Ryan Reynolds’ face looks like a badly bruised scrotal sack.
Hey, those are his words, not ours. Actually, if you want to get literal about it, his exact words were “An ancient, deep-fried, badly bruised scrotal sack.” And from our vantage, that’s a pretty accurate description.
As for the rest of his body, it’s not faring much better. His hands are covered in blistering skin and brown spots. His neck is not unlike an old lady’s vagina. His feet are reminiscent of a diabetic Gollum. Or as Reynolds sums up his general appearance: “I look like somebody who’s only had sex with pure radiation.”
It’s strangely satisfying to see Reynolds in his state. It levels the playing field.
This is a guy who gets a lot of attention for being “attractive” and “easy on the eyes.” Women love him. Some of the women who love him are famous. He used to be married to Scarlett Johansson, and now he’s married to Blake Lively, so ostensibly he’s seen them both naked, like a bunch of times.
The mere mention of his name has a visceral effect on the opposite sex. Tell any female acquaintance that you’re going to be spending an afternoon with Ryan Reynolds, and her eyes will gloss over and she’ll make a purring sound, and then she’ll suggest something completely unprofessional like, “See if he’ll show you his abs.”
So it’s nice to see People Magazine’s 2010 “Sexiest Men Alive” like this, lounging around his movie trailer in a brown sweatsuit and Crocs, like an old, hairless man waiting for a bowel movement, his best days long behind him.
Except, oh yeah, none of it’s real. Reynolds’ wrinkled, pot-marked, banged-up, vaguely testicular face is all prosthetic makeup. He’s here in Vancouver, British Columbia—his hometown—for a few last reshoots for Deadpool, his latest attempt at headlining a superhero movie. (The last one, 2011’s Green Lantern, didn’t fare so well.)
Even if you can put that out of your mind, and convince yourself that you’re having a conversation with a guy who’s physically desirable to nobody, even then it’s hard to feel smugly superior to Reynolds.
There’s just something about him that’s so damn . . . relatable.
Relatable is not a word one usually associates with famous movie stars in Olympic athlete shape who have hot wives and gigantic bank accounts. When encountering such a creature, one expects to just stare back at him, dumbfounded, like you’ve just stumbled upon a Chupacabra, but with a bigger ego.
But that’s not the case with Reynolds. He exudes normalness. If there’s any ego or arrogance there, it’s well concealed. You try to remind yourself not to believe any of it. He’s an actor, and all actors are chemists in emotional manipulation. But within the first fifteen minutes of meeting him, your cynicism is gone, and it’s like you’re having too many beers with an old college pal.
Which is to say, it gets very immature very fast.
At one point, he mentions that his Deadpool makeup takes several hours to remove, which will involve sitting in a hot bathtub back at his hotel while the prosthetics slowly dissolve off his face.
MH: Well obviously that’s where this interview should be happening.
Reynolds: Absolutely. We’re doing that, right? You’re coming back with me?
MH: Sure. Maybe we pop open a bottle of chardonnay?
Reynolds: We’ll smoke a couple of stogies, listen to some Nana Mouskouri, light a few candles.
MH: We need a lot of candles.
Reynolds: Hundreds of candles. Like that Police video for “Wrapped Around Your Finger.” And what are your thoughts on some gentle, cordial foot rubbing?
MH: For you or—?
Reynolds: I’m the one getting the massage. I want you to use some olive oil, really dig your fingers in. You know anything about reflexology? Where you hit certain pressure points and it’s like a map to your brain?
MH: What kind of reaction are you looking for exactly?
Reynolds: I want you to find that spot on my foot where you press it in a certain way, and you’re like “Aaaand you’re peeing.”
MH: We’re not familiar with that spot.
Reynolds: Wouldn’t that be an amazing super power? Knowing where to press on someone’s neck to make them immediately urinate.
MH: That’s a great premise for a superhero movie.
Reynolds: Totally. Just a guy who walks up to bad guys, touches them on their pressure points, and says, “Aaaand you’re peeing.”
MH: You’ve got the superhero catchphrase already.
Reynolds: “Aaaand you’re peeing.” Just you wait, every kid in America is going to be saying that line next summer.
Reynolds has a reputation for being guarded about his personal life. But for whatever reason, he’s not being bashful today. He tells us stories about his wife—Blake Lively, the former Gossip Girl star, who makes TMZ go into a frenzy whenever she goes outside in a bikini— and how she’s “basically a human GPS. I remember being in Nashville with her, and she’s telling me, ‘Just take your third right and go down that little alleyway, and then left at the end of the block, and there’s a gas station.” And I was just, ‘How do you know that? You’ve been here one day. What sort of dark magic flows through you?’”
When the subject turns to his daughter, James—she turned one last December—he’s even less reticent, especially about the abject terror of being a new parent.
“During those first six months, it’s amazing that you find a way to keep going,” he says. “Just the lack of sleep, and the hallucinations. Fuck peyote. You want to trip balls? Have a kid and see what it’s like to be awake for a month straight. You’ll have moments where you’re like, ‘Did I really ride a unicorn to work? I’m pretty sure I didn’t, but I don’t know. Was Willie Nelson cradling my testicles this morning? It probably wasn’t him, but let me check his tour schedule just to be sure.‘”
He’s joking, but he’s grappling with genuine anxiety—the kind you don’t really understand until there’s a tiny human being depending on you to survive. That kind of responsibility can do weird things to a guy’s head.
“I still check on her in the middle of the night, and put my fingers under her nose, just to make sure she’s still breathing,” he says. “Is that insane? I feel like it might be a little bit insane.”
We assure him it’s not insane, and he smiles. “Thank you for saying that,” he says. “It’s been a freaky year. I need all the encouragement I can get.”
He’s not just talking about his daughter. He also recently lost his dad, who passed away after a 20-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. In fact, that’s part of the reason he’s back in Vancouver.
“I got to say goodbye to him,” Reynolds says of his father, James. (Yes, his daughter is named after him.) “I got here while he was still conscious., and had some pretty invaluable time with him. Not everyone gets that opportunity.”
He and his mother and brothers—he’s the youngest of four boys—buried the family patriarch last night, less than 24 hours before he sat down with us. Not surprisingly, Reynolds still seems shaken by it.
“We had a deeply complicated relationship,” he says of his dad, “and it leaves behind some questions that are still being answered. Not just about him but, you know . . . how I’m trying to get better at being a dad and a husband and a man.”
Forget the hot wife, the movie career, and the famous abs. What makes Reynolds interesting is how he’s facing down the challenges that every guy, sooner or later, has to contend with. Parents die, children are born, and one day you wake up a middle-aged grown-up who had to pretend he knows what he’s doing.
Reynolds—who’ll be turning 40 this October—is reluctant to share the lessons he’s learned from being alive on this planet for almost four decades. “There’s nothing worse than a celebrity talking about life in a unilateral way, like his experience is the same for everyone,“ he says. “I would rather punch myself in the dick for 45 minutes than be that guy.”
But we got it out of him anyway.
You Don’t Need to Kill Yourself To Be Successful
Reynolds played football in high school, and he played it hard. So hard that he ended up with a few concussions.
How many? Enough that nobody can recall the exact number. His brother Terry once claimed it was in the ballpark of “between four and six concussions, maybe more.” Reynolds himself is unclear, and just admits it was “way too many. Like a dangerous amount of concussions.”
And it gets worse. He never got medical treatment for his concussions.
“When you’re growing up in a family without a lot of money and four boys, it can’t always be, ‘Let’s go see a specialist, see if you’re okay,’” Reynolds says. “If you got hurt, you just walked it off. That was our attitude. You were tough about it. It became a mantra for us: ‘Just walk it off.‘”
There was also a part of him that wanted to please his father, a cop and former boxer, who liked the idea that his youngest son was such a fierce competitor, who didn’t let something as trivial as half a dozen concussions keep him off the battlefield.
“I learned discipline from my father,” Reynolds says. “Not in terms of corporal punishment, but being determined in whatever you do, and sticking with it.”
His dad wasn’t as thrilled when the youngest Reynolds gave up sports for acting—“He didn’t really understand it,” Reynolds says—but just because he wasn’t taking as many blows to the head doesn’t mean he wasn’t willing to put himself through physical hell to get what he wanted.
When he landed a small role in Blade: Trinity, a 2004 vampire thriller, Reynolds was a comic actor best known for the hard-partying college comedy National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, which didn’t actually find an audience until it landed on video. But with Blade, he decided to transform himself, by sculpting the body of a movie star.
It involved an intense regime of three-hour workouts and eight to 10 meals a day. “There are moments during my training where I was willing my heart to stop,” he says. “I remember thinking, ‘This would be such a perfect time to die.’ At the time, it seemed like a protracted hell that would never end.”
That was a decade ago. Now in his late 30s, Reynolds still follows a strict fitness routine, but his workouts aren’t quite as punishing anymore.
“Sometimes it’s just enough to keep your body moving,” he says. “I get depressed if I don’t move. So for me, that’s enough. I don’t necessarily need 400 pounds on my back in the squat rack, and then take a picture of myself and send it out to my Twitter followers, ‘Part of the 400 pound club today.’ I like to hike and go biking, that kind of thing. Get outside, move my body, get some fresh air pumping through my lungs. That’s my idea of a workout now.”
He’s also trying new things, like warming up before he exercises. “I never did stuff like that back in my 20s,” he admits. “But I’m that guy now. I’m the guy doing calisthenics. I’m doing jumping jacks and deep knee bends. I work out like a British person.”
He’s taken that same “take it easy” approach when it comes to movie stunts. “I’ve done things to my body, mechanically, that I’ll never do again,” he says. “I’ve done stunts that I shouldn’t have done 10, 11, 12 times. I’ve broken a ton of bones on sets.”
He broke his neck while filming the 2012 thriller Safe House, and he vows that he’ll never put himself in that position again. “It’s just not necessary,” he says. “There’s a qualified professional who looks just like me called a stuntman, and he can give it a crack as well.”
It’s been a slow lesson to learn. All of those concussions he “walked off” as a teenager didn’t make him a football star (or, for that matter, didn’t win his father’s unconditional love), just like breaking his neck for a movie didn’t make him more endearing to audiences.
“You realize, I can do this without hurting myself to prove my worth,” he says. “That was a nice revelation.”
Have a Sense of Humor about Everything. Literally Everything.
Reynolds has a great story about the day his daughter was born. And it involved him doing something very, very inappropriate.
“It’s evidently not very easy giving birth,” he says. “I have a tremendous respect for that process, and I hope to repeat it many times in my life. I just wanted to . . . “ He pauses, looking for the right words. “Take some of the pressure off.”
He’s right about childbirth being stressful—definitely for the mother, but also for the dad. You’re not sure how you can help, other than holding your wife’s hand and whispering encouragement to her. But Reynolds came up with the perfect solution. He was going to make his wife laugh. At the worst possible moment.
In the delivery room, surrounded by doctors and nurses, with Lively huffing and puffing, Reynolds did something that nobody was expecting.
“I jammed Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get it On’,” he says. “It was a really bad time to do it. She hasn’t let me forget about that one. But it’s an impossible song to ruin, as I’ve found out, cause she still loves it. But now, when it comes on, she can only think of crowning.”
Reynolds has always been a funny guy, but in recent years, he’s learned how to be funny with a purpose. It actually has something to do with why he’s held out so long for the chance to make Deadpool.
For those not steeped in comic book lore, the Deadpool character is a maniacal mercenary with accelerated healing powers and a twisted sense of humor. Being immortal has made him a little nuts. He’s like Spiderman but with the emotional maturity of the Joker.
Reynolds played Deadpool once before—in a brief scene in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine—but there were no plans to give the character a movie of his own. It didn’t help that Reynolds starred in the ill-fated flop Green Lantern, another action movie about a hero in skintight latex that bombed and bombed hard.
As Esquire claimed a bit too confidently last year, “Men simply don’t buy Reynolds in action films.”
But Reynolds refused to give up on the project. “I’ve likened it to a terrible relationship,” he says. “It’s something I needed to do. Because I really identified with this character.”
And not because he has a soft spot for vigilantes, or wearing unforgiving clothes that leave little to the imagination. “I understand the idea of filtering pain through a prism of comedy,” Reynolds says. “I think this character does that quite well. He obviously takes it too far. He wakes up in the morning exclusively to annoy everyone around him. But for your average civilian like me, I think there’s something really relatable about that idea, that there’s something to be learned by taking life a little less seriously.”
He takes a moment to consider this, the brow furrowing on his fake cancer-ridden testicle face.
“Laughing can serve you in those dark moments,” he says, “and even help you crawl your way back out.”
Spend an afternoon with Reynolds, and you’ll witness a master of using humor as emotional catharsis. He’s quick to make jokes about just about anything that makes him uncomfortable or panicky, whether it’s his daughter’s inevitable sexual maturity—“We’ve had the talk already,” he says. “Which frankly went right over her tiny little head. The great thing about having the sex talk now is, she can’t say I didn’t do it. Because I recorded it.”—to the grim medical realities of growing old—“I finally had my prostate checked. And I was super-thankful that I taught my asshole to whistle before the doctor stuck his finger in there. The look on his face was priceless.”
It gets especially illuminating when fathers get mentioned, and what happens when your father dies, and people want to offer their condolences, and maybe you’re not in the right mental space just yet to receive their well-intentioned comfort.
Maybe, if you’re feeling especially immature—a tempting place to slip into when you’ve just buried a parent, and the weight of what you’ve lost can seem too much to bear—you’ll say thing to those well-wishers about your father’s passing that aren’t entirely accurate.
Reynolds: My father was swallowed alive by his own anus. It was a terrible way to go.
MH: Like a snake swallowing its own tale?
Reynolds: Yes, absolutely. It was really horrific to see anyone stretch that far.
MH: And then just disappear.
Reynolds: That was the worst part. He just evaporated, and became thousands of bats.
We both laugh way too hard, like you only laugh when somebody you love is taken away, and you weren’t ready to lose him yet. That laughter is healing, in ways you couldn’t imagine until you actually need it.
“In my dad’s dying moments, we were actually making him laugh,” Reynolds says. “We were all in there together, my brothers and I, just joking with him. And of course we end up busting each other’s chops. I recommended that the doctor up Dad’s dose of dilaudid in order to make my other brother more tolerable.”
Reynolds smiles, like it’s a warm, fuzzy memory. And maybe it is. Maybe those final goodbyes can be more than just tears and an empty pit in your stomach.
“It wasn’t a bad way to go,” Reynolds says. “If I could have the same death as my father, I would be anxious to do it right now.
You Don’t Need All the Answers
We get to talking, as men of a certain age sometimes do, about what unbelievable, self-involved assholes we were in our 20s.
“At 23, I was in an existential crisis,” Reynolds says. This was around the time he was co-starring in the horribly named ABC sitcom Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, his first taste of semi-success as an actor. (He was getting paid, but not exactly recognized on the streets.)
“When you’re that age, everything is so huge and heavy and important,” he says. “Except of course it’s not. Nothing is nearly as important as you think it is. But you feel the weight of life anyway. You’re just this big ball of pompous, arrogant insecurity.”
Something remarkable happens when you put a few decades on your life time sheet. One, everything gets more complicated. Like exhaustingly, ulcer-inducingly complicated. And two, you don’t get as stressed out by the details anymore.
It seems like a contradiction—How can life get worse but you worry about it less?—but Reynolds insists it’s true.
When he had no money, no sustainable career, no family obligations, and nothing approaching a woman like Blake Lively by his side, he was “gripped in a state of pure anxiety 24/7,” he says.
But when life took a turn for the serious—when he began juggling responsibilities that would have crushed him at 23—that, he says, is when his shoulders finally loosened.
“I don’t mean to sound like a prick, but when my daughter was born, my first thought was, ‘Oh yeah, I can do this,’” Reynolds says. “It’s not that I felt ready, or that I knew exactly what I was doing. The exact opposite. I had a cactus when I was in my 20s, and I killed it. Do you know how hard it is to kill a cactus? A fucking cactus! I couldn’t handle that responsibility, how can I handle what my life’s become now?”
But you do it anyway. You figure it out. You find a way to keep that kid alive, in ways you never could with the cactus. Because with the cactus, let’s be honest, it didn’t really matter. It’s a fucking cactus. But with your kid, the stakes are raised.
It doesn’t mean Reynolds was more prepared this time. If anything, he says, he was less prepared, less informed about what to expect. “We didn’t even want to know the sex before she was born,” Reynolds says of his daughter. “Actually, no, that was Blake’s idea. My wife wanted to be surprised, and I didn’t. But in the long run, she was absolutely right. Not knowing was the best thing we could have done.”
Reynolds wants to be the sort of parent who makes it up as he goes along. He wants to do the same with his marriage. And his acting career. What’s his plan for the future? He has no idea. He’ll find out when it gets here.
“There are so few surprises left in life,” he says. “We’ve gotten so addicted to knowing. It’s the Google generation. We want the answer to everything right now! Every little piece of knowledge has to be instantly accessible. You can’t even have a passing thought like, ‘Wait, who sang ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ again?’ You just have to—” he rips his cellphone out of his pocket and violently taps on the screen— ”John Parr! Goddammit, I knew it! Gotcha!”
Reynolds likes not knowing. There’s a comfort, he says, in not knowing. Not to be confused with the anti-intellectual mantra, “ignorance is bliss.” He means accepting that you don’t have all the answers, and not letting the anxiety of that suck you down like quicksand.
“The best directors I’ve worked with, they all have the same thing in common,” Reynolds says. “They’re the first to say, ‘I don’t know.’ If you ask them, ‘How are we actually pulling off this movie?’, they’ll just shrug and go, ‘I have absolutely no idea.’ I think that’s a sign of strong character. I want to raise my daughter like that as well. I’m going to admit when I’m clueless, and I’m going to ask people for help when I don’t know the answer to something.”
Reynolds: Speaking of parenting, are we going to watch Field of Dreams tonight?
MH: Um . . . I guess we could. Like right now?
Reynolds: No, I mean when I’m taking my makeup-dissolving bath and you’re giving me a foot massage.
MH: Oh yeah, sure, we could do that. Why Field of Dreams?
Reynolds: It’s the best movie I’ve ever seen about being a father. I am a blubbering, weeping, shivering mess by the end of that movie.
MH: Because of the plot, or all the chardonnay we’ll be drinking?
Reynolds: Let’s make it white wine spritzers. It feels more professional. We’ll throw in a few pills. Who knows what will happen, right?
MH: Wait, what kind of pills are we talking about here?
Reynolds: I don’t know. Mystery pills. Let’s find out together.
MH: Um . . .
Reynolds: Weren’t we just talking about this? Stop being so obsessed with knowing everything, man!
MH: This isn’t really what we signed up for.
Reynolds: Oh, so that’s the part you have a problem with? The foot message, the bath by candlelight, watching Field of Dreams, that’s all fine by you. But I incorporate a few randy pills and suddenly you’re out the door?
For the record, we never got around to giving Reynolds that bath-time foot massage. Which is probably for the best.
Eventually a production intern came to whisk him away—we’d been holed up in his trailer for too long, and the Deadpool director wants to actually shoot a few scenes before morning.
“Sorry,” Reynolds said, pointing to his testicle face. “Duty calls.”
We’d almost forgotten about the makeup, and that he was technically here to make a movie, and not just talk with us all night about death and parenting and the freedom that comes with admitting when life makes you scared shitless.
We don’t want this to be one of those sycophantic magazine profiles that insist a celebrity is just like you. But sorry, Ryan Reynolds is just like you. Not in the ways you wish he was like you—the ridiculous abs, and the wife everyone wants to see naked, and the adoration of millions of strangers. He’s like you in the ways it matters.
As we get up to leave, Reynolds walks us to the door. He reaches out and touches our shoulder, and it feels like he’s about to tell us something profound, something that will change our worldview forever, and completely realign how we think about growing older and becoming a grownup.
He rubs a finger lightly across our arm. “Aaaand you’re peeing,” he whispers.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the March 2016 issue of Men’s Health.)