While we're waiting at a picnic table for our meat to be incinerated, I try out a theory of mine on Reynolds. My theory, I tell him, is that it's time to declare a major. You've done funny, scary, dramatic, comic-book. You've done the CIA agent, the guy-in-a-coffin thing. It's time to . . .

"You want me to declare? I'm not declaring nothing, man! I'm getting away with something I'd like to continue getting away with."

Aggregate is a word Reynolds likes to use to describe his non-meteoric rise to the top of the Hollywood call sheet. It's a fair description of how he got here. Step one: Come out of nowhere (which is to say, Canada) and hustle your way into TV movies and a kids' series despite discouragement from your working-class Vancouver family. Step two: Make the jump to the big screen (1993's Ordinary Magic—he played Ganesh, a boy raised in India sent to live with family in Ontario. Sample dialogue: "They are not so very different, basketball and yoga"). Step three: Drive to L.A. from Vancouver "on the whimmiest of whims" in 1995 with an aspiring-actor friend and, after a few years, land a part on a sitcom (Two Guys and a Girl). And here's where the steps pile up and blend together, until finally, two decades later, you're People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive and the CGI-swaddled flying green lead of a summer blockbuster.

His long, meandering ascent has paid off, as Reynolds has become that scarce Hollywood commodity: the bankable generalist. "I'm really fucking lucky that I hit it late," he says. "None of this happened to me in my early twenties, so I didn't configure myself at an early age in the audience's mind as one guy."

On cue, a thirtyish South African guy ambles over, beer in hand, taps Reynolds on the shoulder, and says, "Excuse me, I've got to ask: Just one movie you were in? Was it a horror series or something? I see your face and I can see it."

Reynolds: "I've done a few different ones. I don't know which one you mean."

Guy [impatiently]: "That's what I'm trying to think of."

Reynolds: "I don't know . . . The Proposal?"

Guy: [blank stare]

Reynolds: "Buried? It's a little one . . ."

Guy: "No."

Reynolds: "Okay, let's not play this game. I'm terrible at it."

Accepting a stalemate, the guy seems happy to shake the unidentified actor's hand, and we're saved by the delivery of our bowl of mystery meat. Having no utensils, we pick up the char-grilled chops with our hands.

"I think this one," Reynolds says, gnawing at a bone, "is a tourist who was momentarily distracted."

• • •

"I out-cunted you on the drink order," Reynolds says proudly. He's asked the barkeep for a Macallan 18 to my bourbon on the rocks. Well played.

We've ditched driver and bodyguard and are back at his hotel, sitting at the outdoor bar overlooking the marina. Seagulls occasionally dip down and try to steal our potato chips. Reynolds warns that he could easily toss my tape recorder in the water if it captures something he regrets. Perhaps that's when his dark side comes out: once the interview is over. "You want to see what I'm like when we turn the tape recorder off?" he asks, affecting a very good quavering, crazy-person baritone. "I slit throats, that's what I do. I only drink panda tears. Do not bring me water. Do not bring me filtered water. I want the tears of a newborn panda, and I will have them—because I'm Ryan Reynolds!"