Ryan Reynolds changes course in ‘The Voices’ and is glad he did

Ryan Reynolds, seen here at the Sundance Film Festival, stars in the new movie "The Voices."
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Why is Ryan Reynolds staying here? It’s called a ski “resort,” but the lobby is filled with dying plants. There’s an indoor pool encased by windows so steamy one could probably commit a crime without anyone’s noticing. The wooden table the actor is sitting at has a huge name carved into it: “Ari.”

“I think a lot of bad things have happened here,” he says, tracing his index finger along Ari’s name. “I mean, my room is fine. I don’t care. It’s a bed. But it smells like a hobo died while changing his socks for the very first time.”

It’s late January, and the 38-year-old has been put up here while promoting an indie film he’s in at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s not that Reynolds is acting like a snob about his accommodations — on the contrary, he seems genuinely thrilled to sleep anywhere he can grab an uninterrupted seven hours after welcoming a baby girl with wife Blake Lively in December.


But really: Is this a place for People’s onetime Sexiest Man Alive to stay? He’s a leading man, a movie star.

Or is he? That’s what he has been trying to figure out lately, after starring in a string of high-profile box-office misfires, most notoriously “Green Lantern,” the would-be DC Comics superhero franchise that cost $200 million to make but took in only $116 million in domestic ticket sales in 2011. But there was also the body-switching comedy “The Change-Up” (budget: $52 million; gross: $37 million) and “R.I.P.D.,” a zombie buddy cop flick costarring Jeff Bridges (budget: $130 million; gross: $33 million).

Which might help explain why moviegoers can see Reynolds in “The Voices,” an inexpensive dark comedy that opened Friday, about a factory worker who is compelled to commit murder by his talking cat. Yeah, it’s definitely weird. But critics are actually pretty into it. And, most important, so is Reynolds.

“I’ve done movies that I shouldn’t have done because they were going to pay me, and that was at the time very appealing and exciting,” he admits. “When you arrive in Hollywood, and you come from where I come from, you think, ‘Of course, I’m gonna do that.’ I found the most difficult roles were the ones where I had to portray some sort of ideal of masculinity — that’s when I felt sort of fake and weird. But in a comedy like this, I let go of that. There was a complete absence of machismo.”

It was an odd thing to hear him say because on this particular day, he looked kind of like a lumberjack. Red and black buffalo plaid. A salt-and-pepper beard. He even had one of those fitness trackers around his wrist that the guy who’s training him for his next movie, “Deadpool,” is making him wear.

That’s right, Reynolds is venturing back into the world of comic books next month, when he’s set to begin playing the talkative Marvel mercenary whose wounds heal at superhuman speed.

He bristles at the idea that the film is similar to “Green Lantern,” though. “Deadpool” is stripped down, he says, and will be made on a budget that’s the same as “the laser-hair removal of most ‘X-Men’ movies.” He doesn’t feel as though it’s necessarily leading-man territory.

“Robert Downey Jr. is a leading man,” he says, referring to an actor now best known for playing the lead in a Marvel comic book film. “Yes, I’ll be the lead in a Marvel movie, but I’ll be scarred head to toe. It’s not like you’re seeing Ryan Reynolds up there.”

Apparently Reynolds isn’t interested in looking handsome these days because “The Voices,” as he puts it, “is not a vanity project, that’s for sure.” By which he means his character, Gerry, pulls his pants up really high and is creepily grinning 99.9% of the time. He refuses to take his meds and therefore starts communicating with his cat, who has a Scottish accent, and his dog, who sounds like an old Texan smoker. (Reynolds voiced the animals too.)

Marjane Satrapi, who wrote the graphic novel “Persepolis” and directed “The Voices,” thought he was perfect for the role because of his “freaky” eyes. She liked how dark they were — how you almost couldn’t see the whites of them at all. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t think he’s attractive. In fact, she thinks his looks have often proved to be his fatal flaw.

“I think he’s suffered the same symptom as very beautiful women who are considered dumb,” says Satrapi. “You don’t think he can be talented because he’s so pretty. But he is. He’s a Ferrari who people have driven like a bike. You have an engine that can go 200 mph and you don’t take advantage of it at all.”

One of Reynolds’ closest friends in the industry, actor Stanley Tucci, agrees that Hollywood doesn’t realize what the actor is capable of. The two first became close a few years ago, when they realized how close they lived to one another in Westchester County in New York. Over long dinners with their wives, they’d “venture deeply into talking about careers,” said Tucci, who is married to actress Felicity Blunt.

“I think there’s some people who are just meant to be leading men, and some people who are actors. Ryan is an actor with tremendous depth and variety, but he has those leading-man good looks,” said Tucci, who now lives in London. “People don’t think of him that way yet, but I do. And more people are going to soon because of movies like this.”

That’s obviously Reynolds’ hope too. Not that he isn’t owning his part in his career missteps.

“I’ll be the first to admit I have not been as wise with my decision making as I should have been,” he says, his voice getting quieter toward the end of the sentence. “I wasn’t really methodical about, like, ‘What is this movie? What are we making here?’”

Take “R.I.P.D.,” for example: “Is this a popcorn, bubble-gum romp? Is this a slightly subversive take on zombie culture?” he says, thinking of the questions he should have asked himself. “It was more like, ‘Whoa, cool, Jeff Bridges! And there’s some jokes in there that really work for me.’”

Moving forward, he’s thinking things through. If he was offered a $200-million studio franchise again, he insists, he’d want to “really workshop it” to make sure he was the right fit.

“I’m not actively building a business,” he says. “And I think that’s OK. Maybe I will do that again someday. I’ve had extraordinary success and extraordinary failures, but I think you learn so much more from the failures. I would never have done ‘The Voices’ if ‘Green Lantern’ made $1.5 billion at the box office.”