I should probably state here that Ryan Reynolds is not selling people a load of shit. The public and the private square up with uncanny precision. Yes, he is stupendously lucky and ridiculously handsome, but he wears his charms lightly, in a way that puts people at ease. "The Hollywood asshole is becoming a bit more of a dinosaur every day, thank God," Jason Bateman says. "But it's still not the norm to be as decent as Ryan is. Decent without being a boob. He's the World's Sexiest Man and all that shit, but he's still a real guy, not a noodle."
The two have been friends since growing up on sitcoms but hadn't found a project that worked for both of them before The Change-Up, directed by David Dobkin, of Wedding Crashers fame, and written by the duo behind The Hangover. What most impresses Bateman about his friend is the time Reynolds puts in honing his comic timing and acting chops. "The main ingredient to being funny," Bateman says, "is a willingness to be human, to show your flaws and risk your dignity."
Risk is not a trait we normally identify with rom-com leading men—or action stars, for that matter—but an eagerness to push himself and capture something real and human on camera is what drew Reynolds to Buried, a one-man, one-scene movie that takes place in a coffin. There's a moment in the film when Reynolds' character—Paul Conroy, a kidnapped civilian truck driver confined to a box somewhere under the Iraqi desert—is on the phone with one of his unseen captors. The voice on the line bitterly denounces the American military intervention.
"Stop! Just please, stop!" Conroy interrupts him, pleading forcefully, "I'm just a guy. . . . I'm nobody that makes decisions about anything."
That basic plea—I'm just a guy . . . —is a distilled version of what a lot of Reynolds' characters are saying. It's an Everyman cry. Sometimes played for comedy ("I'm just a guy. .
. . Why is my mean, hot boss proposing to me?"). Sometimes for dramatic effect ("I'm just a guy. . . . Why have Iraqi insurgents buried me alive?"). Sometimes for campy, comic-book wonder ("I'm just a guy. . . . Why have I been given a ring with special powers and zapped to the planet Oa to train with an alien army of Green Lanterns?").
And what's nice about Reynolds is that offscreen he is just a guy. A self-deprecating, dick-joke-making, guilelessly, legitimately, put-you-at-ease nice dude of a guy.
Right now, he's intent on putting himself at ease, too. Whatever you say about the shrinking smallness of the world, Cape Town feels very far away from everything, and Reynolds is enjoying a kind of working holiday here from the job of being Ryan Reynolds, movie star. Hiding in plain sight, as it were, getting lost in the work away from the tabloid press and taking his time to plan his next moves. "I don't really know what I'm going to do next," Reynolds says. "I'll meet with some directors via Skype. If the camera angle's just right, you can be ferociously masturbating and they have no idea."
We step up to the butcher case at Mzoli's—a not-very-refrigerated glass display containing beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and some parts you don't want to ask too many questions about. We pick out several slabs, which are piled in a bowl. I suggest we skip the poultry. "You're skipping the chicken?" Reynolds asks. "You wouldn't rather skip the gallbladder?"