There are a few twists embedded throughout The Hitman's Bodyguard, the explosion-loaded buddy comedy starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds that sees release next Friday, August 11—murderous double-crossings, unfortunate coincidences, and so on. But the film's biggest twist took place off the screen: Specifically, it originally wasn't intended to be a comedy at all.
"Up until eight weeks before shooting, the script was fairly serious," Reynolds offers up during a mid-April conversation with the pair in a Manhattan hotel. Once Reynolds and Jackson were locked in for the Patrick Hughes-directed film about a hitman and a, well, bodyguard teaming up to put a notorious war criminal away for good, a "frantic" two-week script rewrite followed to seize on the pair's potential for crackling chemistry. For his part, Reynolds insists that the rewrites were for the best: "I don't think this movie would work if it was serious."
And he's right: Reynolds and Jackson's chemistry are undeniably the juice that keeps The Hitman's Daughter loose, an easy bonhomie that smacks of the Lethal Weapon franchise, minus the Mel Gibson (thank God). We talked to the pair about getting along, action movies, the nature of success in Hollywood, and Manchester by the Sea (really).
VICE: This movie felt like a lot of action comedies I grew up with.
Samuel L. Jackson: Action comedies—who did that?
Ryan Reynolds: Laurel and Hardy did the first one.
Jackson: Oh, those guys!
Lethal Weapon came to mind—Sam, you were in National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon in the 90s.
Reynolds: We both did Lampoon movies in the 90s. Van Wilder.
Jackson: Oh, did you?
What was your perception of action films growing up?
My perception of action films was at least 20 years before he [ gestures toward Ryan Reynolds] was in his first action film—Errol Flynn swinging from ship to ship, Robin Hood, John Wayne, war movies, cowboy movies, that kind of shit. When movies started to be defined as action movies—Die Hard, The Terminator—he was just a kid.
Reynolds: My earliest perception of action movies was my brother running around with a camcorder trying to stab me. That was the first action movie that I was in, and it always had the same ending: me crying and a fucking ambulance showing up. I was born in 1976, so I watched all the 80s films— Porky's and other things that I shouldn't have been watching. Then I moved right on to the Die Hard movies, and 48 Hours.
Jackson: That's when action comedies became a thing. At one point, it was either one thing or the other.
Reynolds: In 48 Hours, you had a blend, because it wasn't as funny as most people remember. I just watched it again a little while ago, and I was like, Whoa, some of this is really heavy. Eddie's a freaking comedic genius, and Nolte can hold his own in that regard as well. That was the first real buddy action comedy—and it got intense after that.
Another movie The Hitman's Bodyguard reminded me of in structure is The Last Boy Scout. Those types of action comedies—especially Shane Black's movies—didn't require as much physicality as action films do now.
Jackson: I was actually in the film that had Shane's first big script, The Long Kiss Goodnight, with Geena Davis. She was your first kick-ass woman, but she was fucking brutal. They scaled that film back a lot—it was really violent, and we were really funny. We were on the road—me and Geena fighting all these people. It was great.
I thought those movies were violent when I was younger, but when I watch a movie like this now, I think, Wow, this is really violent.
A little bit. I mean, it's not The Raid.
Reynolds: We weren't just bathing in blood all day. I don't think they had the budget to do the kind of stuff that you can see in huge movies. We do what the budget allows, and necessity is the mother of invention—so you make something a little more analog, and in doing that it's more visceral and edge of your seat. It's good stuff.
Jackson: The uniqueness to the stuff that's not action is that you have two guys that have very interesting jobs—he protects people, and I kill people. But most of our conversations are about relationships and how you relate to women. You're like, What the fuck do they know about all that? As it turns out, one of us knows a lot, and the other is learning a lot.
Both of your characters are in holding patterns of sorts when it comes to their careers. Have there been periods in your own careers where you've found yourself in similar situations?
Reynolds: I can't speak for him because he's the hardest working man in show business, but Hollywood is like a stock market—you're always up and down and all around. With age, you start to invest less in the outcome of that—but, yeah, sure, I've been there lots of times. I've got lots of those in my future, too.
Jackson: I don't think about that. It's not my fault—it's always their fault [Laughs]. I tell them what to do, they don't do it.
The chemistry between the two of you is readily apparent in this film. That's not always a guarantee.
I like Ryan's movies, and I've done other movies—you can pick one or two that you like of mine, which is fine [laughs]. We both have a lopsided sense of humor in terms of what we want to present to an audience. We're both very aware of the kind of people that watch our movies and what they expect. If people get out of the way and let us do what we do, we can fix fucked up shit that's on the page, and they'll look like superstars if they get out of the way. And that's almost what they did—they let us get in the car and do what we needed to do to make this particular thing work. I know what I want to see when I go to see a movie like this, and so does he—and we did that.
Are there any recent films like this that you guys have seen that you really liked?
Reynolds: Like this movie? I don't know—it's a bit of a throwback, so I can't think of one.
I thought about John Wick a lot while I was watching this, but maybe that was because of all the headshots.
Jackson: That's the one thing that I love about John Wick—you shoot him in the face, you don't have to worry about him coming back. I hate when you shoot some guy, you turn your back, and they're going [makes gun noise]. Fuck that.
Reynolds: I'm working with [John Wick director David Leitch] right now [on Deadpool 2], so I'm wondering how many people we're going to be shooting in the face.
Jackson: Shoot them all in the face. If you don't shoot them in the face, they'll be back.
Sam, in 2004 you told an interviewer that you still get scripts sent to you resembling Pulp Fiction. Do either of you get nervous about being pigeonholed when choosing projects?
Reynolds: I'm not speaking for Sam, but I think some of the best movie stars in the world are guys who stay in their lane. Sam said earlier that he knows what his audience expects from him, and he's delivering that—and that's something that you can't underestimate enough. You can lose an audience if you start saying, "Now I really want to do something that is just for me, but on a massive scale." That's a dangerous mix.
Jackson: It's way too narcissistic. "They need to see this side of me."
Reynolds: Exactly. No one gives a shit. I mean, what you're asking about is the most uptown problem I've ever heard—where someone's like, "God, I hope I don't get to do this for the next 30 years."
Jackson: I'm looking for a play right now—because I just want to get back on stage—that allows me to do my personal actor space. But when I'm thinking about a movie, I don't want to do Manchester by the Sea, you know? People go to the movies for a specific reason. When I leave a movie, I want to leave it like, "Ahh, that was awesome." I tend to do those kind of movies—and if it's dark, it's got to be dark in that way that people leave the movie going, "That shit was sick."
You guys blow a lot of shit up in Amsterdam in this movie. That's the the most unblowable-shit-up-place in the world.
Jackson: The dopest bicycle society on the planet.
Reynolds: I loved being there. The first time I was there, I was 19, and I did something that's very difficult to do: I got kicked out of Amsterdam. I got in a weird fight with someone on the street—the last person you're supposed to get in a fight with, apparently—so for my own good, the police sent me on a train to Belgium.
Jackson: They only have two gangsters in town—you fucked with one of them.
Reynolds: Exactly! [ Laughs] It was nice to revisit it as a semi-responsible adult. Originally the script was set in Lyon, and they moved it to Amsterdam, I was very happy about that.
Jackson: I got the chance to drive a speedboat.
Reynolds: [ Points at Samuel L. Jackson] Loves boats—that much I know.
It was nice to see a movie set in Amsterdam that didn't mention weed once.
Jackson: Oh, what, like we didn't accidentally eat some weed brownies and lose our shit?
Reynolds: Mine are just about to kick in.
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