When it comes to the craft of acting, there are few more versatile movie stars than Ryan Reynolds. He’s been a superhero (“Green Lantern”), a frat boy (“National Lampoon’s Van Wilder”) and even Sandra Bullock’s put-upon assistant (“The Proposal”).
Recently, the Bedford resident and Vancouver native sat down with Marshall Fine, critic-in-residence at The Picture House in Pelham, to discuss his latest role, that of a down-on-his luck gambler who becomes an improbable good luck charm for a gambling addict (Ben Mendelsohn) in “Mississippi Grind,” a film that salutes a venerable genre, the buddy road picture.
It’s a movie with a “loosey-goosey” feel reminiscent of Robert Altman’s “California Split” (1974), Fine says, which Reynolds attributed to directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.
“It’s ballsy to make a movie like this now — to do something that is such a throwback,” Reynolds says. “The climaxes are many and they are character-based. There are no transformers or car chases or end-of-the-world scenarios. It is just two guys having a very mature, adult love story and I think that is a beautiful thing.”
Reynolds spoke highly of his co-star Mendelsohn, whom he says deserves a “forest” of awards for his performance in the film and whose Method approach he particularly admires.
“He showed up as Gerry — I still have never met Ben,” Reynolds says, joking. “But Ben is one of those Method actors that doesn’t make his process your process. He is so inclusive and generous and just wants everyone in the scene to be amazing, even the guy that is not saying anything over in the corner. You learn a lot from guys like that.”
While “Van Wilder” (2002) was one of the first films to make audiences notice the Canadian actor’s charm and way with a snappy line, Fine cited Reynolds in lesser-known films like “Buried” (2010) and “The Voices” (2014).
“I think he has a lot of range, a lot more range than some people give him credit for,” Fine says. “I admire his willingness to take on smaller, chancier films when he obviously has the ability to command big salaries from big studio movies.”
Reynolds was blunt when asked about his start in the entertainment business.
“I became an actor to get out of the house,” he says. “I was an actor because I could.”
Reynolds described his career, beginning with improvisational comedy at age 12. His first movie, “Ordinary Magic” (1993), was followed by a string of series and movies for TV, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. After a two-year hiatus on the night shift at a grocery store, Reynolds’ made a decision to move to Los Angeles, where he returned to improv with the Groundlings comedy group.
“That’s when I kind of fell in love with it,” he says of performing.
Small independent films and big studio films followed — a successful career that Reynolds says has its roots in the comedy of Chevy Chase.
“Back then I just idolized Chevy Chase — I watched him, I studied him, I imitated him. If you watch ‘Van Wilder,’ I am imitating Chevy Chase. I am doing my best version of that.”
At 39 years old and with more than 62 credits to his name as an actor, Reynolds continues to split his time between independent and big production films.
Fine asks if after all these movies, including some “abysmal failures,” as Reynolds put it, he still gets the same satisfaction out of acting as when he started.
“More, I think. It depends. When you are doing a big movie, that’s just kind of scary, because it is engineered entirely towards an outcome. You can’t have as much fun with it. Those can sometimes be tough but also rewarding and fun.
“I think what I am really addicted to is sort of what Curtis (his ‘Mississippi Grind’ character) is addicted to in this movie — being on the set, I love being around people, being around a crew. I love that we are all there making something together.”
Reynolds’ “Deadpool” is due for release in February. He plays the title antihero, based on the Marvel Comics series, one of several action- and comics-based roles he has taken on. The role of Deadpool will be the last of this type, he tells Fine.
“If there was no Deadpool, I certainly wouldn’t be diving into any kind of spandex,” he says.
Stunts also aren’t as easy as they used to be and he is more considerate of his filming schedule now that he and wife, Blake Lively — “Gossip Girl,” the face of Gucci Première fragrance and Reynolds’ “Green Lantern” co-star — are the parents of 9-month-old daughter, James, a family name.
“It is very hard to say I’ll go to Anchorage for 10 months and shoot. It is very tough. You have to let your actual life seep in and be home,” he says. “My wife is an actor as well and we try not to work at the same time so it can be sometimes challenging to schedule stuff.”
Lively, from California, has starred in several feature films, including “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” (2005), “Accepted” (2006), “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” (2009), and, most recently, in “The Age of Adaline” (2015). Perhaps best-known as Serena van der Woodsen in the TV drama “Gossip Girl” (2007—12) — she is also an aspiring lifestyle guru who counts Martha Stewart among her influences and a human rights activist who appeared at Greenwich Country Day School recently to take part in a discussion about “A Path Appears,” a documentary on gender-based oppression in which she participated.
How Reynolds, a Canadian from Vancouver and Lively, a California native, ended up in Westchester is not as curious a story as it might seem.
“There is a bit of country in me. I like having a little more space,” Reynolds says. “I like the idea that for the price of a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan you can have a backyard in Westchester. Really, it is just a simple, practical thing. I am not a guy who is stumbling out of bars at 2 in the morning. I don’t really need that in my life. For both my wife and I, it just works really well. We love Westchester. It’s gorgeous.”
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