At first appearance, not much about Ryan Reynolds screams “father figure.” He’s young, he’s hotâ€”everything on the surface indicates “romantic leading man.” But Reynolds’ funny, charming demeanor and responsible, mature take on the Hollywood scene shows that he would make a pretty cool dad. The film Definitely, Maybe is the perfect mesh of his dashing good looks and his parental instincts. Reynolds gets to combine being a romantic leading man to three different women with being a father to a 10-year-old daughter, and he does so quite believably.
He plays Will Hayes, a man in the middle of a divorce who begins explaining the complicated concept of love to his young daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin). Throughout his story told in flashbacks, he talks about the three serious relationships of his lifeâ€”his college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks), a feisty journalist named Summer (Rachel Weisz), and a quirky free-spirit named April (Isla Fisher). It’s up to Maya to figure out which woman ended up becoming her mother (Will changes the names so she could guess), and it’s up to Will to figure out which one he really wants to be with in the end.
“It’s a complicated narrative and it’s a difficult movie to say, oh well it’s this or that,” Reynolds says. [Director] Adam Brooks has found a way to do a film that’s not just a comedy and not just funny, but it’s a love letter to broken homes, to broken families. That’s something that’s infinitely relatable in Americaâ€¦and it’s also a romantic whodunit. It allows the viewer to guess and posit their own ideas to where this character is going to end up. In a typical romantic comedy there are those conventions which within the first four minutesâ€”in fact, by looking at the poster you can tell who’s going to end up with who and in this film that’s certainly not the case at all.”
In a typical romantic comedy there’s the one main love interest and that’s it. In Definitely, Maybe Reynolds had to make sure he had chemistry with all the women in the film so that the audience could believe that he might end up with any one of them. “You can’t manufacture chemistry, it’s either there or it’s not,” he says. “So thankfully I had chemistry with every one of them, all four of them and I include Abigail Breslin in that category as well. The thing that I found most interesting was who I was around these different people. I was expecting just the oppositeâ€”who are they around me; who are they in relation to the character I’m playing. What I found interesting through the course of it was that I’m a little different around them and that’s just like real life.”
While the film is a love story in the traditional sense, it’s also a story of affection between a father and a daughter. To make that connection feel authentic, Reynolds and Breslin had some interesting ways of ‘father-daughter’ bonding before shooting began. “Yes we did have some dance-offs,” he says. “Some of my key movesâ€”I go through a lot of old standards. I’m not talking like Frankie Valli, I’m talking like a little bit later like ‘The Sprinkler’. I rely on some moves that aren’t necessarily dance movesâ€”jumping jacks, deep knee bendsâ€¦”
While those moves sound truly fantastic, Breslin has argued that he cheated during the dance contest by doing a cartwheel, a move she deemed unfair. “The cartwheel is a fantastic move and I think it’s perfectly acceptable,” Reynolds insists. “I see it in cheerleading competitionsâ€”not that I watch those all the timeâ€”but I see them and I think that that’s fine. And Abigail, I know it’s a little inappropriate to say but Abigail Breslin can stuff it!”
All kidding aside, Reynolds admits it was the perfect way to get to know his little co-star. “That helped me connect with her,” he says. “You get scared when you meet this child actor. You’re like, what are they gonna be like? Obviously they’re still little kids but they’re in Hollywood so do they like have a drug problem or a number one album? I think the important thing is not to force anything, to just try and let it be. I actually kept my distance from her in the beginning in the hopes that she’d come to me which she didn’t, so I ended up having to chase her down and have a dance-off with her which I clearly lost.”
So how does it feel for Reynolds, still a young actor at the age of 32, to be playing the dad?
“It’s weird, you suddenly feel a little older when you’re having kids,” he says. “And now I think I’ve done three or four movies in a row where I’ve had kids. It’s sort of strange; it seems like just yesterday I was just a young boy with cheek of tan and lock of gold. I think it’s kind of exciting though. It sort of opens things up. I feel like I can play a whole new set of characters that I couldn’t previously play.”
He chose the role in Definitely, Maybe mainly because he knew there would be a lot to explore. “I felt like you get it all in this movie,” he says. “You get this really lovely relationship between a father and a daughter who’s going through a very difficult thing that a lot of people can relate to which is the divorce and it’s a very tricky thing to navigate that minefield with a kid. At the same time you have these epic love stories with these three different women throughout the course of this guy’s life and you get to kind of be it all, especially because he does go from being 22 years old to 38. We get to see a huge chunk of this guy’s life.”
The film spans years, which can be difficult to shoot, especially since it was filmed out of sequence. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Reynolds developed his own system to deal with the hectic shooting schedule. “I actually wrote the entire script out several times just by long-hand just to kind of allow it to cement into my mind as much as possible,” he says. “I did that and I also did my own storyboards for the movie. I wrote little pictorials to what’s happening at that specific time and it took days and days and days but it really helped me.”
Reynolds seriously prepared for this movie so that he’d be able to hold his own with his other co-stars. “This was a big deal for me, this movie,” he says. “It was a big project and it was something that was important to pull off properly. I’m not one of those guys that just shows up without having done any research or preparation. I’m not going to work with Kevin Kline and Rachel Weisz and Abigail Breslin and Isla Fisher unprepared. There’s no way I’m going to show up in that freaking lion’s den. I had to be on my game.”
What’s next for Reynolds and how will he take his career to the next level? Let’s just say he has some pretty, um, interesting ideas! “I honestly don’t know,” he says. “I want to shoot an arthroscopic film inside myself. It’s going to involve a team of medical professionals. I have no idea what the next boundary is. Usually it’s you get a script and you’re like holy shit, this is great, incredible, scary, and weird for me. I want to play a strong black woman.”
That would certainly be a stretch, but hey, anything’s possible!
“The more you step outside your comfort zone, the more you do things unexpected it actually just avails you to so much more,” he says. “I get scripts now that are in every genre. Four years ago I’d only get a script that was a specific kind of comedy. That was great and also a little depressing at the time. I feel like I can do so much more.”