Film

Ryan Reynolds: 'The great gift about getting older is you become more comfortable with sucking'

Action hero and entrepreneur Ryan Reynolds is a very modern Scrooge in Spirited, yet Dickens’ message is as potent as ever

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in "Spirited," coming soon to Apple TV+. Photo: Apple TV+

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in "Spirited," coming soon to Apple TV+. Photo: Apple TV+

“God bless us, everyone.” But some people are more blessed than others… Take Ryan Reynolds. Hollywood A-lister, star of some of the biggest releases in recent years: Red Notice, Free Guy, 6 Underground and his Deadpool films. He’s funny, debonair, disgustingly handsome, aged 46. An entrepreneur, with a drinks, mobile phone and film production company. A football club owner, guiding Wrexham AFC to global fame via a Disney+ documentary. The list goes on.

You know the festive period is approaching when the new adaptations of A Christmas Carol are released. This year, comes Spirited, starring Ryan Reynolds with Will Ferrell (already king of Christmas films thanks to Elf), featuring songs by La La Land and The Greatest Showman songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Reynolds plays Scrooge equivalent, Clint Briggs, a PR executive who thrives on spreading controversy, conflict and misinformation and is branded “unredeemable” by Will Ferrell and his ghostly gang who pick a soul to save every Christmas in a tradition going back to Dickens’ times.

Briggs feels like 2022 personified. With more unredeemable people than ever, what advice does Reynolds have for those in need of Christmas Carol-style salvation?

“I don’t know if trolls and a-holes respond well to unsolicited advice, I’m not sure they can be helped,” he tells The Big Issue. “Usually you have to have a pretty significant moment of clarity about who you are that flips the switch. I wish more people would have that moment of clarity. Hopefully it can be a pants-shitting terrifying type clarity, like it is in Dickens.”

Reynolds believes the perennial message of A Christmas Carol makes it endlessly re-tellable and relatable.

“I think we all have experienced or spent time with some pretty wretched people. We’re always running into people who don’t see the good in the world. It’s been interpreted in such vastly different ways time and time again, it’s fun to take a crack at it and be one of the many colours in the rainbow of this classic.”

Spirited adds darker colours to the rainbow. Such is Reynolds’ raging charm that he tempts Ferrell’s Ghost of Christmas Present to the dark side. Starring with his comedy hero was the main attraction for Reynolds.

“Will Ferrell is somebody that has contributed more to the comedic lexicon of society than almost any other comedic performer. He’s somebody I’ve quite literally idolised for my entire working life.

“I love his vulnerability in his work, that’s what makes him so funny and accessible. So it was about working with Will and getting to be around him. It was only afterwards when I realised it was a musical that I knew that I was in deep, deep trouble.”

Here Reynolds is being modest. It’s safe to add singing and dancing to his mammoth list of talents, even if he and Ferrell are not natural-born song and dance men. Fortunately, Reynolds had a friend he could call on.

Ryan Reynolds has somewhat of a bromance with Hugh Jackman. Recently the pair released a viral video revealing that Jackman would be returning to the iconic role of Wolverine in an upcoming Deadpool film. But another iconic role saw him play, literally, The Greatest Showman. So who better to ask for advice?

“It comes so naturally to Hugh that in a weird way, his helping was not helping,” Reynolds says. “He was like, ‘Just make sure you’re listening to those count-offs and those beats’. And I was like, ‘I don’t hear the beats, man. Help me out with something real here!’”

And he did, Reynolds remembers.

“Hugh and I were having coffee one day and he reminded me of something that is so vital with almost anything that you’re doing in the arts. He said, ‘Just remember to enjoy it, because if you’re enjoying it, we’ll enjoy it.’

“That was something that I constantly reminded myself. Even when I felt so out of my depth, which was almost every day, I kept reminding myself that this is an opportunity of a lifetime. And it actually extended well beyond this project into other aspects of my life. So that was pretty good advice.”

It’s fair to say that Reynolds will be far more comfortable fighting Jackman on screen than challenging him to a dance-off. Though both forms of combat involve intricate choreography, Reynolds had a much tougher time preparing for a musical than a superhero film.

“Training for a superhero movie is something I’ve been doing since I was 20, and I’m 46 now,” he explains. “It’s second nature to me. Doing a fight sequence is in my bones. I memorise them very fast. I can make a mistake and use that mistake to my advantage in the moment. Whereas dancing, if I make one mistake, I completely fall apart.

“I don’t know if I would [make a musical] again. I don’t think so. They’re just such vastly different disciplines. When you haven’t spent your life at a craft like song and dance, you’re just always playing catch up. Thank God, we have 10, 15, 30, 50 takes to get it right.

“I loved watching the dancers and the singers that were working on the movie. Getting a front row seat to their talent was one of the great privileges of my whole life. And I mean that. They’re often overlooked. You’ll find dancers clumped together in the credits of a movie, but they’re pillars of the storytelling.”

As fans of musicals know, any story can be improved by chucking in a tune or two. Does Reynolds think any of his other films could have been improved if it had been a musical?

“Oh, I mean, I’ve done so many different movies, some of them so dysfunctional that they would have been improved by losing an entire act. Movies are vast and massive collaborations between so many different opinions, insights and ideas. That’s what makes them incredibly special. It’s also what can make them incredibly frustrating.

“I would love to see a song and dance number in a Deadpool movie. Four years ago [Deadpool co-writers] Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and I wrote a Christmas movie starring Deadpool. But it got lost in the shuffle of Disney acquiring Fox and it never got made.

“Maybe one day we’ll get to make that movie. It’s not a musical, but it’s a full Deadpool Christmas movie. So one day.”

While we wait for dancing Deadpool in a Christmas yet to come, thoughts drift to Christmas present. Reynolds has three young daughters with Gossip Girl star Blake Lively, and a fourth child on the way.

“Christmas, for me, is always about being with family,” Reynolds says. “I love the lead up to Christmas much more than Christmas itself, which can feel a little bit transactional sometimes. We live in New York City, so we get to do all these amazing things. We see The Nutcracker at Lincoln Centre, stuff that’s truly magical. If you told the seven-year-old Ryan Reynolds growing up in Vancouver that I would one day get to experience those things with my kids, I wouldn’t believe it.”

And back to Christmas past.

“As a kid growing up, we’d get snow in Vancouver sometimes on a Christmas and being out there with my brothers just quite literally trying to murder each other with frozen water gave me some of my fondest memories. I’m the youngest of four boys. So I was often more of a moving target than I was a brother. But I loved that.”

This clash of heart-warming sentiment with humour is a balancing act Reynolds has perfected. Ryan Reynolds is incredibly driven and has established a definite brand. You don’t get to the heights of Hollywood without a vision. But now he’s reached the top, it seems like he’s finally able to enjoy the view, more comfortable in his glowing skin.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’m less controlling or manicured about everything. I like to listen more and see what happens,” he says.

“The great gift about getting older is you become more and more comfortable with sucking at something. The more comfortable I am at sucking at something, the better I become at that thing. If I’m looking through the lens of: this has to have perfection right off the bat, it becomes a law of diminishing returns. When you allow yourself to be bad at something, it really gives yourself permission to be good at it as well.

“[In Spirited] I wasn’t trying to be the best singer on the planet. I was trying to be the best singer I could possibly be. And that’s it. And that’s all I can do. I can’t really control much else.”

Spirited, starring Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell is available to watch now on Apple TV+

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