Ryan Reynolds is a serious businessman. Seriously.
On his birthday, revisit our interview with the A-list actor, budding businessman and cocktail of Canadian charisma...
3 parts actor. 2 parts businessman. 1 part quipster. Shake up these rarefied ingredients in the Hollywood hubbub, strain through several layers of sarcasm and extra-dry wit, and garnish with one, two or even three olives. Hell, throw in the whole jar — because too much is still never enough for the freewheeling, wisecracking cocktail of Canadian charisma that is Ryan Reynolds…
Behind the bar, the phone pings again. It’s Thursday in a hot New York, and that’s the third apology text from Ryan Reynolds. He’s running late, but understandably so — it’s a busy time for the actor. His brother is in town, visiting from Canada. He’s just wrapped back-to-back production on his next three films. And, any minute now, his wife — fellow actor Blake Lively — could call with news that he’s about to become a father for the third time.
Frankly, it’s a miracle he’s made time for us. Indeed, when Reynolds bursts through the door — all handshakes and hurried handsomeness — he eyes the optics before slipping into our booth. With the week he’s having, you could hardly judge the actor for ordering a drink. But he holds off — despite owning one of the best bottles at the bar.
Last February, fuelled by spur-of-the-moment passion and several Vancouver-strength Negronis, Reynolds bought Portland-Oregon-based Aviation American Gin. He discovered the spirit while shooting a film in Canada, and immediately reached out to the owners. A deal was struck, Reynolds got his name on the letterhead, and the actor’s sheer enthusiasm and considerable celebrity clout have transformed Aviation into one of the most recognised gin brands in the States.
But it’s been a steep, spirited learning curve. From distribution and budget control to marketing and brand collaborations, Reynolds has poured himself a whole new résumé of skills as owner and creative director of the liquor brand. So if, like us, you’re wondering just what it takes for a high-flying A-lister to reinvent themselves as a boardroom big shot, wet your whistle with Ryan Reynolds’ five indispensable, unpredictable — and regularly rambling rules of business.
Rule 1: Know your stuff. And, if you don’t know your stuff, learn it.
There are no half measures when it comes to Aviation Gin, says Reynolds. So, when he acquired the company, he vowed to be more than a celebrity figurehead.
“I’m really involved!” says Reynolds, leaning forward earnestly. “I mean, I’m not remotely involved in production of the gin, because I know nothing about distilling. But I’m there for every other aspect of the business, because I really love this gin. I love it more than any other liquid in the world — except maybe water…”
The actor’s devotion does seem to extend beyond the dollars. But, when Reynolds first reached out to Aviation, did he really expect to be suiting up for global pitch meetings and poring over quarterly marketing budgets?
“I don’t really know,” he laughs, fingers drumming on the tabletop. “I mean, nothing as lofty as buying a business had ever even occurred to me before. I just wanted to claim I could own a gin company! And, in a world where deals aren’t typically easy to strike, it actually was relatively easy.”
After the deal was sealed, a celebratory bottle was opened and Reynolds was thrown into the deep end. Before acting, the 42-year-old’s most serious job had been as a forklift driver for Safeway in Vancouver — “25th and Oak store! They’ll remember me!” — so big-money business meetings were a new beast.
“I don’t find the meetings that nerve-wracking,” shrugs Reynolds. “Because you don’t get nervous for stuff if you go in honestly. You get nervous if you’re a little shifty about it. But I go in as naked as the day I was born. If I don’t know something, I’m honest about that. If they’re talking about some aspect of distribution that I’m missing, I’ll just ask them to break it down for me. That’s how we learn. That’s the most valuable part of this.”
That’s not to say that Reynolds hasn’t put his own quick-witted, light-hearted spin on the office experience. Just take his long-winded out-of-office emails; six paragraph rants and rambles that touch on the actor’s strained relationship with his late father, the date of Tom Cruise’s birthday, Sesame Street, UFOs and an imaginary secretary named Bruce. He frequently updates these automatic replies, and so many people emailed Ryan@AviationGin.com last year that the brand’s servers crashed.
“They’re like diary entries,” laughs Reynolds, “and I intentionally make them gratuitous. I love doing that. Some of them are like actual writing assignments.”
And Reynolds doesn’t like writing. It’s surprising, considering how many writing credits he has on recent films, but the actor has a fierce dislike for putting pen to paper — and that’s putting it mildly.
“I fucking hate writing,” he says — a little less mildly. “It’s the worst. Every time I sit in front of a blank screen, watching that flashing cursor, it’s terrible. I mean, it’s an uptown problem, but it’s a terrible feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy writing when I’m in the middle of it, I just absolutely loathe starting. Ugh, it’s the worst.
“Sometimes,” he adds, producing a bottle of Aviation with a smile, “you just have to lap up a drink or two to get going. Yep, this helps me slide right into what I need to write…”
Rule 2: Never underestimate the importance of a strong handshake.
Reynolds is a tight-gripped advocate of the strong business handshake. In fact, he believes that the greeting is an indicator of the truth and trust that flows through the drinks industry.
“There’s a tremendous amount of integrity in the liquor business — certainly more so than in Hollywood. A handshake really means something to these people. Their word is their bond. And so I’m constantly flying around, shaking these hands and meeting these people — talking about distribution and other unbelievably boring things. It can be a giant pain in the ass.”
As he shifts and shuffles in the booth, it’s difficult to imagine Reynolds in a business environment. Quick-witted, fast-talking and overflowing with energy, his is far too big a personality to stuff into a corner office. And he hardly looks like your average executive or entrepreneur — with those movie star looks and a muscled physique that would put even the strongest of handshakes to shame.
“I do get bored of the gym,” he laughs. “I enjoy the discipline of it, chasing yourself and becoming better than you were before, but I’m not one of those guys who counts calories all day. My main problem on a movie is actually remembering to eat.”
On set, Reynolds is indeed renowned for his focus and work ethic. Such is his commitment to shooting schedules that he’s even swiftly conquered many of his fears — including those of heights and confined spaces — to ensure the cameras keep rolling. But, although adept at learning skills and stunts, the actor still has on-set disaster stories.
“So I once did a movie with Denzel Washington,” says a reddening Reynolds, “who is in my top five actors of all time. And there was this stunt-driving scene…”
He pauses to put his head in his hands.
“So firstly, you have to know that I was shocked at the level of driving that they let me do on this movie. Granted, I did two months of precision driving training but, with today’s levels of safety standards, I don’t think they’d let you do half of that stuff now.”
Three days into filming Safe House, Reynolds relays, he was behind the wheel and Washington, who was playing an international criminal, had cut his way out of the boot and was strangling him.
“So we’re all over the road,” the actor laughs, hands on an imaginary wheel, “and we’re spinning out of control. If I’m honest, it really was pretty out of control. And I end up clocking Denzel in his eye. I froze. But his first question wasn’t, as I suspected, ‘How do I turn this young man into a liquid?’, but rather ‘How do we continue to shoot with my face like this?’
“So, by this point,” Reynolds continues, sinking ever lower down, “I’m literally dying inside. We rejigged the cameras, shot it from the other side and, would you believe, I hit him again — but this time in the other eye. Just so, you know, it matched.
“And that was probably the most dangerous moment of my career so far — putting Denzel Washington’s face in danger. The guy can take a hit like a champ, though. Shrugged it off like nothing happened.”
Rule 3: Learn the art of conflict resolution.
Forget punching Denzel Washington in the face — prickly office politics are the real menace of the workplace. And Ryan Reynolds, for all his warmth and good nature, seems to have found himself on more contentious Hollywood sets than he deserves during his career. But he’s well-equipped to deal with confrontation as a result. This is a man, lest we forget, who had the unenviable daily task of calming down Wesley Snipes on Blade: Trinity, was strong-armed into butchering his beloved Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and continually clashed with the director of Green Lantern.
“Hollywood sets, at the end of the day, are all about conflict resolution,” Reynolds reasons. “Everyone’s got different issues that they’re having to sort through, and you have to help everyone be the best they can possibly be.”
“I’ve recently started producing stuff,” he adds, absent-mindedly playing with the gin bottle, “and that’s more challenging, because you’re not only writing and acting. You’re really managing a machine. You begin to realise what it takes to resolve all sorts of conflicts.”
Reynolds’ best conflicts are his fake feuds. Be it the loving digs at his wife on social media or the phony Aviation reviews online, dreamt-up disputes have become the actor’s bread-and-butter — and his most popular ‘rivalry’ is with fellow actor Hugh Jackman. Indeed, as soon as Reynolds spots the Jackman issue of Gentleman’s Journal in a pile of past editions, he grabs it, conjures a Sharpie out of nowhere, and sets to work.
“Ah Hugh! You handsome devil,” Reynolds says, already two devil horns in. “Hugh’s actually a friend of mine. Earlier this year, we swip-swapped his coffee company for my gin company and made adverts for each other. I love stuff like that.”
He really does. In fact, Reynolds only truly found his voice through social media. Back in 2016, the actor’s Instagram-driven approach to marketing the whip-smart, foul-mouthed, low-budget Deadpool not only showed us his true colours — but also changed the way Hollywood would advertise forever.
Today, Reynolds is nudging 32 million followers on Instagram. “It’s a good chunk,” he nods, finishing up a goatee on Jackman, “and I could just be so wildly irresponsible with that. But I’d never get into an actual bitter war of words on social media. Sure, it’s a chance to spew a bit of acerbic bile and wit, but that’s got to have diminishing returns, right?”
Instead, the actor chiefly uses social media to promote his films — raising awareness of new titles by flooding his feeds with surprise appearances, harebrained stunts, bizarre skits and sketches. One of Reynolds’ best-received, recurring ideas sees a fake twin brother named Gordon interview (read: berate) the actor about his gin, his films and his family.
“I come up with a lot of it myself,” Reynolds laughs, explaining how he dreamt up one particular idea on the Deadpool 2 promotional circuit. While in South Korea, the actor took a break from junkets and photocalls to slip on a sequinned cape and unicorn mask, and showed up on kooky national karaoke show, King of Mask Singer. He sang ‘Tomorrow’ from Annie. Impossibly, it’s stranger than it sounds.
“I just asked the question: What’s something that nobody’s done there?” he smiles. “What would the biggest Korean celebrity do? By the way, if you watch it, I’m actually terrified. I’d never sang live before in my life, except for maybe a joke.
“I have such an admiration for people who sing,” Reynolds adds, jabbing a thumb at Jackman’s Sharpie-doodled face. ”I wish I could sing.”
Rule 4: True strength comes from business partnerships.
Fake feuds aside, Reynolds also loves a good honest collaboration. In a suitably high-flying partnership, the actor joined forces with Sir Richard Branson last year — revealing, in a video where he gets tongue-tied over business acronyms including ROI, KPI and EPS, that Virgin Atlantic now stocks Aviation Gin.
“I like collaborating,” says Reynolds. “These people have tremendous brand equity to share with you — and you’re sharing your fledgling brand equity with them.”
But it doesn’t stop at the boardroom. Reynolds’ endless entertainment contacts have also seen him sell and sneak Aviation Gin into a number of films. The bottle even popped up, almost by chance, in A Simple Favour — a 2018 mystery thriller starring Reynolds’ wife. “At that time, I didn’t even own it,” the actor implores, pointing at the bottle. “I was just gunning to own it. I wish I was such a skilled tactician that I could think that far in advance.”
Reynolds’ next release, 6 Underground, is his inaugural Netflix film and Aviation’s first taste of official, paid product placement. His other recently wrapped projects include The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, a sequel to the Samuel L. Jackson buddy comedy, and action flick Free Guy, in which Reynolds stars as a bank teller shocked to discover that he is a non-playable background character in a Grand Theft Auto-style video game.
“I’m also a writer and producer on Free Guy,” the actor reveals, “and we landed two giant cameos for the movie. I’m really excited about them.”
Reynolds is no stranger to a cameo. If you caught Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw, the testosterone-fuelled punch-fest of the summer, you’ll have spotted the actor stealing a couple of scenes from Dwayne Johnson.
“That cameo was a favour for Dwayne,” says Reynolds. “Here’s the thing about cameos: they’re not done that much, and I think they should be. I really believe in them.”
The actor has the uncredited credits to back that up. From Ted to A Million Ways to Die in the West, Reynolds has cameoed countless times — even making a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in Taylor Swift’s latest music video. So, when — “on a complete Hail Mary lark” — he offered Brad Pitt a cameo in Deadpool 2, Reynolds was ecstatic when his fellow actor agreed.
“He said yes!” cries Reynolds. “To a character who appears in just seven frames of footage, has no lines, and is invisible! I just remember thinking then, if anyone ever asks me for a cameo, there is no way in hell — unless I’m legally dead — that I will say no. Because I’m sure there’s some sort of film karma with cameos.”
And, he says of his latest cameo, you never say no to Dwayne Johnson. “He’s just an absolute movie star machine,” lauds Reynolds, wide-eyed. “I still get so starstruck around him. It was the same with Brad — I had trouble forming a sentence around that guy. And I met Jay-Z once, and all I did was stutter.
“I’d be sad if I ever got jaded about that feeling,” the actor adds, “if I saw someone I adored and just shrugged it off. That’s when I’d want to hang it up.”
Rule 5: There’s never an excuse not to be polite.
When brokering a business deal, discretion and calm composure are key. Ryan Reynolds is not famed for either. In fact, compared to his fellow Canadians, Reynolds’ sensibilities are practically — dare we say it? — American.
“Yeah,” Reynolds smiles slowly, “Canadians are not usually known for their compound swear words. But I’m pretty polite! I don’t think the two things are mutually exclusive.”
He might be right. The actor, who supports Make-A-Wish and the Michael J. Fox Foundation, is undoubtedly a nice guy despite the bravado and barbs. But soft-hearted streaks run in the family; the actor’s father was a Canadian Mountie, and his brother also walks the thin blue line of the law.
“I find what my brother does fascinating,” says Reynolds. “I’ve been on ride alongs with him a couple of times — and it is shocking! One particular time, he pulled somebody over, one thing led to another and suddenly everyone was out of their cars. Of course, I popped my head out of the window.
“And this inebriated guy they had pulled recognised me — he just didn’t know from where. But he soon remembered. Apparently I was a rat, some guy they’d seen at a party who’d snitched on him — so I obviously went along with this. I had been at that kegger! I had snitched!
“For some reason, I was never invited on a ride along after that. Something about being a liability…”
Reynolds may have been a little wilder in his youth, but he feels more responsible as the years tick by. Maybe it’s his age, maybe it was becoming a father — he’s not sure.
“But I won’t just throw out any acerbic chestnut that comes to mind anymore,“ he says. “Because, today, we’re living in a different era, and you have to be a bit more judicious. When you say something, you must think: is anyone going to be hurt by that? I try to do that a little more.”
But the actor can’t resist a quip when it comes to certain topics. Being named ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ by People Magazine, for example.
“Oh, yes sir. That matters,” the actor says with raised eyebrows, before laughing. “You have to take stuff like that at face value — it’s pretty much nonsense. And I remember that magazine cover coming out on a really weird night for me, when I felt like the least sexy human being alive. But they’re just silly fleeting things that nobody remembers.”
That’s as may be. But pair that enviable epithet with a personality this bent on people-pleasing and politeness, and Ryan Reynolds starts looking like one of the nicest guys around. In fact, even as we’re calling time on our bar chat, the actor still can’t help but apologise for being a little late.
“I feel like I’m late if I’m not fifteen minutes early,” he laughs. “And I realise that I’m saying that on a day where I’m like a full 45 minutes late. But I get super stressed if I’m late for anything. I’m still calming myself down now.”
I slide the bottle back across the table. I think it’s time for that drink.
This article was taken from the Summer 2019 issue of Gentleman’s Journal. For more acting interviews, here’s why Hugh Jackman can do it all…
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