Interview: Paul Wernick And Rhett Reese Are The Real Heroes Of 'Deadpool'

Screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese are feeling good. After years and years of waiting, the screenwriting duo is finally seeing Deadpool reach the big screen. The screenwriters behind Zombieland have been working on the profane, sweet and funny Marvel character for a long time, and not only did the movie get made, it's also doing well with fans and critics.

So, for a variety of reasons, Wernick and Reese have plenty to be feeling good about.

Did I also mention the screenwriters are already working on Deadpool 2? We'll see if that sequel comes to fruition, but taking into account the early reviews, the quality of the film, and strong tracking, there's a good chance we'll see more of Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) in the coming years.

Here's what Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese had to say about the development process on Deadpool, the challenge of writing another origin story, and more:

It's rare to see a superhero movie with so many interior and walk-and-talk scenes. Because the character work is so strong, it feels like that's all the spectacle you need.

Wernick: Thank you. A lot of that was because of the budget. We couldn't have superheroes taking off, alien invasions, and all that stuff. [Laughs.] We just didn't have the money to do it. Necessity was the mother of invention, and it really allowed us to dive deep into the characters and have some fun with that.

It sounds like you both benefited from the budget restrictions. 

Reese: It certainly was [the case]. The sad thing is, there was even more fun stuff that didn't make it due to budget, but that's life. There's not a single Hollywood movie that's ever been filmed where the filmmakers didn't make the budget. For instance, we had three subordinate villains under Ajax, and we ultimately had to combine those villains into one — Angel Dust. In Angel Dust, I think we found this amazing physicality in Gina Carano. She crushes it. I don't think we'd trade her battle with Colossus for any of those characters. Sometimes the budget means you have to make a new choice, and you fall in love with the new choice.

Plus, that fight scene is a nice breather from seeing hundreds of extras running or cities exploding.

Reese: And yet it looks big. We got the helicarrier in the background.

Wernick: Our director, Tim Miller, is a visual-effects genius and brought it all to life in such a way that makes it feel big. You kind of get the best of both worlds: the character stuff we had to do and wanted to do, because of budget, and you have what feels like a cool, big action scene at the end. It's awesome. [Laughs.] Of course I say that, but we have such a passion for it. It's just so cool to see it come alive.

How many years did you both work on Deadpool?

Wernick: Since 2009, so going on seven calendar years. We had at least one draft written and dated each of the last seven years, from 2009 on. We have pushed the ball up the hill for all these years, and we had that ball continue to roll back and crush us, year after year. You know, it's been a long, long process.

We were told "no" very many times. It was just the perseverance of Rhett, myself, Tim, and Ryan to just say, "We're not taking no for an answer. We're making this movie." A lot of people don't know this, but Rhett and I said, "If we can't get this movie made, maybe we shouldn't write screenplays anymore." If the studio system doesn't make a movie like this... Again, it was a big risk for them to make a movie like this, but we just believed in it so much. We never took no for an answer.

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On other projects, have you ever considered walking away from screenwriting?

Reese: That was the first time we hit that particular low. I mean, it was a low low. This movie has come back from more mortal wounds than Deadpool himself. It finally just took the right combination of producers and executives willing to take the risk. Jim Gianopulos, Stacey Snider, and Simon Kingberg was the magical group that finally saw the potential in it, and they were willing to take a chance on a movie that didn't fit into the larger X-Men universe, by the virtue of its tone and its rating.

There were certainly a lot of elements of Deadpool that don't mesh with the Marvel universe, DC universe, or the X-Men universe. It just took vision to say, "Who cares if it doesn't fit? Let's make it. We'll figure out a way to cross over with Colossus, the X-mansion, and other characters." We let Deadpool be the lunatic and the others be the straight man, and we found that exciting.

Wernick: It's interesting, because I don't think this fits in a box studios are so used to fitting movies in, and I think that's what's going to make it the success it's hopefully going to become. It is so different, an apple to the oranges. Some of the superhero movies are feeling a little bit the same and they've become dark...

Reese: Every universe sets its own tone, so some are dark and some are light. You got a movie like Ant-Man, which almost feels like a family movie, and then Guardians of the Galaxy, an edgy but light movie for whole family. Then you have The Dark Knight movies, which are very dark. This is its own thing, its own beast. I think it enlivens the genre all the more.

What was your original pitch to Fox? 

Wernick: Well, it's the Deadpool you see onscreen, but the story was very different; it wasn't an origin story. We came in feeling like people have seen the origin story so much. Audiences had been introduced to Deadpool in the X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie, but we're going to reinvent him and not start at the beginning. Ryan, God bless him, kept the Deadpool flame going longer than we have. He's been on this project for more than a decade. Ryan said, "The essence of the character is how he became who he became. The cancer and the tragedy of his life is what he hides with humor." We opened our eyes to this idea you really need to know where Deadpool comes from and how he got here. It was the right call, because that decision really helped unlock the character for us. Ryan really is the voice of Deadpool. He bares and embraces that voice. Ryan trusted us enough to go play in our sandbox for a bit.

Was there ever a discussion about sticking with the Deadpool we saw in X-Men Origins: Wolverine?

Reese: Well, fuck no [Laughs]. After Origins, everyone looked in the mirror and said, "We're either going to do this right or not at all."

Wernick: That started with Ryan. You know, he was not proud of the direction... You'd probably have to ask him directly, but I think it's pretty well known he's not proud of the direction Fox took Deadpool in that film. The audience responded in such a way that confirmed his unhappiness. This really was a chance for us to do it right. We'll soon find out, but I think we did the character justice.

Reese: There was a moment in the movie we shot, which didn't make the final cut, where Ryan takes that Deadpool X-Men Origins Wolverine action figure and holds it up, after he praises Wham! and the album cover, he throws the action figure on the ground and says, "And this was the biggest piece of shit in the history of Earth." We begged, begged to have that stay in the movie. Ultimately, I think, for karma, it wasn't the best idea to bash another movie. You know, there were a lot of people that worked hard on that movie, and just as much on this one. I think everyone of us was ready to take shots — not at the movie, because it has a lot of good qualities — but at that particular portrayal of Deadpool. I don't think anyone on Earth thought that worked.

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Were there any other scenes or lines that didn't make it into the film?

Wernick: I think what was in the script and in our head is on the screen, which is great. There were little moments here and there we miss, but overall, we couldn't be happier with how well it turned out.

A part of the challenge of origin stories is that most of the time audiences just want to get the hero in the suit. The structure of this origin story plays with the timeline, so it's different, but did you ever have conversations about how long you could make audiences wait to see Deadpool?

Reese: You always want to balance the origin story and tragedy with the zaniness of Deadpool. Once we committed to an origin story, we thought the best way to do that was to do a nonlinear narrative, bouncing back between the past and the present. The present only takes place over the course of 24 hours, with Deadpool trying to get revenge and save his girl. That's all very zany and irreverent, and while the past is irreverent, it's much more laden with pain, suffering, and loss. We used that dual narrative to keep the tone balanced, to keep people from finding it too serious for too long or too silly for too long. I think bouncing back and forth was how we solved that particular challenge.

[Spoilers for Deadpool ahead.]

Forgive me, I might be butchering the line, but when Vanessa says, "That's a face I would be happy to sit on," that really strikes the tone you're talking about. Was that line in one of the earlier drafts?

Wernick: It's so funny you mention that, because I've talked about it before. Rhett wrote that line. When I was home reading that scene, I said, "Oh my God, big studio 20th Century Fox is never, never ever going to make this movie." I think it's brilliant, maybe my favorite line in the movie, but I just thought, "We're done." [Laughs.]

Reese: [Laughs.] You were right for about five years!

Wernick: Really, they got it. Here we are and there's the line and the 20th Century Fox logo. They took the jump in the waters with us. We must say, Fox, despite not making it for all these years, ultimately saying yes with this group of executive, was a huge, huge risk. They're releasing an R-rated movie where the heroine says, "It's a face I'd be happy to sit on." Holy shit. It almost doesn't feel real.

Reese: [Laughs.] No, it doesn't.

Wernick: For all rights, they never should've done this movie. [Laughs.] What were they thinking?

[Spoilers over.]

Lastly, what kind of work went into making Vanessa not feel like another damsel in distress?

Reese: Ultimately, we knew she was going to be captured by our villain and our hero would have to save her, and that's about as cliche and non-feminist of an idea you can get; it's been done a million times. We felt like she darn well better kick ass in every other moment in the script, because that [cliche] is really lame. It really challenged us to write that character as fun as we could.

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Deadpool is now in theaters.