Arts Express: Ryan Reynolds Talks Self/Less

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Ryan Reynolds has taken up the challenge of being in some tight situations in films, literally. And his futuristic role in the sort of identity theft sci-fi thriller Self/Less as a man freaking out when involuntarily biologically engineered to share the same body with none other than Ben Kingsley – a dying billionaire in search of an entire makeover – is certainly no exception. Reynolds met to talk about getting shape shifted against his will in the movie, along with all sorts of similar switchups offscreen in his own life. Including a huge variety of characters and genres he’s tackled, and his latest role for real as a first time dad.

Hey Ryan. Hope it’s not too cold for you in here.

RYAN REYNOLDS: No, please. Enjoy!

How are you doing?

RR: Ugh, I just got in from Bangkok. Which is one of the worst jet lag experiences. And I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

What were you doing there?

RR: I was…being a husband and a father!

You just became a dad, congratulations.

RR: Thank you!

So what is that experience like, and does it affect your life, especially now that you’re in your late thirties?

RR: For sure, yeah. You know, you have to prioritize so many things. Yeah, definitely in my late thirties, you have to.

But I’m just happy my boys can swim!! Really. So yeah, it’s an exciting time. And you just make sure that’s the priority, first and foremost.

And you know, I’m lucky and super grateful that I work in an industry that I can make that time for my kids. Like 98 percent of the country doesn’t have that opportunity. And it’s a shame.

Even in some European countries, paternity leave is longer than maternity leave here! So the system is a little funky sometimes. But you know yeah, I’m lucky that I get to be around. Yeah.

So where is your heart in terms of what you like to do most in movies, is it comedies, action, drama?

RR: Ha! Animation!

Seriously…

RR: Okay, where my heart lies is all of the above. I love the fact that I’m in, or at least it’s a somewhat unique position, that I get to do comedy and drama.

And suspense and action, and all those sorts of things. But as I’ve gotten older – and I guess I could say that now! – it’s about working with people that you want to work with.

And of course working with Sir Ben, and everyone else on this movie. So I was just really excited to get in the sandbox with those guys. Yep.

Well, if you could do a body swap like in this movie, who would it be?

RR: I would probably want to make it a little funky, you know? I wouldn’t just immediately pick Lebron James. Even though I’ve said that already.

I would probably go with a woman. Because you know, why not? If I’m gonna go for another round, I may as well. you know half the planet are women. So I may as well try that.

Which woman?

RR: I don’t know. I’d maybe jump right into the skin of Elizabeth Warren. Maybe run for office. I don’t know.

Do something amazing, hopefully. I’m not really sure of it. It would be pretty cool though, to see what that’s like. Yep.

Do you relate to this story in the movie in any way?

RR: For me, I love that idea of hubris. And I love the idea of somebody getting their wish granted. And then seeing how quickly the consequences of that wish can come about.

So I love that. You know, I love that idea that this guy’s arrogance and ego pushed him to this. And it just turns into an absolute shit show. Yeah.

What about filming in New Orleans?

RR: All that character there is beautiful to me. And New Orleans for me is my home away from home.

My wife and I go there all the time, we love it. It’s one of the places that we could easily live in. Yeah.

This is the second movie where you’re enclosed in a tight space. So are you working through some personal issue, or what?

RR: Ha! Not anymore! But yeah, I’ve always had a bit of an issue with claustrophobia. And elevators. They’ve always really messed me up!

Really?

RR: Yup, even those. I’m not kidding. I don’t know why. And so every time I’ve read a script that involves some aspect of that, I’m…pretty intrigued!

I mean, the only way to shoot something like that, is to do it for real. And that was life altering for me.

Speaking of which, what did you do to chill out from the tense stuff?

RR: Yeah. I don’t know what it says about my character. But I can really go do a scene, where I have an absolute meltdown.

And then four seconds later, just go to the nearest 7-Eleven. And eat a Slurpie! Yeah, I don’t know. It feels like a card trick almost.

But I don’t mean it to be. I think it’s just because I’ve been doing this for 25 years professionally. And you start to kind of learn how to use it and lose it, you know?

But yeah, there’s not a lot of decompressing. I don’t do that thing, where I take it home at the end of the day.

I have worked with method actors, and that’s always really…annoying! But it works for them, and I would never interfere with someone’s process. And I’m so glad that they have found the method.

But you know, when the guy who’s playing the villain in the movie is method – and he’s giving it the hairy eyeball at the lunch line – that I find a little awful. But no, there’s not a lot of decompressing. Just in the sandbox, playing!

This movie, and also Dead Pool, is about immortality. How would you feel about living forever, for real?

RR: Ha! I don’t know who would want to do that. To live forever, I feel like that would just be a sentence. Like it would be kinda awful. I would not want to do that!

But in this movie, there’s a real moral argument there. It has a lot to do with the class system.

And there’s a guy who uses his influence. And his power and money to acquire something that no other human being could really acquire.

And to use it in a way that is not altruistic, but kinda disgusting. So that’s the moral journey that he’s on, and what also derails him.

And I found that to be kind of interesting. So yeah. And I find it disturbing actually, I find the whole concept of it disturbing.

That we would so abuse this first life and privilege that we have. You know, that we would be so arrogant to ask for a second life, you know?

And it raises all kinds of questions. For some people it’s theological, and for others it’s a moral argument. And for some people, it just sounds…awesome!

I remember when we were scouting locations for the movie, we met a couple of billionaires in New York. Because we were interested in borrowing their penthouses for Ben Kingsley’s character.

You know, because he plays a billionaire. And every one of them said, is that really possible? And I thought wow, you would do that, wouldn’t you!

What was it like being in a movie with Sir Ben?

RR: I would just hang out with him, and we had lunch a couple of times. He’s amazing, he’s just an amazing person.

So yeah. I really kind of think of him as a…skin covered nuclear reactor! I mean, I’ve never seen a guy with that kind of intensity.

He’s got something blowing through him that is otherworldly! Yep. And for a guy who’s a good three or four inches shorter than me, I’m terrified of him!

What about co-starring with Helen Mirren in Woman In Gold, and playing a real person?

RR: It’s so much better when they’re not well known. Because then there isn’t a point of comparison. For people to see my bad impression!

And Helen, the first day she leaned over to me and whispered Ryan, I’m so fucking nervous! And I remember just being so taken by that.

Because I just thought, wow. With the body of work you have behind you, everything you’ve achieved. And yet you still get the first day jitters.

And I remember whispering back, you’re Helen Fucking Mirren! Get it together. And you know, you’ve never met a character that can throw down like Helen Mirren can.

And who is so witty, and so funny. And sexy, and charming. And everything you wished she would be. And she lives up to all of that.

But I just remember thinking, like that to me is a beautiful thing to remember. Is that, there she is, this woman who’s got more statues in her house, than she could ever hope to count.

And she’s sitting there the first day, nervous like it’s the first day of school. And I just thought, that almost brought me to tears.

I thought that was beautiful. Because I just thought, wow. You’re the embodiment

Will you be doing Comic-con?

RR: Oh yeah! We will have a presence at Comic-con. For sure, yeah. I’d love to go on the floor.

But if I wear the actual Dead Pool suit, from ten miles away you’ll know it’s me. Because it’s the actual Dead Pool suit, that thing is a feat of engineering.

So yeah. Maybe I’ll go in a Hulk mask instead, or something. It’d be fun. Yeah.

What’s next for you?

RR: You know, it’s a weird existential quandary. Like what the hell do I do now! Um, so I don’t know, I really don’t know.

I think I’m just gonna be…off for a minute! You know? I tend to do a lot of movies. Maybe more than I should. And I think there’s value in…some restraint!

Because as I’m getting older, I’m realizing that too. So yeah, I don’t know. I think I might just be off for a little bit. Just be playing dad! Learning dad, really! Yeah.

You love being in movies, so what kind of movie watcher are you?

RR: I don’t know. I can watch a comedy right after I can watch, you know. Like I can watch Schindler’s List, and then watch Groundhog Day!

Any desire to ever do Broadway?

RR: Yeah! I keep coming right to the brink of it. And then for whatever reason, you know. I was about to do one, and then uh…I had a baby!

But I don’t want to say, because it’s a very well known title. And it may end up happening. So I don’t know, we’ll see. But there’s been a few times, yeah.

But yeah, I would love it. I’ve always had a propensity to play to the back row. So I think it would be a nice fit.

But we’ll see. I don’t know. I would love to do it. It’s on the bucket list, that’s for sure.

I started as an improve comedian. Yeah, it was improve comedy. I moved to LA to join Groundlings. That’s the whole reason I went down there.

It’s not the stage like you’re talking about. But it is on a stage, with a live audience.

But the best job that I’ve ever had in show business ever, is still a sitcom. Look, I’m not gonna say that the work is always quality.

But it is fun. I mean, you get a live audience. And you know, I would do the warmup, the standup routine.

And the audience would be entertained. That job was a dream. And it was fifteen some odd years ago. But yeah, definitely.

Arts Express, Thursdays 2pm ET: Airing on WBAI Radio in NY 99.5 FM, and streaming live and archived everywhere at wbai.org.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.