'I used humour as a defence mechanism' – Ryan Reynolds talks vulnerability and his time living in Ireland

The first thing Ryan Reynolds says, right after he (valiantly) tries and (mostly) fails to pronounce my name, is: “I would shake your hand, but I have a little flu.”

 And so, my hopes and dreams for this interview are sunk: I wasn’t going to touch him. Not for the actual experience of touching him, you see, so much as being able to say, “This is where Ryan Reynolds touched me”. I quickly begin to recalibrate and imagine telling people, “Sorry, I’ve actually got Ryan Reynolds’s flu.” Perhaps he has read my mind, or perhaps it’s not his first time at the rodeo, because he continues “…which I refuse to give you. So I’m going to stay over here.”

Yeah. He’s dealt with his fair share of pervs. Of course he has, he’s Ryan Reynolds: the man behind Deadpool, of the record-breaking, meta Marvel film franchise; adoring husband of actress Blake Lively, of whom he says things like, “The most interesting thing about me is her”; one-time ‘sexiest man alive’; gin company owner; alternative marketing savant; notorious frenemy of Hugh Jackman; outspoken admirer of Zayn Malik and undisputed King of Twitter one-liners. He’s grand.

It turns out that it wasn’t even man-flu, but real flu-flu – he had to go to hospital. Not that you’d know it – he looks absolutely Ryan Reynolds. In a dark navy suit and white shirt and a pocket square – but no tie, and an unexpected collection of colourful bracelets, Reynolds is not surprising in the flesh in the way that movie stars are wont to be. Obviously, he’s enormous; appropriately superhero proportioned.

We are here to talk about his partnership with Armani – he is the face of their new men’s fragrance Armani Code Absolu. Between us is a poster for the campaign featuring a tuxedoed Reynolds, eyes a-smoulder midway through taking off his jacket. We both studiously avoid it – it feels polite to pretend it’s not there.

He was and was not an odd choice for Armani, a brand synonymous with very serious chic. Although he’s one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, Reynolds’s public persona is so deeply steeped in irony that it’s hard to imagine him playing it straight for long enough to sell a perfume. He talks about being young with older brothers and getting cologne hand-me-downs, “I’d wear like two, three, even four at a time. It was horrible. Like, keep that guy away from an open flame.” Being the po-faced ambassador of an Armani scent somehow doesn’t feel very Ryan – and the world is certain it knows who Ryan is.

But it turns out that he doesn’t think perfume campaigns are very Ryan either. “You know – guy wanders around in black-and-white, in his stark, serial-killer apartment, intermittently clenching his jaw muscles and squinting at nothing in place of depth. Let’s just have a little whimsy and irony and self-effacement and humour – it’s OK. It’s still sexy if you do these things, it doesn’t have to be super literal all the time. So [Armani] seemed game for that – and that’s where the idea came from.”

Dash of humour

The scent itself feels modern; softer, somehow. There are shades of vanilla in there among the woody anise, injecting a subtle, sweet delicacy that is foreign to traditional hyper-macho scents. It turns out, Armani had sought to create a scent for 2019’s man – a post #MeToo, enlightened masculinity that is both soft and strong and with a good dash of charisma and humour. And so Reynolds, naturally, got the call; he announced the collaboration on Instagram: “I hope to eventually call Mr Armani, ‘Papa’. But let’s take this one day at a time”.

The cinematic advertising campaign was directed by Reed Morano – Emmy-award winning director of The Handmaid’s Tale, and a friend/New York neighbour of the Reynolds-Livelys – with a retro, action-movie feel. Reynolds seemed most excited about the opportunity to “do things a little bit differently in terms of the power dynamics and archetypes in these ads”. That is to say, his female lead is Elodie Young, whose character is at least as badass as his. Young appears to take the lead and keep Reynolds’s familiar distracted character in check; but as they’re running for a mysterious mission, he still opens the door for her – and allows her to climb the ladder first.

And Ryan is the kind of feminist ally who is so woke that he pretends the alternative is unthinkable. When I ask whether it was important to have a woman on board as director, he is slightly bemused. But it must be difficult having the weight of the woke-internet upon you, conscious that your words will get quoted and requoted and turned into cute graphics by Instagram fans. His Twitter bio used to say, “Introducing people to the version of myself which tested highest in the focus groups”; it’s funny because it seems like it has to be true – he doesn’t misstep.

“Well, I think it’s always important to have a woman directing. You know… yeah… I felt pretty strongly about that from the get-go.” Possibly he realises that this might leave him open to accusations of tokenism, he continues, “But really, Reed is just… her work speaks for itself. Herself. Not necessarily her gender, she’s truly just a remarkable film-maker, so I was excited to work with her.”

I suspect he wonders whether this could be interpreted as denying the existence of sexism in Hollywood and the importance of representation, he goes on, “So many women I know don’t have the same opportunities male directors have, or need a spotlight, or a place to show their work. Reed’s worked a ton already, but there’s a lot more [female directors] that in future I hope I get to work with.”

Later he says: “I love men. I love women. I love everyone!” It must be exhausting maintaining a universally beloved status. And he really is – it’s no great feat by Hollywood standards to have every hetero woman in the world lusting after you, but Ryan’s magic is that the hetero women’s husbands love him, too. Women may adore Reynolds, but men adore him with a passion bordering on the weird. Indeed, the other three journalists who lined up to talk to Reynolds on the day we met were all men, which is pretty unheard of for a beauty launch. But millennial men would sell their grandmothers for a chat with this guy.

I ask him whether he can account for it, and he makes a go of looking a bit surprised. “I feel like a fucking tool even venturing conjecture.” And because I have apparently forgotten what my job is, I apologise. “No, no, no!” he jumps in, “Not a stupid question!” He stumbles and hedges his way through the answer, like anyone asked to be nice about themselves. It feels almost indecent, though, to see Reynolds do it. Perhaps that’s the answer to my question.

He suspects it is because he laughs at himself first, “which some people misconstrue as vulnerability. And I think it ultimately is vulnerability, but I think people are attracted to vulnerability. So usually – or at least growing up – I used humour as a defence mechanism and to deflect. And then I found a way to use that in my work. And I love it. It’s a great tool to have. But it’s also a tool that you need to put away sometimes.” He’s mortified. “So maybe that’s what guys are seeing? I don’t know. That’s my dimestore analysis.”

I should say at this point that this interview dynamic is stranger than usual, because Ryan Reynolds seems committed to ignoring the fact that he is Ryan Reynolds. When he mentions his wife, he adds, “Blake” as if literally everyone doesn’t know this fact as well as their own birthday. He is studiously, aggressively, Canadian-ly polite. We find ourselves in a cycle of apologies when a question doesn’t work, me internally upbraiding myself for asking a 42-year-old man what his most under-rated Pokemon is (he’s set to star in Detective Pikachu next month), him reassuring me that it’s totally fine, that he’s thinking about it. I encourage and congratulate; it’s an absurd loop of excellent manners. I shouldn’t be surprised – he’s as proud a Canadian as they come.

He’s so proud of his birthplace that he refuses to claim Irishness – a jarring departure for a transtlantic friend with brothers called Terry and Patrick. He says he has ancestors from Cork, but refuses to be drawn into plastic-Paddy baiting, “Like, I’m Canadian! I grew up Canadian, but yeah, we have Irish ancestry. Tons!”

Reynolds and his family relocated to Dublin for a while last summer, while wife Blake filmed spy-thriller The Rhythm Section. They were photographed in Powerscourt Estate, Wicklow; and having coffee in Blackrock. His daughters, James (four) and Inez (two), were snapped clutching packets of Tayto on set. Ryan says that he “got to see a good chunk of Ireland, too,

I wasn’t just in Dublin. We got all over the place.

“It reminds me a lot of Vancouver. I’m not… I… I hope that’s a good thing. The people are very warm and friendly and open and willing to chat about, you know, whatever. And when they ask you how you’re doing, it’s an actual question.”

The uncanny sensation that he is just a bit too good continues when we talk about desert-island scents – three that he would bottle up and keep with him forever. “One would beeee… baby head.” I must physically crumple and yelp because he warms to his theme, “You know what I mean! Like a newborn baby’s head. And it goes away, like, after a year. But that is something you need as many hits of as possible before it’s gone forever.”

While he says nostalgia is the cheapest and most destructive drug on earth, he believes scents are transportive, and he would take the smell of his Canadian childhood.

“I grew up in British Columbia – those woods, the natural playground that was all around me – so if I could bottle up the smell of that biosphere, that would awesome.” At one point, as we remark upon the freakishly warm late winter’s day, he says he worries sometimes about his kids not having the same outdoors experiences as he did growing up. He has spoken before about how this childhood helped inspire his environmental work, and about his fears for the planet’s future. His final desert-island smell is cinnamon toast.

Later, at the Armani Code Absolu drinks reception he’s about to leave, two large men go in front of him, making a corridor to get through the throng. As he passes, I get a quick smile and an arm-squeeze. God help me, but I feel like I have just been crowned Prom Queen: this is where Ryan Reynolds touched me.

Twenty-four hours later, I’m full of cold. Eyes stream, nose runs, body aches. I shiver in my blankets, soaked with sweat. I’m fairly certain I’m dying. “This could be Ryan Reynolds’s flu,” I think. It could be worse.

Ryan Reynolds is the new face of Armani Code fragrances. The new Armani Code campaign starring the actor will be dedicated to Armani Code Absolu, the new Armani Code fragrance launching nationwide in late April

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