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