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Interview: Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick

Deadpool received two Golden Globe nominations earlier this week, one for Best Actor, and another for Best Picture, Musical or Comedy. It also won two Critics Choice Awards for Ryan Reynolds, and Best Comedy. Deadpool is more that just an action movie, it’s more than just a superhero movie. It is a film that turns concept of superhero inside out because Deadpool himself is very much an antihero. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are responsible for writing the screenplay and I recently caught up with them to find out why Deadpool was so rewarding to them and what made them want to tackle his story when they have an entire Marvel universe to choose from. Deadpool, as Wernick says is a rule-breaker whose dark flippant attitude gave them a lot of creative freedom. Because the character breaks the fourth wall and makes the audience feel like an accomplice in his outrageous world, it allowed them to play with the typical superhero/comicbook structure.

Reese and Wernick have been writing partners for 16 years, and we talked about their friendship. “We’re like a married couple,” Reese teases.

Read what they had to say about bringing Deadpool to the big screen:

Awards Daily: What was it like for you to write this and keep that balance and maintain the seriousness and have him be so funny, pushing the boundaries too?

Paul Wernick: Part of it was just that there were so few rules. As a screenwriter, especially who writes properties that have pre-existed you, you are often constrained by a bunch of rules, things you have to do and things you can’t do. Deadpool is such a rule-breaking character and comic to the point it freed us up to do a number of things that we’ve never been able to do before. A lot of meta-humor, a lot of breaking the fourth wall. It also has an R-rating so there’s a lot of raunchy material that you’re not used to finding in a movie like this. It allowed us to play with a crazy structure and allowed us to make a movie that felt like an apple among oranges.

AD: It took six years!

Rhett Reese: Exactly for those reasons! It did break all the rules. I think studios often want to fit a movie into a box and completely understand and feel safe. This was exactly the opposite of feeling safe. We took a Marvel character and we had him swear and added sexual humor, added pop culture, and gore, all the things that aren’t four quadrant. What scares studios is they want to appeal to a mass audience. The fear in why I think it took six years is that this didn’t appeal to a mass audience, that this would appeal to 21-year-old comic book nerd fan boys. I think a lot had to do with the story we were telling.

A lot had to do with the story we were telling. It was the story about an underdog character, a love story at its core. It was a romantic comedy that did speak to more people than the comic book nerds. If you looked at it from an in the box perspective, it is an apple among oranges and that’s why it took so long to get made.

AD: Tell us how you met, and how you decided you were going to work together creatively?

PW: We went to high school in Phoenix, Arizona. We met a long time ago. Rhett was a senior when I was a freshman and he was friends with my brother and I was friends with his brother who was my age. We traveled different paths from high school until 1999 when we first partnered up.

I went to UCLA, Rhett went to Stanford. He came out as a psychology major, I came out with Political Sciences. He wanted to become a screenwriter. I wanted to become a news producer and did that for a few years in between. We partnered up on a hybrid reality show which was our creative. It was a combination of Rhett’s scripted background and my non-scripted background. We jumped from news to reality and sold it to Spike, and really that was the start of a beautiful partnership that’s been ongoing for over 16 years.

AD: That’s a long relationship.

RR: It’s pretty intense at this point, we’re like a married couple.

PW: We are. Rhett introduced me to my wife, he married us, and he actually performed the ceremony. I was just at his wedding, we are family.

AD: I remember when the test footage leaked.

PW: It was two or three years after we completed the test footage. Tim Miller was our brilliant director who took an existing scene of ours and used it as proof of concept, it leaked and was a big reason that the audience responded to it, and the studio listened. It was a big reason why we got to make it.

AD: I know, social media went crazy.

PW: We had spent about two years about how to leak the test footage without getting caught. [laughs]. We have emails that are pretty incriminating that joked about how to leak it, but we aren’t tech savvy enough to know how to do it, and we were afraid. It wasn’t any of us. [laughs].

Our reaction was confirmation and gratification. Gratification because you put something out there,you think it’s great but you never know how the public is going to react. Again, it confirmed, that Thank God they liked it, and that we might actually be able to make this movie.

AD: Was it hard to write a character like his who has healing powers? How do you get him injured when he heals like Wolverine?

RR: You do have to figure out how to put Deadpool in danger because physical danger doesn’t really affect him. You can torture him or cause him pain, but we just realized the best thing was to hurt the people he loves and that’s why we chose reasonably a well-trodden path, that the love of his life gets captured by the bad guy in the third act. We felt that was a good clean way to threaten him because he doesn’t care about his own well-being, but he cares about Vanessa’s.

AD: I love his joker side when he pecks the pizza boy, and also the erection we see later was hilarious. When you watched it with the public, what was that like, did they laugh in all the right places?

PW: The first time anything was shown was the trailer at Comic Con. They showed the trailer and we watched from the side, and the audience in Hall H gave it a standing ovation, cheering for more. We were crying tears of joy. It was such a journey for us with so many valleys and low points thinking the film would never get made. We put so much effort and love into it, and to see the audience respond in that clip, and ultimately when it came out, it was the greatest joy of my career to watch that movie turn out to be the success it turned out to be.

AD: Why did you choose Colossus?

RR: He’s a square and a goody two-shoes who doesn’t allow for moral shades of gray which Deadpool does. That’s his calling card, so we thought Colossus would be the perfect foil to Deadpool. Someone who isn’t funny, someone who is a straight man to his lunatic. We also thought a fight between them would be funny. We thought it would be funny to see him clearly outmatched by Colossus, that made us laugh.
Most of all, it was just that he was a great contrast to Deadpool.

AD: Let’s talk about your music choices. You’re using everything from Shoop to Careless Whisper. At what stage do you do that and think, Careless Whisper should be here?

PW: A lot of cues were as we were writing. DMX was in that first draft in 2009. What’s great again is the rulebreaking of Deadpool, you can mix and match the music. You can be ironic, at one point we had John Denver’s I wanna Live in there but that didn’t make the final cut.

RR: You can have Chicago and DMX in the same movie.

PW: Yes. That’s the schizophrenic nature of Deadpool, you can do that.

AD: When are the X-Men and Deadpool going to collide?

RR: You got us. Paul made a joke about timelines in the movie, which Professor X is Deadpool going to meet. There’s a bit of caution the studio and us are using as to the crossing over of Deadpool and X-Men. I think it’s easier to drop the X-Men into Deadpool than it is to drop the crazy Deadpool into the serious X-Men movies just because it might poison the tone. The opposite might be difficult as Deadpool is as much a style as a character. We just have to be careful.

AD: I did notice the Ferris Bueler homage.

PW: That’s a big element of that movie, and we thought we’d have to make a nod to him?

AD: So, I have to ask, who were your favorite Marvel characters?

RR: I was a Marvel man. I loved Spiderman.

PW: I loved Ironman. Interestingly, I like the comic book version which was more serious. I was taken aback when Robert Downey Jr started doing it in the movie, but by the end of it, I thought it was perfect. It was the perfect tone, and that tone, I think has infused every movie that came after it.

RR: Who are your favorites?

AD: I discovered the X-Men, I went far back and read the comics. I loved those. I loved Wolverine.