By Amy Kaufman
Los Angeles Times
Ryan Reynolds hasn’t been getting a lot of sleep lately. In fact, he was so tired over lunch recently that he declined to eat the vegetables served with his salmon because it would require too much effort.
“I’m too exhausted to try to chew all that fibrous spinach,” he said, pushing his plate away. “If you want to try and just feed me like a baby bird, I’m OK with that. Just masticate that up.”
Reynolds, 40, flew from Vancouver to Los Angeles for just a few hours last month to promote his upcoming action thriller “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” with co-star Samuel L. Jackson. The film, out Aug. 18, follows a special protection agent who must transport a highly wanted hitman from England to the Netherlands. Though the pair are initially at odds, their death-defying journey sparks an unlikely friendship — and provides some comic relief in what is otherwise a pretty hard-R rated action flick. (Oh, and Jackson plays the hitman, so you can guess who plays the bodyguard.)
The two actors were scheduled to sit down together to discuss their first-ever collaboration, but Jackson was running late and Reynolds had a plane to catch for filming of “Deadpool 2,” so he scarfed down his fish and started chatting. “I have to be in makeup at 3:30 tomorrow morning,” he lamented. “Right now, they’re long, long days. The prosthetics take about three hours to get on and an hour to get off.”
When Jackson did arrive, about 20 minutes into the interview, he was carrying a substantial silver vape he said he’d purchased in Australia. “It’s the only one I can drop that won’t break,” the 68-year-old said.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Q: Did either of you grow up aspiring to be action heroes?
Ryan Reynolds: I wasn’t the biggest action movie fan as a kid. The apex of my week was always ‘80s “SNL.” I appreciated action movies, but I always liked the action that was more like ‘Raiders of the Last Ark’ because it was less kung-fu. It felt like when you punched Harrison Ford, it really hurt. I like the kind of action where you see a little bit of fear in his eyes. When I’m doing the action sequences in a movie like this, I like to have a bit of that. I don’t want to be the guy that’s intermittently clenching his jaw muscles, squinting and kicking ass. I like it to feel nasty and real and like my characters maybe just peed a little bit. Like it would be in real life — terrifying.
Samuel L. Jackson: When I was a kid, an action movie to me was Errol Flynn swinging from a ship with a sword. Swordfighting epics and cowboy movies. It didn’t change until I was an adult when they started making “Shaft” and buddy movies — “Starsky and Hutch” on TV. I grew up during a time when every year you got a gun for Christmas because you played cowboys a lot. I had every cowboy iteration of gun you can imagine when I was a kid. We did a lot of gun fightin’.
Q: This movie is filled with car chases, shoot-outs and hand-to-hand combat. Why do you think audiences continue to gravitate toward violent content?
Jackson: It’s a safe environment for people to watch violence that has a heightened reality. Real-life violence is not that stylized, and it’s a lot uglier in terms of the consequences and what happens later. When we look at pictures of kids in Syria or you read about the guy who goes into a school and shoots kids — it’s not desensitizing, because we’ve always watched movies that were violent. I’m not immune or inured to it, but I understand the artistic value of what that is when you watch it.
Q: What appealed to you about this script?
Reynolds: I wasn’t going to do it unless he would. I just got the script and said, “Would Sam Jackson do it? Then I’ll do it.” I’ve wanted to work with Sam so badly. Sam is someone I’ve known for 12 years. We met in physical therapy. I was training for “Blade 3” and I was having my shoulder fixed, and he was having something else fixed. I would see him there every day.
Jackson: I was recovering from a knee injury. I might have just had my coflex device put in between my L4 and L5. Anyway, I knew what Ryan did. I knew his job. I knew he worked and I’d seen enough of it. I knew that I enjoyed watching it, and I figured I’d have a good time working with him from the few interactions we had. I had no compunctions about working with him. And then he was in my house and looking at a table and I said something very strange to him about life.
Reynolds: I was at a house for this fundraiser nine years ago, and there were all these pictures of Sam and his wife and daughter and their family and travels and adventures together. I said, “Oh my God, your entire life is on this table, that’s incredible. You keep so many photos. I gotta start doing that.” He said, “Of course you do. It’s your … life, man.” And now I have photos all over my house of my wife and my kids and my family and whatever we’ve done together and I really do have Sam to thank for that. That stuck with me. It is my … life, and it’s going by really quickly. Let’s get some pictures up.
Jackson: I liked Ryan and wanted to work with him. He has a wide array of stuff that he’s done. And like I told him, I’ve really loved watching him act by himself in that coffin (in “Buried.”) That’s when you go, “OK, that guy’s got something.”
Reynolds: I remember the first movie I really noticed him in and loved him in was “True Romance.” I’ve been a fan of his ever since. He always brings it.
Jackson: I don’t know where the “King of Cool” moniker came from or how it evolved, but it had a lot to do with “Pulp Fiction” and how even-keeled Jules was. He was such a professional. Minimum movement, he doesn’t get distracted, he’s a straight-line guy and people found that cool. You get the right clothes — “Shaft” got the great leather coats and one liners. It seems like I always have the T-shirt lines in the movies.
Q: Do you ever feel that cool off-screen?
Jackson: Never. I get up in the morning. I go to the golf course. I play golf every day when I’m not working. I come home, eat breakfast, go work out, I come home, I read a book or watch a movie and binge-watch a television show.
Q: I heard you’re thinking of doing TV for the first time ever — a drama series called “Old Man”?
Jackson: I’m circling that right now. Nobody’s bought it yet. But I do want to do one of those 10-episode, short arc for a few years and go do a movie later. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I started watching “Breaking Bad” and waiting on the right thing to come along that kind of makes sense for me. Watching Ewan (McGregor) on “Fargo” this year was like, “Twins?” He got to really work!
Q: At this point in your careers, how do you choose your jobs?
Reynolds: A lot of it is: How is this going to impact my family? You want your kids to have some sense of continuity in their lives. We always stay together when we’re working. Rarely do (wife Blake Lively) and I take movies at the same time. That’s an obscene and disgusting luxury to be able to say, “I’ll work at this time.” Most families, both parents are working and they don’t have that option.
Jackson: It’s gotta be a story I want to tell or be part of. Who the character is, how he moves the story along. So consequently, sometimes I end up going to do a movie for two days or two weeks. … Acting is my passion. Writers get up and write, painters get up and paint. If I could get up every day and go act somewhere, that would be ideal. That’s what I like to do. When I was a young actor in theater, that’s what I did. I was always doing a play, rehearsing a play or auditioning for the next play. My life would be very boring if I didn’t do that. It’s like when I go to New York and spend a week going to the theater — it’s like, “I need to get back on stage. I need to do something eight times a week. I miss that.” I told my agents the other day, if I had known I was going to be off from January until now, I would have been in New York doing a play for a limited engagement.
Q: Did you guys get close during filming?
Reynolds: We were attached at the hip on this thing and it was an absolute dream. We were different enough, but we approached work in a similar way. I really like coming to work. Being on time. Knowing my stuff. And Sam knows his stuff and everyone else’s stuff — he knows other people’s lines, too. He’s like some kind of weird, dark genius. It really left a lot of room to have fun on the set. There wasn’t a lot of time wasted with, “Oh, what am I doing? What am I supposed to be saying?” We both just dug in and got to work right away and it left a lot of room to just play.
Q: So you were throwing back drinks together in European pubs, then?
Jackson: His kids were there. He was on daddy duty every night.
Reynolds: My wife was pregnant, so she was exhausted with a 1-year-old running around.
Jackson: I walked around Bulgaria every night looking at the sights and seeing the theater scene. They have a great theater scene. The young people are very cool and very anxious to try out their new American. I walked at least an hour and a half or two hours every night and got my steps in.
Q: Do you have a Fitbit?
Jackson: Nah, I just count them with my phone.