Possessing unlimited wealth and power is often believed to be the key to maintaining a long and fulfilling life, but there’s a far more important quality that lends itself to preserving humanity: maintaining resolute moral convictions. While those living in society’s higher classes have better access to exceptional health care, if they don’t also believe in the need of such morals as redemption and humility, they’ll lose the opportunity to live a longer, more fulfilling life. Ryan Reynolds grippingly explored the ethical dilemma of what entitles a person to live an extended, healthy and alluring lifestyle in his new sci-fi action film, ‘Self/less,’ which opened in theaters today, and was directed by Tarsem Singh.
‘Self/less’ follows billionaire industrialist Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley), who has long excelled in running his New York City base of operations. Since he’s estranged from his activist daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery), Damian’s only real connection is with his lifelong friend and right-hand man, Martin O’Neil (Victor Garber). But when he receives a dire cancer diagnosis, Damian becomes determined to access a radical medical procedure, called shedding, that will allow his consciousness to continue living.
The process is offered to Damian by Albright (Matthew Goode), the brilliant leader of a secret organization that caters to the wealthy. Damian seizes the opportunity, and his death is staged, so that the world believes he has succumbed to his illness. However, he’s actually shedding, as his consciousness is being transferred into the body of a healthy man (Reynolds), who’s decades younger than he is.
After the operation is deemed a success, Damian begins to adapt to his new physical form, and begins a second life in New Orleans, where he’s befriended by a local man, Anton (Derek Luke). Both preserving his new-found health and indulging himself, Damian becomes comfortable in his new identity as Edward. But the disturbing images that begin flooding his consciousness are not easily explained away by Albright’s contention that immortality has some side effects.
When he finds himself drawn to single mother Madeline (Natalie Martinez), Damian starts to uncover the mystery of Edward’s origin. In the process, he discovers that Albright has men who will kill to protect the organization. Summoning two lifetimes’ worth of strength and resourcefulness, Damian fights for his life, as well as for the lives that he has impacted.
Reynolds generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Self/less’ during a press conference at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was drawn to play Edward because he was interested in collaborating with both Kingsley and Singh, as well as exploring Damian’s moral journey that led him to use his money and power to undergo shedding and transplant his consciousness into a younger body; how he did some research on the science of shedding, and discovered there’s evidence that suggests that the process may be achieved sooner than expected; and how he embraced working with all of his co-stars on the set, and praised Goode in particular, as he felt the actor crafted a remarkable screen villain, a role he hopes to eventually play, as he views antagonists as not being evil, but only having opposing views from the hero.
Question (Q): Since you have appeared in so many different genres and types of films throughout your career, why did you want to be in ‘Self/less?’
Ryan Reynolds (RR): Well, I think I’m in a unique position, in the fact that I get to star in dramas, comedies and suspense and action films. As I’ve gotten older, my career has become centered on working with people I would like to collaborate with. Ben Kingsley signed onto the film before I became involved, and I love everything he’s ever done. I’ve also been so taken with Tarsem since his movie ‘The Cell’ was released-I think that film is incredible. So I was excited to get a chance to work with them.
Q: You also recently reprised your role of the title character in ‘Deadpool,’ who’s basically an unkillable character. Did these two films make you think more about the idea of immortality as a concept?
RR: Living forever seems like a sentence, and I wouldn’t want to do that. But it has become a recurring theme around me lately. I think it’s a wish fulfillment for a lot of people, and ‘Self/less’ tackles the idea in an interesting way.
There’s a real moral argument there, as the story deals with the class system. There’s a guy who uses his money and power to acquire something that no other human being can acquire, and uses it in a way that’s not entirely altruistic. That’s the moral journey that he’s on, which ultimately derails him.
Q: Since there are such interesting topics in the film, what was going through your head when you first read the script?
RR: I love the idea that this character is getting his wish answered, and then suddenly seeing how quickly the consequences of that wish can come about. I also love that this guy’s arrogance and ego pushed him to this, and then it turns to an absolute sh*tshow.
Q: Did you do any research into the science that’s currently being done on how we can switch one person’s neurons to another person’s body?
RR: I did do some research on the topic, and there’s actually some compelling science that suggests that this may be achieved in an insignificant amount of time. I find it disturbing, actually, that we would so abuse this first life and privilege, and be so arrogant to ask for a second one. It raises so many questions. For some people it’s a theological argument, for others it’s a moral issue, and for some people, it just sounds awesome. (laughs)
I remember when we were scouting locations for the movie, we met a couple of billionaires here in New York, because we were interested in shooting some of Ben Kingsley’s scenes in their pent houses. Every one of them asked, (in a whisper,) “Is that possible?” (laughs) It’s interesting that they would do that.
Q: This is the second time you shot a film in a small place. Are you working through something?
RR: Not anymore! (laughs) I’ve actually always had an issue with claustrophobia, and elevators have always messed me up, and I don’t know why. So whenever I have read a script that involves some aspect of that, I get pretty intrigued.
Filming ‘Buried’ was like nothing else. The only way to shoot it was for real, which was a life-altering experience. I had safe words while we were filming, but we shot in Barcelona, and I was the only one who spoke English. I remember yelling out a couple safe words, and everyone just looked at me like I was demanding lunch. (laughs)
Q: What did you do to relax while you were filming?
RR: Yes, I did find ways to relax on set. I don’t know what this says about my character, but I can do a scene where I have an absolute melt-down. Then four seconds later, I can go to the closest 7-Eleven and get a Slurpee. I think I can do that because I’ve been acting professionally for 25 years.
I don’t do that thing where I take my characters home at the end of the day. But I have worked with method actors, and that’s always really annoying. (laughs) It works for them, and I never interfere with someone’s process. I’m glad they have found a method that works for them. But when the guy who’s playing the villain in the movie is a method, and he’s giving you the eye at the lunch line, that’s an awkward situation.
Q: You shot a portion of the film in New Orleans, where part of the story takes place. What was the experience of filming there, since the city often stands in for other places in movies?
RR: I thought it was fantastic, because the backdrop has a poetic symmetry. Everything that makes New Orleans so elegant is connected to its age and the decrepit quality of the buildings. The city is a home away from home for me, because my wife (Blake Lively) and I go there all the time, and we love it. It’s one of the places that we can easily live in.
Q: Did you speak with the rest of the cast and crew about the ideas behind the science before, and while, you were shooting the movie?
RR: You always do that, as film sets are all about collaboration. A film set, unlike theater, is a director’s medium, and is all about the director. You want to make sure the director knows what they’re doing, and can execute the vision they have for the film. But we did talk about all that stuff, and it was mainly about what the facility that they perform this treatment in looks like.
Q: Since Ben’s character puts his conscience into your character’s body, did you have a chance to meet, and work with, him at all?
RR: Yes, I did meet Ben, and I actually spent a lot of time with him. We only had one scene together, but Ben hung out quite a bit. We had lunch together a couple times together. He’s an amazing person, but I’ve never seen anyone with that kind of intensity.
Q: What was the best part about working with Natalie Martinez on the film?
RR: She’s great and super fun, but she’s also really intelligent. She’s one of those actresses who can just bring it, without having to walk around with her head down, and be in a bad mood, first. She’s the sunshine on the set, but then the second she has to bring the drama out, she does.
Q: What was the process of also working with Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, who plays Natalie’s character’s daughter, Anna, in the film?
RR: I say this not to be funny, but I’ve always had a minor aversion to child actors.
Q: But you were one…
RR: I started acting when I was 13, and I was just trying to get out of the house. I also didn’t have stage parents. So I’ve always been wary of the process, because putting kids in show business is a scary proposition. Who’s it really for-do the kids really want to act in movies? If they just love acting, they can do it anywhere.
I spent a lot of time with Jaynee-Lynne, and she’s wonderful, smart and funny, and she had nice parents. But I always get nervous for kids in show business, because it’s too much. I know for a fact that adults can’t handle it. So I don’t know how kids are expected to handle fame, let alone the levels of scrutiny that come with it.
Q: Matthew Goode plays the archetypal villain in the film. What was your experience of also working with him on the movie?
RR: Well, he’s British. (laughs) To me, the Brits are the embodiment of great dry comedy. There’s a perception of the villain’s behavior being British, and he’s a great, remarkable screen villain. It’s also great that he’s a leading man type of actor.
My dream and goal is to play a villain. I love that villains never ever feel like villains to me. In real life, that’s what villains are-they’re just people with opposing convictions.
Q: Why do you think you haven’t been asked to play a villain yet?
RR: I don’t know…that’s a good question. I think Hollywood tends to cast people who seem like villains, and I don’t know why they do that. I would prefer that they take someone who doesn’t necessarily strike you as a villain, and make them the best onscreen villain. I would love that opportunity though, and I always look for them.
Scripts are always written to include characters who people might assume are the villain, just because they’re talking like the bad guy. But I don’t think that villains talk like that-they talk like they are the hero. If you look back through our history at the most awful human beings, who truly did the most damage, they believed in what they were doing, which is so interesting to me.
Q: If you were to swap bodies with anyone, who would you want to switch bodies with, and why?
RR: That is a tough one. If I immediately had to choose someone, I would probably want to make it a little funky. I would probably go back and do life differently. I wouldn’t immediately pick Lebron James, as I would probably choose a woman. If I am going to go another round, I may as well, as half the people on the planet are women. I would jump right in the skin of Elizabeth Warren (U.S. Senator for Massachusetts – D) and run for office. It would be pretty cool to see what that’s like.
Q: Besides ‘Self/less,’ what projects do you have coming up?
RR: I’m very lucky to have had a dream come true, as we got the ‘Deadpool’ movie made. We’ve been trying to make the film for 11 years, so it creates a weird existential quandary, as you begin to ask, “What do I do now?” So I really don’t know what I’m going to do next professionally. I tend to make a lot of movies, more than I should, so I think there’s some value of realizing that as I get older. So I think I may be off for a bit, and learn how to play dad.
Q: Do you have any desire to star in a Broadway play?
RR: I keep coming to the brink of it, and then for whatever reason, it doesn’t work out. I was about to do one, and then I became a father.
Q: Which play was it?
RR: I don’t want to say, because it’s a very well-known title from the 1940s. But I would love to be in a play, and I think it would be a nice fit.
Q: Did you ever do stage work when you were younger?
RR: Well, I started as an improv comedian, and my first experiences as an entertainer were in improv comedy. I moved to L.A. to join The Groundlings. That’s not the stage you’re talking about, but the work was done in front of a live audience.
The best show I’ve been a part of was on a sitcom (ABC’s ‘Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place’). I’m not going to say that the wok was always high quality, but it was fun, as you’re in front of a live audience. I would do the warm-up comedy for the audience every day, so that job, which was about 15 years ago, was a dream.
Q: Nathan Fillion was on the show with you.
RR: Yes, and he’s still one of my closest friends. (laughs)
Written by: Karen Benardello