"This is the most curious erection I've ever had," Ryan Reynolds e-mails from his approaching car. "Wear something sexy, we're going to a township," an earlier message advised. Then, as he arrived at my hotel: "We're two minutes away from the greatest interview I've ever given in South Africa."
It is a characteristically bright and beautiful April day in Cape Town, that vibrant dream city at the bottom of Africa, where Reynolds has been filming a CIA thriller called Safe House with Denzel Washington. If you want to talk with Reynolds these days, you go where he's working—and he has of late been a very busy man.
Last year he sweated out six months in Louisiana, sheathed in a heat-trapping motion-capture suit for the role of Hal Jordan in Green Lantern, this summer's $150 million blockbuster from DC Comics. That intensely physical shoot left the 34-year-old actor with a separated shoulder and in need of two operations. Back in Los Angeles, he joined Nicolas Cage and Emma Stone in voicing the 3-D animated comedy The Croods. Then down to Atlanta for the buddy-body-swap comedy The Change-Up with Jason Bateman, and finally to Africa, with the occasional red-eye break for a Green Lantern reshoot and a WonderCon appearance in San Francisco. In the midst of all this, he and his wife of two years, Scarlett Johansson, announced their divorce—a painful upending made more painful by the tabloid feeding frenzy it inevitably stirred up. "My face was on the cover of magazines I'd worked very hard to prevent being in," he says. He accepts the public scrutiny and media meddling as occupational hazards and does not sound indignant or petulant, just resigned to surviving something shitty and real.
Now Reynolds is in Cape Town, keeping busy doing what he likes to do and quietly repairing his lust-for-life mojo. "I have a blister on my hand from gripping the wheel," he says, giddily describing the car chases he's been filming. "I'm amazed that they let me do this stuff. In one chase I'm being choked to death while trying to drive the car into a wall to get the guy off me. It's a great job." It's not only the physical demands of the job that appeal to him. "I cried 26 times yesterday," he says, proud of his ability to well up for as many takes as Safe House director Daniel Espinosa demanded.
Always eager to throw himself into a role, yesterday he accidentally threw part of the role into himself, tossing a steel-legged table into his knees. "I had Denzel cuffed to an exposed pipe," Reynolds says. "My character is at a breaking point, so I throw this table across the room. I didn't account for the base of the table. It was that kind of pain where you're literally seeing red."
This is his first day off in weeks, and he's bummed we're not spending it doing something more exciting, like swimming with great white sharks. "Your employers wouldn't let us go shark diving," he says, "because they dislike adventure and good fellowship." (This is not quite true: My employers are pro-chumminess but anti-chum, which is what this fearful reporter was afraid of becoming.)
And the accidental kneecapping scuttled the backup plan to hike to the top of Lion's Head peak, overlooking the city and Table Bay. Instead we're with Pete (the bodyguard) and Wayne (the driver, who's big enough to bench-press Pete) in a black SUV speeding southeast toward the township Gugulethu to have lunch at Mzoli's, a combination butcher shop and braai (South African barbecue). Reynolds has heard good things about the place, including the fact that it's a bring-your-own-silverware joint.
I ask Reynolds whether the bodyguard-and-driver thing is a Cape Town-only arrangement or if this is how he rolls in L.A., too. "No! Why? Because I'm not P. Diddy," he says. "Also, I'm six foot two. If I need security around me, there's a problem. Then I'm really selling people a load of shit."