By Nick Schager
[Photos: Ryan Reynolds in “”The Nines”,” Newmarket Films, 2007]
Ryan Reynolds’ résumé doesn’t prepare you for his performance in “The Nines.” Or rather, his three performances, as the former sitcom star (“Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place”), wisecracking sidekick to Wesley Snipes in “Blade: Trinity” and upstanding gunslinger in “Smokin’ Aces” tackles a trio of roles to impressive effect in the indie mindbender. The directorial debut of “Go” and “Big Fish” scribe John August, “The Nines” revolves around three unique Reynolds characters an actor whose life is in Lohan-ish freefall, a show creator being followed by a reality TV program crew, and a man stranded with his wife and daughter in the woods all of whom are mysteriously, inextricably related to each other. Answers aren’t easy to come by in this trifurcated media-satire-by-way-of-metaphysical-head-trip, and the same might also be said about the Canadian-born Reynolds, a funny, handsome actor whose most memorable big-screen exploit stuffing an éclair full of bulldog semen in “Van Wilder” never hinted at the mature, nuanced and varied turn he delivers in his latest. While in New York, the actor sat down to discuss life in the spotlight, the challenges of playing a character based on his director, and his penchant for going topless.
The first segment’s protagonist, Gary, is an out-of-control actor. Can we assume this is based on your own life?
[Laughs] No. If you look at the news, there are all sorts of out-of-control actors, but it wasn’t based on anyone I know. Gary’s acting style on his TV show, which we only see for a couple of brief moments, is based on some people I know. But other than that, no.
Gary’s crack and booze bender seems to be driven, at least in part, by a desire to rebel against his own celebrity. Is that something you can relate to?
Well, the spotlight is as attractive as it is scary. It’s always a push-pull sort of thing. But I don’t know if Gary is necessarily feeling like he’s giving the finger to celebrity. I don’t think Gary is that intellectual, to process something like that. He’s definitely going through something, but I don’t think he’s actualized enough to figure out what it is.
Despite a somewhat revelatory finale, the film refuses to posit easy resolutions to its entwined mysteries. Was that what drew you to the project?
My attraction to it was a bit more microcosmic. I liked the moments in it, and I really loved the transition from one character to the next, in the sense that it didn’t feel as indulgent as it could have been. In playing three different characters, there’s a temptation to go overboard. The challenge was to find their similarities, not their differences, and that really attracted me to it.
But of course, I love that the film is, in and of itself, a question as opposed to an answer. I think that’s a treat, nowadays, to have a film that isn’t about the bottom line, that doesn’t leave the viewer walking away from the theater with that satisfied grin, that they’ve been coddled throughout the movie. With “The Nines,” they can walk away and have a cordial debate about it. I like that.
It actually sparked a street-corner discussion between myself and a friend immediately after our screening.
That makes me happier than any box-office revenue. This movie is obviously not designed to pull in $100 million. That’s the reason to do it, to have people walk out and want to discuss it. To be a part of that is infinitely cooler than anything else I can imagine.
I assume your preparation for this film was quite different than for something like “Smokin’ Aces” or “Blade: Trinity.”
Unlike those other movies, the things that are interesting about “The Nines”‘ characters are the little things, the small idiosyncrasies. The character I play in part two is a real person, and that’s [writer/director] John August. That was both exciting and terrifying for me, because it was the one piece that I didn’t feel like I’d connected with until we started shooting it. That’s just going in pants-less right there, and that’s a scary feeling. We obviously shot the film out of sequence, and part two was actually the last thing we shot, and I was glad because it gave me an opportunity to spend as much time as possible with John to get to know him and his experiences. But the film was largely unscripted, and that adds a whole other level of depth and difficulty. I was so concerned about it that it was beginning to affect my work on the other two segments, so I just let it go, and decided I was going to drive it like I owned it. And it ended up being my favorite part of the film.
Was it difficult playing August while he was sitting behind the camera?
It’s painfully awkward in the beginning, but there’s so much trust between John and me that he really gave me license to go for it. He said, “Expose me, warts-and-all.” A lot of what that character is dealing with is hubris, and that’s not a flattering trait to be portraying in somebody who’s standing in the same room as you. A lot of that stuff is improvised, and that made it even more of a challenge. I’m aping things I’ve heard him say. I’d have conversations with him and go home and furiously take notes on everything he said, and I would somehow find a way to [include those things] within a scene.
You’ve generally alternated between comedies and genre films, while “The Nines” feels like your first foray into drama. Is serious fare something you’ve been actively trying to segue into?
I’d like to work toward an evenly balanced pie chart of a career. A lot of times, the more comedy you do and even “Blade” I consider a comedy, we had so many difficulties during shooting that it was just like, “Well, let’s do this, then” the more comedy is sent to you. The more drama you do, the more drama is sent to you. It’s nice to have a mix of both. I just finished another straight drama, and there’s no humor in it at all. And the next two have elements of both.
Coming from a sitcom and comedy background, has it been tough to reverse preconceived notions and prove you can do more than just “Van Wilder”?
That movie took on a cult status, which was actually great, because it didn’t expose me to everybody on planet Earth. It wasn’t a huge box office success; it found its audience later, so it didn’t overexpose me, but it exposed me enough that it really helped. But I imagine that for people who really hold a movie like that dear to them, it’s probably a little bit more difficult. Still, at my last press conference, people didn’t even know I had done a television show. So you go, “Oh, wow, it’s been enough time that they don’t even know.” Honestly, I don’t know. I assume it’s probably a little bit difficult, but you just have to do it, and believe in yourself.
“The Nines” once again features you shirtless. Is that in your contract?
No! I try to avoid it, actually. This will be the only movie out of the last four that I had to do it. But it was necessary for the narrative, because you had to see his belly button or lack thereof. That’s key.
Ever have any thought about going back to TV?
Um, no. There’s good TV out there, but film is more synchronized with my lifestyle. I love telling stories, I love being part of that process. And I also like never seeing some of those people ever again.
“The Nines” is now in theaters (official site).