In most cases, the decision for a studio to greenlight a superhero movie is the closest thing to a slam-dunk the movie business has to offer.
Then there is "Deadpool."
Ever since the foul-mouthed, fourth-wall-breaking "Merc With a Mouth" was introduced to the comics world in 1991, fans have been itching for the anarchic antihero to get his own big-screen vehicle. But for more than a decade, the project languished in development limbo, as 20th Century Fox hesitated over making an offbeat, very R-rated superhero movie that would mock the entire idea of superhero movies. Finally, on Friday, the film is hitting theaters.
We spoke with star Ryan Reynolds about how "Deadpool" came back from the brink of death to shake up the comic-book genre with a blend of sly self-awareness, ultraviolence and raunchy comedy.
You've been on this project longer than anyone. How did it first come into your life?
For me, the saga starts in 2005, when I was first introduced to "Deadpool" and kind of officially commited to doing it. I was meeting with Avi Arad – this was back when he ran Marvel. Back then we were trying to develop it with ["Dark Knight" trilogy screenwriter] David Goyer, and a couple of other people came and went. Then Fox obviously started handling everything from there. And that just turned into a roller-coaster ride of stagnation for everyone, really.
It would vanish off the radar, then it would come back. It was a real sort of emotional yo-yo. I've always likened it to the worst relationship I've ever been in: on-again, off-again, occasionally sleeping together, which just causes more pain. And then finally it ended in a really lovely wedding.
How aware were you of Deadpool before this came up? Are you a comic book fan?
Not really. I know it's fashionable to say, "I've been a diehard comic book nerd since I was a little kid," but I haven't really. Growing up in Vancouver, at least in the little pond I was in, we didn't really trade comic books around. It wasn't a big thing for us. So my introduction to this particular comic book was in 2005 – and really that was kind of my introduction to comic book culture in general.
I read the Deadpool comics and, sure enough, I really connected to the world, and I felt like he occupied a space in the comic book world that no other character could or would, at least that I'd heard of at the time. I knew that very few comic books broke the fourth wall and included the audience in the way that Deadpool did. So I knew he was working off a different footprint than some of the other guys.
Looking back, I'm so grateful that we didn't make the movie back then, because it's so much more timely now. Deadpool doesn't really take himself seriously at all, and in this era of comic-book superhero saturation, it's a lot of fun to be playing a character that's doing something wholly different than the rest.
A lot of fans were obviously really unhappy with the way the character was handled in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."
Yeah, myself included.
It seemed like Deadpool's appearance in that movie was setting up a standalone spinoff – but then that spinoff didn't materialize.
That was sort of the way it was floated to me, but you never know what's being discussed behind closed doors. At that point I was under the impression that it was "either play Deadpool in this iteration or someone else will." So, of course, I signed on.
It was during the writers strike, and basically all the Wade Wilson dialogue I had to sort of make up. I've been fortunate to sort of share a heartbeat with Deadpool, so I felt like I could channel the words of the character – they come pretty easily to me. That was fun: I got to play around and improvise and goof off and be Wade Wilson.
It was the Deadpool part that really derailed everything. The decision to sew his mouth shut and just completely go rogue from the canon was kind of tough, and I knew it was going to be tough for the audience.
I just had no idea at that point how many Deadpool fans there were. I didn't really know that people were that passionate about the character until they saw that iteration and obviously weren't happy with it.
While Fox was trying to figure out what, if anything, to do with "Deadpool," you went off and made another superhero movie, "Green Lantern."
Yeah, "Deadpool" was at the time somewhat dead in the water. I had a bit of that clichéd moment right before you marry someone, where you're telling the love of your life you're going to marry this other person unless they object in this moment. But [Fox] just couldn't really pull the trigger.
At the time, that seemed like a really logical idea. It was right when comic books were starting to emerge as a real genre unto themselves and blah blah blah. So I went off and did it.
What lessons did you take away from the failure of that movie?
I think it was fundamentally doomed from the start because there wasn't really a functioning script or identity for it. A lot of these comic-book movies are world building, and without a clear idea of what the movie is really saying, it's not going to materialize according to your expectations.
It was a little frustrating, but more than anything it was just sad because there were so many resources being poured into this thing when, at the end of the day, it just needed a stronger story and a stronger script and we just didn't have that.
Going into "Deadpool," we went in with a script that we'd completed five years ago. To me at least, it felt like a real luxury knowing exactly what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. And particularly having an idea of the very hyper-specific tone that "Deadpool" has – that was the biggest trick. I think across the board everyone was on the same page.
At one point, the studio asked the screenwriters to write a PG-13 version of the script. Would a PG-13 "Deadpool" have been a deal-breaker for you?
Nobody wanted to do a PG-13 "Deadpool." Gun to my head, would I have done a PG-13 movie? I don't know. It would depend on what it looked like.
If we could have done it justice and serve the character the way it needed to be served, sure. But my hope was always to have the R rating just to have the ability to really stretch our legs and explore this character in a different way than most of these superhero tenptole movies explore it.
In the summer of 2014, a couple of minutes of "Deadpool" test footage leaked and fans went nuts for it. What did you think when that material leaked?
It's really kind of a fairy-tale story. That [test footage] was just meant to establish how the world would operate. It was really meant for internal use only. It was never meant to be shown to the public in any way. But the fan reaction so overwhelmed Fox that they really saw that there was a huge appetite for Deadpool – and that's what gave us the green light. I think that's exclusively the reason the movie got made.
There's a very small group of people who had the motive and opportunity to leak the footage: basically you, director Tim Miller and the two screenwriters, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. You've said you didn't do it, so –
I promise you it was one of us. That much I know. [laughs]
At Comic-Con last year, the crowd responded really enthusiastically to a reel of scenes from "Deadpool." After so many years of trying to get this movie made, what was that moment like for you?
I've got to be honest, that scared the ... out of us because we were just at the cusp of the editing process at that point. We were, like, 'OK, we've got to put a movie together that lives up to this.'
I could tell it really touched on a nerve there for whatever reason. It felt really good because we'd all been working so hard.
I've never done a job where I gave my last drop of blood, and this was that. I really felt great about how it was received. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced before just to have the long game pay off that way, sticking with this thing for over a decade and seeing that we weren't crazy and there was something here.
You obviously didn't have the same size budget for "Deadpool" as most giant tentpole superhero movies. What were the pros and cons of working with more limited resources?
I always say that we had what was the equivalent to the cocaine budget for most studio superhero films. We didn't have a lot of resources to pull from, but we made the most of what we had, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
It's amazing to see that you can do a film that I think really looks like "Avengers"-caliber special effects and scope but do it at a budget that's completely reasonable. That was pretty neat to pull off.
And it probably meant less nervous studio executives looking over your shoulder.
That's the gift of it. The studio said, "Go make your movie however you want to make it." They were incredibly supportive. The whole way they have moved behind the scenes – for that I'm really grateful.
But, yeah, the idea was: Make the movie, at a price, the way you want to make it. That was a nice feeling.
Any thoughts about where Deadpool could go from here?
I have no idea. You don't want to jump the gun and get ahead of the expectations. We'll see how it all shakes out. I don't want to throw a little false humility around, but I really am just so happy that we got to make this movie and it turned out great.
I'm just glad we made it now while I can still run, jump, shoot and be a smartass. If it took another 15 years we'd have to have the whole movie take place during one of Deadpool's colonoscopies.