Deadpool: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick interview

The screenwriters and executive producers of Deadpool take us through the fight to bring the movie to the screen....

It took more than six years of development for Fox’s X-Men spin-off movie Deadpool to make it to the big screen. Along the way, multiple script drafts were written and manifold Marvel Comics characters were dropped in and out. It was only when that much-talked-about test footage did the rounds to much online applause that movie finally set a release date and became a tangible reality.

Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick – the writers who’ve been on board the R-rated Ryan Reynolds superhero movie since the start – spoke to us on the phone just before the movie’s release. We spoke about all sorts, covering X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Zombieland 2 and, of course, the Merc With The Mouth himself…

When you guys were first brought into script for Deadpool it was 2010, according to the internet-so-it-must-be-true. Is that about right?

PW: 2009 is when we first got hired, and we wrote our first draft and turned it into the studio early 2010 I would say.

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RR: Yeah!

PW: We have written a draft of the script in every calendar year since. Quite honestly. Our Deadpool file is… full, to capacity.

Back at the start, it can’t have been too long since X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Was Deadpool always going to be a separate thing, or was there a time when you had to work with what that film had done?

RR: Well I think X-Men Origins: Wolverine had so, I think, mishandled the Deadpool character that – in a way – everyone was very highly motivated to get it right. Just by virtue of the fact that they’d gotten it wrong the first time. Once they acknowledged that…

So, when Ryan [Reynolds, who produced the movie as well as starring] first hired us, I think the whole mandate was ‘let’s toss everything out that you’ve seen before, and start over with an origin story again.’ Reboot it, almost instantly. And that’s what we did.

Did you ask at all, why the decisions that had been made last time had happened? Or just ignore it and move on?

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PW: Yeah, we just ignored it and moved on. It was one that, I think, the fans… didn’t love. And Ryan himself, and Fox, would all say it had been a fairly large misstep. A mischaracterisation of Deadpool. So, he [Reynolds] more than anyone wanted to do it right. And I feel that we really did get it right this time.

To go through that process from the start, was there anything that Fox said you definitely could do? Or strictly had to do? Or was it quite a free rein that you had?

RR: Well, we were really given free rein. In fact, better than free rein – we were really encouraged to go a little crazy, at the time, by Ryan. His strategy was: let’s push it as far as we can push it, and then they’ll force us to take a few things out. But the harder we push from the start, the more stuff that will get in there that we like.

Thankfully, in the long run, we had a regime at Fox that was very receptive. Both in making fun of the studio, and other studios, and to just go for a hard-R [rating] and in making really irreverent, sometimes offensive, jokes. So, we never felt like we had a bit in our mouth. We always were able to do what we wanted, pretty much from the beginning up until now.

So, how different is the first draft to the last draft then, as you’ve done a new one every year?

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PW: You know, I think if you looked at our first draft and then you watched the movie, it’s about seventy percent of what you see on the screen was in that first draft. The draft evolved over the course of time, we dipped into a PG-13 draft at one point. But ultimately, what Simon Kinberg, our producer on this project, really embraced and pushed us towards ‘we are an outlier, we can be different.’

You know, Marvel and Disney and all the other superhero movies have to stay within this box and this is an opportunity to jump outside that box. To be the apple among oranges, and really embrace it. So, in terms of us getting what we wanted and what we originally wrote, we largely stayed consistent to that.

I read somewhere that Garrison Kane and Cannonball were in a draft at some stage…

RR: Well, yes and no. Garrison Kane was in a draft. Cannonball was not. We did discuss putting Cannonball in a draft but instead we used Negasonic Teenage Warhead because we liked her name better. Um, it was an either-or situation between those two. But an earlier draft had a few characters that didn’t end up in the final draft.

One was Patch, the bartender at Sister Margaret’s. And then Angel Dust wasn’t in that draft, that early draft. There were three subordinate villains to Ajax: one was Sluggo, one was Garrison Kane, as you mentioned, and one was a guy named Wire. For budgetary reasons we had to cut all those out…

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PW: Doctor Killebrew was also in the script at one point, and for creative reasons we ended up cutting him.

Cool. And was Cable in the mix at one stage, or was that just a rumour?

RR: No, we never included Cable. Though, obviously he’d be high on a list of suspects for the sequel if there is one.

From a behind-the-scenes perspective, what changed when that test footage leaked in 2014? It looks like everything rushed forward after that…

PW: Well, everything changed really. I mean, you know, Tim Miller our director had so brilliantly crafted this test back in 2011. And, when it leaked out, it was just confirmation for everybody that this is the movie and the character that everyone is so excited to see. And there was that positive affirmation that the studio really said, you know, ‘let’s make this thing. There is a market place for this.’

And it was the fans that drove that, and it was really exciting to watch. Because if the test footage had come out, and had not gotten the response, we would have been dead in the water.

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And was that footage scripted by you two?

RR: Yeah, it was actually a version of the scene that ended up in the movie, on the freeway where Deadpool lands inside the SUV and beats up all of Ajax’s henchmen. Tim asked us to kind of rewrite a beginning a middle and an end to it, so it could feel like a complete miniature story within a minute and a half or two minutes.

So, we did alter some things and it ended with Deadpool waving to camera and saying ‘Hi Tom!’ and the Tom in question was Tom Rothman, the head of the studio at the time. We were appealing to him, to try and get him to green-light the movie. But, it was always a little miniature story that Tim wanted us to tell, so we structured it that way.

PW: What’s so amazing, is that there’s not a frame of that test that was live action. It was entirely created in a computer by Tim. He’s just a visual effects maestro and that was all mo-cap and CG, so.

You can’t even tell, can you?

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PW: Yeah, there was a time when were going to do the whole movie that way. I mean, that was early on a little bit of a mandate was ‘let’s be revolutionary, let’s make what looks like a live action but fully CG movie,’ at one point in time. And again, Tim, being the visual effects maestro, really embraced that.

And he made the movie look so grand and so big on such a small budget, you know? The aircraft carrier at the end, you know, it feels like a very big movie, but within reality it was very manageable and reasonable.

The film proper opens with Deadpool already in his suit and ready to kick some ass. What was your reasoning for jumping in there, rather than telling it in order?

RR: Well, Ryan very much pushed the idea of an origin story. But, Deadpool’s origin story is pretty dark. And we felt that, told linearly, it would be depressing and oppressive. To have to sit there and watch him get cancer and suffer through that, and then get tortured and suffer through that, and only become Deadpool later…

So, what we did, was, we weaved a current story with the past story. And the current story is much more comedic, at least in the first two thirds of the script. So, it allowed us to jump back and forth between two different tones and ultimately meld those tones into one.

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And it allows you to bring in the fourth-wall-breaking narration right from the start, this way, doesn’t it?

PW: Yeah, I mean, the fourth wall is such an important element in the Deadpool comics, and we really wanted to put that on screen. It sets the character apart that he not only speaks to camera, but he knows that he’s in a movie. So…

[Warning: from this point onwards we are going to talk about specific lines and gags from the movie a bit. If you want to go in cold, maybe leave this bit for now.]

Yeah, it works so well… Is there a line that you’re most proud of in the movie? There are a lot of zingers in there…

PW: Well, a lot of the lines, interestingly, were Ryan. He’s brilliant. ‘The studio could only afford two of you’ – Ryan adlib. That’s one of my absolute favourites. And the reunion at the end between Vanessa and Deadpool, where she says ‘It’s a face I’d be happy to sit on’ – that was in the original draft of the script and when he [Reynolds] wrote that, and I read it I said to myself ‘oh my god, this is so so funny’ and ‘oh my god, the studio is never, ever gonna make this movie.’

Those were my two thoughts, and yet it survived into the cut, so those I think were my two favourites.

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Speaking of Vanessa, her and Negasonic Teenage Warhead are both such standout characters. Not weak, in the slightest. How important was it for you to get those characters right?

PW: Well, it’s hugely important. The Vanessa-Wade-Deadpool relationship is really the heartbeat of the movie. It gives the movie the heart and the grounding a movie like this needs. You know, there’s so much outrageousness in the movie that you needed to ground it in this love story about two broken souls who found each other and then get separated.

So that was hugely, hugely important. And I feel it gives it the emotional heartbeat. And makes you care about these guys. Makes you laugh with them, and hurt with them, and do all of those things that you do. And so yeah, female characters – we just think of them as characters. And we try and write them as we would any other character. You know, as complex as people are.

Other versions of Deadpool are sometimes presented as misogynistic, or sexist… I’m guessing that was never really on the table for you?

RR: Well, he is an offensive person, and I think oftentimes he veers into territory that some people might find either irritating, or might push their buttons, or they might find just offensive in general. But, I think we really tried to make him an equal opportunities offender. He certainly says some sexist thing along the way, and probably offensive to other people in other certain groups.

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But he’s also loveable, and I think because he’s so loveable and he’s underdog and he has a lot of tragedy in his life, I think people are a little quicker to forgive the hard edges.

The music is very important to the film, as well. Are you the types to write in the songs as you go along, or do you slot them in later, or is that someone else’s job?

PW: Yeah, the music was scripted in on the page. You know, DMX was the music in the original draft… Angel For The Morning… Deadpool, his references are obscure and eclectic, and we wanted to make the music match the tone and feel of the movie. So… what others?

RR: Wham!

PW: Yeah, Wham! was in there. So, I’d say most of the tracks in there were scripted.

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RR: And then some were a little serendipitous. We originally used Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl as the song he was listening to up on the freeway, and it became too expensive. They just wanted too much for the rights to the song, so somebody thought ‘wouldn’t it be fun to use Salt-N-Pepa’s Shoop’, and so that became the song.

Every now and again we wouldn’t use the original song, we’d use something else because of either pace or budget. But is a fun soundtrack, I’d put it up there with the Guardians Of The Galaxy soundtrack. It’s a little more stealth, because there’s no mixtape on-screen during the movie, but I think it’s just as fun a soundtrack as that movie’s soundtrack was.

To just talk briefly about the wider superhero world… there are jokes in the film about Marvel Studios and about DC characters… do you have to ask permission to poke fun at those properties?

PW: Here’s what we do: we write it, and then if we don’t hear from the Fox lawyers we keep it [Laughs]. And if we do, we change it. We don’t know the rules and regulations, we just have our fun and let the lawyers sort it out. And all that survived on-screen… the lawyers must have been okay with it. Or asleep at the wheel, we’re not sure which.

Did the lawyers come back on quite a lot of stuff, or not really?

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RR: No… I think we must have… American freedom of speech laws must be pretty strong, because we never really told we couldn’t do anything, I don’t think. I think a lot of stuff falls under this large umbrella of parody, and if we wanna make fun of Sam Jackson… we’re allowed to make fun of Sam Jackson.

PW: And David Beckham!

Oh yeah. That got a massive laugh at the screening in London that I went to.

PW: I can imagine! That was probably the biggest laugh, was it, in the theatre?

Yeah!

PW: Ry[an Reynolds] was a little worried about how David [Beckham] might react, which is why he made fun of himself in the following line. He thought that would take some of the sting out of him making fun of David Beckham at that moment.

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Another thing you send up in the script is the confusing continuity of the X-Men franchise itself. Do you guys know where the film fits in with relation to the other films, or does it not really matter to you?

RR: Well, we need the X-Men franchise to catch up. But, Simon Kinberg was always the keeper of the flame. And he knows that timeline better than anyone. So, basically we’d just turn to him and say ‘is it okay?’ and then Paul had the inspired idea, at one point, to have Deadpool talk about it directly.

Oh, he’s gonna meet Professor X. Which Professor X is he going to meet? Because we had some of these same confusing conversations. We thought, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to have Professor X?’ And then we scratch our heads like, ‘wait, would that be McAvoy or Stewart at this point?’ So, Paul just go ahead and have him take that head-on, and make that joke… and that gets a pretty big laugh.

I think there are definitely little nuggets in there for people who are really familiar with the X-Men universe, hopefully not too many that it alienates a broader audience. I don’t think so, but, if you’re a hard-core fan you definitely get some Easter Egg-y type jokes.

We haven’t got a huge amount of time left here… what’s next on your slate?

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PW: Well, we’re just enjoying the process right now. This has been really fun. Again, it’s been a long long long time coming. So we’re really soaking every moment in. And, then, you know… should the movie do as well as we all hope, we’ll start thinking about a sequel to Deadpool.

RR: We’re also very close to a new film. Possibly shooting this summer. If, knock wood, it happens. Called Life, it’s a very fun science fiction, thriller, horror type movie. So we have a fun six months ahead, we hope! It all hinges on whether audiences go to see Deadpool. So, we have every finger crossed right now.

PW: I think Life has actual plans to shoot in London, I believe, this summer.

RR: So if things go well, we could be in your backyard.

Sounds great! And are you guys still involved with Zombieland 2, or is that in other hands now?

PW: Well, on the scripted side it’s in other hands, but we’re involved creatively in the sense that we’re executive producers on the project and are very intimately involved in the creative. But we’re not involved in actually putting pen to paper on that.

And is there a timeline at all for when that might go in front of cameras, or is it too early to tell?

PW: I think it might be a little too early to tell. Everyone, I think, wants to make it, it’s a just a question of making it right. So that’s the mandate right now.

Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, thank you very much!

Deadpool is in UK cinemas now.