Plenty of actors would want to switch positions with Ryan Reynolds right about now.
On the heels of his spring sleeper hit Woman in Gold, Reynolds returns to the multiplex with director Tarsem Singh’s Self/less (out July 10), a morally complex thriller about a dying businessman (Ben Kingsley) who implants his consciousness into a body (Reynolds) that he’s been told was grown in a lab. When Reynolds’s former life as a father and military veteran begin to invade Kingsley’s consciousness, the sinister origins of the body begin to become clear, the ramifications of body-swapping become far more ethically convoluted—and an action drama breaks out.
Reynolds had better get accustomed to action filmmaking. After a go at superhero filmmaking with 2011’s Green Lantern, Reynolds will be returning to the fray as the insouciant antihero Deadpool in a 2016 film (Reynolds first appeared as the character in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine). All of this is balanced, as avid tabloid readers know, with marriage to actress and entrepreneur Blake Lively and the recent arrival of a baby girl. The actor spoke to TIME about his work, his career aspirations, and just how he balances it all.
TIME: The movie depicts fabulously wealthy people effectively buying human bodies. Did you see any political dimension to the script, and did that appeal to you?
Ryan Reynolds: I have to be careful about how I say it “appealed to me.” I think it’s an interesting take on the class system, and how someone with money, power, and influence can buy his way out of anything, including death. I think science fiction is great when it tackles things that we deal with. I also loved the idea of hubris, and this movie brought that to the forefront. This guy who’s basically s–t on the life he’s been given, and been in it for all the wrong reasons, buys himself a second chance and then basically rinses and repeats, until consequences pile up and he turns into a man on the run.
Sci-fi films that are original, rather than adaptations of familiar intellectual properties, are rare. Did this feel like a chance for you to try something risky?
I guess so. I wish I could say yeah, but as I’ve gotten older—take this for what it’s worth, this might be doing a movie for the wrong reasons and I’m sure it is—but sometimes, there are just people you want to work with and be around. For me, that was Tarsem and Ben Kingsley. He was involved long before I was. Sometimes, it’s just that. And it’s not necessarily a great reason. This year I also worked with Helen Mirren on Woman in Gold, and for me, that’s what it’s all about: Working with people I admire and respect and love.
Speaking of Woman in Gold, both of your last two projects felt like they were attempts at reaching a new, more mature stage for you. Both were intellectually dense. Has the way you read scripts changed?
Yeah, a little bit. Self/less was shot long before Woman in Gold—you never control release dates—and my child wasn’t even a blink in my eye at that point. But it does now. I’m so fortunate and grateful that I work in an industry where I get to spend a lot of time choosing where and when I work. For 99.8 percent of the world, they don’t get to do that, and they get one—maybe—mandatory week off a year, and that’s it, and it’s crazy. A lot of it has changed now, because I don’t want to be away. But then suddenly you get that scarcity mindset, where you say, “Oh God! Now is the time I can travel! My kid can come with me anywhere!” My wife and daughter, we can all travel together, whether I’m shooting a movie, or my wife is shooting a movie… Because soon, she’ll be in school, and that’s it. You can’t really travel. So you want to take it while you can get it, to some degree.
Deadpool is, for you, a second bite at the superhero-movie apple, after Green Lantern. The tone looks different, but: Why come back to franchise fare now?
I never would have gone back to the superhero world, ever! And, by the way, the superhero world wasn’t exactly breaking down my door to come back, either. Deadpool is just a totally different deal, though. I’ve been attached to it for 11 years, and maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, but I remember when Green Lantern was happening, and I auditioned for it. Then I went for another audition. And then I went for one last audition, down to the four or five guys they’d selected. And I was still trying to get Deadpool made at this time. I remember calling Fox and talking to the executive at Fox and saying, “I’m auditioning for this DC project, and I’m going to get it.” It was like calling an ex-girlfriend before the wedding. And he said, “My hands are tied—we just don’t know what to do with it.” And I went off, and we made it, and the rest is history.
Last year, though, the test footage we shot was leaked, and immediately, the two writers, the director, and myself were all on the phone asking “Which one of you guys leaked it?” They all thought I did. I hadn’t—I wish I had! Lo and behold, the internet spoke, very loudly and abrasively, and the next thing I knew we were greenlit. It was such a special experience, because it wasn’t us pleading and begging the studio anymore. It was the fans who own that. They own the movie we made. There’s something beautiful about that. Here I am in that ring again, though I wouldn’t characterize Deadpool as a superhero.
Are you comfortable with pursuing the roles you want?
There are some roles I want so badly, and I just won’t be hired for them. That’s just the way it is. And then there are some roles I get offered and I can’t believe I get offered. Woman in Gold is a good example. They’re all roles I never thought someone would knock on my door for. There’s no real formula to it. I’ve pursued stuff and failed, and tried to get roles that went to other people, and then you see the movie and say, “Of course. I could never have achieved what that person did.”
Actors who are particularly good-looking often feel as though they have to push back against their appearance when seeking challenging roles. Has this been an issue for you?
A little bit, I guess. I don’t know, I don’t think of it like that. I always wanted to be a character actor, and I’m not. A lot of character actors have always wanted to be leading men. But the more interesting characters are often the villain, or the second-tier characters. It’s just kind of a tough thing, and you just keep at it, and keep going. I don’t have control of my destiny in that respect.
Speaking of character acting, did you work with Ben Kingsley to ensure that the two of you would behave the same way, or was it more intuitive?
It had to be more intuitive, because Ben shot a lot of his stuff at a different time than I did; the lion’s share of his work was after I’d completed photography. It was a little difficult to figure that stuff out, and we did the best we could. We’d spoken about it, early on. A lot of what’s happening, though, is that Ben Kingsley’s character is being assaulted by the consciousness of [the body he inhabits]—so it becomes kind of a blurry line.
Aside from trying to work more, has parenthood changed your outlook on your career and on work-life balance?
The paradigm is not really fair. It’s much more challenging for my wife to work right now. She is shooting [All I See is You, a psychological thriller in which Lively plays the recipient of a corneal transplant] right now, and she has the baby with her, and it’s incredibly difficult and challenging. I just left them two days ago in Bangkok. I just want to be as helpful as I can. That’s it. For me, it’s mostly about being there.
As someone who wants to be a character actor, does public interest in your marriage and your young child—up to the recent media hunt for your daughter’s name—distract from your work in a way that makes life harder?
Yeah, but you make it harder by fighting all of that. I’ve learned that, though I’m still new to social media. It’s a strange thing these days, and I don’t believe there’s much you can do about it. We know everything about everyone now, and for me, I don’t love knowing too much about screen actors, because I want to see their work and watch them disappear. It’s hard knowing They were married—this is their kid’s name. But I try not to bemoan it because it’s part of the job. I signed up for this. When I go to the hotel after this interview, there will be paparazzi outside. I’m never going to be one of those guys who’s flipping them the bird. I’m in SAG! I signed up for this! It gets concerning when there’s a baby, because they didn’t [sign up], and I know you’ve heard that swan song so many times, but it does become more real. She has no choice in the matter right now.
Have you ever wanted to trade lives with someone else?
I’m a film actor—I do it all the time! I trade lives with people four times a year. It’s fun! But I never had that idea of wanting to really, genuinely give up who I am. There’s always built-in equalizers. You read articles where somebody is miserable and then they win the lottery. When they catch up to them eight months later, they’re still miserable. You read about the person who was happy and optimistic and lost their ability to walk. You catch up to them eight months later, and they’re still happy and optimistic. There’s an adjustment period, of course, but I do believe we are who we are. I don’t believe you find reward or happiness through external circumstances. I’m very proud of the work I’ve done in my life.
I’m 38 years old, ostensibly successful, but I wouldn’t say I’m any happier than I was when I was 18 or 19, or any more miserable. It’s just the temperament I have.