HT Brunch Cover Story: Ryan loves Bollywood

The Canada-born Hollywood star on the “explosive joy” Indian movies bring, the cross-cultural nature of Netflix shows, and how he judges an OTT success versus a box-office hit
Ryan Reynolds says that every Bollywood film he’s seen, and that’s about a dozen or so, has always brought with it explosive joy (Guy Aroch / Netflix)
Ryan Reynolds says that every Bollywood film he’s seen, and that’s about a dozen or so, has always brought with it explosive joy (Guy Aroch / Netflix)
Updated on Mar 13, 2022 12:21 AM IST
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Having done a few interviews with top Hollywood stars since the pandemic began, I’ve learnt a couple of things. One: India is an important market for Hollywood because of our sheer numbers, just as it is for YouTubers seeking “collabs” with Indian social media stars. And two: most American stars make the effort to call you by your name.

“Hi, Jamal!” I hear a male voice say even before the video comes on at my end.

Ryan Reynolds is doing his media rounds to promote his newest release, The Adam Project on Netflix; since HT Brunch is an important magazine, we have been allotted far more time than the other Asian publications on the list—we are the only one from India—and have been patched through almost immediately.

Hello, Ryan, I respond, as I fumble with the controls on my Zoom screen. I need to keep the chat window open to keep track of the time I have.

Ryan smiles.

Tell us about The Adam Project and your four co-stars, I ask, trying to give a stock question a new spin. Of Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Walker Scobell and Zoe Saldana, who was your favourite, who was the most challenging to work with?

The 45-year-old Canadian actor, first seen by Indian audiences in the sitcom Two Guys, A Girl And A Pizza Place, offers me a stock reply. “The Adam Project is a spectacle-driven, fantasy movie with an emotional punch in the heart. In the movie, I meet my younger 12-year-old self, as well as my father, who I have an incredibly complicated relationship with. But now he’s my peer... we’re generally closer to the same age. So there is a lot of unspoken tension between us, a lot needs to be healed and fixed. And the whole thing is backdropped by the spectacle part of it, where we need to save the world by stopping time travel completely.”

Ryan says he believes [escapist cinema] is a good way to get out of your own head for a second (Guy Aroch / Netflix)
Ryan says he believes [escapist cinema] is a good way to get out of your own head for a second (Guy Aroch / Netflix)

“About my co-stars,” Ryan continues. “I’m afraid you are not going to find that juicy bit of gossip that you are looking for, because they are the greatest co-stars on earth. These people have entire rooms filled with trophies…”

I notice how fast Ryan is speaking to help me make the most of my time, so I reciprocate. This isn’t your first OTT project: Unlike box-office releases, where collections spell success, how do you measure the success of a movie that’s out on a streaming platform?

“It’s interesting,” replies Ryan, slowing down just a bit to introspect. “I don’t really measure the success in any kind of external way than if the movie lands for people. That’s all you really care about. We live in a world right now that’s extremely complicated and tough and in this 24-hour news cycle of doubt, suffering and fear. Movies are meant to sweep you away and take you somewhere else, give you that deep breath and rest, and that’s what this film does. I’m lucky that I get to make original movies that are more and more rare these days. Both Free Guy (2021) and The Adam Project are not based on a comic book or an IP or anything. I judge their success the way I judge the theatrical success. Obviously, there is a business matrix in a theatrical world that’s hard to ignore. But you hope your movie lands and resonates with people; that’s usually the measuring stick by which we look at it.”

Big bursts of joy

It’s amazing you talk about movies sweeping audiences away. Didn’t you recently say Hollywood shamelessly mimics Bollywood? Were you alluding to the song and dance dramas we tend to put out?

“The thing that strikes me most when I think of Indian movies is that there is a kind of expression of joy like no other,” says Ryan. “When I said mimicking, I meant that Hollywood movies are trying to tap into that same expression of joy that Indian cinema has done so well for so long. Movies are meant to bring us together and unify us in a certain way… And there is something pretty magical about Bollywood and its ability to deliver joy in that kind of mainline context. It’s an industry we’re in awe of here, and rightly so, as it’s pretty special…”

Ryan’s got a smile when talking about joy, but I’m not about to let go of asking him about our movies just yet. “What you’re referring to as joy, some would call escapism. In a developing country, cinema needs to be as escapist as it is entertaining… Ever thought of it this way?

“Yes, absolutely,” Ryan replies. “You want some of that escapism. You want that ability to disappear for a second and go somewhere else. I think that’s very, very important. Movies do it in a conscious way. I do believe that it’s [escapist cinema] a good way to get out of your own head for a second.”

Any Indian movie that you remember? Any Indian actor?

Ryan sounds almost apologetic. “I don’t want to embarrass myself and get something wrong,” he says. “Every Bollywood film I’ve been lucky enough to have seen, and I’ve seen about a dozen or so, has always brought with it explosive joy. I wish we could have more of that in our culture here.”

Ryan says if he were invited to the Bollywood world, he would have to do that in the strictest and most respectful ways possible, but it’s something he would be super-excited about (Guy Aroch / Netflix)
Ryan says if he were invited to the Bollywood world, he would have to do that in the strictest and most respectful ways possible, but it’s something he would be super-excited about (Guy Aroch / Netflix)

Do you think you’d be a good enough dancer or singer, and do you see yourself doing a Bollywood movie some day?

“Oh my gosh!” Ryan exclaims. “If I were invited to the Bollywood world, I would have to do that in the strictest and most respectful ways possible, but it’s something I would be super-excited about. But I also think Bollywood’s doing just fine on its own… it doesn’t need me to be jumping in there,” he laughs. “I’m happy to let the professionals do it [the singing and dancing.]”

We are the world

Just like Bollywood, aren’t there now beginning to emerge characteristics of storytelling from different parts of the world? Korean is intense and surprising, Iranian can be real life-like, South American is as dramatic as it gets. As a writer yourself, what are your impressions of stories from different parts of the world?

“Oh my God,” exclaims Ryan. “This just goes to show that we sometimes overlook the incredible bottomless nuance that exists between different cultures and storytelling. I love that Netflix has become a platform that can shed light on cultures in a cinematic sense that have yet to be explored in different parts of the world.”

Has Ryan Reynolds ever been to India, I ask, winding down.

“I have not yet,” he replies sheepishly. “I have spent many months in Sri Lanka, and would love to come to India at some point. It has been on the list for too long not just for me, but also for my wife Blake and our kids. From everything I know, the difference of about a few hundred miles in India is like a whole different world. There is so much to offer in India from the prospect of different regions. I would love to explore it all!”

So if Netflix tells you that you got a great response for The Adam Project from India, can you promise us you’ll be here before the end of this year?

“I would absolutely love that,” says Ryan. “These days they only do everything by Zoom. It’s very frustrating. I used to get to go places. It’s long overdue. At our company, we like to play with cultural landscapes and that in India is richer than anywhere else on the planet!”

Follow @jamalshaikh on Instagram and Twitter

From HT Brunch, March 13, 2022

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Jamal Shaikh is National Editor - Brunch and New Media Initiatives at the Hindustan Times. He is a well-known TV host and magazine editor, who has launched and edited the Indian editions of Men’s Health, Robb Report and Discovery Channel Magazine. He tweets and Instagrams @jamalshaikh

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Tuesday, June 28, 2022