It was more than six years ago when screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland) first came on board to write a script for Deadpool, a movie that had already been in development since the early 2000s at New Line Cinema and then at 20th Century Fox. The development process in Hollywood usually chews up screenwriters like a shredder, with any given film going through any amount of scribes over the course of several years. But somehow Reese and Wernick – with the support of star/producer Ryan Reynolds and, later, director Tim Miller – managed to stay with Deadpool all the way to the finish line, with the movie finally coming out this week.
And even better, they managed to keep their vision of Marvel’s rudest, crudest, most obnoxious and possibly funniest anti-superhero intact. Deadpool is rated R (a hard R) and features all the filthy language, flagrant nudity, screaming sex and grisly violence that any diehard fan would want from an adventure starring mutant mercenary Wade Wilson. It’s unrepentant, ragged, hilarious and maybe not for everybody, but that’s kind of the point. Den of Geek spoke with Reese and Wernick by phone this week to talk about Deadpool’s determined march to the screen and where he goes from here.
Den of Geek: Do you sort of have to either pinch yourselves or kind of punch each other in the arm every day to make sure you’re not dreaming that this movie is actually coming out this Friday?
Paul Wernick: Oh my god. It’s the greatest journey and the most difficult journey we’ve ever had professionally. And to see it culminate in a movie that we’re immensely proud of, that audiences seem to be loving is just…it’s a dream come true.
Rhett Reese: I had a moment the other day where I felt I might be losing perspective. So I decided to dig up some old emails from the dark days back when we couldn’t convince the studio to make it. And we were writing these basically…we were begging, is the only way to put it. We were just desperately begging and getting stonewalled at every turn.
I thought that would help put it in perspective and make me appreciate it more. But instead, it gave me post-traumatic stress, like I started to feel the anxiety and the anger and the frustration from the past build up. And I said, “You know what? Let’s leave that behind us and let’s stick right where we are now where it’s coming out and we’re having fun.” So it’s interesting that you ask that.
We all know the how the development process goes. It’s really unique to see the same screenwriters involved for, I guess, six years now.
Paul Wernick: Six and a half.
And Tim came on four or five years ago. Ryan, of course, has always been involved. But it’s unusual to see the core group together for so long in development, isn’t it?
Rhett Reese: It really is. I mean Hollywood tends to treat screenwriters like oranges where they’ll squeeze the juice out of you and then throw you aside and grab another orange and hire another writer. The dirty little secret is that the average Hollywood film probably has five, six writers on it. To go wire to wire like this has been another dream to come true.
Was there ever a low point where it just didn’t seem like it was going to happen? Were there times where either Ryan, or you guys, or Tim kind of all had to pick each other up at different points?
Paul Wernick: Absolutely. I would say on a near daily basis there was always the fear that this was never going to happen. We were dead in the water. Rhett likes to say we took more mortal wounds than Deadpool himself in terms of this process and rolling the ball up the hill only to have the ball roll back down and crush us time after time again. Ultimately, I think that’s just because it was a very risky decision to green light a hard R Marvel superhero movie.
Rhett Reese: The toughest moment, for me, anyway — I can’t speak for Paul — was when we turned in the key draft of our script to the head of the studio at the time, who is no longer there, on the weekend The Avengers came out. The Avengers was like this ultimate stamp of approval that the public placed on superhero movies. It grossed over $200 million that weekend. And so, on Sunday night we just thought, “There’s nothing that is going to happen except on Monday morning that we’re going to get a call saying, ‘You’re greenlit! We’re making your movie!” Like, “Any Marvel script that we have that’s good that’s sitting around, we’re making.”
And instead, Monday morning came and we got the word back that because of the success of the ensemble movie and The Avengers, the studio was deciding not to make our script of Deadpool and to rethink how you might be able to introduce Deadpool in an ensemble of other superheroes. We were just floored. We were so gut shot. Again, it feels weird to talk about those times now because the clouds have parted and the sun is shining. But, man, it was tough at the time.
Paul Wernick: There was a moment in time where I called Rhett. We were at one of our lowest of lows. And I just said to him, “You know what? If we can’t get this movie made, maybe we shouldn’t be writing movies anymore.” It was just…because we were so proud of this script. We were so proud of the project. And we believed in it so much. Most filmmakers have this passion project that sits in their drawer that’s this small independent movie that they’re just so desperate to make. And this was our passion project. This was our little small independent movie that we were so desperate to get made and try and convince the powers that be to make it.
And we absolutely all picked each other up at various points. I mean oftentimes we would all be down at the same point at the same time, which would make picking each other up very hard. But yeah, it was a very bipolar experience in the sense, but a lot more lows than highs, and extreme lows. And now we’re riding hopefully what will amount to a very extreme high with the movie coming out and audiences embracing it.
How much did the script change over the years?
A lot less than you’d think. We did write a PG-13 draft at one point to try to convince the studio in a different fashion. But that draft fell away and we just resurrected the previous draft. So all those changes went out the window. We did some consolidation for budget and for just logistics and locations. And then, of course, naturally you are polishing things, and changing jokes, and trying to find the very best moments in every scene. So a little bit of that.
If you were to go back and look at our script — it leaked online many years ago — you’d find it’s actually very, very similar to what’s on the screen today; much more similar than you’d guess for that period of time. That period of time was spent a little less writing and more just trying desperately to convince someone that this was worth taking a gamble on.
Is there anything that you sort of had to fight to keep in or that you’re shocked that it made it all the way to screen?
Paul Wernick: All of it.
Rhett Reese: But, at the same time, once the studio committed, they really committed. And they committed in the end by letting the lunatics run the asylum. I mean truly it was like (Fox president) Jim Gianopulos took us out into the parking lot at Fox as teenagers and handed us the keys to the sports car and said, “I don’t care how fast you go. Ram it into a wall if you want. Whatever you want.” We got treated that way in the last year and a half. Once they said yes, they were all in.
(The following section contains spoilers for the end of Deadpool — highlight to read)
There’s an Easter egg in the finale. I’m not going to say what it is. It’s the kind of thing that Marvel fans would catch. Did you have to get any kind of special permission to include that?
Rhett Reese: You mean Ferris Bueller? (note: There is a post-credits homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
No, the helicarrier that they fight on in the shipyard.
Rhett Reese: Oh, the helicarrier. I’m sorry. Well, in honesty, that’s not a helicarrier. We wanted it to be a helicarrier and there were rights issues. So the artist who was designing it had to go back and redesign it to make it look a little bit more like a regular aircraft carrier. It was just something Marvel wouldn’t let us use.
A number of us thought it looked like a helicarrier and we were a little surprised to actually see that in there. We thought it was some sort of little detente between the studios or something like that.
Rhett Reese: Yeah. I mean sometimes you have to get a little creative to just get around the lawyering. When they redesigned it and they showed it, I think the general thought was, “OK. It doesn’t look exactly like the helicarrier.” It is a fun playground for an action scene, so I’m glad we used it.
Were there any other X-Men or other characters that kind of dropped off along the way that you thought about using besides Colossus and Negasonic?
Rhett Reese: Not any other X-Men. But there were other villains. The bartender in Sister Margaret’s was named Patch. She was in there. She came out. And then four villains actually came out. One was Dr. Killebrew, who was Ajax’s boss. We shot scenes with him and they ultimately came out just to make the story a little bit more efficient. And then there were three other minor villains — Garrison Kane, Sluggo, and Wire were all consolidated and combined into Angel Dust, Gina Carano’s character, as a means of saving money, frankly.
So those were the big ones that fell out. We never had an X-Man in there we wanted that we didn’t get. But we were also careful not to ask for too many because they’re very protective of that franchise and we figured once we got them to commit to two, we were safe.
Where does the line sort of blur as you are writing this between the character and Ryan Reynolds? How did having him be such an integral part of it affect how the character ultimately developed?
Paul Wernick: Ryan is really the genius behind this movie. He’s been on it for 11+ years. He’s a huge fan of the comics. He’s a protector of the comics, and really, our North Star up in the sky every step of the way, whether that was writing the script, breaking the story, bringing it to life, elevating the material, adlibbing on set. He, more than anyone else, is the heartbeat of this movie, and he has been for a long, long time. It has been the ultimate pleasure to work with him because he makes us look great. I mean he elevates our work and just makes us look better.
Rhett Reese: And it also bears mentioning that he hired both us and Tim Miller, essentially. The studio hired us, but it was Ryan who handpicked both us and Tim. So he put the creative team together. I think in us he found guys who he just felt understood the voice along with him, and in Tim he found someone who he just knew who could bring us thrillingly to life.
If all goes well and this comes out and you have a big hit, do you guys have an idea for Deadpool 2?
Paul Wernick: We absolutely do. We’d have to kill you if we told you. But, again, we have been living in this world for so long. Yes. We have some ideas. The cool thing is, you know, the fans really brought this project to the big screen by getting behind the leaked footage and really telling the studio that they loved it and have to make this movie. And they’ll be the reason we make a sequel, if the fans show up for this thing and they love the movie. Then on February 12th we’ll be, my guess, off to the races and staring to put pen to paper on the next one.
Ryan said this week he’d really like to see X-Force happen. I know that’s been in development. Are you guys involved in that in any way or do you think that could sort of fold over into a Deadpool 2?
Rhett Reese: That’s a really good question. I think it’s more a question of release dates and schedule than anything. I think the studio’s got to make some hard choices. If they are going to make an X-Force, do they make it along with a Deadpool 2? Do they have it come out after? Do they have it come out before? There’s some strategy that needs to be discussed. I think they are interested, certainly. They already had an X Force script written a while back. And I think, for whatever reason, the decided not to use it. So they’ll probably be starting over with regards to that.
But Simon Kinberg is the one who we rely on to keep an eye on the larger universe. He’s the keeper of the X-Men universe over at Fox. So he, better than anyone, has an understanding of timelines, the X-Men universe, Deadpool, how it’s going to fit in, X-Force, how that’s going to fit in, Fantastic Four if it has a future, how that will fit in. So I think we just generally call Simon on questions like that. It will probably become very clear in the next month or two. If this movie succeeds it will become pretty clear what release dates they’re shooting for, what scripts they want written, and how they want the movies to dovetail into one another.
Paul Wernick: You look at the Marvel universe and there were two Iron Man movies before there was an Avengers. Again, not knowing exactly what the grand plan is, that would be our hope.
Do you have any sense that Deadpool would cross over into the larger universe more at some point down the line?
Rhett Reese: Well, there are timelines involved, but I mean the biggest question is just tone. As a standalone franchise, the X-Men franchise is significantly more serious than what we’re doing…well, everybody is more serious than what we’re doing. But it’s, I think, a little easier to take X-Men and put them into Deadpool’s crazy world than it is to take Deadpool and drop him into a serious movie, you know, where he’s winking at the camera and stuff. We’ll see.
I think that these are problems that can be solved and probably will be solved by someone. But only time will tell. And my guess is probably it will be parallel tracks a little longer before the tracks converge.
If you write a Deadpool movie that’s got Cable involved, do you guys have an idea in your head who you would love to see play Cable?
Paul Wernick: Cable…you’re talking about Time Warner or DirecTV?
Rhett Reese: No, DirecTV is not cable.
Paul Wernick: What’s another cable company?
Rhett Reese: Cox Communications.
Paul Wernick: Cox Communications or Comcast?
Rhett Reese: I think you are onto something. Clearly Cable is a character that’s not going to stay out of the Deadpool universe for too much longer. I mean it’s a character everyone loves. Whether he’s in the sequel or whether he’s in an X Force thing still remains to be determined. In terms of who would play that part, I think it’s very much dependent on things like schedule, who’s available. We don’t necessarily write with actors in our minds because we just know from previous experience that you can write to a voice and if that person’s not in your movie, you’re screwed.
Paul Wernick: We do have a voice in our head.
Rhett Reese: We are thinking about a person a little bit. But, again, it’s sort of an archetype as opposed to writing that particular actor’s cadence and things like that. We’re just not allowed to say who it is yet.
If I can ask you one completely different question before we go, are you writing Zombieland 2? Is that still happening?
Paul Wernick: We’re not writing it. We’re executive producers on the project. We’re intimately involved in the creative, but we’re not putting pen to paper. The fans are desperate for a sequel to that. Hopefully, if all things go well we can give it to them.
Deadpool is out in theaters on Friday (February 12).