Opening a film nationwide and appearing at Comic-Con in the same weekend may sound nerve-wracking, but “Self/Less” star Ryan Reynolds was surprisingly relaxed as he welcomed Indiewire for a brief chat at the Waldorf Astoria Towers in New York City. “Can I officially say I’m a New Yorker after being here for 10 years or so?” he asked while exchanging greetings. “I try not to slag L.A. because it certainly has its charms, but it’s not for me.” It’s this casual frankness that makes the 38-year-old actor such a charmer. After more than a decade in Hollywood and a fair share of blockbuster misfires on his hands, Reynolds is not afraid to admit his mistakes and reflect on his place in a system that has time for little more than big-budget tentpoles.
“The tentpole business is scary,” Reynolds said. “I worked on ‘Green Lantern,’ which did not work at all. When you complete something like that you get concerned, because if they’re only making franchises after this, then where am I going to fit in? I clearly didn’t fit in there, so where do I fit in?”
2011’s “R.I.P.D.” certainly wasn’t the answer, and while it remains to be seen whether or not next year’s “Deadpool” will finally be his blockbuster ticket, it’s ultimately been the indie community that has allowed Reynolds to diversify his filmography and fit in more capably. In the past year alone, the actor has done arguably his best work in a trio of independently-financed films — “The Voices,” “The Captive” and “Woman in Gold” — and word is big on September’s “Mississippi Grind,” which A24 picked up for distribution after a favorable debut at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
“You get sent a lot of scripts, and occasionally you find one and you’re just like, ‘Well, how the hell is anyone going to do this?’ And that’s a really good feeling, and these days that feeling does generally come more from the non-tentpole world,” Reynolds said. “I remember reading ‘The Voices’ and it’s about this sociopathic serial killer who is also immensely likable. That’s exciting. Same thing with ‘Buried’ and how that was all one space and one location. I read that and it literally seemed impossible. That’s the feeling you want as an actor. ‘Mississippi Grind’ certainly felt like that.”
Growing up as an actor throughout the aughts, Reynolds has watched mainstream fare renounce its originality in favor of franchise-orientated adaptations from the very front row. He pinpoints “Safe House,” the 2012 action thriller in which he starred opposite Denzel Washington, as a career turning point in his relationship with studio filmmaking.
“Right around then is when I felt a change, because it was sort of the last of its kind — a somewhat high-budgeted action film with original characters that wasn’t based on an existing property, and one that still did tremendously well. There were talks about a sequel. It made a ton of money for what it cost,” he said. “That’s the kind of movie that isn’t made anywhere in the action-oriented genre anymore. It’s so tentpole-oriented now. Even ‘The Proposal’ was one of the last Touchstone Pictures that came out of Disney’s rugged studio filmmaking, if you can call it that. But after that Disney was like, ‘We’re only making franchises, we’re only making tentpoles.'”
He attributes Hollywood’s disinterest in originality to the fact studios aren’t making as many pictures per year as they once did. “Paramount only makes four or five movies a year on average,” he lamented, “so of course they’re only choosing to make the properties they know can fill seats.” And yet he has more sympathy for the directors operating in the current tentpole system than he does for himself or his fellow actors. “The directors are the ones that really suffer. It’s harder for them to make any kind of original concept these days when they have a studio behind them.”
Also of interest was the fact “Self/Less” marked an original science-fiction property, something mainstream audiences hardly see outside of Christopher Nolan efforts. Reynolds responded first and foremost not to the action scenes, but to the “classist issue” at the film’s heart. “I like it when science-fiction films touch on these socio-political issues that are somewhat relevant,” he said. When asked if such relevance could be found in many of today’s tentpoles, he wasted no time in answering: “Not really.”
All of these talking points add up to why Reynolds views “Self/Less” as something of an anomaly in today’s action marketplace. It may be not be an “indie,” but it’s certainly not playing exclusively to the conventions of larger-budgeted studio fare. “Deadpool,” a blockbuster tentpole and extension of the “X-Men” movie franchise, would seem to go against everything Reynolds suggests he’s learned, but the actor views the upcoming superhero film in a similar alternative mode as he does “Self/Less.”
“Deadpool” is even one-upping the recent trend of indie-directors-turned-blockbuster-filmmakers in the form of newbie Tim Miller. “He’s never directed a feature film before,” Reynolds said. “But what’s great is how he asks for help. He understands that it’s ok to say, ‘I don’t know where the best place to put the camera is.’ I’ve worked with other directors that act like they know it all and it’s a disaster. I’ve seen it enough times, unfortunately. Now I’m smart enough not to get in the plane with a pilot who isn’t willing to know or ask how to land it.”
The Comic-Con-ready “Deadpool” may have a blockbuster price tag on it, but clearly it’s taking a different approach to what has become the Hollywood norm. The film already appears to be more independently-minded than nearly any other superhero film to hit the big screen in the past several years, at least as far as the early stages of development and production are concerned. That’s why Reynolds has stood by the project for so long and why, as he promised the Huffington Post earlier this week, he will never take on another Hollywood superhero ever again. After all, he’s already been there.
“Self/Less” opens in theaters nationwide Friday.