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Friday, February 08, 2008

Private Ryan

My interview with Ryan Reynolds in Day and Night in today's Irish Independent

Ryan Reynolds is sitting before me in a London hotel room suffering from what he claims is jet lag, but it’s probably more accurate to say he’s been struck down by a dose of Scarlett fever. On the day that we meet, the interweb was rife with reports that the handsome Canadian actor was about to propose to his actress girlfriend, Scarlett Johansson.

For this reason, the 31-year-old is on edge, and steadfastly refusing to answer any questions about his private life. Another journalist informed me that there had been a tense interview earlier that day when the scribe had dared to probe the details of Reynolds’ love life. “Just don’t mention the ‘S’ word and everything will be fine,” is the publicist’s strict message as I’m ushered into the room.

That defensive shield aside, Reynolds is a friendly and charming interviewee. Tall and tanned, and stylishly dressed in a black jacket, open collared white shirt and light-coloured jeans, Reynolds is a true movie beefcake, and was duly named People magazine’s third sexiest man alive last year (coming in behind Matt Damon and Grey’s Anatomy’s Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey).

Reynolds is in the midst of a publicity tour for his new movie Definitely, Maybe, a romantic comedy-drama that can only be categorised as a guy’s chick flick. Reynolds stars as Will Hayes, a 30-something New York advertising exec on the verge of divorce. One day in school, his inquisitive daughter Maya (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin) is given a sex-ed class, which prompts her to ask her dad all about his love life before he was married, and how he came to meet her as-yet unidentified mother.

Will reluctantly agrees to fill her in, and his story then flashes back to 1992, where Will, then an aspiring politician, had just moved to New York to work on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. In his version of events for Maya, Will gives a PG-rated account of his love life, and changes the names of the women involved so Maya will have to solve the ‘mystery’ and guess which woman turns out to be her mum. Is her mother Will’s college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks), his kooky friend and confidant April (Isla Fisher), or ambitious journalist Summer (Rachel Weisz)?

Definitely, Maybe marks a distinctive move into more a more mature role for Reynolds, who is still perhaps best known for jock humour comedy movies like Van Wilder, Waiting and Just Friends. So what drew him to the part? “The reasons I pursued this role as emphatically as possible was because it’s a really unorthodox movie for a romantic comedy,” he explains. “I can’t think of an instance where you really, truly don’t know who the guy is going to end up with in the end. It felt like a true mystery to me.”

Reynolds could also more than relate to his character Will, who arrives in the Big Apple with huge hopes and dreams, only to become disillusioned by the realities of adult life.

“That’s a rites-of-passage for everyone,” he says. “We all go out into the world expecting things to be a certain way and, of course, our expectations are not met and disillusionment sets in, followed by its bitchy twin sister cynicism! So I think I definitely started out that way. I came to Los Angeles expecting the streets to be paved with gold, and everything would be easy in the land of milk and honey, but it was really exactly the opposite.

“Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have the start that a lot of guys did where they’re starving for 10 years. I was pretty fortunate with work. I’m talking more about the social climate. LA is a pretty hostile, scary place to go as a young man.”

Reynolds, who was born in Vancouver, started his career with small gigs on kiddies channel Nickelodeon, as well as other forgettable Canadian productions. He moved to LA in 1996 with another actor friend, and soon after landed the lead role in the TV sit-com Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place.

The show was a minor hit, running for three seasons, but it was enough to open doors for the actor. In addition to his aforementioned comedic roles, Reynolds starred opposite Wesley Snipes and Jessica Biel in the fantasy action sequel Blade: Trinity, and the crime caper Smoking Aces, as well as being cast in his most dramatic role to date in the remake of The Amityville Horror, where he played a young father who tries to murder his family after becoming possessed by a haunted house.

Moving between light and serious roles is a key objective of Reynolds’ (his next movie is Fireflies in the Garden, an intense drama co-starring Julia Roberts and Emily Watson). “It’s definitely a plan to do as diverse an amount of work as possible,” he states. “It’s not to say I wouldn’t do two or three comedies in a row. I look back at some of the great actors and they did it all. These days, it seems some people want you to stick to one particular genre, but I don’t want to go that way.”

One project that has continually followed Reynolds around is that of the big screen outing for comic book hero The Flash. To his disappointment, it doesn’t look like it’s doing to happen anytime soon.

“I was very interested in The Flash solo project, but I don’t know what’s happening with it at present,” he reveals. “It’s on hold. The writers’ strike has put Hollywood into gridlock. If it comes about I’d love to look into it, but at this point I’m not involved in anything with it.”

As well as giving him the chance to flex his dramatic acting muscle, Definitely, Maybe also afforded Reynolds the chance to indulge in some 1990s nostalgia, which was a crucial formative period in his life. “The 1990s for me were just school and just about every ‘first’ you can imagine in every way, shape or form - even the dirty ones!” he laughs.

He continues: “The 90s was a funny decade. I believe it was the decade that retro was born. Everything suddenly was an amalgamation of the 60s, 70s and 80s. It was like a weird time. It was identityless, it didn’t have its own flavour. It was just borrowing from every other decade. That’s what the 90s was for me.”

Reynolds’ guardedness about his private life can no doubt be traced back to his engagement to Canadian singer Alanis Morissette. The couple, who started dating in 2002, saw the last year of their relationship blighted by intense speculation and rumours of a split until they finally confirmed that they had broken up early last year. With his new relationship with Scarlett Johansson, Reynolds seems determined not to let every aspect of life become fodder for the tabloid machine.

“You have to deal with fame in certain respects, but I live a pretty minimalist life,” he states. “I don’t have a flashy car or a mansion on top of the hill. I just love the work – boring answer I know – but everyone handles fame differently.

“I think people who go into the industry and suddenly spiral out of control were out of control before they were in the industry too. I think Hollywood is really just a giant magnifying glass. Anything that you are going in becomes exposed and magnified. There are ways to keep your privacy if you really want to, absolutely. Privacy is a choice.”

With that in mind, Reynolds’ is full of praise for his young ‘leading lady’ Abigail Breslin, who is already an Oscar nominee at just 11 years of age.

“She’s an unbelievable kid,” he says. “She truly has both feet on the ground. It’s shocking because most kids in Hollywood who are her age have their five years sobriety pin, so she’s got it together. She has good parents and siblings to keep her grounded. She lived in New York, which made her savvy. These kids see what not to do in the media these days.”

Away from the camera, Reynolds tries to make the most of his time off by visiting his family at home in Vancouver (“I have three older brothers so that’s normally a dose of reality hitting me in the form of a fist”, he laughs). He also loves travelling, and spent a period last summer visiting impoverished Malawi in Africa. “That was unbelievable,” he recalls. “I was wide awake when I left there, I can tell you.”

And while audiences will have to wait and see if his Definitely, Maybe character Will gets his happy ending, Reynolds himself is confident that things can work out for us all if we really want it.

“Yeah I believe in happy endings,” he says. “I believe in manifest destiny. I believe we’re much more in control of our fate than we realise. I think happiness is as much of a choice as what colour socks you put on in the morning.”

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