"Every time I've gotten myself into trouble it's because I'm choosing a project based on a long-term career goal as opposed to something that speaks to me at the moment," he admits, citing Green Lantern. "When I signed on, there was no script. There was just some art to look at. It was a time when I thought, 'Wow, I sort of have to do this.' I felt I had to go forward even though I knew nothing about it."

A great chunk of his fame remains tied to his boldface-named romantic life. There was fellow Canadian Alanis Morissette, to whom Reynolds was engaged from 2004 to 2007. Then came Scarlett Johansson, whom Reynolds married in 2008 and divorced in 2010. He began dating his Green Lantern costar, Blake Lively of Gossip Girl fame, in 2011.

They were married a year later and currently divide their time between New York City, Los Angeles, and what Reynolds calls "a little shack in the woods" back home in British Columbia. "He has this gorgeous, sweet, kind wife. Together, they're really well-suited," says Mary-Louise Parker, who costars in R.I.P.D. "Ryan has this slightly anachronistic Jimmy Stewart thing going for him—you can just sense his decency."

Reynolds may be famous for these romances, but it's not due to any trumpeting—or even mild divulgences—on his part. Questions about his love life are almost never met with answers. "I don't intentionally try to be evasive about that stuff," he explains. "If you ask me to describe my relationship, I mean—words are too clumsy to accurately describe how I feel in that regard, particularly in an interview. It's a strange thing. I understand the climate we live in and why people are curious. But it's just tough and almost emotionally violent—for anyone, I think—to see your personal life summarized in a sentence." Seeing the end of his marriage to Johansson autopsied on the covers of the same tabloids he'd worked so hard to avoid was especially painful to him. "He seems genuinely surprised at the magnitude of his stardom," Egoyan says. "I think he gets hurt sometimes when his privacy is betrayed. It puts a lot of pressure on him."

Reynolds exudes an authentic sense of comfort about his present station, however, when domestic life sneaks into the conversation. The prospect of fatherhood is particularly enlivening. "We'd love to have a big family," he says. "We both come from big families—my parents did four, Blake's did five. A lot of people say it's crazy, but we'll only know when we're there, you know? We'll walk through that fire pretty happily, I think.

"I think you have to let go of this idea that you can be precious about everything, and let it be the abstract mess that it is," he says of the child-crammed life he's envisioning, which, unlike his own family, he hopes will include some daughters. "I'm terrified that I'm genetically predisposed to only having boys. That's frightening. By the time I was 10 years old, and I'm not exaggerating, I knew how to patch drywall. There's nothing my brothers and I didn't put a hole in. We turned our home into a Wiffle house. That's something I'm not looking forward to."

• • •

While Reynolds may be happily anticipating an unprecious mess in his home life, in his professional life he seems to be taking a more targeted tack. "In the last year, I've really had some divergent ideas as to how I used to do it and how I like to do it now," he says, digging into a tuna-tataki salad to fuel the energetic dancing scenes he's to film in a few hours, on the set of The Voices. That film, due out next year from the avant-minded Satrapi, who gained acclaim for the autobiographical Persepolis, is a clear digression for Reynolds. "It's a psychological thriller with comedic elements, which is a scary way to pitch the film," he explains. "My character is very effeminate, which has nothing to do with his sexuality, but I liked that. I felt like it was Tony Perkins for the 21st century."

The Voices will land on the heels of Queen of the Night, from Egoyan, the Oscar-nominated and similarly avant-minded director whose films include The Sweet Hereafter and Ararat. About casting Reynolds in the lead, Egoyan says, "I have a certain brand, and people were saying, 'Oh, he's a funny choice for you.' But Ryan is a fantastic, magnetic, commanding performer. I've always seen a serious actor. He's one of the few leading men with such a level of transparency and accessibility. I think this will redefine who he is as an actor."

"My sense is that he's at a stage where he can pick and choose, and he's doing some different things," says his brother Terry. "To his credit, he still gets enjoyment from it. I don't think I've ever seen him this happy. He's probably at the best place I've seen him in his life. He's content with himself."