Deadpool. Mr. Blake Lively. Actor, producer, philanthropist, investor and entrepreneur. Did we mention Deadpool?
You can hear his voice next week in the new animated movie The Croods 2, playing a character named Guy. And you can see him next year in the high-concept comedy Free Guy, playing a self-aware video-game character named, um, Guy.
Now, for almost any actor, two back-to-back “Guy” roles might signal a career either not yet in flight, or in steep decline. But this Guy is Ryan Reynolds. Deadpool. Mr. Blake Lively. Actor, producer, philanthropist, investor and entrepreneur. And did we mention Deadpool?
The two Deadpool movies have earned more than $1.5-billion dollars. Deadpool in 2016 was the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time, grabbing the crown from 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded and losing it two years later — to Deadpool 2. A Deadpool 3 is said to be in the works.
But Reynolds hasn’t been one to coast on his fame. Just this week came news that he and business partner Rob McElhenny had purchased Wrexham AFC, a football club in North Wales and home of the oldest stadium in the world still hosting international games, since 1877.
It’s wasn’t even the first high-profile transaction by the Vancouver-born star this year — during a global pandemic, mind. In August, Reynolds sold his gin company, Aviation American, to British beverage giant Diageo. As part of the $610-million deal, he’ll remain the face of the company until 2030, which will no doubt please fans who enjoy his insouciant advertising efforts.
One COVID-themed spot entitled Memories mocks the morning-after discoveries of drunken revelers, then adds: “Now those memories can be made at home; the same anything-is-possible feeling while the world is telling you nothing is possible.” It concludes with a promise to donate 30 per cent of proceeds to bartenders. “Who really, really miss you, by the way.”
A month before the Aviation sale, Reynolds joined the board of Match Group, owner of Match.com, Tinder, OKCupid and other dating brands. “Most millennials and Gen Z can’t remember what dating was like before the advent of Tinder, OKCupid and Hinge,” he said at the time. “These brands have enormous responsibility and opportunities to affect societies … I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the team on their future growth and success.”
And way back in the halcyon, pre-COVID of last November, Reynolds purchased an ownership stake in wireless company Mint Mobile. “Celebrities generally invest in high-end products like skincare brands or delicious gin companies,” he said, tongue as always in cheek. “While every other tech titan is off chasing rockets, I’ll corner the budget-friendly wireless sector. Like most people, I only use rockets 10 to 12 times a year, but I use my mobile service every day.”
And while he can make fun of his wealth, he’s also putting it to good, charitable use. Back in July it was reported that Reynolds had donated $5,000 to a crowdfunding campaign to help an Edmonton toddler with a rare neuromuscular disorder. He didn’t talk about it himself, but word gets out.
More public was his and Lively’s June donation of $200,000 to an institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, kick-starting its goal of raising $1-million to help promote leadership among First Nations women. “The world’s changing quickly, and one thing we’re sure of is that communities are best led from within,” Reynolds said in a rare serious moment. “Indigenous women are the leaders who will develop and implement approaches to increase social capital of their own communities, organizations and nations.”
This was about the same time it was announced that Reynolds was helping to raise money for Pacific Wild by matching donations to the organization working to conserve wildlife and habitat. He’d just done the narration on the IMAX documentary Great Bear Rainforest. The campaign was called Make Ryan Pay: “If you ever hated one of my movies, this is your chance for revenge,” he told potential donors.
Reynolds’ actions on the COVID front have been widespread as well. In April, he and hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser sent personal protective equipment to Nova Scotia in the wake of the death of a health-care worker during a mass shooting in the province.
More humorously (yet also seriously), he has loaned his voice and image to the cause of staying home, staying safe and wearing masks. His voicemail message to B.C. Premier John Horgan started by downplaying whether he was the right person to deliver medical advice — “unless it’s plastic surgery … a lot of people don’t know this but I used to be Hugh Jackman” — before going on to argue that young people should do what they can to stop the spread of the virus, which is more dangerous to elders.
“I hope that young people in B.C. don’t kill my mom, frankly, or David Suzuki or each other,” he said. “Let’s not kill anyone. I think that’s reasonable.”
He also released a video at the request of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “I think we all know in times of crisis, it’s the celebrities that we count on most,” he said. “They’re the ones that will get us through this. Right after health-care workers of course, first responders, people who work in essential services, ping pong players, mannequins — they’re great — childhood imaginary friends, like 400 other types of people …”
Quite frankly, it’s not easy to keep up with what Reynolds is doing to help others, just as it’s a bit tricky to track him down for comment. He is, ironically, shy and socially anxious in “real life,” whatever that even means for a globally recognized celebrity. A major profile from 2018 by The New York Times Magazine opened with the news that the very act of being interviewed had made him a nervous wreck.
An email request by the National Post brought this speedy (auto) response: “Hello, I am currently out of the office in celebration of my birthday. [His birthday is Oct. 23.] It is not yet a national Holiday in Canada so I am spending the next month intensely lobbying for the effort. I will return your email when I get back. In the meantime, please enjoy this holiday card.” Click on the link and Reynolds sings Happy Birthday to You.
But perhaps this lack of a response itself holds a deeper message; that even during a pandemic, it’s possible to do things — little things, big things, even great things. On our own, with others, for others. Reynolds is often just where we need him to be, even if that isn’t right in front of us, answering probing journalistic questions over Zoom like “What’s it like to be you?” or “How are you so great?”
As mentioned, he can be heard next week in The Croods 2, and seen next year in Free Guy. And news came this week that he’s started work on a new film, The Adam Project. He’ll star as a man who has to go back in time to get help from his 13-year-old self. Jennifer Garner and Zoe Saldana will also star. Free Guy’s Shawn Levy will direct.
Back in July, Reynolds announced his participation in GroupEffortInitiative.com, in which 10 to 20 trainees from underrepresented groups will be invited to join the shoot and learn from professionals, with the aim of furthering their careers in the industry. The money for the project will come from Reynolds’ own salary. Because of course it will.