Ryan Reynolds: Brainless beefcake or the evolution of Hollywood?

His online confessionals have made him the most accessible of stars, but do we know the real Ryan Reynolds?

Ryan Reynolds is a social media savant

Cast as one of the most iconic figures in the superhero universe – quick-witted, handsome and mega-powered, while still battling his inner demons – success seemed all but guaranteed for Ryan Reynolds. Then just 35, the Vancouver-born actor was on the verge of becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest draws, a 21st century Tom Cruise, but with none of the Scientology baggage.

And then his movie tanked. Despite a $200 million budget, Green Lantern went on to become one of the undisputed big screen flops of 2011. The critics were not kind. The Guardian described his performance as “a slice of inert beefcake”, while the influential Rotten Tomatoes website simply begged: “Please, please, please do not make a sequel…”

Ryan Reynolds in his Deadpool persona

Fast forward five years and everything has changed. His portrayal of Deadpool, the foul-mouthed, scarred mutant mercenary from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, saw him winning awards across the board. The film also proved one of the surprise hits of the year (it was, after all, a relatively low-budget R-rated production), with the inevitable Deadpool 2 sequel hitting theatres next month.

It was an on-set encounter with one Fox Studio executive that first brought Deadpool into his life. Recalling that initial exposure to Marvel’s most maverick metahuman, Reynolds says: “I pored through the comics and realized that this character occupies a space in the comic-book universe that nobody else does. I thought you could really go places and do things with this character that you couldn’t do with any other superhero property.”

Ryan Reynolds on the set of Deadpool

With Reynolds now evangelical about the character’s cinematic potential, he soon set about badgering 20th Century Fox, one of Hollywood’s biggest studios, into investing in his vision. Many years and some tactically leaked test footage later, the studio finally capitulated. Still wary, however, it allocated a shoestring budget of just US$58 million to the project.

It proved a shrewd investment, with Deadpool going on to gross US$783 million at the box office, making it the highest-earning R-rated film ever, while also financially outperforming far bigger budgeted superhero adventures. For his efforts, Reynolds bagged the Best Actor in a Comedy prize at the 2016 Critics’ Choice Awards.

Despite all this, there are many who dismiss Reynolds as an “accidental star”, citing his wry Twitter contributions as far outweighing his acting prowess. To be fair, he actually is one of the few Hollywood A-listers who seems to have mastered the arcane arts of social media.

Ryan Reynolds bagged Best Actor in a Comedy at the Critics' Choice Awards

His tweets – which range from the subtly sarcastic to the outrageously subversive – have, indeed, won him a massive online fanbase. Just as Deadpool, his on-screen alter ego, is forever breaking the fourth wall and addressing cinema audiences directly, Reynold’s online utterances see him shattering the traditional barricades between movie stars and their fans, becoming, arguably, the most accessible of Hollywood A-listers.

Even with his mounting acclaim, the actor remains hyper-aware of the frailty of his star status. Perhaps bearing in mind the collateral damage Green Lantern caused his career, he says: “As an actor, you’re always aware that you may never work again. You always have this lizard-brain fear that’s always just under the surface.”

Ryan Reynolds as mouthy Hannibal King

Despite his concerns, Ryan’s position in the megastar firmament now seems all but unassailable. Just two years ago he was granted that badge of true longevity, a star on the Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

As to his own future, well, Deadpool 2 is tipped to be but the first of many sequels planned for the maverick mercenary, with Reynolds saying he is committed to playing the character for as long as he is allowed.

His next project, however, is a bit different – Clue, a cinematic rendering of Cluedo, the classic crime-solving boardgame. Given his aptitude for creating memorable characters, however, few are likely to wander away from screenings of that particular project wondering: “Whodunnit?” The unmistakable Ryan Reynolds. Of course.

Text: Suchetana Mukhopadhyay
Images: AFP