Ryan Reynolds on Why ‘The Adam Project’ Is Throwback to Old-School Films: “It’s a Very Personal Story”

The actor-producer sits down with The Hollywood Reporter, alongside Walker Scobell, to talk “old-school” movies and why coming in under budget is such a point of pride.

Netflix rolled out a star-packed commercial on Sunday during the spectacle that was Super Bowl LVI, and it featured a bevy of streamer stars like Ryan Gosling, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Hemsworth, Jason Momoa and Millie Bobby Brown breaking the fourth wall to tout Netflix’s 2022 film slate. When the head-turning preview ended, it segued straight into the first look at the full trailer for Shawn Levy‘s The Adam Project, debuting March 11 and starring Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Zoe Saldaña, Catherine Keener and newcomer Walker Scobell.

As far as debuts go, it’s about as high-profile as a film could get, considering more than 112 million people tuned in to Sunday’s game. “They love the movie the way we love the movie,” Reynolds explained to The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday night about Netflix’s confidence in his reteaming with Free Guy helmer Shawn Levy. The two knocked it out of the park with the Disney film and are back to hopefully recapture the magic with The Adam Project, another film based on nothing more than an original idea, a rarity in today’s IP-focused film industry. “At the end of the day, it’s a very personal story, a story about something that I think every single person can relate to. That’s magic, man.”

The story follows a time-traveling pilot (Reynolds) who teams up with his younger self (Scobell) and his late father (Ruffalo) to come to terms with his past while saving the future. The script was penned by Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin. But about that magic: Levy, Reynolds, their team of producers and casting director Carmen Cuba saw hundreds of young actors to find the perfect pint-sized Reynolds, eventually landing on Scobell, who is making his acting debut.

The two sat down with THR on Tuesday night in a quiet corner of a ballroom inside London Hotel West Hollywood (ahead of the film’s first screening) to talk all things The Adam Project, how Deadpool factored into Scobell’s audition process and why it’s such a point of pride for Reynolds that they came in ahead of schedule and under budget: “I’m such a believer that the death of creativity comes when there’s too much money and too much time.”

The Adam Project had a prime spot in Netflix’s Super Bowl commercial. As a star and producer, what did that mean to you?

Ryan Reynolds: That was great. When you’re at the Super Bowl, you’re deprived of all of that satisfaction that you would have seeing it at home, because you don’t get to see the commercials [at the stadium]. But I loved that Netflix positioned The Adam Project like that. They love the movie the way we love the movie. It’s been such a labor of love for myself and Shawn Levy from the jump. I’m grateful that Netflix has a commitment to making movies like this, original stories based on nothing more than an idea, and we get to bring them to life. Especially films with this tone that — and I say this in a good way — is a little bit old-fashioned with an ’80s wish-fulfillment, meaning something amazing or even supernatural happens to a kid but he’s home by dinner, and his parents have no clue. It’s a type of old-school, warm and nostalgic filmmaking that I love.

You tweeted that you had the time of your life making this movie. Why so?

Reynolds: That was more of my way of working in a Dirty Dancing joke that came after, but I really, genuinely did have the time of my life because it was that exact kind of movie. Shawn is in Budapest right now, and he would love nothing more than to be sitting here doing this interview as well, but I speak for him when I say that [The Adam Project] is the type of movie we were weaned on. Movies like E.T., Back to the Future, Stand by Me and Goonies all appealed to kids as if they were adults. Now, in the modern age of entertainment, we tend to bifurcate those by saying that kids’ movies are really kids’ movies, and grown-up movies are grown-up movies, while we’re being blasted with a fire hose of content 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

[The Adam Project] has a storytelling device that doesn’t feel slow, so it’s the same pace that we watch movies these days, but it also has this high-concept, wish-fulfillment engine behind it. And, at the end of the day, it’s a very personal story, a story about something that I think every single person can relate to. That’s magic, man. That’s what I love about movies, and it’s what I’ve always loved about movies.

Speaking of magic, wow, what a debut for Walker. I was shocked that this was your first movie because you’re such a natural opposite Ryan Reynolds. How did you get the part?

Walker Scobell: In January 2020, I went to an acting camp and I did a showcase at the end. From that, I got a manager who sent me out on a couple of auditions. That led to me getting an agent and then, during COVID, I did probably eight auditions per week. Sometime in mid-August, I got to audition for this. I sent in my audition and thought that I wasn’t going to get it, but I thought I at least should try. But a casting director called me back to do a call with her.

At that point, I was just excited to meet a casting director. I thought this is awesome. But then I got called back again to read with Shawn Levy. I was freaking out because I had rewatched all the Night at the Museum movies the night before. It was like, “Well, that was cool. At least I got to meet Shawn Levy.” But then, I got another call to read with Ryan. That was really scary because I watched the Deadpool movies again like four times that [previous] night.

Reynolds: He knows them verbatim. Literally, I’m not kidding. He even knows the expositional lines that people usually forget.

Why did you rewatch them? I would think it might make you more nervous …

Scobell: I didn’t really mean to. I just watched it so many times so that if anyone asked me if I had seen it, I could start reciting lines. I didn’t realize that I had memorized the whole thing from start to finish [until that day]. So, I did a call with Ryan, and again, I thought I wasn’t going to get it. But Shawn called me. He said he wanted to do an interview, but he tricked me into thinking that I wasn’t going to get it. I kind of expected that, so I wasn’t too sad, but then he surprised me and said that I got it. He’d just like to do an interview, he said. And then he tricked me into thinking I wasn’t going to get it at first. And so I was kind of expecting it. So I wasn’t too sad if I didn’t get it. But then he told me I did get it.

Reynolds: Shawn is also a horrible person. I know a lot of people don’t say that. But when Walker was reading, I was reading along with him and looking at him through the Zoom screen while texting Shawn, “Our work is done here.” I mean, come on. We knew right away that, of course, it had to be Walker.

What was it about him that made you respond that way?

Reynolds: He’s so alive. He wasn’t doing an impression of me — even though he basically flash-fried all the Deadpool movies and injected them directly into his eyeball — and he really understood how to switch gears emotionally. He knew that the movie required some really emotional heavy lifting as well as all the quippy fun stuff. It’s like the Mary Pickford model of make them laugh, make them cry, bring them back to laughter. It’s a style of movie-making that I feel is so urgently needed right now. Everything that we look at is so doom and gloom.

Walker really has the ability to toggle back and forth between hiding behind maladaptive coping mechanisms of humor while also being able to suddenly become very emotional, real and vulnerable in these scenes. It blew us away. We wanted to capture it in a bottle and start shooting immediately but we had to wait another four months. It drove us crazy because we just wanted to dive into the sandbox and play.

How many young actors did you see?

Reynolds: I’m not privy to the wider net, which was hundreds and hundreds. We got it down to 40 that I combed through, and I only read with three, with Walker being one of the three. Choosing him was the best decision we ever made.

Walker, it’s one thing to watch Ryan work on screen in all the Deadpools and another to see him working in real life. What did you learn from him?

Scobell: Basically everything I know. When I was doing the audition, I thought of Deadpool and tried to act like that, but I was really scared to do all of the emotional stuff. I thought I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t change the way I would say a line. It always would come out the same way every single time.

Reynolds: But you did.

Scobell: I did because you taught me how to make it come out different every single time.

Reynolds: Every single day you did things that we could not believe. I don’t mean to speak for him, but by the second week of shooting, he had the kind of poise that a veteran would have. He was so relaxed, and I think you felt safe on that set to be who you are.

What about a favorite scene?

Scobell: Definitely the scene where we ate the eggs. I loved those eggs. That’s probably why I felt so comfortable. It was so good. I almost emailed them after just to send me some eggs home. It was so good.

Reynolds: The first time you’re in a film set, you’re like, “Wait, there’s free food? Oh, wow, this is amazing.”

Scobell: I lost my tooth the first day because of that.

Reynolds: We were like, “Do not lose another tooth. We forbid you to go through the physiological changes that you’re owed.”

Scobell: I lost four teeth during the movie.

Reynolds: I just lost bone density.

Let’s go back to something you said at the beginning, Ryan, about the ability to make original movies. People keep writing about the death of these big-budget original films but you and Shawn are keeping them alive …

Reynolds: I wouldn’t place that much onus on us, but we were really proud of the fact that last year out of the top 10 grossing movies, Free Guy was the only non-IP, non-sequel, non-anything original movie in that group. That means a lot to us that it landed for audiences in the way that it did. We hope the same for The Adam Project. It’s rare that you get an opportunity not only to tell a story like this but you have the full breadth of a studio like Netflix behind you to make it happen. It’s the same experience we had with Free Guy and Disney. They really backed it, even though it was a holdover from the Fox days. We were very, very lucky.

The Adam Project follows Red Notice, which broke a bunch of streaming records, and that followed Free Guy which did extremely well at the box office. How do you reconcile the switch from theatrical to streaming and the different measures of success?

Reynolds: I don’t worry about that stuff so much at all. All the movies I’ve produced — so far it’s been four with DeadpoolDeadpool 2Free Guy and The Adam Project — I’m really proud of how responsibly they’re made. I’m such a believer that the death of creativity comes when there’s too much money and too much time. We made these movies at incredibly responsible budgets, we finished under budget and we finished not just on time, but three or four days early on both [Free Guy and The Adam Project]. It’s a real point of pride, not just for me but for Shawn as well.

When you work with a bit less, amazing things happen. When you have all the money in the world, all the time in the world and all the spectacle to play with, you stop relying on or thinking about character. It’s a lesson I learned on Deadpool because we didn’t have the money for these huge, maniacal set pieces that seem requisite for superhero films. We had to replace those moments with real character moments, scenes that audiences remember because of what was said. That’s the tenet that has really been passed along to these other movies I’ve been lucky enough to produce. When you are working with less, you are forced to think outside the box in different ways, and the movie always ends up being better for it. You still have the spectacle, magic and wish fulfillment, along with the really memorable emotional moments that carry you out of the theater and stay with you much longer than a set piece would.

Where do you go from here, Walker?

Scobell: I did another project [Secret Headquarters] after I did this. But I don’t really know right now. I’m just going to see what happens after this comes out, and I hope there are going to be more parts.

I think the phone’s going to be ringing off the hook. Ryan, the last time we talked you were about to start a hiatus …

Reynolds: I’m still on it.

How’s it going?

Reynolds: It’s a little sabbatical. It’s not a pause in work, it’s just that I’m not shooting any movies for a minute. I finished Spirited in early October, and I didn’t want to shoot anything again until after the summer. There is no absence of busyness at all — I am just home while I work. I’m writing Deadpool 3, working on [other businesses] Mint Mobile, Aviation Gin, MNTN, Maximum Effort and all of the other things that occupy so much of my bandwidth right now. My kids are at an age where they’re in school, and I don’t want to be away from them. I also recognize the extreme privilege it is to be able to be home with them during this time, so I’m taking advantage of it.

Interview edited for length and clarity. 

The Adam Project hits Netflix on March 11.

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