Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have good reason to be excited when we speak. The screenwriting partners who shot to Hollywood’s attention with 2009’s blackly comedic Zombieland are just days away from the release of Deadpool, the Ryan Reynolds superhero movie with a difference. Worlds away from his abortive appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this Deadpool looks to be true to his comic book origins: off-the-wall, unpredictable, and smashing the 4th wall so often that there’s basically nothing left of it.
With the film lined up for a Valentine’s weekend release, the screenwriting duo explain what makes Deadpool different, which X-Men crossovers to expect, and why watching it on February 14th might not be such a bad idea after all.
How would you describe Deadpool in three words to anyone who’s not familiar with him?
Rhett Reese: I would probably say irreverent, maniacal, and loquacious.
Paul Wernick: And I would say crazy, funny, tragic. That’s really such a basis of who Deadpool is, and how he became who he is. He hides the tragedy of his life behind the humour and the silliness, but the pathos of who he is really stems from where he came from. Broken childhood, cancer, lost love…
RR: Dishonourable discharge.
PW: Yeah, he’s a lost soul, and behind the laughs and all that is real tragedy. I think it’s an important thing that drives who he is and why he does what he does.
Is that part of why you’ve introduced Morena Baccarin’s character as a central, romantic figure?
PW: Ironically – I know in the States they’ve made some jokes, they’ve been promoting it a little bit as a romantic comedy, a Nicholas Sparks movie – but really, it is a love story. It is the story of two disparate souls who find each other and make each other better. But truly, it is a really fucked up romantic comedy.
Has it been gratifying to see that the marketing material has been as off-the-wall in tone as the film itself?
RR: Absolutely. As a screenwriter you pray that the tone that you capture in your screenplay is also captured in the movie, and then you pray that the tone of the movie is captured in the marketing. We’ve been fortunate enough to be working on the marketing, and they’re the best in the business. They took Deadpool as a challenge to be as irreverent as he is, and they’ve just crushed it.
PW: What’s great about Deadpool is that really this is an outlier. It’s an R-rated Marvel superhero movie. The studio really has embraced that, and the marketing team in particular has embraced that. That’s what will set this thing apart. It’s almost like they’ve taken the creative shackles off from having to market all these traditional superhero movies, the X-Men stuff and Fantastic Four. It feels like they’re having a ton of fun doing it, and I feel like it shows, because the passion is behind it.
RR: All I can tell fans is that if you like the marketing, you will like the movie. It’s cut from the same cloth as the marketing campaign. It’s a very irreverent, different movie, and we’re hoping that people will embrace that.
You mentioned the film’s R-rating in the U.S. How important was knowing that rating was available when you were writing the script?
PW: When we first got the job, nearly six-and-a-half, seven years ago, Ryan Reynolds was instrumental in getting us the job. He said, ‘Go write the R-rated version. Then we’ll deal with the consequences after.’ So we did. We took the shackles off ourselves and wrote this thing, thinking, ‘Gosh darn, there’s simply no way they could make this, could they?’
Then came the reality – we can’t do an R-rated superhero movie with Fox. So we went through years of re-writing, and we did a PG-13 draft of the script, and then ultimately [producer] Simon Kinberg came aboard. He read both versions of the script, and was like, ‘This is a no-brainer, guys. The only reason to do this movie is to make it the R-rated version, to be the outlier.’
We were thrilled with the decision, absolutely thrilled. Because, again, it sets it apart, and feels fresh, and new to a marketplace that feels oversaturated with superheroes.
Deadpool has never been a politically correct character. Is there a balance to strike in keeping the character impertinent without making the film offensive?
RR: We always kept that in mind, but we’ll surely offend people. He is an equal opportunity offender, which is good. I don’t think any particular group will feel more offended than any particular other. But I do think he is a politically incorrect character, in a reasonably politically correct world. That may be refreshing for some, it may also turn off a few. But I think Deadpool, at his core, is a pretty loveable guy. He’s irreverent, and he pokes fun at people, but I think he’s got a good heart. I think if people realise that, they may be more forgiving than of a mean character who was doing the same.
Deadpool obviously exists within the X-Men film continuity. How much freedom did you get to use elements of that, or was it quite controlled?
PW: The studio’s very protective of the X-universe. It’s a big franchise of theirs. But within the knowledge that we don’t fuck up that franchise, they really did give us free rein to have fun and make fun of the X-universe. Deadpool lives in the X-universe, but the X-Men are a very different tone, different franchise.
RR: We came to them with very specific requests, and they would either approve or deny the requests. One of them was we want Colossus to be in the movie – so they looked at Colossus, and the grand scheme, and how he’d been used before, and what their plans were for him moving forward, and they said ‘Sure, you can use Colossus.’ Negasonic Teenage Warhead is another example of a very small character that they weren’t too concerned with us using. I think they didn’t want to overload it with X-Men, because they want Deadpool to be its own thing, and they want to reserve the chance for future movies to cross him over. But when you see the movie, you’ll see the X-Jet, you’ll see the X-mansion, you’ll see Colossus, Negasonic…
Though we tried to stay clear of the whole timeline thing as best we could, ‘cause it’s very confusing. Not confusing for people who are following it, but it’s confusing for us to figure out where exactly Deadpool falls in that timeline.
The two of you have been writing together for years now. How did that first start?
PW: Well, we went to high school together in Phoenix, Arizona, so we’ve known each other for most of our lives. We started writing together about fifteen years ago. Rhett was a feature screenwriter and I was a TV news producer, turned reality TV producer. We created a show which combined Rhett’s scripted background and my non-scripted background, called The Joe Schmo Show, which was a hybrid reality parody. That was really the start of a beautiful partnership that’s carried on now for nearly sixteen years. We went from The Joe Schmo Show to another show called Invasion Iowa with William Shatner, and then Zombieland was our first work as a team on fully scripted material.
And how does your collaborative process work?
RR: Well, we figure out stories, what’s called ‘breaking the story’, outlining it and figuring out every scene in a room together. We use a big piece of cork board and then index cards with little push pins, and we figure out the movie, scene by scene by scene. And then when it comes to writing, we split up and we write remotely. We kind of leapfrog each other – it’s a little bit like, ‘You take scenes one and two, I’ll take three and four.’ We email them to each other, we re-write each other, then we email them back, we re-write each other again. We keep re-writing each other until we’re both satisfied with the scene, and at that point it tends to melt together into one voice.
Presumably by the end of that process you lose the ability to pick out your own lines?
RR: You tend to lose that a little bit over time. There are certain lines that we fall in love with. The basic rule is that whoever cares the most wins, so if someone really, really loves a line and the other’s not so sure, we tend to keep it in. Or if someone really hates a line and the other’s not so sure, we tend to take it out. But by the end, the hope is that you reading the script would never know that two people wrote it.
Words by Dominic Preston