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What Keeps Mr Ryan Reynolds Up At Night?

The Deadpool star and Piaget ambassador reveals the source of all his powers

The first time Mr Ryan Reynolds took note of a high-end wrist watch was via the classic 1987 comedy Planes, Trains And Automobiles, in which Messrs Steve Martin and John Candy attempt to get home in time for Thanksgiving by any means possible.

“I memorised that film verbatim,” he says. “There are two moments in the movie where you see Steve Martin’s watch. One where he’s in a board meeting that he’s trying to leave to catch his flight back home to Chicago. He thinks he’s going to miss it and we keep cutting to a close-up of his Piaget watch, a very 1980s-style watch. Then later in the film, he trades the watch for room and board for the night. It’s a fantastic scene. ‘$17 and a hell of a nice watch.’ Then John Candy tries to do the same thing with a Casio. ‘I have $2… and a Casio.’ [Artfully mimics hawking the watch.] Piaget stuck with me from that moment forward.”

Jump forward 30 years and Mr Reynolds is now the face of the brand. “If I had to trade my Piaget for anything, it would definitely be for one night in a shitty motel room with Steve Martin,” he says. “I think that’s a pretty good deal, too. Yeah, pillows and all. ‘Those aren’t pillows!’”

Humour was a defining part of Mr Reynolds’ upbringing. He grew up in a lower-middle-class family in Vancouver, the youngest of four boys. (He has said he felt “less like a little brother and more like a moving target”.) He had a “complicated” and “fractured” relationship with his father, “a former cop, former boxer, full-time landmine”. As a kid, he was “twitchy”, which he now recognises as the onset of a life-long battle with anxiety.

“My dad was a tough guy,” he says. “He was good in many ways as well, but he was tough on us,” he says. “This is not meant to be some sob story – everyone carries their own bag of rocks around and I am no different in that regard – but growing up in my house, it was never relaxing or easy and I know that, throughout my life, I’ve dealt with anxiety in different ways.”

One way was, and still is, using comedy as a form of self-defence or to diffuse tension. “My brothers and I are all very, very close and we all share a bit of that type of humour together,” says Mr Reynolds. He joined an improv group at school and originally intended to pursue comedy professionally. To this day he has a “gag reflex” of non-stop one-liners. It’s what makes him such a reliably good chat-show guest. “I’ll look for the joke in things so that I don’t look for the sadness and the grief,” he says. He is arguably the funniest Hollywood actor on social media. For much of the time, @VancityReynolds pretty much wins the internet.

But that nagging sense of unease lives with him still. “I tend to get pretty depressed and I have some issues with anxiety and things like that,” he says. He needs to exorcise his melancholy spirits with daily exercise, usually running or light weights. “Otherwise, I start to get a little bummed,” he says. “For me, it is more psychological. Exercise is a means of expelling those demons.”

The flip side of this is that he has learnt to harness his self-doubt to power his creative drive. It is what keeps him awake at night, crafting jokes, polishing scripts. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but anxiety is also a great fuel,” he says. “I mean, my God, it’s the anti-complacency pill, but it’s also something that you need to manage.”

At the time of our interview, Mr Reynolds is putting the finishing touches to Deadpool 2. Could they not come up with a better name? “Maybe The Untitled Deadpool Sequel?” he offers. As with the first movie, he is playing a number of roles, not just the lead. Producer, writer, editor, marketing executive, tub thumper.

He and co-writers Messrs Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick lived together at the Reynolds family estate near Bedford in upstate New York while they crafted the script for the sequel. “We’ve been just sort of inseparable since we wrapped the first one,” says Mr Reynolds. It’s developed into a heartwarming bromance. “We do other things together, too. We’re friends. We love each other, all three of us. They were upstate with me. We spent quite a bit of time up there. Wherever we are, we’re kind of working and playing. It does sound pretty nice. Right?”

Who writes all the zingers? “All three of us and sometimes they’re other people’s,” says Mr Reynolds. “We’ll take anyone’s suggestion, but if I have one particular joke in a scene, I’ll try four or five, six, seven variations of it. And often times I’m in the mask, so it’s easy to cut between. You can sort of use whichever joke you want. I’ve learnt a ton about writing through Rhett and Paul. They’re great on the fly and they’re great locked in a room.”

In January, the writing trio signed a three-year deal with Fox to work on other movies, but they have now been working together on Deadpool as a passion project for 11 years. Mr Reynolds became obsessed with bringing the character to the big screen in 2004 when he saw a comic strip in which Deadpool describes himself as looking like “Ryan Renolds [sic] crossed with a shar-pei”. They turned in their first script in 2009, but the movie didn’t get the green light from Fox until 2014, when some leaked test footage mysteriously/deliberately found its way online and the fans waged a Twitchfork campaign until the studio relented. Deadpool was made on a shoestring. It cost $58m, about a third of the budget for your average superhero movie (Batman V Superman cost $250m), but raked in $783m to become the highest-grossing R-rated movie ever. It catapulted Mr Reynolds, who had been navigating the “choppy waters” of rom-coms and some box office bombs, onto the A list.

Deadpool is now its own superhero franchise. Mr Reynolds had better get comfortable wearing that unforgiving red suit. “These are uptown problems, my friend,” he laughs. “Very uptown problems.”

There’s a certain irony in one of the world’s most handsome leading men playing a facially disfigured antihero disguised by a mask. “There’s something very liberating about hiding under a mask”, he says. “The mask is a big part of the attraction for me.”

Could it be argued that Mr Reynolds’ chiselled good looks have occasionally counted against him in his career, stopped him from being taken seriously as an actor? He has self-deprecatingly described himself as the “five-time Academy Award viewer Ryan Reynolds”. He demurs, feels it’s not for him to say. But he is embracing the ageing process, not fighting it. Fine lines, grey hairs, bring them on. “One hundred per cent, I’ve always enjoyed getting a little bit older,” he says. “You never bemoan a birthday. I like it. It’s getting a little bit more difficult with the stunt work stuff. I find that landing on cement isn’t hilarious any more. But I’ve been injury-free for a while, knock on wood. As I’ve gotten older, I’m more comfortable with who I am.”

Part of the reason for that is Ms Blake Lively, whom he met on the set of the otherwise forgettable Green Lantern. Mr Reynolds credits his wife with helping him repair the relationship with his father before he died in 2015 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. “She has a gift for foresight,” he says.

As part of this reconciliation, the couple named their first child after Mr Reynolds’ father. James is an unusual choice for a girl, perhaps, but fairly tame in the canon of celebrity baby names. “It felt right,” says Mr Reynolds. “All family relationships come with some complications. For better or worse, all roads lead to here. At the end of the day, it’s easier to focus on the good stuff than the bad. My father died soon after my daughter was born, but he got to see her, which makes me happy.”

The couple’s second daughter, Ines, arrived in September 2016. Mr Reynolds is now surrounded by females. “I love being a dad,” he says. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Mr Reynolds’ everyday watch is a Piaget Polo S, the 2016 update of the brand’s classic Polo watch, which first appeared in 1979. The case back is inscribed with “JR”, the initials of his dad and his daughter. He intends to hand the watch down to his daughter when the time is right. “There are very few items that men carry throughout their lives, in terms of accessories, and a watch is one of them,” he says. “That’s just one of the things that I hope to some day pass on.”

Deadpool 2 is in cinemas now

The Piaget collection

  • Piaget Polo S Chronograph 42mm Stainless Steel Watch

  • Piaget Polo S Chronograph 42mm Stainless Steel Watch

  • Piaget Polo S Chronograph 42mm Stainless Steel Watch

  • Piaget Limited Edition Polo S Automatic Chronograph 42mm ADLC-Coated Stainless Steel and Leather Watch

  • Piaget Polo S Automatic 42mm Stainless Steel Watch

  • Piaget Polo S Automatic 42mm Stainless Steel Watch