Ryan Reynolds is staring at an anus unlike any other he's seen in his life, and it's all my fault. The two of us are standing—in synchronous dumbstruckness—in the foyer of a Berlin art gallery, where we've just been greeted by a sculpture of a headless, armless bronze torso prostrated on a pedestal—ass-up, as it were—with its sphincter tied with a pair of what appear to be bronzed sneaker laces. "Wow," Reynolds finally says, with a low exhalation. "That's gonna be hard to masturbate to."
We pivot to our left, where hanging on a wall is a large white canvas on which appear to be, at first glance, several rows of way-oversize fingerprints, as though cribbed from the Incredible Hulk's arrest-booking record. A rinse of relief washes over me, because the art-gallery tour was my idea—I'd heard Reynolds was an art enthusiast—to spring us from the Berlin hotel where Reynolds has been living for five weeks while shooting the director Marjane Satrapi's The Voices. I chose this gallery in the Mitte neighborhood because it was walking distance from the hotel and, from the photos on its website, seemed to be hosting an exhibit about motorcycles, another of Reynolds' favorite subjects. The interview, as I'd imagined it, would be a kind of freewheeling Rorschach test—the jumbo card of fingerprints, for instance, perhaps inspiring Reynolds to talk about his father and brother, the former a onetime cop and the latter a constable with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the 36-year-old actor's native British Columbia.
But this is not what happens. Rebutting my interpretation of the painting, with the same ominous tone Obi-Wan Kenobi used when informing Luke Skywalker that the Death Star was no moon, Reynolds says, "Those aren't fingerprints, man. They're ass prints."
It requires zero artistic acuity to see that Reynolds is right. Bouncily, he says, "Let's go see if there are more butt holes over here." We navigate our way into another room filled with . . . yeah, lots more. I'm cringing, a reporter in free fall. My attempt to give one of Hollywood's most dazzling (if press-shy) leading men, People's Sexiest Man Alive in 2010, and the star of one of this summer's blockbuster contenders a highbrow Rorschach test has landed us at an exhibition about what the gallery literature calls the "heterogeneous interfaces that are characterized by holes and passages." Or, in a word, anuses.
But Reynolds doesn't care. In fact, he thinks it's hilarious, and to trail him through the gallery's many odd and then odder rooms is to be shotgunned with more raunchy comic riffs and one-liners than are contained on a complete DVD set of Family Guy. (A DVD set, by the way, that would feature Reynolds, who has voiced cameos for the series.) Had my interview notes later been confiscated by German customs officers, I'm not sure how I would've been able to explain the following scribbled entries: "giraffe anus"; "Gulliver's butt hole"; "sack of a thousand anuses"; and "Ernest Borgnine's asshole." Except by telling those customs officials: There's a perversely funny guy working in your country right now. A perversely funny guy who also seems, two years after a series of personal and professional setbacks, to be finding his groove as both an actor and a man, if not as an art critic.
Men who look like Ryan Reynolds are not typically as funny as Reynolds is, for the simple reason that they don't need to be. Their looks earn them what others use laughter to obtain: affirmation, companionship, sex—that sort of thing. Reynolds, of course, could certainly skate by on his appearance alone. Back at the restaurant at the Soho House Berlin, he looks every bit the leading man, wearing a navy vest over a button-down blue shirt cracked opened to reveal a tank-top undershirt. While not currently as chiseled as moviegoers are accustomed to seeing him (filming "this movie has been great because I'm forbidden to go to a gym or expose my face to sun," he says of The Voices, in which he plays a deranged bathtub-factory worker. "I don't think I've sweat in four months"), his rippled, six-foot-two physique still evokes a figure from a comic-book illustrator's pen. Yet Reynolds doesn't deploy his looks the way other leading men do; if he's aware of those looks—and presumably someone told him about his People magazine accolades—he doesn't show it. He's usually too busy making fun of himself.
"It's true," says Jeff Bridges, who plays Reynolds' cop partner in this summer's R.I.P.D., with a raspy chuckle, when I tell him my theory about leading-man types and humor. "Ryan has that very rare combination."
Reynolds' self-deprecating streak is so wide and deep that when he describes the same trait in one of his brothers as a desire for "stock options in his own humiliation," he could just as well be discussing himself. A typical Ryan Reynolds story, for example, is this one, which begins with him riding one of his motorcycles—he owns half a dozen—along the Snake River near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Rugged and idyllic, so far. If Brad Pitt were telling this story, you might expect an epiphanic sunset or coyote sighting. But no: "I pulled over by the side of this ravine to take a piss. And when I jumped down into it, I put my feet through something incredibly squishy. It felt like I'd jumped into a vat of old watermelons, and it just smelled like the worst place you could ever imagine." What he'd jumped into, right through its rib cage, was the carcass of a horse, dead for a week or more. "I wanted to undress using only a lighter. Like, to get all of this off my body with fire. It was the most revolting moment of my life." Another of his motorcycling stories ends with him having his jeans scissored off in an Australian emergency room after a spider bite and subsequent staph infection caused his leg to balloon. Yet another one ends with him spattered with the goo of a thousand dead dragonflies. "He's just incredibly funny," says the director Atom Egoyan, who cast Reynolds as an unfunny father searching for his abducted daughter in the forthcoming psychological thriller Queen of the Night. "He doesn't seem to take himself very seriously, yet he does."