'Very Funny, Very Smart': How Ryan Reynolds Became Hollywood’s Most Likeable (And Bankable) Star

Having escaped from low-budget romcoms, the Deadpool actor has become Hollywood's second highest paid star. So what went so right?
Ryan Reynolds
Ryan Reynolds

For a while, it looked like Ryan Reynolds was always going to be stuck in (forgettable) rom-com land, thanks to his turns in the likes of The Change-Up, Definitely Maybe and Just Friends.

While it was never a problem landing roles, for years the Canadian-American actor always seemed to be on the periphery of the big time and bonafide household name status.

But just as it was all looking a bit Channing Tatum, and after a false start in 2011′s big budget flop Green Lantern, it was Deadpool five years later that truly cemented Ryan’s place on the A-list - and then some.

He is now the second highest-earning actor in Hollywood, earning a cool $71.5 million last year, according to Forbes.

That makes him second only to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in the earning stakes.

Dwayne and Ryan have more than their bank balances in common: later this year they will star together in the Netflix thriller Red Notice, the streaming giant’s most expensive ever production, costing an eye-watering $150 million.

All going well, he will also be returning to the big screen in May as the lead in Disney’s much-delayed Free Guy, alongside Jodie Comer and Taika Waititi.

A young Ryan Reynolds during 2005's Teen Choice Awards
A young Ryan Reynolds during 2005's Teen Choice Awards
Jeffrey Mayer via Getty Images

Just like The Rock, developing his personal brand has been key to Ryan moving up the fame ladder.

Last year drinks giant Diageo bought Aviation Gin, which the actor was creative director and co-owner of, in a deal valued at $610 million. He remains the face of the spirit brand.

Ryan also owns a majority stake in the wireless mobile brand Mint Mobile, which declared its highest ever traffic once the actor got involved, say Tech Crunch, and he’s also the owner of a marketing firm, Maximum Effort, which he promotes on social media.

So how did the 44-year-old become so in-demand?

He still fits that archetype of a nice guy, so he’s not in any way dangerous to like,” argues film critic Kaleem Aftab.

Ryan’s likability helped his star rise at a crucial phase, remembers Lauren Shuler Donner, producer of X Men: First Class, The Wolverine, Deadpool and Deadpool 2, amongst others.

She recalls when they worked together on X Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009 as a turning point for the actor.

Ryan Reynolds in X-Men Origins - Wolverine (200()
Ryan Reynolds in X-Men Origins - Wolverine (200()
Marvel/20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

“At the time, what was interesting was he was not a star. In fact he’d had several movies that had failed,” she says.

“There was discussions as to whether the studio would make a movie with him in the lead. But quite honestly, I didn’t want to make a movie without him - I couldn’t imagine the movie without him.

“His hands were in it all the way through, he’s very smart, very funny, very clever, and knew his character well.

“I haven’t really experienced that with another actor to that degree.”

Following the huge global success of Deadpool in 2016, Ryan had to make room on his mantelpiece after winning the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Actor in a Comedy, the MTV Movie Award for Best Fight and Best Comedic Performance and, the following year, the People’s Choice Award for Favourite Movie Actor.

Deadline predicted Deadpool made $322 million, making it the second most profitable movie of 2016, while it scored an impressive 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Deadpool truly catapulted Ryan into the Hollywood big league.
Deadpool truly catapulted Ryan into the Hollywood big league.

“Deadpool has been a labour of love for star Ryan Reynolds and he is the reason to see the film,” film critic Allan Hunter wrote at the time in The Express.

Kaleem Aftab believes the genius of Deadpool was how Ryan “could present himself to the world playing a character that doesn’t take himself too seriously.”

“Deadpool is the comic book superhero who pokes fun at other heroes and himself,” says Kaleem. “He wins our hearts, not by beating up the villain, but through the use of quips. [Ryan’s] made a career out of these sorts of characters.”

Ryan also insists on doing his own stunts, and is known for being involved at every stage of the work, reflects Lauren Shuler Donner.

““He takes on anything. He’s driven in the most positive way.”

“He takes on anything,” she says. “When we did Wolverine he had to learn how to fight with these katana knives... We had to insist on a stunt double for when it got dangerous. But he learned it better than anybody could have learned it. He’s driven in the most positive way.

“He, in the nicest way, fights for what he believes is right. Whether it’s a certain t-shirt, something he thought was wrong…”

Of his ability to strike the right tone on set when asserting himself, Lauren remembers: “He was so nice about it but clearly he knew the other t-shirt was the right one to wear.”

Lauren recalls another time on Wolverine when Ryan and Hugh Jackman were filming an elevator scene during “a very tense day” where “we were at odds with a decision from the studio” and Ryan used his natural gift for comedy to bring levity to the shoot.

“He was cracking jokes and everybody just relaxed,” says Lauren. “He made them laugh and we all sort of got a perspective on the day.”

It’s the same story at his various business interests outside of the Hollywood bubble.

Ryan sold his Aviation Gin company for a reported $610m.
Ryan sold his Aviation Gin company for a reported $610m.
Aviation Gin

“You can text him and he’ll respond back between takes,” says Andrew Chrisomalis, CEO of Aviation Gin, which Ryan is still the face of.

“We’ve had meetings in his trailer on a movie set when he has an hour or two break from filming a part. I imagine most other Hollywood stars are relaxing, maybe pampering themselves, I don’t know…”

His personal life is also a source of intrigue and his willingness to give us all a glimpse into his marriage to Blake Lively and family life only adds to his appeal.

“It helped a lot that he got together with Blake Lively who is amazing at presenting herself on social media and elsewhere,” says Kaleem Aftab.

The couple have become well known for trolling each other on social media, ultimately making the couple immensely relatable and likeable.

When Blake jokingly announced she was pregnant in a comment below one of Ryan’s videos, Ryan responded with an out-of-office message lasting “through the middle of forever and ever.”

“If you need immediate assistance during my absence, please contact someone,” his quip continued. “Anyone.”

The Gossip Girl actor rips him right back. Recently, she jibed him after he voted in a US election for the first time.

“It was Ryan’s first time. He was understandably scared. It all happened so fast. Like, REALLY fast,” she joked on social.

Ryan also gets laughs and generates headlines by publicly bantering with his X Men co-star Hugh Jackman.

Last year, he hijacked Hugh’s anniversary message to his wife of 24 years, Deborra Lee-Furness, with Ryan telling her to “hang in there, Deb.”

Ryan Reynolds, left, and Hugh Jackman arrive to the "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" screening on Tuesday April 28, 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Ryan Reynolds, left, and Hugh Jackman arrive to the "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" screening on Tuesday April 28, 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

The playful feud between these two Marvel leads has been rolling on for years, and the Aussie clapped back with some proper sass during this year’s Emmy nominations.

“I don’t think he’s going to get out of bed for three days, there could be a lot of bitterness and anger seeping through,” Hugh teased after he was nominated and Ryan wasn’t.

Ryan’s equally admired for using his humour to send strong messages. When coronavirus cases spiked earlier this year in Canada, he joked his mum would no longer get her fix of hot young things on the beach due to social distancing.

“My mum, she doesn’t want to be cooped up in her apartment all day,” he wrote. “She wants to be cruising Kitsilano Beach... But here’s the thing, I hope young people in BC don’t kill my mum, frankly.”

Ryan Reynolds is known for his good humour
Ryan Reynolds is known for his good humour
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

But on screen or off, Kaleem believes Ryan’s appeal is so much more than his good looks and acting ability.

“He is not a sex symbol at all,” Kaleem says.

“He’s not a George Clooney, or even a LaKeith Stanfield. People like Ryan because they want him around for dinner and then to go home to his happy marriage.”

And it always comes back to that distinct sense of humour - which is often at his own expense. He recently joked about Green Lantern, pretending he couldn’t even remember making the film.

“Even the negatives eventually become positive in Reynold’s world,” concludes Kaleem.


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