Ryan Reynolds says he’s doing good.
“Pretty good, man! Pretty good,” is how he says it, actually. And he looks good too. Not just in the way you’re thinking, as in he’s one of the most symmetrical human men currently sucking oxygen. He doesn’t just look well-groomed and rested, which is about all that’s expected from a star of his caliber. He looks interested. His eyes narrow thoughtfully when he’s listening, but he’s quick to respond to questions, talking briskly but with intensity. He’s, if you’ll excuse the pun, lively.
“As I’m getting older, I’m not as adverse to real-life vulnerability,” he says. “When I was younger, humor always worked as a self-defense mechanism.”
That’s a surprise to hear, coming from Reynolds of all people. The man has built his career on snarky types who are only dragged into vulnerability kicking and screaming. It’s an act, obviously, but it’s an act that certainly has certainly seemed to have some bearing in reality. Reynolds is well-known for playful social media trolls of his wife, Blake Lively (“What a huge night for @blakelively because this means we’re Instagram official,” he posted from the Free Guy premiere. “I know how important that was to her.”)
That sort of attitude has clearly worked wonders for him, partly because it made him enormously relatable to anyone who’s ever struggled with expressing how they’re really feeling without throwing out a little humor to distance yourself from revealing too much. For a generation as online as the current one, that’s a nigh-universal sentiment, as snark has become our default attitude both on the internet and, inevitably, IRL. But if Ryan Reynolds can learn to overcome his fear of vulnerability, who knows? Maybe there’s hope for the rest of us too.
“That thing that you think is keeping you safe and distant and separate from everybody else is actually not,” he says. “So, I end up leaning right into the emotion of it.”
Reynolds was born in Canada, the son of a mountie and a retail worker, making him the rare modern-day superstar who wasn’t grandfathered into the business through elite connections. He got his start the old-fashioned way: taking on small roles and working his way up to bigger ones. It was slow going, and he fully threw in the towel when he was 19 before a friend convinced him to move to Los Angeles and really go for it.
Bit roles on shows like “The X-Files” and “The Outer Limits” eventually led to “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place” and Van Wilder. Reynolds settled into a groove in roles like these, playing quick-witted but self-obsessed dirtbags who always learn their lesson by the time the credits roll.
Reynolds had long expressed interest in Deadpool, Marvel’s foul mouthed, fourth wall-breaking antihero who, in the comics, sure talked like a Ryan Reynolds character. He got his chance in the ill-fated X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was panned by critics and audiences alike for its too-edgy-for-its-own-good take on the character. But Reynolds pushed for another shot at Deadpool that would hue closer to the petulant, irreverent smartmouth from the comics, and his efforts were rewarded in 2016 with a bonafide blockbuster, and the biggest movie of that year.
That movie set the tone for Ryan Reynolds, superstar, and it’s been kind to him, but times change. People change. Reynolds is 45 now, and the father of three girls: James, Inez and Betty. He’s growing up. And his movies are starting to grow up too.
“The last few years have been more about movies really entering that escapism realm and places that evoke a feeling that really just takes us away and transports us,” he says. “Creating a feeling of joy, or in the case of The Adam Project, really creating that feeling of nostalgia and warmth.”
The Adam Project is Reynolds’ most recent project, which was directed by his friend, Stranger Things executive producer Shawn Levy, who also directed Reynolds in Free Guy. The movie, which follows Adam, a time traveler played by Reynolds who must journey to the past to team up with his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell), and has plenty of the sci-fi action Reynolds grew comfortable with long ago. But this movie also features a lot of heart, and delves into messy parental relationships.
Reynolds knows a thing or two about that, having been frank about his complicated relationship with his own father. He says Lively helped him patch things up with his dad shortly before he passed of Parkinson’s Disease in 2015. Reynolds says he put a lot of his real-life feelings about his father into his performance with the movie.
“So much of what we’re talking about, with my relationship with my own father in real life who’s now passed, is right on the screen there with Mark Ruffalo’s character,” Reynolds says.
Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner play Adam’s parents in the movie, and Reynolds says his scenes with them were the most powerful. “I’m going back and I’m seeing them as peers instead of parents,” he says. “We’re all relatively close in age, but there’s a scene where I’m having a conversation with Jennifer …and she doesn’t know she’s having a conversation with her adult son.
“I think that scene really landed in a way that I wasn’t expecting,” he says. “It was incredibly emotional.”
Hearing the Music
“Ryan is deft and nimble with tone in a way that a lot of actors aren’t,” says Shawn Levy. “It is innate to him. And I can tell you from experience, you can’t direct that. You can’t teach them to hear the music if they don’t hear it.”
Levy has been Reynolds’ friend and collaborator for years, and he speaks warmly of the actor’s growth and maturity, which he says has come as he’s learned to trust others more. In The Adam Project, Levy says Reynolds opened up a whole new part of himself, which in turn led to a whole new depth in his performance.
“It’s not the Ryan Reynolds we expect,” he says. “It’s not the Ryan Reynolds we see in other movies. It’s authentic and raw in a way that Ryan doesn’t always allow of himself on screen. He came to this movie very open to be who he is and show who he is.”
Reynolds agrees, signaling that he’s ready, if not to turn over a new leaf, then maybe at least to explore more sides of himself.
“I mean, growing up watching these movies over and over again — ET and Back to the Future and Goonies and Stand by Me — these are all movies that meant so much to me as a kid,” he says. “The kinds of movies that we grew up watching, they were movies that contained enormous spectacle and wish fulfillment. Huge adventure and action and comedy, but weren’t afraid to punch you right in the heart. They weren’t afraid to go right for an emotional spine that the movie possesses, that really stays with you in very real ways.”
So that doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t ever see Deadpool 3. But it might mean that there’s a reason Reynolds is feeling good these days: He’s genuinely doing better.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.