Deadpool: Behind the Scenes of Ryan Reynolds Box-Office Smash Hit

Deadpool_posterTim Miller’s storytelling generates empathy for all the protagonists, particularly in the poignant love story between Wade and Vanessa Carlysle, who fall in love because of their flaws, rather than despite them.

Vanessa had a rough childhood and is living a life full of regret.  She’s a prostitute when Wade meets her, and together they embark on a quest to become better people.

“We wanted Vanessa to be someone who totally owns her space, isn’t a damsel in distress, and when she does get into deep trouble, does everything she can to get out of that predicament and really kick ass,” Ryan Reynolds notes. “Morena Baccarin embodied Vanessa from the get-go.”

“Vanessa is incredibly different from any character I’ve ever played because she’s a great combination of smart, sexy, cool and tough,” says Baccarin.  “She’s a guy’s girl, but also very much a woman.  She’s also a fighter and it’s incredibly refreshing to see a female character in a superhero movie who is just as tough as the guy, has something to say, and has balls.”

Deadpool’s Nemesis

Deadpool’s nemesis is Ajax, played by Ed Skrein (“The Transporter Refueled”).   Ajax is the architect of Deadpool’s transformation.  “He runs the WeaponX workshop and is a sadistic bastard,” notes Miller.  Ajax takes special pleasure in torturing Wade during the procedures that transform him into Deadpool (and his face into an amalgam of scar tissue).

Ajax had undergone the same program that Wade came through.   The powerful villain’s abilities include heightened agility and strength, as well as numbness to pain and human emotion.  Ajax doesn’t feel empathy or sympathy and has no qualms about tormenting someone as a means to an end.

Ajax’s henchwoman and “muscle” is Angel Dust, a statuesque beauty who possesses incredible physical prowess.  She does the jobs that Ajax avoids – and loves every minute of it.

“Angel Dust’s superpower is basically accessing her adrenaline to create super-strength,” notes Gina Carano, a former international mixed martial arts champion. “It’s kind of like that horse that you want to let the reins go on a bit.  I feel like Ajax has the reins and Angel Dust says, ‘Oh, I’m ready.  Put me in.’”

There’s sometimes a thin line between these enemies and Deadpool’s mutant “allies,” Negasonic Teenage Warhead and a behemoth known as Colossus.  Apart from her powers as a living, breathing nuclear warhead, which provides what may be the coolest superhero name ever, NTW is in many ways a typically rebellious teenage girl.  She’s too cool for school, standoffish and sarcastic.

Colossus, a CG creation, can change his skin into steel, and in DEADPOOL is moonlighting from his stint as one of the X-Men.  He has been charged with being NTW’s mentor.

The film introduces a fun and idiosyncratic dynamic between Deadpool and Colossus.  “When I read that Colossus is kind of watchdogging Deadpool, making him the straight-man to Deadpool’s antics, I fell off the couch,” recalls Liefeld.  “It’s genius!  It elevates Colossus to a place he’s never been before.”

The movie breaks away from its rapid-fire action sequences involving these uber-powerful characters to showcase Deadpool trading wisecracks with barkeep pal Weasel, played by actor-comedian T.J. Miller (“Silicon Valley”).  In spite of his motto of always “looking out for number one,” Weasel is a trusted friend to Wade.  Weasel owns Sister Margaret’s Home for Wayward Girls, a clandestine establishment where mercenaries drink away their conscience.  He’s also a savvy weapons dealer who loves money and guns.

Miller appreciated the film’s unique elements.  “DEADPOOL is nothing less than the greatest story ever told – with guns and swords,” he jokes.  “It’s also very self-aware; Deadpool knows he’s in a comic book and he even knows he’s in a movie.  He breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience.  Sometimes he’s mean to the audience, but they deserve it!  I like to think of him as the regenerating degenerate.”

Deadpool also relaxes by kicking back at home with his roommate Blind Al, a sightless senior citizen whom Deadpool found on Craigslist.  Singer/actress Leslie Uggams takes on the role.  “Al is independent, sassy, sarcastic and tough, and she can give as good as she gets,” Uggams says.

They’re an unusual pair of roomies, but they end up becoming friends.  It’s a quid pro quo relationship.  “Wade makes the money and Al keeps house, more or less,” Uggams notes.  “Because she’s blind and can’t see his disfigurement, Al provides a comfortable camaraderie for Deadpool, and he makes no judgments – and certainly offers no special accommodations – for Al’s challenges.”

Stan Lee

Bringing the exploits of an unconventional superhero to life sometimes created an equally unexpected vibe on set.  Notes Stan Lee: “When you see Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds working together, they are both so in sync; they see the movie the same way.  It’s though they’re playing a game and each one of them is doing his job so magnificently.  When I did my scene in DEADPOOL, I didn’t even know I was working.  When it was over, I said, ‘When do we start?’ and Tim said, ‘You’re finished.’  That’s how effortless he makes it seem.”

That kind of playfulness, intermixed with a badass physicality, marks the film’s acrobatic action sequences.  “Deadpool’s always been more lithe and agile than other characters in the Marvel universe,” says Liefeld.  “Without even thinking about it, he can drop into a moving car and then take out a small army of tough guys, all the while cracking wise.”

Wade is a tactically-trained ex-mercenary, and his newly acquired mutant powers allow his body to regenerate.  So, “it’s kind of like all bets are off, when it comes to Deadpool fighting,” says stunt coordinator Philip Silvera.  “There’s also an off-the-wall, tactical approach to combat.  To the observer, Deadpool’s martial strategies don’t make a lot of sense, at first, but in the end, you realize his methodology works!”

One of the all-time boxing greats inspired some of Deadpool’s approach to fighting.   Notes 2nd Unit Director/Supervising Stunt-Coordinator Rob Alonzo:  “When we trained with Ryan, we incorporated some of Muhammed Ali’s boxing moves.  Ali was known to constantly talk during a bout, and when we watched Ali’s early fights with Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman, we noted that Ali was both dangerous and carefree.  The physicality that Ryan brings to Deadpool is playful and comedic, but at the same time I’ve held mitts for Ryan, and I’ll tell you, he can pack a wallop on a punch.”

Adds VFX Supervisor Jonathan Rothbart: “Deadpool’s moves are dynamic.  He’s a superhero, so we wanted to make him more than human, but we also kept the action grounded.   We did amazing stuff on set, and in-camera, to which we would add some visual effects to make the action even more over-the-top.  We went just a little crazy with the action, which is something I love about it.”

In one memorable face off, the Merc with the Mouth wields his signature katanas against Ajax, who’s armed with a pair of deadly axes.  “We created a hybrid style for the katanas,” Silvera explains.  “It’s not a traditional Japanese sword style; it’s more of a mix of tactical thinking, Japanese and Chinese sword work, and [the Filipino martial art] Kali strikes – always making sure that Deadpool is attacking vital points and control points.”

Another key mutante a mutante fight sees Colossus squaring off against Angel Dust.  It’s truly a clash of the titans, even if one of the combatants was largely created months later, as a CG figure.  In the X-Men comics, Colossus is over seven feet tall and massively strong, so “I was after that enormous, bigger-than-life quality, and the only way to accomplish that was with CG,” says Miller.

Gina Carano

For the Colussus-Angel Dust battle, Gina Carano enjoyed taking on what would become a CG figure.  “I’ve never fought a CG character before, and most of the actors that I’ve fought are usually around my size or just a little bit taller,” she says.  “All my moves in the scene had to be so big and so strong, so the audience believes that Angel Dust has the strength to take on Colossus.”

From a technical standpoint, Colossus presented some unique challenges and opportunities.  “He’s entirely reflective, so we used a 3-D camera system to capture all the action that happens around him,” Rothbart explains.  “Then we put that back onto him as a reflective component of his body.  It’s going to be fun because we have a lot of scenes where Deadpool is running circles around him and doing all sorts of crazy things, and we really wanted to make sure that we didn’t just capture Ryan’s performance on camera, but also caught it in the reflections on Colossus.”

The most massive characters are seared with scars–which would certainly apply to Deadpool, whose mutilated visage was the result of the horrific experiments he underwent at The Workshop.   Equally applicable is this comment from his buddy Weasel:  “You look like Freddy Krueger face-f***** a topographical map of Utah.”

Reynolds wore the iconic red suit as a badge of honor, and inhabited Deadpool’s scars with the same sense of kinship and admiration.  When Reynolds as Deadpool removes his mask for the first time to reveal his disfigured face, you can’t help but feel empathy.  It’s a moment that really humanizes the character, because as vile and violent as Deadpool can be sometimes, he presents here an unmasked vulnerability.

“Ryan and I had a lot of fun with the scene when Weasel sees the scarred version of Wade for first time,” T.J. Miller recalls.  “It’s pretty horrifying to look at.  It was difficult for me to talk to Ryan when he was in makeup.  He’d come over and say, like, “T.J., I’m lonely, you know?  I need a friend on set.”  And I would say, “Get away from me.  Your face looks like a roadmap to hell.”

Makeup Department Head Bill Corso worked with the Creative Character Engineering department to create that scarred look.  “We did multiple full-makeup tests and designs, trying to come up with not just a guy who’s disfigured, but a cool, iconic character,” Corso explains.  “I knew that, with Ryan, Deadpool would also possess a certain charm and ruggedness.  We took his features and strengthened and played with them, to slightly skew everything, so it’s still Ryan but an enhanced, mutated version of him.”

Corso created a series of thin silicone prosthetics with a translucent quality, revealing muscles, blood and tissue beneath the skin.  “Ryan had ten paper-thin silicon appliances on his head,” Corso explains.   “Now multiply that by a whole body for the compelling fight sequence with Ed Skrein as Ajax at the Workshop, when Ryan is basically au naturel.  It’s a raw, brutal fight, and there’s no clothing or padding.  It gets very real!”

The film’s torrid scenes between Wade and Vanessa, and Deadpool’s non-stop and off-color verbal stylings, all contribute to the film’s R-rating.  “I think the R-rating allows us to have a level of reality that wouldn’t be possible with a PG-13,” says Miller.  “I also think it’s an important step in the expansion of the genre.  There’s a type of film that can only be made with this rating, and that really expands the boundaries of the stories comic book movies can tell.”

As the filmmakers ready DEADPOOL for a February 2016 opening, they remain convinced the time is right for this unique movie event.  “When comic book movies first appeared, they had to be ‘tentpole’ movies, which had to appeal to the broadest possible audience,” Miller says.  “DEADPOOL was always meant to be an edgy film, and the time is right for it.   The genre of superhero and comic book films is wider and it feels like it’s time to do a film like this, that sort of pushes the boundaries a little further.”

Credits

DEADPOOL is produced by Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”), Ryan Reynolds and Lauren Shuler Donner (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”).

The executive producers are Stan Lee, John J. Kelly (“Spy”), Jonathon Komack Martin (“The Change-Up”), Aditya Sood (“The Martian”), and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.

The director of photography is Ken Seng (“Project X”).

The production designer is Sean Haworth (“Goosebumps”)

The editor is Julian Clarke, ACE (“District 9”).

The music is by Tom Holkenborg (“Mad Max: Fury Road”).