How Ryan Reynolds Turned 'Deadpool' from a Passion Project to an Awards Darling

After spending a decade in limbo, Deadpool is the surprise awards darling of 2017

It may have taken 11 years for Ryan Reynolds to get Deadpool made, but now, in addition to sitting on a big fat hit (with a sequel on the way), he’s also racked up quite a few impressive awards nominations.

Though neither he nor the film managed to take home a trophy at the Golden Globes (Reynolds lost to Ryan Gosling for best actor in a comedy or musical and the film lost to La La Land), Deadpool earned nominations at the American Cinema Editors association’s awards, the Writer’s Guild Awards, and most recently, the Producer’s Guild Awards. That last nomination may help put it in the running to earn an Oscar nomination on Tuesday morning, which would cap the film’s rise from passion project to box office smash.

But none of it would have been possible without Reynolds, who has been more than just Deadpool‘s star, co-writer and producer — he’s also the character’s biggest champion. “It was 11 years of desperation,” he told PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle in February 2016. “I just thought that this was a character that needed to live on the big screen, and if somebody was just nuts enough to greenlight it, it could become a cultural phenomenon.”

After Deadpool’s, a.k.a. Wade Wilson’s, first appearance way back in X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009 didn’t go exactly to plan (the famously smart-mouthed character had his lips sewn shut onscreen), Reynolds spent six years with the film in “active development,” working on a script and trying to get the “disruptive” character on the big screen.

And after years of fighting with Fox, who owns the rights to the character of Deadpool, Reynolds took matters into his own hands and leaked some effects footage onto the Internet to show the studio that there was a fervent fan base for the character. “It was everything we need. The studio got proof of concept in every way,” he said. “The studio was overwhelmed with tweets, hate mail, skywriting and they said, ‘Go and make your movie.’ ”

Since fans helped him get the film made in the first place, Reynolds made sure to keep them in the loop during filming, teasing looks at Deadpool’s costume, sharing a raunchily annotated script page in the run up to the trailer’s release and meeting admirers on set.

His instincts turned out to be right: Deadpool opened at No. 1 in February 2016, surpassing pretty much everyone’s expectations for the foul-mouthed, incredibly violent anti-hero. But after pouring his heart and soul into the film for more than a decade, Reynolds wasn’t really able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. “I felt like I was on some schooner in the middle of a white squall the whole time,” he told GQ in the magazine’s Men of the Year issue of making the superhero film. “It just never stopped. When it finally ended, I had a little bit of a nervous breakdown. I literally had the shakes.”

“I went to go see a doctor because I felt like I was suffering from a neurological problem or something. And every doctor I saw said, ‘You have anxiety,’ ” he continued, explaining that the big push behind the project had been “hard” on his nervous system. “And I was banging the loudest drum for Deadpool,” he noted. “I wasn’t just trying to open it; I was trying to make a cultural phenomenon.”

Even though Deadpool and its aftermath took a lot out of him, Reynolds was able to enjoy the film’s later successes, including two MTV Movie Awards (the film was up for six) and it becoming the first live-action superhero movie to earn a best picture nomination at the Golden Globes. And even though he didn’t win the award, he still managed to win the night when he and fellow nominee Andrew Garfield shared a kiss that went viral. (After all, it’s how Wade Wilson would have reacted.)

Of course, through it all Reynolds made sure to pay tribute to the people who helped make Deadpool‘s success happen: the fans.

Still, it’s hard to imagine that there’s anyone in this world who’s a bigger Deadpool fan than Reynolds himself.

“I love that he processes any pain through comedy,” Reynolds told Cagle. “It’s something I always related to and I think it’s why I connected with the character 11 years ago. I grew up the youngest of four boys, so I wasn’t even considered a younger brother, I was a moving target. So the only way that I had to stay alive was with my mouth, because I wasn’t going to win with my fists. I feel like I’ve been rehearsing for this character my whole life.”

While it remains to be seen whether Deadpool can manage to break through into one of the major categories when Oscar nominations are announced, Reynolds is planning to use his passion to get Wade Wilson one more big role: a crossover film with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. “What we’re gonna have to do is convince Hugh,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “If anything, I’m going to need to do what I can to get my Internet friends back on board to help rally another cause down the line.”

Something tells us that if anyone can get it done, it’s Reynolds.

Related Articles