Ryan Reynolds on ‘Spirited,’ Will Ferrell and ugly Christmas sweaters

In an interview, the ‘Deadpool’ star discusses his upcoming holiday musical comedy for Apple TV+, his comic repartee with co-star Will Ferrell, and his interpretation of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’

November 16, 2022 06:11 pm | Updated 06:19 pm IST

Ryan Reynolds

Ryan Reynolds | Photo Credit: Andy Kropa

For years, Ryan Reynolds was that guy, that wise-cracking, smart alec who appeared in a few funny movies in the same role over and over again.

But then, something changed. Not so much his roles: he just became really, really good at it. 

Looking back at an almost three decade-long career, it’s astonishing how Ryan went from Canadian child actor to playing hormonal teens and rom-com leads, to finally becoming one of the most recognised comedic/ action/ superhero stars in mainstream Hollywood today. Not to mention, one half of the world’s most cherished celebrity couples, as Blake Lively’s husband; Blake just confirmed a month ago that they were expecting their fourth child together.

More recently, he’s also found favour with sports fans across the world, after taking ownership of Welsh football club Wrexham A.F.C, along with friend, actor Rob McElhenney. The subsequent docu-series —Welcome to Wrexham— tracking Rob and Ryan’s crash course in football club ownership and the fates of a team and a town counting on two Hollywood stars to bring them good fortune, has become a global success.

Still, it’s reassuring to know that the Deadpool actor isn’t on all the time, though his many popular films and social media posts may have you believe otherwise. Ryan is surprisingly soft-spoken and quite earnest, as he sits down with Weekend over a Zoom call to promote what could turn out to be this year’s Christmas blockbuster.

Yet another reincarnation of A Christmas Carol, Spirited sees him team up with none other than Will Ferrell (a comedic match for the ages) in a modern take on Scrooge’s path to redemption — or is it? This time around, it is Clint Briggs (Reynolds) who turns the tables on his host, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ferrell) until Present finds himself re-examining his own past, present and future!

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in a still from ‘Spirited’

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in a still from ‘Spirited’

Ryan admits that he was nervous shooting for his first musical, even as he balanced working on the project, while shooting for the John Krasinki-directorial If (with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Steve Carell and others) as well as his return to R-rated territory with the third Deadpool movie that sees him enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe… alongside Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

Excerpts from the interview:

What was the most challenging part of working on your first musical?

Everything else was kind of a cakewalk, when you compare it to the singing and dancing (with an expression of mock horror).

I’m not a natural singer or a dancer; it’s not something I’ve spent my entire life making a craft of like the many incredibly talented singers and dancers that we’re working with. So I felt like a bit of a spectator, because I was so taken up by the sheer level of talent that these guys brought to the set every day. My job was, in some respects, really fun and fantastical, because I got to just warm myself off of their incredible talent and aura, but also scary as I hadn’t been in a musical before.

But it was also part of the reason I signed the movie; a very elaborate excuse to get to work with somebody I’ve admired my whole career, which is Will Ferrell.

Since the original novel is all about the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future visiting Ebenezer Scrooge to offer him a chance at redemption, what would you tell your younger self if you could visit him as a spirit this year?

(Laughs) Oh wow. Hmm, I guess idealism is something that sort of waxes and wanes throughout one’s life. I feel like I started out very idealistic, waned a bit, and now I feel quite idealistic again. 

I would probably tell my past self that, hey, your honour, you’re about to get on a pretty wild roller-coaster. I never had any predetermined expectations about this business; like, there was no part of me that ever had the audacity to think that I’d still be doing this job for as long as I’ve been privileged enough to do it. So I imagine that my younger self would be pretty awestruck with the ride that I was lucky enough to go on.

What was acting with Will Ferrell like? Did you feel any pressure at all?

I didn’t really feel any pressure because I tend to not really bring up any competitiveness to work I really love; I really celebrate and love my co-stars historically. 

Having said that, Will was special though, because I’ve admired him for such a huge part of my career. I’ve sat back watching him in films, wishing and hoping that I would get to work with him. You know, they say never meet your heroes. But once in a while they can exceed your highest expectations of them… and Will certainly did that. 

Ryan Reynolds: “I will always look back at this experience as the time I got to hang out with Will Ferrell”

Ryan Reynolds: “I will always look back at this experience as the time I got to hang out with Will Ferrell”

He’s not only an incredibly gifted comedian, but he’s also not on all the time, and there’s something really nice about that. You get to really connect with him as a human being and have a really wonderful and dynamic conversation. And then, suddenly, you can snap into doing comedic bits; he and I would waste hours every day just cracking each other up. I will always look back at this experience as the time I got to hang out with Will Ferrell.

What are your thoughts on the previous ‘Christmas Carol’ movies, and how is ‘Spirited’ different from them?

I love the Muppets version that had Michael Caine in it, and also the Bill Murray version ( Scrooged). I think I’ve seen a number of different iterations of it over the years, and they all offer something completely wild and different. 

The original Dickensian classic, as you know, is quite serious, a little bit morbid and even scary. Spirited is meant to be a lot softer, more fun, and for every member of the family. All my kids have seen little snippets of some of the other interpretations of the Dickens classic, and it scared them!

This particular version of it resonated quite a lot, because I see how much of what we imbibe and adjust these days comes via social media and manipulation. So it’s harder and harder to get really reliable and objective information these days. That’s something my character Clint is exploiting, and he uses it for evil.

You have worked with co-stars who are incredibly good at comedy over the years; from Sandra Bullock (The Proposal) and Samuel L Jackson (The Hitman’s Bodyguard) to Jason Bateman (The Change-Up) and The Rock (Red Notice). Do you have a favourite, and how does Will compare to them?

It’s a good question. I’d say that the best chemistry I’ve ever had with a partner is probably Shawn Levy… who’s a director. Shawn and I have collaborated on both Free Guyand The Adam Project, and we had a really special dance in both; we are hoping to bring that same kind of magic to the next Deadpool film. 

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in a still from ‘Spirited’

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in a still from ‘Spirited’ | Photo Credit: Apple TV+

But listen, I’m not gonna sleep on Will Ferrell. It was magical to get to bat the ball back and forth with him. I was more nervous with Will at the beginning as I’ve been so influenced by his work. So my worry going into it was like, do not do a Will Ferrell impression, as that would have been the death of me. I was a little bit too self-aware at the beginning or self-conscious, but then I relaxed into it once I saw that Will was just about the best human being you’ll ever get to work with. 

What do you enjoy most about Christmas?

Christmas Day is never quite as magical as the several weeks leading up to it, right? 

I have three daughters and we have so much fun in that lead up; they believe in the magic of Christmas, and in every aspect of the holiday. For me, it’s a bit of a creative exercise, and it’s my responsibility and my wife Blake’s to create the magic that makes it all feel special, and allow them to look back at their Christmases with the same kind of fondness that I did as a kid.

Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds

Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds | Photo Credit: Monica Schipper

Any fun off-screen moments from the whole ‘Spirited’ shooting experience?

Will Ferrell had seen a picture of Blake wearing “jelly shoes,” after a magazine did an article about it. He thought it was very funny, so he sent a text to both me and Blake on how much he loved them.

So then, Blake made him jelly shoes that were also tap shoes. I didn’t know about this. And then, one day on set, Will just came walking out wearing them, and trying to tap dance. It was probably the hardest I’ve laughed in my entire life.

Finally, have you picked out your ugly Christmas sweater for this year?

It’s always the same! It’s my ugly sweater that I do for the SickKids Foundation in Toronto. I’ll be doing it again this year with some special guests, which I’m very very excited about. Who knew that a simple practical joke from Hugh Jackman would turn out to help thousands of kids not just in Canada, but all over the world, eh? It’s pretty awesome.

Spirited premieres globally on Apple TV+ on November 18

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