Ryan Reynolds just can't help but crack wise as he welcomes me to his hoity-toity Four Seasons hotel room where he's holding court and conducting interviews for his starring role in the Big Man On Campus comedy "National Lampoon's Van Wilder."
"Can I get you anything?" he asks sincerely -- at first. "Glass of water? Vietnamese prostitute? The room service here is really good."
It soon becomes evident the guy just loves to get a laugh. Before I've even had a chance to turn on my tape recorder, Reynolds -- who is dressed in a nerdy, baby-blue argyle sweater and pinstriped pants that somehow look cool on him -- is already joking about his early acting career in Canada, where he did a "terrible, terrible soap opera" about high schoolers called "Fifteen," and about how he got started in Hollywood.
"Could we just say I floated here on a pool toy from Cuba?" he says with a mischievous grin.
But the truth is, the former co-star of the sitcom "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place" had to be dragged to L.A. by his best friend (and "Fifteen" co-star) Chris Martin. He'd given up on acting, which seems ironic now that the guy is sitting in front of me practically performing this interview. He's like a dialed-down version of Robin Williams or Jim Carrey. He can sit still in his seat, but there's spastic energy behind his eyes that comes out in the form of whimsical rejoinder replies to most questions.
This makes it seem all the more appropriate that he was tapped for the title role in "Van Wilder" -- a smarmy, charming, consummate collegiate slacker (seven years of dorm life and counting) who starts a business as a "party liaison" to pay his tuition after being cut off by his fed-up father (played by Tim Matheson in one of the flick's many nods to "Animal House").
The movie is ripe with sharp dialogue, which gives way to many -- too many -- currently fashionable, ante-upping gross-out gags. Reynolds says he prefers the former to the latter, but we'll get to that later. First he has a story to tell about the Vespa scooters that were given to the cast and crew to get around the UCLA campus where the film was being made.
RYAN REYNOLDS: Yeah, there were Vespas all over the movie. But three people crashed on them, so they got rid of them after that. I never biffed it, but the line producer did. That was actually the highlight of the film for me. He's the money guy. He's the guy that's always telling us we gotta close up shop, or we can't do one more take, or "Ryan, put your pants on!"
|Contactmusic.com: [Laughing] I hate that guy.|
A: Yeah, I hate that guy!
|Q: So I read a story online this morning while researching all your deep dark secrets...|
A: [Mockingly] Oh, s**t...
|Q: What I read was a story about you and Chris Martin moving to L.A., living in a cheap motel...|
A: Oh, that! That's a fact.
|Q: ...and your Jeep being trashed...|
A: My Jeep got stolen the first hour I was there. Yeah. That's a true story. My Jeep was stolen, but then it was just rolled down a hill around the corner. They removed the doors, took the stereo and I was left with this shell that was my car. I spent four months in L.A. without doors on my Jeep -- in the rainy season. So I was slugging my way to auditions in the freezing cold. Contrary to popular belief, L.A. is actually kind of cold in the winter.
|Q: Where's the Jeep now? Did you keep it as a souvenir of your hungry days?|
A: Oh, I have no idea where it is. I do all right for myself, but a $10,000 souvenir is a bit of a high-class bonus. I had to trade that baby in. People who keep cars as souvenirs? OK, how rich are you? I can't do that!
|Q: You can't tell me you got $10,000 trading that thing in without doors.|
A: Oh, I got doors eventually. The insurance finally kicked in after about four months.
|Q: So have you kept anything from your hungry days? A symbol of your first few months in L.A.?|
A: I probably have, like, a seriously ailing liver. Other than that, no.
|Q: The other part of the story I read was that you'd decided to quit acting before Chris talked you into moving to L.A. What did you do? Did you go to college?|
A: Briefly, briefly. I sent in three proofs of purchase from Cracker Jack boxes to get into my college. It was community college.
|Q: So was "Van Wilder" your vicarious college experience?|
A: Totally! Vicarious liability is what I think it was. My main college experience right now is this movie. But I was on the UCLA campus to shoot this movie and now I think it's almost a documentary!
|Q: I really liked how tight the writing felt in the movie. It wasn't like jokes were thrown at the wall hoping some would stick.|
A: Ha! I've never worked on a movie where we thought of more infrastructure changes on the day of shooting.
|Q: Really? Well, don't I feel like a schmuck.|
A: There isn't a single scene in that movie -- I don't care how short it is -- that doesn't contain ad-libs you'll never find in the script. And I don't mean that as a testament to me. I mean that as a testament to the people we were working with. It was an incredibly collaborative group, and without a $40 or $50 million budget, you're actually afforded a lot more freedom. There's nobody breathing down your neck saying "Our $50 million is on the line here!"
|Q: Except for that line producer.|
A: Damn him! [Grins] Then it's after the fact that the studio goes "Holy s**t! This movie's actually awesome!" Then they sink all this money into it, which is why we're sitting here now. They're putting $20 million into an ad campaign. I mean, I wish the movie cost that much to make. That's literally twice as much as this movie cost. It's a weird world. I'll probably never understand how this industry works.
|Q: The reason I thought the dialogue was so tight was because I wanted to write down hilarious dialogue from almost every scene.|
A: Oh, great! Good!
|Q: But there were things I could have done without, like all the stuff about the dog's testicles (Van Wilder has an...um...overly-blessed bulldog whose body fluids play a role in a practical joke against arrogant frat boys).|
A: Yeah, yeah. For some people, that's the thing. But I'm the same. I think it's funny, but it's not exactly character-driven. And it's gross.
|Q: There seems to be a definite one-upsmanship going on among these kinds of movies with the gross-out stuff.|
A: I agree. I agree. That's what that's there for, and I think it kind of does the trick. But, uh, [shakes his head] -- let's just say if I had to pick my least favorite moments of the movie, I think (I'd pick) anything that's not character-driven. The broad set pieces are fine and they serve a purpose, but it's the character-driven moments I love -- interactive stuff, where you push the plot with character alone and not any device.
|Q: I think the people making these movies are picking the wrong hurdles to raise the bar on. They're trying to jump over the poop jokes in "Scary Movie 2"...|
A: Yeah, yeah.
|Q: ...instead of trying to write better comedy...|
A: Yeah. Because that's hard to do.
|Q: ...Instead of trying to do something with characters and dialogue, like "There's Something About Mary," which was a good movie in addition to being politically incorrect, over-the-top and outrageous.|
A: ("Mary") really earned those moments. They earned their broad comedy.
|Q: Well, now that you've starred in your own big Hollywood movie, do you feel like you're more secure? Or do you still feel the hunger of your doorless Jeep days?|
A: Oh my god! Everything's relative, but there's always more you want to do. I've by no means "made it." I don't think I've ever done a job where I walked away feeling completely satisfied with my performance. I've been satisfied by the reaction. I've been overwhelmed by the reaction to this movie. I can't even believe how well people are responding to it. But I watch it and I want to change every line in that damn thing! But that's also what keeps it interesting.
|Q: Are you ever tempted to take parts you're not sure about?|
A: I've never had a job I was sure about! This one especially. I was terrified to do this job. I mean, trying to hold up the National Lampoon legacy?
|Q: Well, that's a different kind of terrified. What about the "this piece of crap is going to be on my resume forever" fear. Ever get that?|
A: Oh, that's the rest of my resume!